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About Morton Subotnick

Morton Subotnick is one of the pioneers in the development of electronic music and multi-media performance and an innovator in works involving instruments and other media, including interactive computer music systems. Most of his music calls for a computer part, or live electronic processing; his oeuvre utilizes many of the important technological breakthroughs in the history of the genre. His work Silver Apples of the Moon has become a modern classic and was recently entered into the National Registry of Recorded works at the Library of Congress. Only 300 recordings throughout the entire history of recordings have been chosen.

In the early 60s, Subotnick taught at Mills College and with Ramon Sender, co-founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center. During this period he collaborated with Anna Halprin in two works (the 3 legged stool and Parades and Changes) and was music director of the Actors Workshop.  It was also during this period that Subotnick worked with Buchla on what may have been the first analog synthesizer (now at the Library of Congress).

In 1966 Subotnick was instrumental in getting a Rockefeller Grant to join the Tape Center with the Mills Chamber Players (a chamber at Mills College with performers Nate Rubin, violin; Bonnie Hampton, cello; Naomi Sparrow, piano and Subotnick, clarinet). The grant required that the Tape Center relocate to a host institution that became Mills College.  Subotnick, however, did not stay with the move, but went to NY with the Actor’s Workshop to become the first music director of the Lincoln Center Rep Company in the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.
He also, along with Len Lye, became an artist in residence at the newly formed Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.  The School of the Arts provided him with a studio (pictures) and a Buchla Synthesizer.  During this period he helped develop and became artistic director of the Electric Circus and the Electric Ear.  This was also the time of the creation of Silver Apples of the Moon, The Wild Bull and Touch.

[The following is by Christian Hertzog from Contemporary Composers ]“The work which brought Subotnick celebrity was Silver Apples of the Moon. Written in 1967 using the Buchla modular synthesizer (an electronic instrument built by Donald Buchla utilizing suggestions from Subotnick and Ramon Sender), this work contains synthesized tone colors, striking for its day, and a control over pitch that many other contemporary electronic composers had relinquished. There is a rich counterpoint of gestures, in marked contrast to the simple surfaces of much contemporary electronic music. There are sections marked by very clear pulses, another unusual trait for its time; Silver Apples of the Moon was commissioned by Nonesuch Records, marking the first time an original large-scale composition had been created specifically for the disc medium - a conscious acknowledgment that the home stereo system constituted a present-day form of chamber music. Subotnick wrote this piece (and subsequent record company commissions) in two parts to correspond to the two sides of an LP. The exciting, exotic timbres and the dance inspiring rhythms caught the ear of the public -- the record was an American bestseller in the classical music category, an extremely unusual occurrence for any contemporary concert music at the time. It has been re-released on Wergo cd with The Wild Bull.

The next eight years saw the production of several more important compositions for LP, realized on the Buchla synthesizer: The Wild Bull, Touch, Sidewinder and Four Butterflies . All of these pieces are marked by sophisticated timbres, contrapuntal rich textures, and sections of continuous pulse suggesting dance. In fact, Silver Apples of the Moon was used as dance music by several companies including the Stuttgart Ballet and Ballet Rambert and The Wild Bull, A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur and The Key to Songs, have been choreographed by leading dance companies throughout the world.”

In 1969 Subotnick was invited be part of a team of artists to move to Los Angeles to plan a new school of the.  Mel Powell as Dean and Subotnick as Associate Dean and the team of four other pairs of artists carved out a new path of music education and created the now famous California Institute of the Arts.  Subotnick remained Associate Dean of the music school for 4 years and then, resigning as Associate Dean, became the head of the composition program where, a few years later, he created a new media program that introduced interactive technology and multi media into the curriculum.  In 1978 Subotnick, with Roger Reynolds and Bernard Rands, produced 5 annual internationally acclaimed new music festivals.

