Sometimes, looking back at pioneers can be nostalgic. “Back in my day,” goes the story, “electronic composers were real electronic composers.” But then you hear from someone like Curtis Roads, and his mind-blowing ideas are coupled with a belief that we’re only now reaching the Golden Age of electronic sounds. Rory Ahearn writes to share the latest episode of the show Motherboard on VBS TV, which talks to composer Curtis Roads. Roads was ground-breaking in his early granular synthesis work in the 1970s as he continues to be today.
There are two divergent streams in 20th century electronic music: The one most people are familiar with starts out with goofballs like Jean-Jacques Perrey and Vangelis noodling around on synthesizers and eventually devolves into Kaja Googoo. Curtis Roads is part of the other path, the one that follows insane geniuses like Stockhausen and Morton Subotnik and uses whatever-period-it-happens-to-be’s state-of-the-art computer technology to produce compositions that completely defy conventional music logic and sometimes sound more like a freaked-out ATM than tunes you put on and listen to.
Even having heard him say it before, I never get tired of hearing Roads speak about working with music “below the note level,” and even below the surface level, to sounds that are only perceived when you hear the resulting, total composition. He describes going beyond just notes in the interview:
Electronic music extends the domain of composition from a closed, homogenous set of notes … to an open universe of heterogeneous sound objects … All of a sudden, we’re working with any sound possible. And that really changes the game.
There’s also a rather poetic comment on why synthetic sounds can be wonderful – a notion that always bears repeating:
Natural sounds are beautiful … but the virtual sound world is also beautiful, the world of sine waves, of impulses, of electronically-generated tones. That’s a vast space… Voila!
As seen, as well, on Synthtopia.