In 1950, the Columbia University Music Department requisitioned a tape recorder to use in teaching and for recording concerts. In 1951, the first tape recorder arrived, an Ampex 400, and Vladimir Ussachevsky (1911–1990), then a junior faculty member, was assigned a job that no one else wanted: the care of the tape recorder. This job was to have important consequences for Ussachevsky and the medium he developed. Electronic music was born.
Over the next ten years, Ussachevsky and his collaborators established the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, which Ussachevsky directed for twenty years. The Center became one of the best-known and most prolific sources of electronic music in the world. This composer portrait (originally issued as CRI 813) features six of his pioneering works in the medium as well as two of his choral works, an aspect of his output that was just as important to him.
The final two works on this CD make extensive use of the human voice. The first of these, Three Scenes from The Creation (1960; rev. 1973), is based on texts from Ovid's Metamorphosis and the Akkadian creation epic Enuma Elish, telling the story of the primordial gods and their struggle to create order out of chaos. The recorded choral tracks were edited, assembled, and manipulated "with electronic accompaniment" in the studio. The Prologue was played in concert and also issued on a Columbia recording. The Interlude, originally Interlude and Conflict, dates from the same time and used recorded soprano and bass voices with electronic and concrète sounds and a live mezzo-soprano. In addition to the vocal and electronic sounds, recordings of piano, bell, and Chinese dinner plate sound are used, modified with the studio techniques that the composer had developed over the years.
In the early 1970s, Ussachevsky returned to acoustic music after nearly two decades of immersion in the electronic medium. It was natural for him to use choral music as the medium of this return. The composer wrote that "growing up as I did in the Russian Orthodox Church, serving as reader and altar boy, the sound of the choir singing the traditional service and works by all the best nineteenth-century Russian composers left an indelible impression." The Missa Brevis (1972) uses the traditional core texts of the mass—Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei—without any particular reference to electronic music.
Vladimir Ussachevsky: Electronic And Acoustic Works 1957-1972