david tudor – unexpected territories David Tudor (1926-1996)

David Tudor stands as one of the most central figures in the American and international music scene of the post-war period. The prolific artist, who passed away in 1996, attained status within his lifetime for his contributions as an interpreter, composer and performer as well as a pioneer in the field of live electronics. Up until recently, this appreciation remained largely confined to the world of experimental music itself and generations of composers who further inhabited a compositional universe based on the tenets Tudor so masterfully traversed and shared with collaborators. This stands in contrast to his colleague and friend Cage who has become a more recognizable cultural icon.

Tudor, for almost two decades in the first half of his creative career, was virtually the only interpreter to devote himself exclusively to performing the compositions of the then new generation. He premiered works from the likes of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel, Christian Wolff and - time and again - John Cage. Not only was Tudor a prodigy and virtuoso pianist of the highest order - he was also capable of interpreting scores that, aside from demanding flawless technique, also challenged the performer to employ chance practices and take interpretive individual responsibilities as a performer as called for in those works. It was almost inevitable then that this would also lead Tudor himself to take up composition, which he did with great inventiveness beginning in the 1960s.

It was his approach to technology through home-made electronics that brought Tudor even greater recognition and influence as a composer and inspiration to so many others. He had already begun to experiment with electronic amplification, sound generators and sound modulation devices as early as the late 1950s. Unlike many of his peers of this era who were primarily engaged in composing under the auspices of larger studios and capturing electronic music on magnetic tape, Tudor developed and built his sound generators and modulators largely on his own specifically for his use for live performance. He employed these devices to great affect on stage. He saw this as overcoming the extent limitations of pre-electronic instruments and in that opened the way for a new vocabulary for use of technology for creative collaborations.

His devices, which were often tiny and modular in design, could be employed in a highly flexible manner and combined into chains of devices. The modular devices were thus composed to form networks of sophisticated complexity with sometimes highly unpredictable results to maximize sonic possibilities and diversity. The development of these systems was the door to the creative development of a new genre for collaboration across disciplines. For this reason, Tudor is today considered the progenitor of “live electronics” - a term that can be traced back to Tudor’s experiments on stage, and one which does indeed describe the explicitly new aspect of a mode of performance that began to enjoy ever increasing favour from the mid 1960s. Performances became events beyond the bounds of earlier pre-electronic musical structures. This work transformed the “traditional” concert situation. Works like “Rainforest IV” (1973) consists of a series of resonant sculptural loudspeakers arranged as a sonic environment within museum or alternative spaces. These events transcended previous categories and artistic boundaries. The events were conceived as immersive performed installations.

From the beginning, Tudor collaborated with artists from other disciplines as well as establishing a new mode of collaborative composition and performance. One of David Tudor’s major contributions was in his establishing a framework for interdisciplinary collaboration across sound and music, dance and the visual arts. This mode of collaboration includes the numerous works with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who commissioned Tudor to compose and perform numerous pieces for his dance company, and with visual artists such as: Robert Rauschenberg, Marcel Duchamp, Jackie Matisse, Molly Davies, Fujiko Nakaya and Sophia Ogielska. Evidence of this approach was also visible in his contributions to foundation of E.A.T. and Composers Inside Electronics group that Tudor formed in 1973, with an expansive group of musicians and visual artists engaged in electronics-based works.