“In 1975, fulfilling another record company commission, (this time, Odyssey) Subotnick composed Until Spring , a work for solo synthesizer. In this work, changes in settings which Subotnick made in real time on the synthesizer were stored as control voltages on a separate tape, enabling him to duplicate any of his performance controls, and to subsequently modify them if he felt the desire to do so. While the use of control voltages was nothing new, it suggested to Subotnick a means to gain exact control over real-time electronic processing equipment.The next step in Subotnick's use of control voltages was the development of the "ghost" box. This is a fairly simple electronic device, consisting of a pitch and envelope follower for a live signal, and the following voltage controlled units: an amplifier, a frequency shifter, and a ring modulator. The control voltages for the ghost box were originally stored on a tape, updated now to E-PROM. A performer, whose miced signal is sent into the ghost box, can then be processed by playing back the pre-recorded tape or E-PROM, containing the control voltages. As neither the tape nor E-PROM produce sound, Subotnick refers to their sound modification as a "ghost score". By providing the performer with exact timings, co-ordination between performer and the ghost score is controlled.

Two Life Histories (1977) was the first piece involving an electronic ghost score; the bulk of Subotnick's output for the next six years was devoted to compositions involving performers and ghost scores. Some of the more notable works in this series include Liquid Strata (piano), Parallel Lines (piccolo accompanied by nine players), The Wild Beasts (trombone and piano), Axolotl (solo cello), The Last Dream of the Beast (solo voice) and The Fluttering of Wings (string quartet). The subtlety, sophistication and control over real-time electronic processing that Subotnick demonstrated in these innovative works secured his reputation as one of the world's most important electronic music composers.

Subotnick reached the apex of live electronic processing in his work Ascent Into Air (1981). Written for the powerful 4C computer at IRCAM, this piece involved many of the techniques which Subotnick had developed in his ghost scores. In addition to the processing normally available to him with his ghost boxes, Subotnick was able to spatially locate sounds in a quadraphonic field and to modulate the timbres of the instruments. But perhaps the most significant aspect of this work is its use of live performers to control the computer music; the live performers, in effect, serve as "control voltages" to influence where a sound is placed, how it is modulated and by how much, etc. -- the reverse situation of the ghost score compositions. Even more remarkable is the ability of traditional musical instruments to control computer generated sounds.”

In addition to music in the electronic medium, Subotnick has written for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, theater and multimedia productions. His "staged tone poem" The Double Life of Amphibians, a collaboration with director Lee Breuer and visual artist Irving Petlin, utilizing live interaction between singers, instrumentalists and computer, was premiered at the 1984 Olympics Arts Festival in Los Angeles. 

The concert version of Jacob's Room, a mono drama commissioned by Betty Freeman for the Kronos Quartet and singer Joan La Barbara, received its premiere in San Francisco in 1985. Jacob's Room, Subotnick's multimedia opera chamber opera (directed by Herbert Blau with video imagery by Steina and Woody Vasulka, featuring Joan La Barbara), received its premiere in Philadelphia in April 1993 under the auspices of The American Music Theater Festival. The Key to Songs, for chamber orchestra and computer, was premiered at the 1985 Aspen Music Festival. Return, commissioned to celebrate the return of Haley's Comet, premiered with an accompanying sky show in the planetarium of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles in 1986. Subotnick's recent works -- among them Jacob's Room , The Key to Songs, Hungers , In Two Worlds, And the Butterflies Begin to Sing and A Desert Flowers -- utilize computerized sound generation, specially designed software Interactor and "intelligent" computer controls which allow the performers to interact with the computer technology.

All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (1994) was an interactive concert work  and a CDROM (perhaps the first of its kind), Making Music (1995), Making More Music (1998) were his first works for children, and an interactive 'Media Poem', Intimate Immensity, premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in NY (1997). The European premiere (1998) was in Karlsrhue, Germany.  A string quartet with CDROM, “Echoes from the Silent Call of Girona” (1998), was premiered in Los Angeles by Southwest Chamber Music.

Subotnick is also doing pioneering work to offer musical creative tools to young children. He has authored a series of six CDROMS for children, a children's website [] and developing a program for classroom and after school programs that will soon become available internationally.   These works are available from Alfred Music Publishers.

