Thursday, December 17, 2009
(Still from Evolution of the Red Star. Adam Beckett 1973.)
Carl Stone Interview 8/27/09 Los Angeles La Brea Farmers Market by Owen O'Toole
The context for this discussion was the recent Adam Beckett commemorative exhibition at The Academy of Motion Picture Sciences. Beckett's ground-breaking animated films were restored by Mark Toscano of The Academy.
Owen O'Toole: We were both at that screening, myself by virtue of knowing Mark Toscano, who worked at Canyon Cinema at a time when I was on the board of directors there, and I assume you came to that screening as a) having been a composer on one of the films that was restored and b) being part of that whole milieu.
Carl Stone: Adam was a friend and I knew him actually in high school, we went to the same high school together and then knew him at Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) as well, and then we worked together, I did that soundtrack for Evolution of the Red Star, and so it was Mark in fact who, well both Mark and Pam (Taylor Turner) contacted me about this, she contacted me for memory about Adam and trying to piece together his life in retrospect. She's a film historian based in Virginia, one of the moderators. So she had contacted me and then also Toscano contacted me about some technical stuff around the restoration of Red Star. And he was very kind, he invited me over to the Academy, showed me the work that they had been doing. They've been doing a lot of great work restoring not only Adam's stuff but a lot of very important experimental filmmakers: Brakhage and others, and working from the original materials which is mind boggling when you think about it.
OO: It's so great that at least motion picture film has tremendous life span. It's not something you can say for magnetic tape is it?
OO: Though I guess Mark was working with mag stock originals from the lab that contained your original soundtracks on them.
CS: I believe so yes, he got a hold somehow.. I guess Adam must have had the foresight to keep those things at his mother's house or maybe they were stored at Cal Arts, that would make more sense.
OO: Or a film lab where prints were... doubtful?
CS: I just don''t think Adam would have done that. I would have thought he kept them at his place in Val Verde, and thank god he didn't.
OO: Is that the place that burned down and he died at?
CS: That place burned to the ground, yeah. So he must have kept them either at Cal Arts or some other location and they were saved and available to be used.
OO: Mark also mentioned that he'd discussed with you the other works you'd done from that period, and you also mentioned that they're in your garage. Could you talk about that material? You're saying that the restorable aspects might be in question on some of this material.
CS: Well again, as you alluded to, audio tape stock in the '70's had some pretty severe manufacturing flaws that require a lot of care and attention to get around these days. There's a whole industry built around restoring old mag tapes which tend to ooze gummy residue.
OO: The adhesive.
CS: Yeah, and the actual magnetic filings will fall off leaving the tape meaningless. So you have to bake them and then you basically have, my understanding is, i've never done it myself...
OO: And then you get one opportunity to play it back.
CS: You've got one chance to play it and load it onto some presumably non-destructive medium like electronic...
CS: So my masters are there. They were all done at that time, they were all using 3M tape which is especially notorious.
OO: That's quarter inch stereo recordings?
CS: Generally the way I worked is: the studio I worked in had 2 half inch 4 track tape recorders recorders and then two or three half track tape recorders plus a synthesizer of course. All my pieces were made usually recording through the process of overdubbing onto the 4 tracks and then the final product would usually be a 4 track version accompanied by a mix-down 2-track version, which would be easier to send out for people to listen to or play in a concert.
OO: Just to jump back, how did you come to go to Cal Arts as a musician or sound artist at that point? Was there already a burgeoning program led by somebody, was there a teacher there who was a luminary?
CS: Yeah. well I graduated high school right at the time when Cal Arts was starting up as Cal Arts and so everyone was very excited about this new citadel of the avant garde that was going to be opening up. And I didnt know that much about the history of electronic music or who was doing what, but I had come across..., I mean I knew Cage's work and some of the computer music done by people like Milton Babbitt, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Pierre Henry I'd heard a little of, but I knew that I loved synthesized sound and I was very interested in the idea of sythesis. I had come to be interested in electronics because of my work playing improvisational rock keyboards when I was in high school. I was influenced by the keyboardist for the Soft Machine, a guy named Michael Ratledge. And the things that he was doing, sort of simple in retrospect... He basically hot rodded a console organ and then put it through fuzz, distortion and wah wah and things like that, and so it was kind of a new sound world. And that led me to be interested in synthesis and Cal Arts was opening up, I knew they were going to have one or two big synthesizer studios, and I knew I wanted to go. I was just graduating and had no other plan. And so when I was there I came to know who Morton Subotnik, who ran the program, was, and met a lot of people like Charlemagne Palestine, Ingram Marshall..., they were TA's there. Serge Trepnin was also a TA there and he went on to build and design his own synthesizers.
