Ned Lagin

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Ned Lagin
Born (1948-03-17)March 17, 1948
Origin Roslyn Heights, New York, United States
Genres Electronic, Modern, Avant-garde, Space music, Jazz, Classical
Occupation(s) Artist, Photographer, Scientist, Composer, Keyboardist
Instruments Piano, Electric Piano, Clavichord, Synthesizer, Computer
Labels Round, United Artists, Rykodisc
Associated acts Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia and Friends, Seastones, Ned Lagin and Phil Lesh

Ned Lagin (born March 17, 1948) is an American artist, photographer, scientist, composer, and keyboardist.[1][2][3]

Lagin is considered a pioneer in the development and use of minicomputers and personal computers in real-time stage and studio music composition and performance.[4][5]

He is known for his electronic music composition Seastones, for performing with the Grateful Dead, and for his photography and art.[1][2]

Early years[edit]

Ned Lagin was born in New York City and raised on Long Island in Roslyn Heights, New York. Growing up, Lagin was influenced by classical and jazz music, and the modern music and art cultures of New York City in the 1960s. He started photography with a Kodak Baby Brownie Special at the age of five, and piano lessons and science, natural history, and electronic projects at the age of six.[3]

He attended the Wheatley School in Old Westbury, New York, was awarded two National Science Foundation Scholarships, and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the intention of becoming an astronaut. Lagin received a degree in molecular biology and humanities from MIT in 1971, where he studied with John Harbison, Gregory Tucker, David Epstein, Noam Chomsky, Gian-Carlo Rota, Salvador Luria, and Jerome Lettvin. Chomsky's generative grammar concepts inspired Lagin's thinking about creating generative music forms (1968), and Lettvin connected him to the writings of Norbert Wiener and Warren McCulloch, and more generally to cybernetics.[2][3] During this period, Lagin also completed jazz coursework at the Berklee School of Music.

He was deeply influenced by the jazz world in New York City, particularly pianist Bill Evans[6] who he met in Boston and saw perform many times in New York and Boston in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and who wrote out some of his tunes for Lagin. Piano teachers included Dean Earl, a Charlie Parker sideman, and he studied jazz improvisation with Lee Konitz.[3] He played piano in the MIT Concert Jazz Band and MIT Jazz Quintet[7] led by Herb Pomeroy, a sideman with Duke Ellington and Stan Getz.

The eclectic nature of his musical skills and interests came as a result of the diversity and depth of his early formative influences, which ranged from Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Gustav Mahler, to Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque keyboard and choral music, to Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand, to Aaron Copland, Charles Ives and George Gershwin, to Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and modal and free jazz.[3]

Musicological studies included the transcription and analysis of Renaissance composers Jacob Obrecht and Johannes Ockeghem, and the philosophical and mystical aspects of music and sound vibration.[3]

In the autumn of 1971, Lagin began graduate study in composition as an Irving Fine Fellow at Brandeis University, where he studied with Josh Rifkin and Seymour Shifrin. He completed a symphony, a string quartet, jazz big band pieces, and electronic pieces before dropping out and permanently relocating to the Bay Area.[8][9]

Performing with the Grateful Dead[edit]

In early 1970, Lagin initiated a correspondence with Jerry Garcia after seeing the Grateful Dead at the Boston Tea Party in 1969. In May 1970, he helped facilitate a concert and free live outdoor performance featuring the band at MIT that coincided with the Kent State shootings. That summer, Lagin, at Garcia's invitation, visited San Francisco and contributed piano to "Candyman" during the American Beauty album sessions, played in several jams, and started what would become close friendships with Garcia, bassist Phil Lesh, and David Crosby.[2]

An online annotated database, Annotated Nedbase 1970 – 1975,[10] lists his known performances and recording work from 1970 to 1975.

From 1970 to 1975, Lagin sat in on Hammond B3 organ, electric piano, and clavichord during long instrumental passages at several Grateful Dead concerts.[3][11] His first performances with the Grateful Dead were on November 5 and November 8, 1970 at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York; his first complete concert was at Boston University's Sargent Gym on November 21, 1970.[12][13][14]

During many 1974 Grateful Dead concerts over several tours, including Europe, he performed a middle set of electronic music, including parts of his composition "Seastones", on computer-controlled analog synthesizers with Phil Lesh on electronically processed bass. Some sets included Jerry Garcia playing guitar filtered through effects processors and Bill Kreutzmann on drums; these sets occasionally segued into the final Grateful Dead set, with Lagin performing with the Dead, including an appearance in The Grateful Dead Movie.[13]

During the 1974 tours, he played through the vocal system of the Wall of Sound PA, in quad, with 9600 watts going through over two hundred speakers. Lagin could play the PA like an instrument, and the PA allowed feeling the sound in one's body.[3]

The March 17, 1975 cancelled Grateful Dead studio session became a "Seastones" session with David Crosby and included Ned's "Birthday Jam.[15][16]

Lagin played on some of the most beautiful performances of the Grateful Dead's song "Dark Star", including clavichord and Farfisa organ on the "Beautiful Jam"[17] of February 18, 1971[12][13][14] and electric piano on the October 18, 1974 "Dark Star" that appears on the two DVD release of The Grateful Dead Movie. The "Beautiful Jam" is included in the So Many Roads (1965–1995) box set. He contributed synthesizer to the Grateful Dead album From the Mars Hotel (1974).