At present (2010) he is developing a music curriculum for young children. The curriculum centers around the creating music. The child will learn from creating original music.  He has been commissioned to complete the larger version of the opera, Jacob’s Room.  This will be premiered in 2010 at the Bregenz Festival in Austria. He is also working closely with the Library of Congress as they are preparing an archival presentation of his electronic works.  He tours extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe as a lecturer and composer/performer.  Morton Subotnick is published by Schott Music




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  • Guggenheim Fellowship
  • Rockefeller Grants (3)
  • Meet the Composer (2)
  • American Academy of Arts and Letters Composer Award
  • Brandies Award
  • Deutcher Akademisher Austauschdienst Kunsterprogramm (DAAD), Composer in Residence in Berlin
  • Lifetime Achievement Award (SEAMUS at Dartmouth)
  • ASCAP: John Cage Award
  • ACO: Lifetime Achievement
  • Honorary Doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts
  • "Silver Apples of the Moon" has been added to the National Registry of Recordings

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    Serenade 1 [1958]
    For Clar,Mandolin, Violin, Cello and Piano

    Two Preludes for Piano [1958]

    Sonata for Piano 4 hands [1959]
    First performed in Aspen Colorado

    Sound Blocks: an Heroic Vision [1961]
    For 2 Xylophones, violin, cello, 4 Lighting Flats and 2 Tape Recorders

    Music Director for the Ann Halprin Dance Company [1961-66]

    5 Legged Stool [US Premiere 1962, European Premiere 1963]
    Collaboration with Ann Halprin Dance Company

    Co-Founder and Director of the SF Tape Music Center [1961-65]

    Taught at Mills College [1959-65]

    Theatre Piece after Sonnet 47 of Petrarch [1961-63]
    60 minutes. For Viola, Tape, Two Dancers and Light Show
    Premiered at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in October, 1963.

    Play! No. 1 [1963]
    For WW Quintet, Piano, Tape and Film by Tony Martin
    Premiered at the SF Tape Music Center

    Play! No. 2 [1964]
    For Orchestra, Conductor and Tape Premiered by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Composer conducting

    Mandolin [touring version of Theatre Piece after Sonnet 47 of Petrarch]
    14 minutes For Viola, Tape and Light Show Premiered at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in October, 1964.

    Parades and Changes [US Premiere 1964, UCLA]
    Collaboration with Ann Halprin Dance Company

    Play! No. 3 [1965]
    For Pianist/Mime, Tape, and 16mm Film by Tony Martin Commissioned by Leonard Stein, and premiered by him at the Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, California in March, 1965.

    Play! No. 4 [1965]
    For soprano, vibraphone, Cello, 4 "Game Players", 2 "Game conductors" and two 16mm Films by Tony Martin Premiered at the University of Washington, Seattle, supervised by the composer, Spring, 1965.

    First Director of Music for the Vivean Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center [1966]
    Wrote Music for: The Caucasian Chalk Circleand Danton's Death

    Parades and Changes [NY Premiere 1966, Hunter College]
    Collaboration with Ann Halprin Dance Company

    Artist in Residence at NYU School of the Arts [1966-1969]

    Director of The Electric Circus in NY a Multimedia Disco tech [1967-1958]

    Silver Apples of the Moon [1967]
    Commissioned by Nonesuch Records

    The Wild Bull [1968]
    Commissioned by Nonesuch Records

    Touch [1969]
    Commissioned by Columbia Records

    Joined team to plan Cal Arts [1969]

    Started the Electronic Music Studio at Univ. of Pittsburgh [1969]

    Cal Arts opens Became Associate Dean of Music [1970-1974]

    Sidewinder [1971]
    Commissioned by Columbia Records

    Walker Art Center: Game Room Installation [1972]

    Multi Media version of Four Butterflies [1973]

    Resigned as Associate Dean of Music at Cal Arts and became head of Composition [1974]

    Two Butterflies [1974]
    for Amplified Orchestra 1232-3301; Timp; Perc (solo and tutti); Harp; Strings Commissioned by the NEA for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, premiered on April 17, 1975 conducted by Zubin Mehta.

    Before the Butterfly [1975]
    for Orchestra and 7 Amplified Instruments Soloists: Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, Harp, Violin, Viola, Cello 2222-3221; Timp; Perc (3); Cel; Strings A Bicentennial Commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Boston Symphony Orchestra. Premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in April 1976 conducted by Zubin Mehta.

