sa Sound Arts vol.5

XEBEC SoundCulture Membership Magazine

artist's view

SA on Artists' Viewpoints and Aesthetics

Interview with Carl STONE

Carl STONE's work crosses effortlessly into a variety of musical territories using sampling and personal computers. In September, he performed a collaborative work with the dancer, KISANUKI Kuniko in Nagoya. After making a preliminary visit to the hall there, Stone gave this interview inside a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo, where he was headed for a meeting.

Aboard the Tokyo-bound, Hikari Shinkansen #234 from Nagoya on Saturday, July 1,1995
Interviewer: SHIMODA Nobuhisa (Xebec staff)


SHIMODA:To begin with, you said you started learning how to play the piano at the age of five. Were they classical, academic lessons?

STONE:Yes, it was basically classical training. But I didn't go so deep because I didn't really have enough talent as a pianist and also I didn't have the discipline to practice every day as I should. Basically, the training was simply BACH or MOZART...well, those kinds of things. But it was just a few years, and I didn't progress very far.

SHIMODA: But you still had an interest in music?

STONE: Yes, I had a passion about music. According to my parents, from their influence, I loved music. They played records for me when I was just a little baby and I had my own little record player and so on. The first records they gave me were actually children's songs and folk songs from around the world.

SHIMODA: So, you were interested in those kinds of children songs, folk songs, and classical music?

STONE: Classical music was a little bit later. I first discovered classical music from a Warner Brothers cartoon which used BRAHMS' "Hungarian Dance No. 5." And I loved that tune, so my parents gave me the record and then a little while later I discovered opera. And I became a kind of opera freak, even though I was just eight years old or something. I collected all Italian opera--PUCCINI operas--and I almost started to learn Italian just by studying the texts of the operas. You know, when we're children, we can discover things about language really quickly.

SHIMODA: What made you want to become a composer?

STONE: In junior high and high school, I started to play music in kind of a group. I think we were rather special, because we played a kind of improvised music influenced by rock and jazz. I was very interested in groups like the Soft Machine, Captain BEEFHEART, and Frank ZAPPA. And my instrument was keyboards again. As I began to play keyboards, I began to experiment more and more with electronics. Then that turned into an interest in synthesizers, which were coming out at that time. Then just at the time when I finished high school, Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) had its first year. And they had a big electronic music studio. So it was like a kind of paradise for me.
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Cal Arts

STONE: Well, the first year was a really interesting period, because we had many of the sort of great avant-garde artists of the fifties and sixties there, including Nam June PAIK, Japanese video artist ABE Shuya, Dick HIGGINS, Allison KNOWLES, Allan KAPROW. And in music, my teacher Morton SUBOTNICK was there, later Ingram MARSHALL, shortly after, Richard TEITELBAUM, Simone FORTI, the dancer. So there were a lot of interesting people there and I was so young and kind of very easily impressed. Then another good point at Cal Arts was not only, you know classical music or experimental music, but also a lot of world music. They had their own gamelan ensemble, their own African ensemble. The first time I heard gagaku (Japanese imperial court music) was at Cal Arts , and the first time I heard p'ansori was at Cal Arts.

SHIMODA: Then you studied composition with Subotnick?

STONE: Yes, specifically electronic music.

SHIMODA: I've heard that he sent you to the library to make copies from the music archive.

STONE: Yes. His purpose was to give me information about music from all periods and all styles.

SHIMODA: How were you influenced by that job?

STONE: Well, in two ways really, one is I had a lot of exposure to many kinds of music, maybe my first choice would not be to, say, listen to an Alban BERG violin concerto or the music of Franz Ignaz von BIBER from the seventeenth century. But anyway, it was my job, right? So I had to do it. So then I thought, "Oh, yeah! Von Biber is really beautiful!" Or "Berg is very interesting." One good thing was, I could discover many, many kinds of music. But also the technique of dubbing. I always had three turntables and three tape recorders. So I could monitor and switch back and fourth and sometimes mix the music together. Then I began to get the feeling of making collages.
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SHIMODA: I imagine you had fun. Well, according to my memory, after graduating from Cal Arts, you directed a radio program.


