ESSAY : “Sounding the Peripheries” | Teasing Chaos: David Tudor

I wrote a new essay titled “Sounding the Peripheries” for the catalog of the exhibition Teasing Chaos: David Tudor at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg. Through a detailed analysis of Soundings: Ocean Diary (1994), Tudor’s contribution to Ocean, his last collaborative project with John Cage and Merce Cunningham, the essay probes into one particular topic which I had deliberately left on the periphery of my argument in Reminded by the Instruments: the personal and artistic relationship between Tudor and Cage. Tudor’s idiosyncratic take on Cage’s approach to music is revealed, and a series of puzzling evidence documenting their long-time friendship is presented for others to solve.

COMMENT: Julie Martin

“I had the distinct privilege of attending the performances of David Tudor’s seminal work, Bandoneon ! at 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering, and later worked with him on numerous E.A.T. projects. Especially memorable is a glorious two-week stay on a Swedish island with David in the early 1970s, where we were exploring its sound and environmental properties with the goal of his mounting a concert there. The concert was never performed, but our friendship continued for many years.

David’s work has become increasingly relevant to composers working today and of increasing interest to new music historians and scholars. As Tudor himself put it, he worked “inside electronics”, building, rebuilding, reusing and even “abusing” electronic components that he connected together and activated during his performances. For Tudor performing was composing.

Nakai’s wide-ranging research of what he terms “David Tudor’s music” included close study of Tudor’s scores, system diagrams, and performance notes housed at the Getty Research Institute, that he correlated with what remains of Tudor’s electronic “instruments” held at Wesleyan University. He also made use of multiple recording of Tudor’s works and of recorded material Tudor used as input into his electronic systems. He was thus able to extensively document Tudor’s works from Fluorescent Sound in 1964 through the Neural Synthesis series in the 1990s.

Nakai’s work illuminates the mystery between the inputs Tudor used to activate his electronic systems, the actions he took during his performances and the output of the sounds the audience hears. Reminded by the Instruments, one can say with confidence, is the definitive book on Tudor’s compositions and compositional practices and is invaluable for scholars, musicians and composers who want to understand Tudor’s processes and, in the future, perform them.”

Julie Martin
Director, Experiments in Art and Technology

COMMENT: Nicolas Collins

“In the 1970s, when I was learning how to build musical circuits from pioneering composer-luthiers like David Tudor and David Behrman, my peers and I often spoke of “the circuit as score”.  The notion that musical form, as well as sound, sprang from the silicon rather than the composer’s ego achieved mantra-like status. Now You Nakai has done what musicologists should have been doing for the last five decades: analyzing Tudor’s arrays of circuits as if they were indeed scores, subjecting them to the same scrutiny that would be brought to bear on the manuscripts of Bach or Boulez. As a result, we have a groundbreaking book that not only provides unique insight into the work of one of America’s most influential if enigmatic electronic pioneers, but shifts the very paradigm of musical analysis in the aftermath of the transistor.”

Nicolas Collins
Professor, Department of Sound, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Author, Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking (Routledge)

REVIEW: Leah Kardos | The Wire

“The narrative is pieced together from painstaking archival research, interviews with Tudor’s associates, and through Nakai’s own music making experiments. By exploring practical ways of discovering and knowing alongside his archival and analytical research, the author created for himself the “hunting and testing grounds” for the ideas he elaborates and interrogates in the book. Nakai’s style is clear, elegant and refreshingly free of academic jargon and intellectual posturing. Anyone can pick this book up and become engrossed, from the level of the casual and curious all the way to postgraduate researchers and musicologists.”

REVIEW: Geeta Dayal | 4Columns

“Throughout the book, Nakai demystifies Tudor and his process. Electronic music of the past is often portrayed in a dreamy, magical light—a hazy historical landscape filled with misty, otherworldly sounds. But while the music of a bygone era may seem ineffable, it is not inaccessible. Listening to it can be a glorious and transcendent experience, but its inner workings can be made legible. Writers, historians, and researchers can help make those sounds understandable to the wider audience by exploring hidden meanings and developing a vocabulary to explain them more fully. Making the past legible empowers us. These composers weren’t perfect, omniscient geniuses. While there will never be another David Tudor, shedding light on his creative process makes one think, ‘Maybe I could do something like that, too.'”

REVIEW: Tom Djll | goodreads

“On page 85 at the moment. At this point, words are inadequate to express my admiration for You Nakai’s achievement with this book, and the depth of its effect on my understanding of not just its subject (Tudor) but the entire world of postwar avant-gardeism. […] About every 15 pages I have to put the book down and try to assimilate the revelations that “Reminded…” dishes out, and then get out other books on Cage and Stockhausen, and recordings, and dig the new perspectives Nakai’s research and insight have bestowed upon them. And this is still chapter one I’m talking about!”