Lagin stopped performing music in public at the end of 1975.


In 1975 Lagin released Seastones, a quadraphonic album of electronic music (composed between 1970-1974), a small part of the complete Seastones composition, on Round Records[18] and then United Artists Records.[13]

Science Career[edit]

During his professional career in science and engineering R&D (1976-2011) he worked on the earliest home computing technology with an Altair 8800; was a pre-release Apple MacIntosh software seed developer;[19] developed real time digital video and image processing systems;[20] biotechnology and immunology instrumentation; DNA, RNA, and peptide synthesis and sequencing hardware and artificial intelligence software; early wireless network routing systems;[21][22] and consulted in ecological planning, design and habitat restoration including aerial and ecological photography for environmental studies.[2][3]

Photography and Art[edit]

Self Portrait, 2010

Lagin began photography at the age of five, first with a Baby Brownie camera, and subsequently with other small format cameras. Some of his very first photographs were of Bronx Zoo animals which he made into a "book." As a kid and continuing through to the beginning of college, photography was for him part of being a naturalist and scientist. Using a small camera and an exposure meter, he recorded home lab experiments, science projects, museum trips, specimens collected, explored his backyard and in the woods and fields and ponds near his house, made notebooks with pictures and photos pasted in, about his world. Lagin did no photography during the time he pursued serious music composition and performance (1967-77).

While continuing to compose and play music in private, beginning in 1978 and continuing for the next 40 years, Lagin's primary medium and focus for creativity has been photography and art. First in small (35mm), medium (6x6cm, 6x7cm), and large (4x5) format film photography (using 1928 and 1950's Speed Graphic’s), and subsequently using film scanners and Photoshop (1992) and digital cameras (2003).

In 1982, to learn the craft of photography, he studied Ansel Adams' three volumes on photography. Doing manual film photography for many years made Lagin think about how to see and create pictures - pre-visualize, composition, making an exposure, printing as interpretation, and about creating meaning and feeling. His photography and art influences include Ansel Adams, Elliot Porter, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, Life magazine and The World We Live In, and National Geographic.[3]

Lagin's subjects, as single photographs and paintings and in compositions and collections of multiple images, include nature, landscapes, sand drawings, nudes, erotica, and self-portraits. Creating sand drawings and multi-image forms - two or more pictures placed together to create fields of meaning(s) was influenced by the rock art (petroglyphs, pictographs) of Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, and prehistoric Europeans. Art seen as composition over time of multi-image fields containing a superposition of forms, metaphors, and levels of meanings, and placed within a larger natural landscape.[3]

His photographic, sand drawing, and painting multi-image compositions and collections spanning 1981-2017 include: Our Love, Metaphysics, Light in the Silence, Artifacts of Desire - Forms of Enchantment, Reflections of Solitude, and Light Time Geographies. Additionally, Lagin has written in his Notes about art, metaphysics, natural history, photography, pictures and "the natural history of picture world," and creating feeling and meaning.


From his Notes:

"when you look at a picture
the picture looks at you"

"art is nature
spirit animating form
a way of being present
personal alchemy
mythic resonance
creature to creature
sensual, emotional, spiritual
timeless and timefull"

"the desire to meaning -
we wish to make of our life
something that exists outside our selves
an exploration for feeling
for meaning
for beauty
for connection with something larger
connection with an infinitely greater world
with all of creation
creating is feeling the meaning"

"magic is not the imagination
the imagination is magic"

"the meaning of a picture is the picture
pictures are themselves
pictures have lives of their own
past, present, and future
emergent meaningfulness"

Cat Dreams[edit]

Cat Dreams cover, Ned Lagin 2016

Completed in 2016, Cat Dreams is Ned Lagin's first music CD, and first public music, since 1975. Cat Dreams is formally a suite of composed pieces, and composed melodic, tonal, and rhythmic frameworks for improvisation. These are presented as solo, duo, small group, and band; acoustic, electric, electronic music. Originally composed and planned for a two CD release, Cat Dreams is the first of the two CDs that comprise the full suite of compositions.

According to Lagin, the Cat Dreams are: "Moment forms and dream forms. Each its own world of feeling and meaning. It is a work of love, dreams, heart, and magic. Music from my life shared with some beautiful little creatures, loved ones. Being a part of their lives as they were and are a part of mine. Biographical dreams and stories of little creatures, loved ones. Life music: deep, emotional, sweet, beautiful, happy and sad."

