[Ed. What follows here is amusing hyperbole; the music for the most part holds up.]
Among all the musical innovations that have taken place in the twentieth century, none has been more dramatic in its reassortment of traditional values than the composition of music for tape recorder, with the recorder acting both as a creative medium and as a performer. This development has, in one action, exploded the element of sound much as the cyclotron has shattered the atom, reducing the component parts to a state of such non-connotative simplicity that they can be reassembled, combined, and spun out in time as an utterly new kind of music.
Poem In Cycles And Bells by Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky was commissioned by conductor Alfred Wallenstein who, in 1954, requested a private hearing of the entire repertoire of tape music composed both jointly and separately by Messrs. Luening and Ussachevsky. He then suggested that two solo tape compositions “Fantasy in Space” (Luening) and “Sonic Contours” (Ussachevsky) could be changed and expanded into a single composition for tape recorder and symphony orchestra.
A Piece For Tape Recorder by Vladimir Ussachevsky fully exploits the instrument as a creative medium. Extensive blending of timbres, transposition of hitches, and a careful control of dynamic properties has resulted in a composition’ wherein little is recognizable as to the origin of the sounds. The materials have been economically used and carefully developed by means of electronic manipulation as well as by traditional, instrumental techniques of thematic development. The composer feels that the work requires no elaborate explanation in order to he appreciated, although, he says, “a variety of subjective interpretations is indeed welcomed from each listener according to his own taste and imagination”.
Suite From “King Lear” by Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky - When called upon by Orson Welles to provide an abstract background score for his New York City Center production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” the composers found it necessary to develop a good deal of new material, tailoring it to the director’s conception. From a total of between forty and fifty cues used in the play, this recorded excerpt has been drawn.
One is not surprised to hear William Bergsma state with regard to Jamaica: “My imaginings took a certain color from the disturbing beauty of that island,” for passages of portentous loveliness present themselves at every turning in the score of The Fortunate Islands. The title, says Bergsma, was taken from “a rather slighting paragraph by Sir Walter Raleigh:
He (the artist) stands on the promontory and watches the shore beneath. He sees the sailors struggling in the surf and pities them; but he cannot aid them or even suffer with them. He does not guide the ship . . . nor discover the Fortunate Islands.
"This perfectly accurate statement annoyed me. Discovery, in his own field, is precisely the purpose of a working composer. While I had never located a new island, I could imagine one I could bring back a sound in celebration of discovery.
“If I were to discover the Fortunate Islands, this piece is what they would sound like. They would have beauty (the slow introduction); energy (the Allegro); they might have element of ritual or terror beyond my comprehension (a slashing passacaglia with one recurrent quarter-tone, deliberately out of tune); of changing dance; and, finally, despite great variety, my Islands would have one spirit: an overall serenity.”
[Excerpted from the liner notes by Lester Trimble]
Music of Luening, Ussachevsky & Bergsma
A *.pdf of the notes may be accessed here free of charge.
Poem in Cycles and Bells
Piece for Tape Recorder
Suite from "King Lear"
Otto Luening, Vladimir Ussachevsky