    Until Spring [1975]
    Commissioned by Columbia Records

    Ten [1963, revised 1976]
    Fl, Ob, Tpt, Tbn, Perc (3), Pf, Va, DB

    Two Life Histories [1977]
    For Clarinet, Male voice and an Electronic Ghost Score Text: Greek mythology and Old Testament Premiered by Marvin Hayes (voice) with the composer (cl.) at the Theater Vanguard, Los Angeles, in April, 1977.

    Liquid Strata [1977]
    Version for Piano and Electronic Ghost Score Commissioned and premiered by Ralph Grierson at the Ojai Festival in May, 1977.

    Passages of the Beast [1978]
    For Clarinet and Electronic Ghost Score Commissioned by the International Clarinet Society.

    Parallel Lines [1978]
    For Piccolo, Electronic Ghost Score, and 9 Players Ob/E.H., Cl/Bass Cl, Tpt, Tbn, Harp, Perc (2), Va, Vc, Commissioned by Lawrence Trott and the International Piccolo Society. Premiered at the Contemporary Music Festival, Valencia, California, in March, 1979. and premiered by Ramon Kireilis at the International Clarinet Congress, Toronto, in June,1978.

    The Wild Beasts [1978]
    For Trombone, Piano, and Electronic Ghost Score Commissioned by Miles Anderson. Premiered by Miles Anderson and Virko Baley at the Contemporary Music Festival,Valencia, California in March, 1978.

    A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur [1978]
    Commissioned by the J.B. Lansing Speaker Company

    After the Butterfly [1979]
    For Trumpet, Electronic Ghost Score, and 7 Players 2 Cl, 2 Tbn, 2 Vc, Perc. Commissioned by Mario Guarneri, premiered at the Monday Evening Concerts, Los Angeles, in October, 1979.

    Place [1979]
    3333-5331; Timp; Perc (3); Harp; Celeste; Mandolin; Strings Commissioned and premiered by the Oregon Symphony, Portland, in March, 1979 conducted by Lawrence Smith.

    The Last Dream of the Beast [1979]
    Soprano, cello section, tape and ghost electronics An aria from The Double Life of Amphibians

    Began working at IRCAM on the commission of The Double Life of Amphibians [1979]

    The First Dream of Light [1980]
    Tuba and Electronic Ghost Score Commissioned by Roger Bobo. Premiered at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Composer's Choice Series in February, 1980.

    DAAD grant, lived in Berlin [1981]

    Ascent Into Air [1981]
    Chamber Ensemble and Computer 2 Vc, Cl, Bass Cl, Tbn, Bass Tbn, 4 Percs, 2 Pfs, Computer. Commissioned by Mme. Pierre Schlumberger, Centre Georges Pompidou, and premiered by the Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by Peter Eotvos at IRCAM in Paris, January 18-21, 1982.

    A Fluttering of Wings [1981]
    For String Quartet with or without an Electronic Ghost Score Commissioned by the NEA for the Juilliard String Quartet. Premiered at the Library of Congress on October 14, 1982.

    An Arsenal of Defense [1982]
    Solo Viola and Electronic Ghost Score Commissioned and premiered by John Graham on November 7, 1982 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

    Axolotl [1982]
    Version for Solo Cello and Electronic Ghost Score Commissioned and premiered by Joel Krosnick at the Library of Congress on February 13, 1981.

    Axolotl [1982]
    Version for Solo Cello, an Electronic Ghost Score, and Chamber Orchestra 1020-0020; Perc (2); Harp; Piano; 8 Cellos; 4 Basses Premiered at the Monday Evening Concerts, Los Angeles, on February 15, 1982.

    Trembling [1983]
    For Violin, Piano, Tape, and Electronic Ghost Score Commissioned by The Library of Congress.

    The Double Life of Amphibians [1984]
    Chamber Orchestra, Two Male Singers, One Female Singer, Dancer, Electronics. Premiered at the Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival, 1984, Lee Brewer, Director, Irving Petlin, Designer.

