In addition to juggling several compositions, a dance/music concert series in Austin, keeping a radio show moving forward and enduring the grueling experience of buying a house for the first time, I’ve begun the enormous task of taking over the composition department at SUNY-Fredonia. The fact that they’ve given me the keys to a healthy and thriving department is an exciting one, and one of my primary goals is to make sure the students get as much exposure to ideas and resources outside of the university as possible, which of course will include Sequenza21!

To that end, I’ve got a couple of questions for the collective wisdom (I have my own opinions but I’d love to get your input):

  1. What texts (dealing with composition) would you feel to be important for a young composer to be exposed to? (I already have Ann McCutchan’s The Muse That Sings and Kyle Gann’s American Music in the Twentieth Century and Music Downtown on my list, for example…)
  2. My duties will include being the faculty advisor for the student-run Ethos New Music Society, which is quite active in the community. Every year they put on a week-long festival and next year their festival will be on electronics in music. One of our jobs is to come up with works that the faculty and students will perform during the week in several concerts (large ensembles, chamber ensembles, voices, solos, take your pick). My question to you…what are your favorite works (new or old) that utilize acoustic instruments with electronics?

Thanks in advance!

29 Responses to “Open for Suggestions”
  1. david toub says:

    #1: Writings About Music (Steve Reich); Genesis of a Music (Harry Partch); Style and Idea (Schoenberg—not as much fun as the first two, but strictly speaking, something many young composers should read)

    #2: Deserts (Varese), Light Over Water (Adams), Different Trains (Reich), and a lot of others that could be included depending on how one defines “electronics.”

  2. Rob Deemer says:

    We’re trying to keep our options wide open on the subject of electronics…at this point, anything and everything is on the table.

  3. Lanier says:

    I’d add Cage’s “Silence” to #1.

    Things on the recent side that jump to mind for #2:
    “For the Birds” – Judith Shatin
    “Tremor Transducer” – Doug Geers
    “Winter Fragments” – Tristan Murail
    “Solstice” – Bonnie Miksch
    “”Gion” – Nobukazu Takemura

    The first, second, and fourth of those can all be heard on their respective composer’s websites.

  4. Adam Baratz says:

    I’d encourage “Silence” and also Feldman’s “Give My Regards to Eighth Street” (particularly the “Anxiety of Art” piece). Christopher Small’s “Musicking” is one of the better books on music I’ve read. Tries to give some context to the experience of Western art music.

    I would also consider adding books on how non-musical artists tackle their own media. I like “Cassavetes on Cassavetes” a lot. David Toub could probably recommend some useful collections of medical case studies. Really, anything that addresses creative problem-solving and what kind of social environment those problems had to be solved in can be beneficial.

  5. jim altieri says:

    Some awesome books that have changed me as a composer:
    Software for People, Pauline Oliveros
    Noise, Jacques Attali
    Silence, John Cage

  6. Steve Layton says:

    I’d also recommend Audio Culture, though not so much for the student as the prof. It’s a fair current compendium of things that concern much of the art-music landscape today (though suffers from the Wire‘s tendency to skim and, even as recent as it is, some exemplars are already getting a bit moldy). If you’re familiar with this stuff and start to get bored, it’s actually a good sign that you’re reasonably up to speed; if some of it is unfamiliar, then you’ll know what to bone up on.

  7. Lanier says:

    I might tack on the documentary “Modulations” to the lists of ‘texts’ for a good perspective on electronic music and pop/avant-garde links. There’s a book, too, but it’s really best in video form.

    Also, Oliver Sacks has a forthcoming book about music. I, of course, haven’t read it yet, but I’d think a neurological perspective on music might serve as a nice complement. There are probably some good alternatives already out there, but I don’t know anything other than Mitten’s “The Singing Neanderthals.” It’s interesting, but not what you’d want to use.

  8. Cowell’s “New Musical Resources” might be a useful read.
    I also enjoyed Joel Chadabe’s book on Electroacoustic music “Electric Sound”. Tom Johnson’s “The Voice of New Music” is great too, and has the virtue of being available for free online.

