Ears Wide Open

FM Stations in San Francisco (Pt 2) Interview with Carl STONE

Established more than forty-five years ago, KPFA is the oldest non-commercial FM radio station in the United States. Every Sunday, the station airs, "Ears Wide Open," a program produced by the composer, Carl STONE. In this interview, Stone talks about this unique radio program that focus on new music, and other American radio stations.

Shimoda (S): Okay, let me ask you about your program, "Ears Wide Open." Could you summarize the history of your program?

Carl Stone (C): Before I moved to San Francisco, I lived in Los Angeles and there I did a program which had almost the same concept, but with a different name. The program was called "Imaginary Landscape." So when I'm talking about "Ears Wide Open," I'm also talking about "Imaginary Landscape." That program started in 1977, and basically, I made the program about contemporary music, new music from John Cage and after. I tried to present many new musics and I also had interviews with composers, so that the audience could understand a little more about their ideas. And also we had some live performances and some special projects. I tried to concentrate on many new things. My interest is in electronic and computer music, so maybe the program is sometimes a little bit more weighted toward that. But also we did things that crossover into rock, jazz, and world music.

S: Did someone ask you to be a producer for KPFA after you moved here?

C: Yes, I was kind of lucky because shortly after I moved to San Francisco, there was an opportunity to start a new program at KPFA. The beginning of "Ears Wide Open" was in 1995.

S: Your program is broadcast every Sunday from 8:00pm until 11:00pm?

C: Yes, that's right.

S: Could you tell me a little about the structure of it?

C: Ah! I try to be a little bit flexible and I don't have a formula. But basically, if I have some guest, I will first introduce them through their music and then speak to them, and then present some more music so that the audience can come to understand their ideas. But because I have a three-hour program, that means sometimes I can play really long compositions without speaking. For example, a one- or two-hour piece. It's very nice to do that, because most stations don't give you that chance. For example, I presented the entire CD that accompanied the book, Ocean of Sound by David TOOP. Xebec and you yourself are featured in the book, in fact. That was very nice to see. And the CD is also very interesting.

Ears Wide Open

Carl Stone image

S: I would like to ask about the general situation of new American music here in San Francisco.

C: Well, you know there's historically been a lot of activity and some of the people have been working for a long time and are still doing interesting work. There are several centers such as Mills College or CNMAT in Berkeley, and CCRMA in Stanford, of course. All are contributing important things in the areas of music and technology. Then there's a very strong free improvisation scene.

S: Using computers?

C: Well, sometimes. Somebody like Bob OSTERTAG, Miguel FRASCONI, or J. A. DEANE. I think he has left San Francisco, but up until recently he was active here. And also just using acoustic instruments.

Then there's also a lot of interesting world music here in the Bay Area. Not far away, in Marin County, is the school directed by Ali Akbar KHAN, the Indian sarod player and master musician. He has a school and many people study with him and his faculty. They integrate the theories of North Indian music into their own compositions. Or other master teachers like Lou HARRISON are still very important in the Bay Area.

Then we also have a dynamic interest in sound sculpture here.

This is because of Lou Harrison and Henry COWELL, people like that who had done sound experiments a long time ago. We still have a lot of people who are building their own instruments and making pieces and performing on them. That is quite interesting. There's a show starting next week--in fact, I just talked to the people about this on the radio. They build different wind instruments and something which is like a harp, but is made from aluminum. They use unusual materials and some old concepts from, like, Greece and new concepts too. It is quite interesting.

S: Lou Harrison was the originator of that kind of music?

C: He is one of the people who did important experiments with it. And of course, he, with his partner Bill COLVIG, has built his own gamelans. And this is not the Bay Area necessarily, but people like Harry PARTCH, of course, did a lot of work. And then in the Bay Area, there's an important institution called the Exploratorium where science and art comes together. And they have sponsored some artists and composers to make instrument projects there.

S: So do you think building instruments is one of the characteristics of the San Francisco music scene?

C: Yes, it's one of the characteristics. And there's a whole other thing that is going on here, which is very interesting, and that is artists doing sound installation work. Ed OSBORNE is one, Paul DE MARINIS is another one and Douglas HOLLIS of course. Bill FONTANA is not in the Bay Area any more, but he also lived here for many years.

S: The impression I get is that the sonic identity of the U.S. is constantly growing, though the country itself is still rather young. I am looking forward to introducing your program and the exciting subjects it deals with to the people at Xebec. Thank you very much.

Music In and Around the Bay Area




 A series of events featuring a condensed version of "Ears Wide Open" was held monthly at Xebec in 1996/97.

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