    Return [1984]
    Commissioned in honor of Haley's Comet

    The Key to Songs [1985]
    2 Pianos, 2 Percs (mallet insts.), Va, Vc, Electronic Sounds All instruments amplified. Commissioned by the Fromm Foundation.

    Residency at MIT [1985]
    Conceived 'Interactor'

    Hungers [1986]
    with Ed Emshwiller
    For Keyboard, Mallets, Cello, Voice, Female Javanese dancer, Video, Lights, and Computer Commissioned by the Los Angeles Festival and the Linz Ars Electronica Festival. Premiered at the Los Angeles Festival, 1986.

    In Two Worlds (Saxophone Concerto) [1987]
    for Soloist doubling on Yamaha WX7 Computerized Wind Controller and Alto Saxophone, with Chamber Orchestra and Computer Premiered by the Electric Orchestra conducted by Richard Gonsky with John Sampen, soloist, January 1988, Cambridge, England.

    And the Butterflies Begin to Sing [1988]
    Chamber Ensemble and Computer 2 Vn, Va, Vc, DB, MIDI keyboard, Computer Commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. First performance July 31, 1988 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    A Desert Flowers [1989]
    for Orchestra and Computer 1011-1111; Marimba; Perc (1); Piano; Strings (or amplified solo strings)

    Jacob's Room [1990-93]
    Opera for 1 Singer, Cello, and Computer. New Music Theater Festival, Philadelphia, Spring 1993

    All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis [1992]
    25 minutes flute, cello, midi piano, midi mallets and computer premiered at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival Summer of 1992

    The Key to Songs
    Concerto Version for Two Pianos, Orchestra, and Computer. Commissioned by Betty Freeman. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, April 1992.

    All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (CD-ROM)[1993]

    Angel Concerto [model for a telecommunication opera] [1994]
    for two singers and keyboard player. The opera takes place in three locations simultaneously. Each character is actually in a different location and the other two are 'virtually' in that location. The premiere was in NY [the Kitchen] , Santa Monica [the Electronic Cafe] and Santa Fe [Site Santa Fe].

    Making Music. A CD-ROM for Children [1994-95]

    Intimate Immensity [1997]
    A Media Poem [Interactive Technology] 80 minutes Two, disclaviers, Two singers, Balinese Dancer and interactively controlled laser discs, computer sound and lights. world premiere at Lincoln center Festival Summer 1997

    Making More Music. A CD-ROM for Children.[1996-97]

    Echoes from the Silent Call of Girona [1998]
    25 Minutes for String Quartet and CD-ROM commissioned by Southwest Chamber Music, Blair String Quartet, Chester String Quartet, and Montclaire String Quartet. Premiered at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles, Oct.'98


    Gestures: CD-ROM
    It Starts With Colors: Surround Sound [Electronic] Release of DVD Surround Sound [Mode] : Touch, A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur, It Starts with Colors.

    String Orch, Voice, Electronics

    Echoes from the Silent Call of Girona: String Orchestra Version


    Release (2003)
    For cl, vn, vc, pno and computer controlled surround sound commissioned by Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Southwest Chamber Music, and Ensemble Sospeso.


    Electronic Works Vol 2. CD/DVD
    Sidewinder, Until Spring [CD]; Sidewinder: Surround Sound with Liquid Light Show by Toni Martin, Until Spring: Surround Sound [DVD] [Mode].
    Silver Apples of the Moon
    New version of the seminal Nonesuch recording, revised for live performance in multichannel surround sound [Premiered: Ojai Festival, Ojai, California]
    Until Spring Revisited
    Created from the 1975 Columbia Records commission for live performance in Surround Sound [Premiered: Sounds Like Now Festival, La Mama, New York, NY].
    Parades and Changes
    Re-creation of the original work with the Ann Halprin Dance company [Paris, France] Hearing Music
    Children's CD-ROM
    Zimmer Children's Museum
    Children's interactive exhibit from the Making Music CD-ROM series [Zimmer Children's Musem, Los Angeles, CA]
    Playing Music
    Children's CD-ROM
    Making Music Pilot Program
    Children's music education workshops based on Making Music CD-ROM series with additional curricular materials [Pasadena, CA and New York, NY].