The creation and marketing of They Call it a Revolution.

 

 

I was a student at San Francisco State College (from 1966 to 1970) where Herb Bielawa had just been hired. He had an interest in electronic music, and he must have had some influence in the fact that the music department had recently purchased a Buchla synthesizer. An Electronic Music Studio had been put together in a small room which contained the Buchla and three reel-to-reel tape decks. There were only two students, Steve Deutsch and myself, that were interested in this new medium and  we had no problem working out a schedule between us  for using the “studio."

 

The Buchla had a touch-sensitive keyboard that was very unreliable. The keys would not always respond as designed.  Moog's first synthesizer used more reliable traditional organ-like keyboards. The intonation of these early synthesizers was very unstable. The pitch would drift as the unit heated up making it very difficult, if not impossible, to create a work using traditional scales and harmonies.  Every few minutes, the oscillators would have to be retuned. The first person to successfully use traditional intonation and harmonies with the Moog synthesizer was Walter Carlos in his "Switched On Bach" recording.

 

This was not a completely negative situation, because from the late 19th through the 20th Centuries, composers had been looking for new timbres and had moved away from the sounds of orchestral instruments and from traditional harmony.  For myself, and I believe many others at the time, this "limitation" encouraged us and made it easier to produce works using new timbres and sound gestures rather than imitating 18th and 19th Century intonation and tonality. 

 

Dr. Beilawa, knowing of my experience in jazz performance, challenged me to use my knowledge of jazz and popular music styles with this new medium. The first result was They Call It A Revolution, a piece utilizing Buchla synthetic sounds with tape loops to create repetitive rhythm patterns (elements from popular music) and my voice speaking words in rhythmic patterns (influenced by Ernst Toch's Geographical Fugue and the technique of sprechstimme used in Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunnaire). Speaking rhythmically as in Rap music wasn't to appear on the scene for several decades.

 

Revolution was created at the time when students were protesting the Vietnam War on the San Francisco State campus (1968-69). The protests resulted in the daily shutting down of the campus. I took advantage of the situation and unbeknownst to anyone, hid in the Electronic Music Studio during the campus evacuations. It was under these circumstances that Revolution was created.

 

I was married and my purpose for getting my education was to be able to support my family. I therefore did not sympathize with the protesters who were breaking into classrooms, disrupting lectures, burning pianos and placing bombs in student lockers, all of which was witnessed by those of us who were serious students with an eye on graduating as soon as possible. The atmosphere was one in which we felt that we were being forced to choose whether we supported the protests or the war. One had to be either left or right--which led to the text of Revolution. Politically, the protests were tied to the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War with those who were fighting for civil rights, but opposing the war being on the left, and the others on the right. From my perspective, Revolution was a protest against the activities which were causing the campus to be closed down. Ironically, as with any work of art, however, those on the left as well as those on the right considered the piece to support their positions.

 

My father-in-law (Pete McFarland) thought that this unusual piece might be worth investing in and gave me five hundred dollars to have a 45-rpm cut, which I did. The label was Mixed Media and the artists were Stan Gibb and the Synthetics. Of course the Synthetics were myself doing all the parts using the new over-dubbing recording techniques (Les Paul style).

 

I took the 45 to several record labels in San Francisco to try to stir up some interest. After hearing it, each label executive said something to the effect that it was very strange, and because they had never heard anything like it before, they were afraid of taking it on. As I walked out of one of their offices, I was approached by Bernie Krause, who was there at the audition of my recording. He said he thought he could do something with it. We verbally agreed that he would share in the profits of anything he could muster up. To my pleasant surprise, a few weeks later, I was hearing Revolution on KGO FM and other stations. KGO had put it on their weekly playlist. It ended up on Bill Gavin's Personal Picks in the Special for Progressive FM category (a music industry newsletter), in which he said: “They Call It A Revolution--Stan Gibb (Mixed Media)--Imaginative use of electronics plus the spoken word conveys an implicit plea for the need to be an individual in the midst of pressures to conform either ‘right’ or ‘left.’  Produced locally in S.F. area, and not yet nationally distributed, that I know of. It's definitely for FM--would lose much on AM only.”

 

I soon received a phone call from a major record label, whose representative had heard Revolution on FM radio. He offered me $2000 (a lot of money in those days especially for a starving student with a wife and child) and the release of an LP with more of my compositions. I told him that I had a verbal agreement with Bernie Krause and that I needed to discuss the offer with him. Krause said that the major labels’ typical game plan for something this new was to buy it, put it on a shelf and do nothing with it. Thus, they wouldn't have to compete with it if another label actually did something with it. Bernie said he was working on a much better deal elsewhere.

 

Not knowing the music business, of course I believed him. He had created a lot of air-play for my recording and I had no reason not to take his advice, so I turned down the offer. A year later, Bernie's deal still had not happened, no other offer had come my way and by that time, the iron was no longer hot. I don't know what really happened, if there really was another deal or what. At any rate, a few years later, I heard Revolution on a TV special called The 60's, which was aired several times on Showtime. I was told it was getting national airplay and I should be getting some performance rights money from ASCAP. Producers are required to turn in a sheet with a list of the music used on their videos to performance rights organizations like ASCAP (of which I was a member), BMI and SESAC. Chuck Braverman had not submitted a list, and therefore ASCAP was not able to survey the performances of Revolution and give me credits. I contacted Braverman and ASCAP, asking them to see that the playlist would be taken care of. Unfortunately, nothing came of it. This experience is what motivated me years later to create a music business emphasis in the music department at Cal Poly where I was teaching, so that students would have a better idea of how to deal with music industry players.

 

Two other pieces stemming from the protests at SF State are also included on the website: The Cause and Give Me Peace At Any Price. The same techniques used in Revolution were used with these pieces. The voice parts however are the voices of three San Francsico State vocal students. After discussing the concepts of the pieces and giving  them the words to be used, I recorded them improvising on those words. The recordings were then used to create tape loops and distortions for the finished products.

 

 

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