    A few random thoughts on pieces which combine instruments and electronics:

    Davidovsky’s “Synchronisms” would be worth considering.

    Obviously there’s a bunch of JacobTV music.

    There are a couple of Berio pieces for instruments and tape, but I can’t remember the title of the one I’m thinking of. There’s machine gun fire in the tape part at the end, if that helps anybody. It’s great, whatever it is.

    Charles Dodge’s “Any Resemblance is Purely Coincidental” is fun.

    Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet” is fabulous and would probably be a crowdpleaser.

  9. Thanks for the opportunity to share. Here’s my 2 cents.
    1) – Of course Cage’s Silence.
    - Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond; Michael Nyman. An invaluable resource.
    - Twentieth Century Music, An Introduction; Eric Salzman. The definitive text on 20th c. music!
    - Pedagogical Sketchbook; Paul Klee. A wonderful book on how to express motion and balance. It is relevant to any act of creative expression.
    - Seven Dada Manifestos; Tristan Tzara. Shows there is a history to “thinking outside the box.”
    - and last but not least: Meta/Hodos; James Tenney. A bit esoteric, but well worth the trip. Jim was one of the best composition teachers ever!

    2) Morton Subotnick has a whole series of Ghost Pieces for various instruments and his unique processing. I believe he has them now as Max/MSP patches.

  10. Ivan Sparrow says:

    1. I strongly support Galen’s suggestion of Cowell’s “New Musical Resources”, a clarifying book that goes beyond style and idea ;) Also, Feldman’s “Give my regards…”

    2. Morton Feldman’s “Three Voices”.

  11. Seth Gordon says:

    In addition to what’s already been brought up, these books came to mind – YMMV:

    Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts – Douglas Kahn
    Noise: The Political Economy of Music – Jacques Attali
    Pluderphonics, ‘Pataphysics and Pop Mechanics – Andrew Jones
    Talking Music – William Duckworth
    Audio Culture – Christoph Cox (ed.)
    Arcana: Musicians on Music – John Zorn (ed.)
    Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music – WIRE Magazine
    Haunted Weather: Music, Silence, And Memory and/or Ocean of Sound – David Toop
    Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art – Brandon LaBelle
    The Terrorized Term and/or Selected Works: 1990-2000 – Achim Wollscheid
    Genesis of a Music and Bitter Music – Harry Partch
    The Auditory Culture Reader – Michael Bull (ed.)

    And while it may not be about music per se, every composer ought to read This Business of Music: The Definitive Guide to the Music Industry by Krasilovsky.


    Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet” is fabulous and would probably be a crowdpleaser.

    Hahaha! I used to use JBNFMY as a way to get people to leave my apartment when I wanted a party to end… (mind you, I love the piece…)

  12. Steve Layton says:

    Seth wrote: Hahaha! I used to use JBNFMY as a way to get people to leave my apartment when I wanted a party to end… (mind you, I love the piece…)

    If you put on the bloated-whale Philips version w/ Tom Waits, I’d be out the door pronto right with them. Now, if it was the old Obscure LP, I’m hanging around…

  13. Seth Gordon says:

    If you put on the bloated-whale Philips version w/ Tom Waits, I’d be out the door pronto right with them. Now, if it was the old Obscure LP, I’m hanging around…

    Gotta say, I prefer the “bloated-whale” one. And am waiting patiently for an even more bloated 6-hr DVD-Audio version.

  14. Seth Gordon says:

    Ah, and almost forgot (in regards to the first question again…) – if we’re to include films, Peter Greenaway’s 4 American Composers (which shamefully still hasn’t been released on DVD) ought to be req

  15. Alex Shapiro says:

    Regarding composition of a different sort, I’d heartily recommend that any student pick up a copy of Strunk and White’s classic, “The Elements of Style” and keep it close at hand. After all, in this day of endless written communication, if a composer can’t smoothly express their thoughts in a professional email, grant application or cover letter, they’re often at a disadvantage. And here’s an added incentive for good grammar: negotiating the literate waters of online dating, which selects for those who spell-check :-)

  16. Lawton Hall says:

    David Huron’s “Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation” has helped me enormously as a composer. I wouldn’t put it at the core of a composition curriculum, but its one of the best books on music I have read in a long time.

