On each Thursday in March we will be diving into weekly spotlights of the iconic artists part of our 2015 Season at The Joyce Theater. Throwback your Thursdays with us to learn where the season’s artists were in 1968, the year Merce Cunningham premiered his iconic work, RainForest.
For our last #ThrowbackThursday of March, we’re shifting the spotlight to the electronic composer/musician, David Tudor, who composed the sound world for Merce Cunningham’s RainForest.
Chirping, Squeaking, Clanging, Banging, Blooping
One of the very first significant pieces of electronic music I ever heard was a performance recording of David Tudor’s Rainforest. Although I can’t recall which version it was (this was in my first electronic music class during my freshman year of college), I have never forgotten how blown away I was by that chirping, squeaking, clanging, banging, blooping wall of sound that did indeed give the impression of a living, breathing, electronic jungle…
One of Tudor’s specialties was working with feedback within a live performance context. This method later became known as “no input” electronic instruments, in which all sound is generated via internal electronic feedback scenarios… picture tabletops overflowing with electronic devices, both commercial and homemade… every performance was a one-of-a-kind event.
Tudor’s music tended towards long-form statements and developed slowly over lengthy time spans. According to friends and colleagues, he always had more that he wanted to say.
Cage on Tudor
A quick anecdote about David Tudor from John Cage’s Indeterminacy:
A Sound Imagination
An excerpt written by John Holzaepfel from the liner notes of New World Records release of Tudor’s work. John Holzaepfel received his Ph.D. in historical musicology from the City University of New York, where he wrote his dissertation David Tudor and the Performance of American Experimental Music, 1950–1959. He is currently preparing a biography of David Tudor.
As for [John] Cage, he found in Tudor more than an ideal performer. Tudor’s disposition toward the new, the unusual, and the unpredictable, and his apparently limitless technical abilities, combined with a natural reticence and secretive manner, made him at once indispensable and remote… “what you had to do,” Cage, added, “was to make a situation that would interest [Tudor]. That was the role he played.” …
For the music, [Merce] Cunningham turned to Tudor and for the first time asked him for an original work. When he learned that the dance was to be called Rainforest, Tudor said, “Oh, then I’ll put a lot of raindrops in it.” Raindrops were just the beginning… Tudor created a world of sound in perpetual but unpredictable motion, a steady state at once abstract and evocative.
“More and more,” Tudor recalled of the early 1960s, “I found I was playing my own sound imagination.”
Emily Stone, Photo: Sarah Silver