OO: Modular sythesizers?
CS: Yeah, they were sort of Buchla 2.0. I think he took a lot of the best parts of Buchla 's designs and improved on them.
OO: I think of the keyboardless ribbon when i think of Buchla. Was there anything else that was specifically unique to his intruments?
CS: Yeah, a lot of things. Moog was optimized for people who wanted almost an extended organ, (that was) using a black and white keyboard. It was very much oriented towards diatonic music, twelve tones, and the oscillators themselves were calibrated to provide...
OO: Whole tone increments.
CS: Right, or half tone increments, whatever. Of course you could get in between, but it was different from Buchla which said the world of sound is a blank slate, we're not going to calibrate, we're not going to make any concessions to western music by including a black and white keyboard, we're just going to go back to ground zero.
OO: So Buchla's piece is interesting as a microtonal instrument essentially or potentially.
CS: Well yeah, it made microtonal music as easy to do as.. It made tonal music harder to do and so as a consequence it gave a kind of promotional bias towards microtoal music. And so yes, all the music that those of us who were at Cal Arts in those days tended to.. nobody was doing Bach transcriptions or arrangements or even writing tonal music at all. I mean some music might have tonal implications but you almost had to work hard in order to do that.
OO: And Subotnik brought the Buchla machine to Cal Arts.
CS: Yeah, he's the one who arranged it. He and Buchla had a working arrangement that went back to his days at the San Francisco Tape Center and on through New York, and so he brought Buchla in and purchased... Actually we had 3 studios of Buchla equipment.
OO: Was that a high point in production of Buchlas or was it just good timing in terms of that equipment being (available)?
CS: I think it was an economical shot in the arm to the Buchla business and allowed him... We had the first generation, the so called 100 series and then a year or 2 after that everything was upgraded to the so called 200 series which was a big improvement. And then later on there were other series and Buchla continued his development. Yeah, i think it was kind of a perfect moment actually.
OO: Was Evolution of the Red Star..., was that early on in your time at Cal Arts?
CS: About midway. I believe Evolution of the Red Star was '72 or '73 in my memory.
OO: I think it said '73 on the title card.
CS: That sounds right.
OO: What years were you there?
CS: '70 to '75.
OO: And was Subotnik there that whole time?
OO: And it was a pretty exciting place to be?
CS: I found it to be, yes.
OO: Who were some of the other music students who you talked with and i assume worked with on things a lot.
CS: The graduate students, like Charlemagne Palestine, Ingram Marshall i mentioned. Students kind of at my age level more or less, undergrads, were...
OO: Barry Shrader was mentioned.
CS: Barry Shrader was a teacher. He had more hands on with the Buchlas and taught the class of fundamentals. He taught an electronic music history class and others. You should interview Barry if you can. Other students: Chas Smith , William Hawley, Earl Howard, Joseph Paul Taylor... I'm just talking about the electronic music studio now. David Mahler...
OO: Are these people that you are still in contact with at all?
CS: Pretty much, some more than others.
OO: Are most of them active?
CS: Well again, some more than others. Joseph Paul Taylor, who was just known as Paul Taylor at the time, seems to have dropped out of music unfortunately, he was a great musician. Earl Howard is very much continuing. William Hawley is not doing electronic music anymore as far as i know but he is still composing. Chas Smith... you're familiar with, he's doing stuff.
OO: Well maybe that's an appropriate point to ask about the world that I know him through, which is the Cold Blue record label, and another person involved with that: Daniel Lentz. Is that a world that intersected with yours much other than knowing Chas Smith at Cal Arts?