"As a musical suite, Cat Dreams starts and ends with the sound of rain, with cats by a window listening to the rain outside and napping together. Dreaming together an episodic flow of stories, songs, dances, memories, moments, travels, adventures."

On Cat Dreams, Lagin plays electric piano, keyboard synths (including vocals, cello, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, banjo, and others), Native American flutes, and softsynths: Ableton Live and Max for Live, Reason, Reaktor

The other musicians performing on Cat Dreams:

  • Barry Finnerty - electric guitar
  • Dewayne Pate - electric bass
  • Barry Sless - pedal steel guitar
  • Alex Maldonado - Native American flute
  • Celso Alberti - drums, percussion
  • Kevin Hayes - drums
  • Gary Vogensen - electric guitar
  • Dick Bright - violin

Community and Environment[edit]

Lagin has served in Novato, California[23] and Marin County government: Planning Commission, Downtown Plan Committee Chairperson,[24] Economic Development Commission, Tree Task Force, Marin Conservation League Board of Directors,[25] Marin County Flood Control Advisory Board, and chairperson for the Warner Creek Committee.[3][26]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Prendrergast, Mark (2000). The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Trance - the Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 244. ISBN 1-58234-134-6. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Ned Lagin interview with David Gans on KPFA, February 3, 2001
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Ned Lagin interview with David Gans, August 2001 in: Gans, David. Conversations with the Dead, The Grateful Dead Interview Book, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2002. pp. 343-389. ISBN 0-306-81099-9
  4. ^ "Mini Helps 'Grateful Dead' Compose Rock", Computerworld, August 13, 1975, page 33
  5. ^ "Dead Go To Computerized Synthesizer", Billboard, September 6, 1975, pp. 19 and 29
  6. ^ Relix, Volume 18, No.3, page 31 ("Summer Issue"): Ned Lagin - An Interview with Nick Skidmore [1]
  7. ^ "Collegiate Jazz Festival 1969" program, Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, March 14 and 15, 1969, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
  8. ^ Douglas Kahn, "Between a Bach and a Bard Place: Productive Constraint in Early Computer Arts" in MediaArtHistories, edited by Oliver Grau, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2010. pg. 441. ISBN 978-0-262-07279-3
  9. ^ "Seastones" album description from Rykodisc online catalog
  10. ^ "Annotated Nedbase 1970 - 1975"
  11. ^ August 14-15, 1971 Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA--Ned Lagin
  12. ^ a b The Deadhead's Taping Compendium, Volume I: An In-Depth Guide to the Music of the Grateful Dead on Tape, 1959–1974 - by Michael M. Getz, John R. Dwork, Henry Holt and Company, New York; 1st edition (May 15, 1998). ISBN 0-8050-5398-0
  13. ^ a b c d The Deadhead's Taping Compendium, Volume II: An In-Depth Guide to the Music of the Grateful Dead on Tape, 1975–1985 - by Michael M. Getz, John R. Dwork, Henry Holt and Company, New York; 1st edition (August 2, 1999). ISBN 0-8050-6140-1
  14. ^ a b John W. Scott, Mike Dolgushkin, Stu Nixon, Deadbase, Jr. Deadbase, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1995. ISBN 1-877657-17-4
  15. ^ Blues For Allah entry in The Compleat Grateful Dead Discography . Retrieved September 23, 2014
  16. ^ Grateful Dead Live at Ace's (SNACK Rehearsal) on 1975-03-17 (March 17, 1975) [2]
  17. ^ "Beautiful Jam", February 18, 1971 at the Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY [3]
  18. ^ Seastones at the Grateful Dead Family Discography. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  19. ^ Macworld, Volume 3, PC World Communications, 1986
  20. ^ Ned Lagin: "A New Real-Time Computer-Controlled Digital Video Processor-Synthesizer"; delivered at the National Computer Conference (NCC), New York, NY, 1979.
  21. ^ InfoWorld, Vol. 13, Issue 31, August 5, 1991, p. 8: "Wireless Bridge Connects Macs" [4]
  22. ^ Network World, Vol. 8, No. 13, April 1, 1991, p. 9: "People and Positions" [5]
  23. ^ City of Novato General Plan
  24. ^ City of Novato - Downtown Specific Plan: Preface by Chair
  25. ^ Reauthorization of the Clean Water Act: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Clean Water, Fisheries, and Wildlife of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, United States Senate, One Hundred Third Congress, first session, on S. 1114 ... S. 1302 ... June 16, 23; July 1, 14, 27; August 4, 5; and September 15, 1993 (1994)[6]
  26. ^ 1994 River Conservation Directory (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance, 1994) [7]