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 composition Seastones, and performing with the Grateful Dead.[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 four, 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 holds a degree in molecular biology and humanities from MIT where he studied with John Harbison, Gregory Tucker, David Epstein, Noam Chomsky, 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 to cybernetics.[2][3] 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 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]

Self Portrait, 2011

Lagin stopped performing music in public in 1975, and while continuing to compose he has worked in art and photography for over 35 years, first in small, medium, and large (4x5) format film photography, and subsequently in digital media and artist's books. Subjects include sand drawings, nature, nudes, erotica, and self-portraits. His photography and art influences include Ansel Adams, Elliot Porter, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, Life magazine and The World We Live In, National Geographic, and the rock art of Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, and prehistoric Europeans.[3]

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;[10] developed real time digital video and image processing systems;[11] biotechnology and immunology instrumentation; DNA, RNA, and peptide synthesis and sequencing hardware and artificial intelligence software; early wireless network routing systems;[12][13] and consulted in ecological planning, design and habitat restoration including aerial and ecological photography for environmental studies.[2][3]

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,[14] 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][15] 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.[16][17][18]

Jerry Garcia, Ned Lagin, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann performing at Winterland in October, 1974

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 sometimes these sets segued into the final Grateful Dead set, with Lagin performing with the Dead, including appearing in The Grateful Dead Movie.[17]

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, Grateful Dead studio session included Ned's "Birthday Jam" and a "Seastones" session with David Crosby.[19][20]

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"[21] of February 18, 1971[16][17][18] 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 on the Grateful Dead album From the Mars Hotel.


Abstract drawing suggestive of stones on the sea shore
Studio album by Ned Lagin
Released April 1975; re-released 1991
Recorded February 1975
Genre Electronic
Length 44:40; 73:39
Label Round, United Artists; Rykodisc
Producer Ned Lagin

In 1975 Lagin released a quadraphonic album of electronic music, part of his composition entitled Seastones, on Round Records [22] and then United Artists Records.[17]

Seastones is an open form mobile composition of compositions (moment forms, sections), conceived as an open mobile form before non-linear (random access) digital media came into existence. Open form in that new live performed moment forms become "accreted" or added to, and become part of, the full composition. Seastones is a collection of pre-compositional philosophies (reflection and spontaneity, formalism and intuitionism, composition and improvisation) and the compositional practices and technologies of the time (analog, digital, hybrid analog-digital control, FM, sequencer, musique concrete, found, mathematical, quad spatial immersive, biomusic, aleatoric, noise, random, and generative). It was played and performed with acoustic, electric, and electronic instruments (synthesizers, computers), and voice.[1][3]

Seastones reflects the culture of the time - the contrasting worlds of scientific and technological optimism, war (Vietnam) and social change, and new world views combining environmental and spiritual consciousness.[3]

The music forms of the Seastones moment form compositions are not only historic and conventional music forms but forms that are like natural processes and places. Lagin imagined metaphors for music creation derived from geology and natural history and biology, electronics and electricity, physics and quantum mechanics, radio and television and movies, as well as from other creatures.[3] The open mobile form of Seastones was inspired by real sea stones seen all at once on the beach:

Whenever I walk along the beach... I find myself, like so many others, picking up stones and pebbles cast up or uncovered by the waves. ... Each one different, with its own shape, and color, and surface texture. And each charged with its own mystery and meaning, its own storied experience ... From the wild sea stones I learned ... that beauty could come from a collection of carefully selected (or crafted) moments perceived not as a linear sequence or progression alone, in which the present moment is the consequence of the previous one and the prelude to the coming one, but perceived all at once. [23]

Seastones was called by some as "electronic cybernetic biomusic." Lagin's concepts of biomusic as expanding concepts of music and sound, composition and frameworks for improvisation date from 1969-1970. They include what is now called ambient music, and in particular the music of other creatures and nature, music as something shared with other forms of life. He also conceived of biomusic as the hearing and feeling of sound and music through the body, the physiological effects of music on body and mind and heart (feeling as meaning), and using body electric fields to create sounds or to modify or modulate sounds.[3]

The Seastones vocals and sung words have musical influences (using voice as an instrument and timbre) from Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, György Ligeti, and Krzysztof Penderecki, and from the sonorities and symbolic counterpoint of Renaissance polyphony; and literary influences that include James Joyce (Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses), William Faulkner, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, e e cummings, and others.[3]