    As far as pieces that utilize electronics and live performers, here are two of my favorites, which are about as different from one another as two pieces can be:

    Luigi Nono РLa floresta ̩ jovem cheja de vida (The forest is young and full of life)

    A very powerful piece. I’m certain it is just as poignant and timely now as it was during the Vietnam years.

    Ingram Marshall – Fog Tropes

    There are two versions of this piece, one for brass sextet and the other for string quartet. As horn player, I’m biased towards the brass version, but you have options depending on your instrumentation.

  17. Rodney Lister says:

    Vision and Resonance by John Hollander (a sort of technical book about poetry) and Music for Words by Virgil Thomson are the most useful books I have run across dealing generally with what kind of thinks one might want to think about when setting words to music.

    I suppose it’s frowned on in these parts, but Words about Music by Babbitt is a clear, fairly simple, and friendly book about twelve-tone music. (What one can do with “the system” and why anybody might want to use it.)

    Kyle Gann’s book on Nancarrow is pretty important. Also Taruskin’s book on Stravinsky–possibly also Text and Act.

    Thomson’s The State of Music and the collection of his criticism 1939-1954 are worth a composer’s time getting to know–surely as important as Downtown Music.

    I often give students a copy of The Dyer’s Hand by W. H. Auden as a present. For some reason it’s been important to me as a composer.

  18. Steve Hodgson says:

    On the subject of texts – I’d re-emphasis David Toub’s suggestion of Schoenberg’s Style and Idea, and add ‘Fundamentals of Musical Composition’ – yes, it’s dry… and a bit retro – but it covers so much so succinctly, I think it’s essential for any composition course. Also Vincent Persichetti’s ‘Twentieth Century Harmony’, which is a wonderful resource – an excellent guide for young composers beginning to wrestle with concepts of tonality/sonority/pitch organisation.

    And (particularly for young/beginning composers) –
    -Anthology of Twentieth-century Music (Norton Introduction to Music History) by Robert P. Morgan
    -Music Notation in the Twentieth Century: A Practical Guidebook

  19. Daniel says:

    Stravinsky’s “Poetics of Music” and a recording and score of Le Sacre.
    Rorem’s “Music from Inside Out”

  20. Dear Rob,

    Our company is a licensee of the Naxos Music Library which we package wih our curriculum (see We’ve also licensed Mother Goose Suite packaged with our new book How Ravel Orchestrated: Mother Goose Suite.

    We’ve paid for a new translation of Fux’s Gradus ad parnassus (the counterpoint method used by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven).

    We’ve brought back the four main works on composition and counterpoint by Percy Goetschius.

    For orchestration, we have a massive multi-volume revision of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration (which we’ve entitled Professional Orchestration). We’ve also republished Joseph Wagner’s Orchestration: A Practical Handbook.

    For MIDI, our entry level title is called How MIDI Works and the 7th edition will be available before the end of summer 2007. We also have resources for recording and MIDI editing training.

    All of our books are problem/solution results driven texts and several blend in the Naxos Music Library so that students, most of whom are not acquainted with the Literature, have a major resource to draw from that’s built into the curriculum.

    I spent more than 20 years in Los Angeles where I worked with Henry Mancini as his computer tech, and also had the great blessing of observing Jerry Goldsmith on the scoring stage for another three years.

    BTW, I write the Music Technology and You column for Film Music Weekly published in Los Angeles (

    Please let me know how we can support what you’re doing. Congratuations on this exciting opportunity. Challenging young adults is tough, but also rewarding when you see the wheels begin to click.