CS: Well the roots of Cold Blue go back to Jim Fox, who started the label and pulled the artists on the label together. Many of those artists like Rick Cox and...
OO: Was Peter Garland part of that?
CS: Well, Peter was at Cal Arts. So... Jim Fox was going to the University of Redlands and he was a student of Barney Childs. And so he and Rick Cox and a couple of other people, Barney Childs' students, they were out there. We didn't know them. Barney Childs came to Cal Arts a couple times and did little guest lectures, but i dont think there was that much interaction between the student bodies of the 2 schools. Later, Jim came to LA and brought his coterie with him but then also embraced Chas Smith who was a student at Cal Arts, Peter Garland who was a student at Cal Arts but did not do electronic music. Daniel Lentz was older than everybody else, little bit of a different generation actually, already had a reputation and was based out of Santa Barbara.
OO: Did that become part of the Venice and Santa Monica new music scene, the Cold Blue people? There was a record shop in Venice that I visited in the early 90's and it seemed like it had bins deeply devoted to some of this music and I hadnt seen that elsewhere. There was Rhino Records, and some other record stores that sold new music, but there was this one record shop off of Main St. that I thought must be affiliated with Cold Blue Records.
CS: Certainly did not exist in the 70s at all. Record stores in the 70s, there was Rhino, there was Poobah in Pasadena, there was Aron Records. That was pretty much it. Rhino was kind of your go to place for experimental, improv, electronic stuff. Poobah was also good. That was pretty much it, come to think of it. And Arons.
OO: So Jim Fox, he came to LA well after you were done with Cal Arts...
CS: I think Jim was starting to make his presence felt in the late '70s, maybe very beginning of the '80s, and I graduated in '75.
OO: And where did you take yourself to after finishing school, was there a next step?
CS: Well after finishing school my main activity in the music community here was to co-found an organisation called the Independent Composers Association, ICA, and we started it in about '77. It was a number of ex-Cal Arts students joining together with some UCLA students, a bunch of people who just graduated, who quickly discovered that the only way to get your music performed was to produce the performances yourselves. So a number of us gathered together as a collective and...
OO: Started doing concerts?
CS: Exactly. So, Jim Fox was not a core member of that group, but I think along the way we started some alliances with him. Then in 1978 I started working at a radio station, at KPFK, the Pacifica Station in Los Angeles, and I became the music director there and so my vantage point was as the music director of the local Pacifica station, and I wasn't really working on a daily basis with the ICA anymore, I was more cooperating with them on doing stuff.
OO: When you left Cal Arts did you go back to using the Buchla in those studios occasionally? What did you set yourself up with in terms of home equipment that allowed you to continue being an artist?
CS: Right, It's a very good question because it required a big paradigm change of thinking, because working at Cal Arts, basically I couldn't work there anymore once I graduated. So I had to figure out a way to continue composing. I'd become sort of spoiled. I mean, the synthesizer at Cal Arts was many hundreds of thousands of dollars in its day. Of course today for a thousand dollars you could buy the same amount of power, but that's what it cost in those days, plus all those tape recorders and everything. I really didn't know what to do for a while. But being at the radio station, the radio station had tape recorders and it had LP record players and it had a big music library and so that was... I said: this is what i've got, what can i do? So the first pieces that I consider part of my professional output and which I think are important pieces at least in my own musical history are the pieces that I did in the upstairs production studio, pieces like Sukothai and Woo Lae Oak which came out on LP that you have. Those were done at the studios of KPFK and I used KPFK... again, just a couple of tape recorders and a record player, microphones, because I didnt have... Nobody had a home studio then. You couldnt have a home studio unless you were very, very wealthy, a studio musician, or affiliated with some major institution.
OO: What did they have, some Revox decks?
CS: KPFK had a bunch of Scully quarter inch machines, that's all.
OO: And you did everything that one does with open reel tape recorders: tape delay and loop making...?
