A path into Electronic Music
I remember as a child (1940's) in grammar school my father had a home audio disc cutter. It had a microphone that plugged directly into the cutting unit. At first I had great fun with the guys in the neighborhood recording make-believe radio programs patterned after Red Blanchard and other radio programs of the day (late 1940's--early 50's). I also enjoyed recording sound effects and other unusual sounds.
As a teenager I became interested in jazz, purchased a vibraphone and took lessons from Gene Bardoli a San Francisco area drum set player. I was influenced by Milt Jackson and Cal Tjader who I used to watch perform in the San Francisco nightclubs. I put together a quartet and we were playing regularly in local spots. I thought I had a career in jazz until rock-n-roll hit the music scene and the clubs moved from jazz six nights a week to rock-n-roll five nights and one day with jazz.
I decided that if I was going to be involved in music full time I needed to go back to school where my knowledge and love for music expanded to include classical and 20th Century music. Possibly because of my disc recording experience as a child, I was drawn to electronic sound synthesis and was influenced by the very early music in this genre.
Pierre Schaeffer's "music concrete" opened up new and old doors for me. The limitations involved in my father's disc cutter were overcome with the new medium of tape recorded sounds. Now I could use those sounds, like the ones I recorded as a child, in creative and musical ways. I went to work right away and became an expert at splicing tape and overdub recording techniques. I would record the several sounds to be used in a composition, place each category on a separate reel, and then put together a composition by splicing a specific length of tape containing one sound to just the right length of tape of the next sound.
By now I was a student at San Francisco State University (I was there from 1966 to 1970) where Herb Bielawa had just been hired. He had an interest in electronic music and I'm not sure, but I think he must have had some influence in the fact that the music department had just purchased a Buchla synthesizer. (Buchla on the West Coast and Moog on the East Coast were building the first synthesizers at the same time) An electronic music studio had been created at San Francisco State by placing the Buchla in a small room with about three tape decks. There were only two students, Steve Deutsch and myself, that were interested in this new medium and therefore we had plenty of time to share for working in the “studio."
The Buchla synthesizer had a touch sensitive keyboard (not a typical one with black and white keys) that was very unreliable (Buchla3.jpg). Sometimes the keys would respond and sometimes they wouldn't. Moog's first synthesizers used more reliable traditional organ-like keyboards.