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The Patch Cord Godfather

Talking with Morton Subotnick about the intersection of technology and creativity

At 79, Morton Subotnick is by no means resting on his laurels, as substantial as those laurels may be. Several years ago, Subotnick, one of the co-developers of the first analog synthesizer, which Don Buchla constructed in 1963, started using Ableton Live in his own performances and recordings — which is a bit like if Les Paul had started using an iPad in his weekly sessions at the Iridium. But the fact that Subotnick did fiddle with and then embrace the Live software is an emblem of his trademark curiosity and creative energy. I had the opportunity to talk with Subotnick in advance of a pair of upcoming Colorado events — one at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and the other at the Communikey Festival in Boulder. He’s touring and performing with Lillevan, the German visual artist. My interview appears today in the Colorado Springs Independent. Below is one back’n’forth from the Q&A. I will post more of the full transcript here at Disquiet.com at a later date.

Marc Weidenbaum: Does new technology help you achieve old musical ideas, or does it introduce new musical ideas?

Morton Subotnick: When my mother died, I got some boxes of old stuff and I found an essay I had written, I think, in high school.

It was a short story that described a time in the future when I came into a concert when they were doing a late Beethoven string quartet. The four musicians were on the stage with no instruments. They were sitting in chairs and they had bands around their arms and chests, attached to their chairs, and they had their music in front of them — and with their bodies and their minds they were playing their parts.

There was no sound in the auditorium. It was not quite like brain waves, it was more a physical thing; they were able to project the music through the electric currents in the room.

So, I’m still struggling to realize the ideas I had in 1960 and 1961. And I’m getting really close.

More on the Colorado Springs event at the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at uccs.edu and on Communikey at communikey.us. Read the interview (“Patch Cord Godfather”) at csindy.com.

The above video, from youtube.com, shows Subotnick and Lillevan performing live at Bregenzer Festspiele in Austria in 2010. (And many thanks to Ethan Hein, of ethanhein.com, for an assist in getting the interview to happen.)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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