CS: Well, i did a lot of loop making, yes. Basically the technique that i worked on that sort of got me started, which is emblemised, if that's a word, with my piece Sukothai, and is also used to a certain extent in Woo Lae Oak, is a multiplicative process I call layering, where basically... the way I did Sukothai was I took a recording out of the music library and I just played it on the turntable and I copied it onto tape in stereo. Then I rewound the tape recorder, I mixed the 2 channels of the stereo tape onto mono and I recorded it on the left channel of the 2nd tape recorder. I rewound again and I recorded it on the right channel. It was a harpsichord recording, so I went from having one harpsichord performance to having 2 slightly delayed in time. Just like a delay effect, right? Simple cannon. And then what I did is I took that recording, I rewound and mixed the 2 harpsichords to mono and I recorded that on the left channel of the other tape recorder and rewound again and recorded the 2 on the right channel. So now I had 4 harpsichords and the rhythmic..., the pattern of delay had become irregular, right? 'Cause it was done in 2 passes.
OO: And in discrete channels these kinds of effects do incredible things, the same information coming... It's one thing if they are both panned equally to the 2 channels, that's one type of delay, but the discrete left and right delay, it's a pretty awesome sound structure.
CS: Well, especially if you keep going. Because that's what i did is I rewound the tape again and I mixed down the 4 tracks of the harpsichord into mono, and then I just continued this process over and over and over and over and over and over again until I had 1,024.
CS: It only took 10 times, but it took all night to do that. And basically... then what I did to make the final piece is I just took it serially and assembled the final mixes: 1,2,4,8,16, and all the way through, and that's the piece. So I didnt use all the techniques available to the contemporary musique concrete artists, there are so many of them. I just concentrated on 2 or 3, looping and layering being the main ones. And so I built a bunch of pieces just based on those techniques.
OO: In the time at Cal Arts, did Subotnik bring a lot of other artists through to influence the students who were there? What about Alvin Lucier?
CS: Alvin Lucier, definitely.
OO: New York people...
CS: Well, yes.
OO: Gordon Mumma, is he a west coaster?
CS: Yeah, he's originally from I think Ann Arbor, but taught at Santa Cruz for many years. Gordon Mumma definitely came through. Steve Reich, Philip Glass, they all came through. Lucier probably came through, I dont have a specific memory but we certainly knew his music because in history class that I took we listened to I Am Sitting in a Room. You know that piece?
CS: Well that was very influential, and the piece I just described to you, my piece Sukothai was very influenced by that kind of serial process assembly.
OO: I dont know how much later this is, and I dont know if its the first piece of yours I heard, but it's on one of the Trance Port tape releases, i think it was called LA Mantra... But anyway, the piece Wave Heat, it's a pop song, what is it: Linda Ronstadt?
CS: Heat Wave is... Well, she may have done a cover, but the original was by Martha and the Vandellas.
OO: Right, it was a Motown track. So that's along the same trajectory in terms of your tape work. Was that done at KPFK?
CS: Well, that was done by..., that was like 1982, and the KPFK pieces I described to you were done in '79 and '80. Sukothia was '79, Woo Lae Oak was I think '80 or '81. Then what I was interested in is the idea of real time performance, and I didnt really see tape as being a truly... I mean, I did some performances mixing tapes in real time, but there was a certain lack of spontaneity and a certain lack of control. You're working with these very fixed objects, like tapes. There was no random access in those days, you had to rewind tapes and fast forward tapes to get to the location you wanted, and it seemd to me first of all that LP records... They weren't truly random access, but at least you could pick a needle up and put it down somewhere else. You could go backwards and forwards. So I was kind of a proto DJ, because I started fooling around with turntables and I thought: how about using turntables for live performance? Didn't occur to me to make my own records, that seemed out of the question, nobody was doing it then and making a record would mean... Usually it meant you had to print 500 or a thousand copies in those days. A lot of money.
OO: But you were doing a radio show as well as working at the station, right? so playing music was the most natural thing in the world...
CS: That's right. And just fooling around with turntables was very natural too, and doing mixes and things like that on the air, we did stuff like that. But what happened was I discovered a stereo digital delay with some special features, and again this is 1980, '81. Digital delays now with looping, you can get 'em for 100 bucks, maybe if you want to buy a hand version you might pay 500$, 600 or a thousand if you're really splurging. You had to work hard to pay 5,000$ for a car in those days and that's what this thing cost. But I did some fundraising. My dad helped, I got family friends.