    Peter Alexander
    Alexander Publishing

  21. Ian Moss says:

    You should check out the music of Anna Clyne

  22. Tom Myron says:

    Listening Out Loud: Becoming a Composer by Elizabeth Swados

  23. Peter-

    I was a subscriber to the Film Music Mailinglist for several years, and I remember you from there. I mostly lurked, though, so you probably don’t remember me. Nice to run into you again :)


  24. Scott says:

    Congrats again on this new job, Rob! Very cool. I’m perhaps a bit more of a traditionalist type when it comes to such things, but I find Leonard Bernstein’s lectures (collected in various books) to be wonderful reading for undergraduates, because they’re so darned accessible, but really tackle many issues, and most importantly get students thinking about music very actively. Other people have mentioned pretty much everything else I’d suggest. Though if you’re doing text-setting, I highly recommend Robert Pinsky’s “The Sounds of Poetry” as a manual for getting inside the physical aspect of reading text.

    As for electro-acoustic composers, I’d like to throw out a huge recommendation to look at Paula Matthusen’s work. She’s a young composer in NY, and her electro-acoustic stuff is, in my opinion, some of the most interesting, sensual, and engaging music I’ve encountered.

  25. Matthew says:

    I’d add (to all the other fine suggestions) Charles Rosen’s “Classical Style” and “Romantic Generation” because they’re so eloquent on how music works. Particularly the second one I return to again and again, and I’m always a better musician for it.

    More left-field suggestions? Some Umberto Eco books on semiotics (“The Role of the Reader” springs to mind) might be good catalysts for a young composer leaning in a meta-ish direction. And there’s a brilliant little book by George W.S. Trow called “Within the Context of No Context” that’s not about music at all—it’s an analysis of our relationship with mass media—but it had a big effect on the way I think about music.

  26. Yes, Silence, definitely! And one book I’d advise looking at is Andriessen/Schoenberger’s The Apollinian Clockwork – which is at the same time a very original look at Stravinsky, presents a very strong aesthetic point of view, and offers a completely unique form of writing about music in general, bringing in many, many, many unexpected and unorthodox points from which to consider stravinsky and music. A true masterpiece.

    For me, Gertrude Stein’s “Lectures in America” were important too, especially Poetry and Grammar. But that’s an idiosyncratic choice for composeres, I guess.

    As to acoustic/electronics: for me, among the most profound works when you’re interested in the relation between Machine (electronics) and Man (acoustics) are Lucier’s pieces which have just some oscillator set-up with solo instrument (or sometimes ensemble), like for instance Wind Shadows for trombone and electronics.

  27. Peter Mueller says:

    Schoenberg’s letters. I’m found of those Stravinsky/Craft books. Partch, of course, and, of course, Silence. I have to say I don’t find Style and Idea dry at all. Blues People, perhaps. Strongly recommend that they regularly thumb through the English new music journal Wire. It casts a very wide net.

    Some Eric Lyon might be fun for your festival.

  28. Eric Lyon! certainly, he has great electro-acoustic pieces, including the one other (besides Lucier) example I often think of as very intelligent and perceptive thinking about the relation between the two. The stupid thing is I only heard that piece live, and have forgotten the title, but it is for cello and electronics, with the cello playing what is really an accompaniment (just a four-note loop) to an electronic playback solo. Of course, there are lots of tape pieces that have the soloist accompanying the electronics in a silly way – you just know the composer isn’t really interested in the guy with that funny piece of wood on stage, but Eric achieved for me a very interesting inversion of the dramatic situation of the usual recital, making the experience very odd indeed. In the ‘bad’ cases, you just wish the soloist would stop, their notes have no concentration. But in this piece, the cello was very concentrated, just not playing anything of great sonic complexity. You get a very strange double focus as a listener, trying to rhyme the concentation of the soloist to the richness of the electronic sounds.

  29. Nicholas Schutz says:

    I would recommend Arthur Honnegger’s “I Am a Composer.” I just recently read it. He speaks of life as a composer, both the negative and the positive. It seemingly would discourage those who wouldn’t take composition seriously while simultaneously encouraging those who WOULD take it seriously. Plus it’s quite short and easy to read.

    I would second Music Notation in the 20th Century, an incredibly valuable resource for any composer.

    And of course Cage’s “Silence” and Pauline Oliveros’ “Software for People.”

    Thank you also to everyone for the recommendations. I’m always on the lookout for inspirational composition writings.