He composed Seastones over the course of five years. It was recorded and mixed in just as many studios, and mastered at a sixth. Much of the album consists of electronically processed traditional instruments and voice, and a cadre of synthesizers (a custom E-mu Modular Synthesizer controlled by and processed through then-cutting-edge computer technology, with software patches and compositions by Lagin; an ARP 2500 and ARP 2600; and a Buchla Modular System).[1] The early computers employed by Lagin included an Interdata 7/16 computer with a high speed arithmetic logic unit and magnetic core memory; an Intel 8080 microprocessor system built by Lagin; and at the beginning of 1975 an Altair 8800. The computer-controlled systems was designed and built for group live performance, with the performers instruments and voices routed through analog and digital synthesis and processing hardware. Seastones was one of the first commercially released recordings to feature the use of digital computers, and Lagin was the first to perform on stage live with computers.[8] It was also a very early instance of multiple musicians' audio and control signals being interconnected before MIDI.[3]

The album was mixed in quadraphonic sound, released in quad-encoded stereo, and featured guest performances by members of the Grateful Dead, including Jerry Garcia playing processed electric and pedal steel guitars, and voice; Phil Lesh playing electronic Alembic bass; and Mickey Hart on processed percussion. David Crosby (processed voice and electric 12-string guitar), and members of the Jefferson Airplane Grace Slick (processed voice), Spencer Dryden (processed percussion), and David Freiberg (processed voice) also appear on the album.[24]

There were five live performances of Seastones: November 28, 1973, June 6, 1975, September 19, 1975, November 15, 1975, and November 22, 1975.[25]

Seastones was re-released in stereo on CD by Rykodisc in 1990. The CD version includes the original Round Records nine-section Seastones (42:34) from February 1975, and a previously unreleased, six-section version (31:05) from December 1975. Both are partial versions of the full composition, which has not been released. Other unreleased Lagin Seastones-related compositions from the same period include L and Make a Cat Laugh.[3]



  • Produced by Ned Lagin
  • Engineering (1975): Betty Cantor, Bob Matthews, Bill Wolf
  • Engineering (1990): Allen Sudduth, John Cutler, Peter Norman
  • Computer composition software (1975): Ned Lagin
  • Computer interface and polyphonic keyboard software (1975): Scott Wedge
  • Cover artwork (1975, 1990): Ruth Poland
  • Photography (1990): Sal Busalacchi, Ned Lagin

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[26]

On Allmusic, Steven McDonald said, "In short, Seastones is electronic music of the best kind — a shifting sonic landscape out of which the strangest things may emerge." [26]

Community and Environment[edit]

Lagin has served in local[27] and county government: Planning Commission, Downtown Plan Committee Chairperson,[28] Economic Development Commission, Tree Task Force, Marin Conservation League Board of Directors,[29] Marin County Flood Control Advisory Board, and chairperson for the Warner Creek Committee.[30][3]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 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 m n o p q r 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. ^ a b 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. ^ Macworld, Volume 3, PC World Communications, 1986
  11. ^ Ned Lagin: "A New Real-Time Computer-Controlled Digital Video Processor-Synthesizer"; delivered at the National Computer Conference (NCC), New York, NY, 1979.
  12. ^ InfoWorld, Vol. 13, Issue 31, August 5, 1991, p. 8: "Wireless Bridge Connects Macs" [2]
  13. ^ Network World, Vol. 8, No. 13, April 1, 1991, p. 9: "People and Positions" [3]
  14. ^ "Annotated Nedbase 1970 - 1975"
  15. ^ August 14-15, 1971 Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA--Ned Lagin
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ a b John W. Scott, Mike Dolgushkin, Stu Nixon, Deadbase, Jr. Deadbase, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1995. ISBN 1-877657-17-4
  19. ^ Blues For Allah entry in The Compleat Grateful Dead Discography . Retrieved September 23, 2014
  20. ^ Grateful Dead Live at Ace's (SNACK Rehearsal) on 1975-03-17 (March 17, 1975) [4]
  21. ^ "Beautiful Jam", February 18, 1971 at the Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY [5]
  22. ^ Seastones at the Grateful Dead Family Discography. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  23. ^ Ned Lagin, booklet notes accompanying Seastones CD, Seastones, Rykodisc, RCD 40193, 1990
  24. ^ "Grateful Dead Biography", Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  25. ^ Seastones entry in The Compleat Grateful Dead Discography . Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  26. ^ a b McDonald, Steven. Seastones at AllMusic. Retrieved June 23, 2012.
  27. ^ City of Novato General Plan
  28. ^ City of Novato - Downtown Specific Plan: Preface by Chair
  29. ^ 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]
  30. ^ 1994 River Conservation Directory (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance, 1994) [7]