OO: For the station studio?
CS: No, for my self.
OO: Oh, wow. That's incredible.
CS: Raised the money...
OO: What was that thing called?
CS: It was called a Publison DH-89.
OO: Do you still have it?
CS: It got stolen from me twice. Not once but twice. They broke into my house in Hollywood, they stole it, it was insured, I got a new one and they stole it again.
OO: Wow. They knew what they were looking for.
CS: Well, they wiped me out, they took everything. They probably didnt know what it was. Who knows where those things ended up? There weren't that many of them in the market place, in fact there were so few of them in the marketplace... They were sold mostly to rich rock musicians. And once, they had an office in LA, a sales office. The company was French, but they had a sales office in LA and once I went to the office and met with the guy, they were friendly. And above the guy sitting at his desk was a huge sign that said: What do Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Carl Stone, bla bla bla, have in common?
OO: Really? You were up there?
CS: I was up there. Not because they even knew who I was. They knew that I'd bought one and I was like one of twenty people in the world who had one.
OO: That's sweet. Do you have a picture of that somewhere?
CS: I don't have a picture of it, goddam it, but somewhere...
OO: I think you need to photoshop one up. With Publison...
CS: I should. But they also ran ads in some electronic music magazine or studio sound and I do somewhere have a clipping of kind of the same thing.
OO: With it you were able to make similar effects as you were getting with that channel separation..., or was it a new...
CS: Well I sort of moved on from that. I wasn't trying to duplicate that effect so much as I became interested in chopping, looping, repeating, and so Wave Heat was a kind of early version of some of the pieces that you can find on my website now, if you go there, the pieces from the '80s, Shibucho and Dong Il Jang. Go to my website and you'll find them, the pieces that used that Publison.
OO: Is Wave Heat on there?
CS: Wave Heat's not on there
OO: Do you have a decent copy of that? It was put out on cassette in a fairly decent sounding edition that I played on the radio for years. Ha ha.
CS: I have the master somewhere, the stereo master somewhere. My archive version is probably from the cassette.
OO: Well it makes sense, in terms of that change of equipment, because you can hear the combing things that are happening in that piece and it's pretty fascinating. I enjoyed it a lot and I think it's what drew me to your work. It might be that piece alone, there may have been some other... Were there some other releases? Just to focus on that for a second: Trance Port tapes and a produce, he wasn't a Cal Arts person, was he?
CS: No, as far as I know, I don't believe he was. Where did he come from? I'm not even sure. He just contacted me out of the blue.
OO: OK. Because he did an interesting job. He also produced a couple of CDs of his own work that are somewhat interesting, kind of sample space music. And then he invented packaging for cassettes, this was during the time when cassette was the radical exchange medium, and everybody, especially people at radio stations, used them to trade material.
CS: Yeah. I hated them, I hated cassette. I always did. Sounded shitty, was very hard to find an exact location, they broke, they jammed, got caught.
OO: So you tended not to use it..?
CS: You couldnt help it because it was what everyone else was using, and for years if you wanted to send out demos of your work you had to do it on cassette, couldn't avoid it, but I never liked them. And I was so glad when the compact disc came out as a medium, and when the cd burner came out I was really happy 'cuz then I could make my own CDs and get rid of the whole cassette thing forever.
OO: I failed to ask questions about this: Mark Toscano specifically encouraged me to ask you a little bit more about collaborating with filmmakers and soundtrack work in general. First, he mentioned 2 other films that i guess were produced at Cal Arts that he says you did soundtracks for: Amusement Park Composition and Decay, was that by Roberta Friedman and Graham Weinbren?
OO: And then Accident by Jules Engel.
OO: Did you talk with Mark about those when you met with him recently, or...
CS: Not recently, we didnt talk about it recently.
OO: Is there anything about those 2 film soundtracks that you recall that were especially neat, maybe in relation to Evolution of The Red Star? Do you remember those soundtracks, those films at all?
