historical memoir written in 1994 585w

Creative Projects in music using recent technology at San Francisco State University in the '70's and '80's

by Herbert Bielawa

An Overview

At San Francisco State we created our first electronic music studio in 1967 when we obtained a Buchla 100 series synthesizer and a couple Viking tape recorders. Thereafter we updated and added equipment when we could.

In the 70's we gave a series of public concerts called New Media Invitationals in which tapes of electronic music from all over North American were solicited and performed on the campus.

In 1974, we also organized the first and only "Bay Area Synthesizer Ensemble" (B.A.S.E.) which was and ensemble of electronic music studios (!) UC Berkeley, a room at KPFA radio station a half mile from UC, San Francisco Conservatory and San Francisco State University. The studios were connected by special telephone lines which all led into the master mix at KPFA where incoming signals were mixed electronically and then broadcast in real time. The performance broadcast took place on the evening of February 23, 1974.

The compositions commissioned for the affair were Responsive Reading and Thirty Seconds by Gareth Loy, Music for B.A.S.E. by Anthony Gnazzo, Quartet for Synthesizers by George Burt, BASEment by Alden Jenks, Recycled Radio by Jan Pusina and BASEball and A Ludwig Washout by myself.

Each studio had a production crew as follows: At San Francisco State were Gareth Loy, Rich McGinnis and Peter Donaldson. At the San Francisco Conservatory were Alden Jenks, Robert David and Neil Rolnick. In the back room at KPFA were George Burt, Barth Gehls, Valerie Farrell (Hielbron) and myself. On the UC campus were Anthony Gnazzo, Barbara Jazwinski, Cardell Ho, Robert Coburn, Peter Lopez and Jan Pusina.

These studios were virtually still all modular, which meant patching and knob turning were unavoidable. The notations used for the specially composed music spanned the spectrum from strictly verbal, to quasi-conventional and graphic.

We discovered that we finally required four different telephone installations at each sight: a performance communication line, a special high-fidelity, highly equalized line, a separate service line and, finally, a separate rehearsal line (to keep expenses down since specially equalized music lines were very expensive).

There was yet another composer represented on the program; Mozart. The work was his String Quartet in C Major. We stationed musician at each location where they each had a microphone and head set. At a fifth location (SF State ) in a different room was stationed a director of the ensemble, Laszlo Varga. Varga literally verbalized performance signals to the players. Beginning attacks, cut-offs and general tempo processing were done verbally by Varga. Since there was no physical, visual or audio contact now available to them as there usually is in string quartet performance. Varga's signals were absolutely necessary and, in the end, gratefully sought by the players.

Although the players could all hear Varga's instructions on their head sets, only their playing was mixed for broadcast. The arrangement was not a happy one for the players, because it was so foreign to them. In a genuine musical sense such an arrangement has little to recommend for it. But the idea was simply to see if it could be done using the technology of the day. In the end, with great patience and good will from the players (plus understandable grumbling along the way) the performance came across with astonishing rhythmic accuracy, and noticeable expressive power. A innocent listener could be fooled.