Conversations with Post World War II Pioneers of Electronic Music

By Woloshyn, Alexa | Intersections, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Conversations with Post World War II Pioneers of Electronic Music


Woloshyn, Alexa, Intersections


Norma Beecroft. 2015. Conversations with Post World War II Pioneers of Electronic Music. Self-published with assistance from the Canadian Music Centre. E-book.

By the late 1970s, electronic music had established itself as a viable and varied path to the future of music-beyond the initial opposition by proponents of musique concrete and elektronische Musik-with composers around the world embracing sound recording and synthesis technologies for diverse musical ends. Following the most well known experiments in Paris and Cologne, the USA and Canada were also becoming leaders in tape works and live electronic music. Computer technology was still relatively new to the electronic music world, and many composers viewed the computer equally with skepticism and optimism. A time now long since consigned to twentieth-century music textbooks, the late 1970s comes to life anew with the stories and personalities of the giants of electronic music in Norma Beecroft's Conversations with Post World War II Pioneers of Electronic Music (published as an e-book in 2015 by the Canadian Music Centre).

This book has been almost 40 years in the making: it features twentythree interviews conducted in 1977, now available as both audio podcasts and transcribed in the e-book. These interviews were previously unavailable, but through careful transcriptions and digital transfer and editing of the original audio recordings (by William Van Ree), readers and listeners can join Beecroft in first hearing about and then reflecting on the "explosion of creativity" (p. 5) and relationship between art and technology witnessed in the decades following World War II.

Most impressive about this book is the list of electronic/electroacoustic giants and the international reach of Beecroft's interviews, including France's Pierre Schaeffer, Germany's Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig, Italy's Luciano Berio, and USA's John Cage and Vladimir Ussachevsky. Given Canada's frequent absence in electronic music historiography, Canadian music scholars will rejoice that this publication includes five interviews with Canadian composers and leaders in electronic music: Gustav Ciamaga, Barry Truax, Bill Buxton, James Montgomery, and Bengt Hambraeus.

The persistent gender gap in electronic music history is clearly evident in Conversations, with no women composers included in the interviews. This is hardly surprising given the project's provenance in the late 1970s, as women electronic/electroacoustic composers still continue to fight against the gender bias in the twice male-dominated space of electronic music (composition + technology). However, it is Beecroft's voice in text and more powerfully in the audio files, juxtaposed against the voices of over twenty men, that highlights this divide. Women are mentioned in some interviews, including Nadia Boulanger (Iannis Xenakis), Pauline Oliveros (John Cage), Roslyn Brogue Henning (Earle Brown), and Daphne Oram (Hugh Davies, Desmond Briscoe). Beecroft herself has an impressive biography as composer and radio broadcaster, with a focus on contemporary music and electronic music. Her knowledge of and passion for this music pervades Conversations and enabled her to have extensive and insightful conversations with the famous pioneers of electronic music, people who, for so many of us, can only be names we read about in books.

Beecroft's task as interviewer was sometimes easy; for example, John Cage's gentle demeanour and propensity for storytelling resulted in a wonderful and warm conversation. Other interviews required Beecroft to reword questions and keep the interviewees on topic. She handled this with ease, including conducting interviews with Schaeffer and François Bayle in French. These two interviews are published in both French and English.

The greatest offering of Conversations is the personal perspectives on aesthetics, technologies, and personalities within electronic music history. …

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