CS: It has been many years since I've seen or heard those films. It was a revelation listening to Red Star after many years, and it's obviously an early work of mine and in some respects I hear it as such. But on the other hand I dont think it sucks and I see in it the kind of seeds of a number of tendencies that I've followed in later years. and some of the tricks and techniques that I use today have their origins maybe in that soundtrack. I dont know what it would be like..., I would be very curious to listen to Amusement Park, or to see it. I recall, Red Star came together in a way that felt right. I think Adam and I, we may have had some spirited discussion, but we basically understood each others ideas and it all came together in a way that I think we felt good about. As I recall Amusement Park was a bit more of a struggle, it wasnt quite as natural a process, and Accident also came together pretty well I think. But the thing about Accident that disappointed both me and Jules Engel, who was the filmmaker, was that the small details of the sound that I put in the soundtrack did not survive.
OO: Because of the bandwidth of the 16mm...
CS: Because of the bandwidth of the optical soundtrack, yeah. And I being very young and very inexperienced really didnt understand that I was going to lose the detail that I wanted. And Jules was..., I think we did it twice: we mastered it, we got the optical print back and we sat down and we listened to it and we both said: what went wrong? Jules probably paid for it out of his own pocket. We had to go back and we just tried the whole thing again to see if we could get a better version and it didnt work. It was just too much to ask for an optical soundtrack.
OO: So when Adam Beckett's films all listed a mixer...?
CS: Don Worthen. He's the guy who did the Accident soundtrack too.
OO: Was he a professional in town somewhere?
CS: His roots were in Hollywood, he was a professional sound man in Hollywood for many years, good reputation. And Cal Arts hired him to run the film sound department.
OO: So they had a printer head at the school to burn soundtracks onto?
CS: They didn't burn the soundtracks, but he did all the mixing. He did the transfers on to mag stock and the mixing. They had maybe a 3 channel..., you know these big machines, you thread them up, it would be like 35mm mag stock going through all these...
OO: Pretty impressive.
CS: Uh huh, in those days it was phenomenal. And they had a mixing room and so on.
OO: So he was supposed to understand some of the limitations of the medium and he did his best...
CS: He did his best, absolutely, and we just didnt... I didnt have the vocabulary or really even the full understanding of what a microtransient was, to know that that's what we were losing. And that is exactly what it was, just that transient response both in terms of the overall bandwidth and the ability.. You just can't cut that into a 16mm optical track.
OO: I'm still having a little bit of a disjoinder in terms of understanding how Adam Beckett's work suddenly made its way towards the production of Star Wars. I guess George Lucas sort of swooped in and saw a creative universe under the direction of Jules Engel, was it?
CS: Jules Engel was the head of the animation department and yes, I think they sensed that there was...
OO: And It was an affordable work crew and they were interested in sci-fi to some extent. Some of the talk about Beckett was that he was a sci-fi enthusiast.
CS: Yeah... I think if he had been a stamp collector it wouldn't have made any difference.
OO: It was networks of friends?
CS: Yeah, I think that's what it was.
OO: What about your work as soundtrack? I saw the piece you did for dance with Akira Kasai and I assume you've done some other dance related compositions. I think, in the arts world..., just the possibility that dance can exist... It's a whole other world than film which is high finance. Dance is almost an aberration to the money system. The fact that human bodies on a stage can still be presented sensibly is a miracle. And so it's natural that artists would work together through those 2 mediums. Have you had any interesting run ins with filmmakers, where things happen? I dont know of any other soundtrack work that you've done. To me it would seem natural that your work would make its way to film soundtrack. Have there been any intimations in that direction or any courtings between yourself and filmmakers that either did or didn't materialize, that you want to mention?
CS: In commercial film: nothing. I never pursued it. And nobody came to me. I have done soundtracks for experimental film. Most recent was with 2 films by Pat O'Neil. Do you know his work at all? They were presented at the Getty here in LA and in England and also at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
OO: Was that compositions originally made for his films.
CS: Yes. And designed to be performed live or as a fixed soundtrack.
OO: You mentioned some live presentations, were those pretty wonderful? Did you enjoy them?
