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Electric Independence: Morton Subotnick

The Motherboard music show Electric Independence checks in with Morton Subotnick. Subotnick has been synthesizing sound since the early 60s. He has made some of the most important contributions to electronic music including, but not limited to...

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In its early days, electronic music wasn’t very musical. Painstakingly put together with wave generators or tiny bits of tape spliced together on splicing blocks by music professors and hobbyists, it was often highly abstract, largely concerned with pitch and timbre, and lacked much rhythm or pattern.


Enter Morton Subotnick.

Back in the sixties, while Robert Moog was developing his pioneering keyboard on the East Coast, Subotnick, Ramon Sender and Don Buchla were toiling away in San Francisco on what would become possibly the world’s first analog synthesizer, the ‘electronic music easel’ BUCHLA 100. Instead of a keyboard, it relied on pressure sensitive touch-plates, which controlled individually tuneable keys for limitless micro-tuning possibilities, analog sequencers, and complex waveforms beyond your basic sine, sawtooth, and square waves. You can now find it at the Smithsonian.

Not long after, Mr. Subotnick sat down with the new machine (it looks more like mission control than a instrument) for over a year in New York to create ‘Silver Apples Of The Moon’, the first commissioned all-electronic long playing record. After years of generic “computer music,” the sonic palette expanded beyond bloops and bleeps to growls, rumbles, chirps and a range of textures. The album, which was inducted into the Library of Congress, wasn’t just a sonic trip: it represented a technological leap.

Since then, Subotnick spent his illustrious, 40-odd-year career creating highly regarded electronic works and inventing a bevy of techniques whose influence courses through modern music as we know it today. We met him at his studio in the Lower East Side to look backwards and forwards on the state of electronic music. — Claire Macdonald

See episode one of Electric Independence, about Matmos, and watch all of season one in our video room.

Host: Jordan Redaelli. Producers: Claire Macdonald and Jordan Redaelli. Project Manager: Thobey Campion.

Special thanks to Scion for being a wonderful sponsor of Electric Independence.