Published in Array, the Journal of the International Computer Music Association, v. 10, #4, Fall 1990, pp. 19-20.

Tape Music (or Studio Composition) Performance Problems

In response to Richard Karpen's point in CMA Array V.10, N3, Summer, 1990

For those of us who want to compose to the limits of what the ear can hear rather than what the body can play, and who like working on the final perceptible work itself, as painters do, instead of on indirect instructions describing a range of performance possibilities, the difficulty in getting access to each others' music is still considerable. While it is possible for individuals to take time to make tape copies of their works to give to a limited number of other individuals, this produces communication sufficiently scarce that few of us have the opportunity to hear works by more than a very few of our colleagues, and then too rarely to achieve the level of musical dialogue we'd like. (Is it any surprise that - ironically - in this community of individuals who are motivated toward technical innovation largely by aesthetic visions, we far too often can only maintain our dialogue on a technological plane?)

Once in a while one of us gets something out on a publically available recording. Otherwise we all spend at least some of our time running tape copies to send each other, but can only do so on a very limited basis. So for tape music, just like live performance pieces, the concerts at events such as the ICMC still function as a central avenue of our musical communication, for many, our only opportunity to hear or be heard.

Assuming we are all agreed that all genres of our work should be given equal opportunity to be heard, and acknowledging that the field is not as small as it once was, so that it is no longer possible to put all works of all kinds on stage front and center while nothing else is going on, the question of how to prioritize concert contents naturally suggests that we find non-theatrical presentation methods for non-theatrical works. But this is not accomplished by scheduling tape works in low-priority settings in schedule conflict with other events at the ICMC.

Access to each others' tape (studio) compositions need not be simultaneous or geographically determined. Tape music can and (in general) should be made available for the entire CMA community on tape, taking a burden off the conferences, and allowing non-attendees to hear it too.

Concerts are simply no longer the most efficient method of giving the same musical experience to the largest number of people. Recording has superceded it, except for those works in which live performance is still a key component. Unlike theatrical performance pieces, tape works can be fully experienced asynchronously by large numbers of geographically separated people. It is absurd that in 1990 anyone should have to decide whether or not to pass up attending a live ICMC presentation in order to hear pre-recorded material simply because there is no other moment or means of access to that material. It is also absurd that we can only hear the recorded works of our colleagues by traveling thousands of miles, often to another country, at the right time.

Unlike LP records and CDs, which have to be manufactured in substantial quantities in order to be economically feasible at all, tapes can be made individually or in small batches. With digital recording, quality loss is negligable. Tapes can be made available not only to conference attendees but also to the many CMA members and interested others who are unable to attend international conferences, including many independent unaffiliated composers. Tape exposure allows repeated listening, sharing with students and friends, and communication with larger audiences than concert exposure.

The logical solution to the problem of "equal time" for tape compositions in major evening concerts is to give them a more appropriate form of distribution: to make tape music available on tape. The conference CD is a wonderful start in this direction but it is expensive to produce, and is finite in length such that it must be exclusive rather than inclusive in its content.

It's not a simple easy thing to make tapes available, but if any members are interested in pursuing the idea of a tape duplication service (for members or for ICMC submissions or whatever), I suspect that not only conference attendees and the non-attending general membership but also the educational establishment, and even the general musical public might want tapes, and the CMA might actually be able to generate some much needed income by providing them at some percent above cost as an educational service. It would be possible to offer tapes from a library on request, or ongoing subscriptions to various categories of work, for example by composer or sub-medium.

Getting our music to others who want it and finding ways to hear the new works of our colleagues are two problems most of us share. This is one area in which the computer music community seems technologically behind the times. Lets consider innovating in the technology of music distribution to allow access to non-performance musical works outside of concerts.

Any takers? Any thoughts?

Laurie Spiegel


Copyright ©1990 by Laurie Spiegel. All rights reserved.

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