CS: Depends who you ask. I enjoyed them and we got good results. I mean, the exact same program presented originally in LA and in San Francisco. In LA some people dug it of course and some people walked out. In San Francisco everybody dug it. What can I say?
OO: And so opportunities to present live, performance based music is a primary interest to you or is that something that maybe requires a little more expense in terms of putting it together and maybe funding?
CS: Well it is fun to do and you have the added spontaneity of the moment, plus the added ability to really screw up royally and get all messed up. Which I've... I've done both. Both are interesting, having a fixed soundtrack that's perfectly polished and really great, is fine. Doing stuff live is fine too, I don't have a strong philosophical predilection one way or the other.
OO: So you're open to doing work as it comes to you.
CS: Yeah. I mean it would depend on the artist and our ability to communicate and our common aesthetic ground. I feel aesthetically, I really like Pat's work and always felt... I've always loved it. You know he was at Cal Arts as a teacher, he was Adam Beckett's teacher. And I loved his work then. I didn't particularly like his soundtracks at the time. I always thought: Oh god i hope someday I'll have a chance to do a soundtrack for Pat O'Neil. And it took 35 years but eventually I had the chance.
OO: That's kind of what it's all about: to work with the people who you've admired and learned so much from, to be able to give back into their work and become part of those lives. Pretty nice reward even though... it's not the most lucrative career in the world.
CS: Yeah, that's a very polite way to put it.
OO: So, you have a teaching gig in Japan, which is probably wonderful in some ways. From my point of view you've done a great job of getting your work out there and being involved in growing communities of sound art, at least here on the west coast, Los Angeles, San Francisco. I don't exactly know what your relationship is with east coast people, i'm sure you have contacts, friends there who contact you. But making a living is difficult as a sound artist or composer of electronic music, isnt it?
CS: Well, it's so difficult that I gave up trying. I mean, I basically for years... of course i was never 100%. I mean, I worked for a radio station, I ran the California office of Meet the Composer which is a funding organization, I did freelance consulting. and stuff. But I for many years was sort of proud of the fact that I never taught at a university, I didn't do any Hollywood soundtracks, I was kind of scraping by on my own music ... as music. But it was getting harder and harder and it got to the point where it became almost impossible really. And fortunately I did get an opportunity, I was offered a job to teach at a university in Japan. Which you know... if teaching at a university can be a drag at least teaching at a university in Japan would be a challenge.
OO: Language wise?
CS: Language, culture, business culture, everything. So I decided to go for it. It also coincided with the takeover of the Bush Administration, 9-11, the rise of...
OO: The right.
CS: The rise of the right. And the fall of the media in this country, so it seemed a good time to put a little distance between me and the US.
OO: How is the technology for music for you these days. Do you see the tools for the composer to be immense and fruitful? Is it absolutely a good time for say: a young person wanting to explore... making music? Is there great equipment, and, I mean, software winds up being a big part of composing electronic music doesn't it?
OO: I realize MAX has been a huge part of, and other MIDI driver type... That's actually more of a virtual synthesis program, but are there any other tools that you've run across over the past 10 years. I don't think i've talked to you since... didn't you do a piece in Japan with like 100 iMacs playing ..
CS: Well, 50 but who's counting? For a long time the music software that I was using was only available for a Mac platform. Now it doesn't matter, any platform. The tools that I use are available for any platform, like MAX.
OO: If someone threw a laptop of any type at you and an internet connection, could you get going relatively quickly?
CS: Yeah. of course. I've stuck with the same platform for a long time, MAX/MSP as you said. I haven't really felt the need to move beyond that because I'm able to do everything that I want to do with that, and it runs on a Mac, it runs on windows, and it runs on Linux, so...
OO: Has cycling (cycling 74) been a responsive company to your needs? Have you needed to contact them about things over the years.
CS: A few things. I beta-tested one of the early versions of MAX. And from time to time will send them a suggestion or a complaint. Their user base is very large and a lot of cool ideas come from them. I've found that their improvements have pretty much tracked my needs even without me having to say a lot to them.
OO: I know that there's a lot more that we could talk about of the past 20 years. Maybe next winter we could do another one.
CS: I like this. Sure.