SHIMODA: I think you could call the program a kind of collage.

STONE: Exactly. It was very much an extension of my first job in the library in L . A. I was the music director, so I was responsible for all the different musical presentations. And the station had a very wide format. Classical music and opera, folk music, jazz, and everything. There was quite a lot of stuff I got to listen to. The radio style at that time was what you might call "free form radio." Kind of a collage, a mix of different things--you know it was very collective.

SHIMODA: What was the title of it?

STONE: Well, I had two programs. One was very early, every morning from six a.m. to nine a.m., and it was called the Sunrise Concert. Then another one was called Imaginary Landscape. It was a contemporary, new music, and experimental music program.

SHIMODA: Did you d.j. the Sunrise Concert by yourself?

STONE: I was the d.j. and announcer. I did early music and twentieth-century music mixed together. That was kind of my style. I thought music like Lou HARRISON, some early John CAGE, or Morton FELDMAN was really nice in the morning.

SHIMODA: What about the other one, Imaginary Landscape?

STONE: Imaginary Landscape was exclusively twentieth-century music from Cage onward. And we had many performances that people played.

SHIMODA: You mean live?

STONE: Yeah, live and also many not live, but interviews. We had a hall; actually it's not a hall, it's just a big room. We used it for concerts, then invited an audience and broadcast it live.

SHIMODA: Was the program broadcast every day?

STONE: No, once, on Saturday night, every week. We had Ingram MARSHALL, Joan La BARBARA, George LEWIS, Jerry HUNT, Malcolm GOLDSTEIN, a gamelan ensemble, and we had a gagaku ensemble. My assistants were Lois VIERK, who is a very fine composer and John SCHNEIDER, who is a guitartist.


SHIMODA: Did you use synthesizers to play your music in your Cal Arts days?

STONE: Yes, Cal Arts had quite a number of large Buchla synthesizers. But after I graduated, I didn't have access to any and of course in those days they were very expensive. So I had no synthesizer. The solution was using tape recorders and record players like that. Then after 1981, I left the radio station and I started to spend more time composing and also traveling to perform.

SHIMODA: Using tapes?

STONE: I slowly changed from tape to a kind of a real live performance using a stereo digital delay. I made some pieces with, for example, many cassette machines, which I mixed and sent into a digital delay, then I added some processing and effects. And there was another piece with a turntable, where I played a record and sent it to a digital delay. It was a kind of sampling before sampling was called sampling. That digital delay was quite an expensive one. It was about $6,000 at the time. It was a French machine that got stolen twice.


STONE: The first time it was stolen, I got the insurance money and bought the second one. And I made some more music, then it was stolen again. I said, "That's enough. I'm not gonna buy it another time." And by 1986, Macintosh had arrived, MIDI had arrived. So I thought, "Now I have $6,000 in cash from my insurance company. Maybe I should change my idea." So I bought a Yamaha DX7 and a Prophet 2000--a sampler. I started to compose using MIDI.
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SHIMODA: As far as your use of tape recorders, turntables, and digital delay goes, did you use sampled sounds you collected from somewhere like you do now?

STONE: Exactly. In one piece I made, "Kuk Il Kwan," the process was to use a cassette tape recorder and a stereo microphone. I went on a concert tour in Europe, and in each city I played, I made a recording--like a street sound or something. Then that night I would use that recording plus every recording from before to make my concert. So it was a kind of accumulation. In each city I had a new tape. That kind of environmental sound was interesting to me .

SHIMODA: I think most people consider your concept of composition very different from the usual one. What is composition to you?

STONE: Generally speaking, I think composition involves a lot of play and experimentation.

SHIMODA: By 'play,' do you mean 'performing?'

STONE: No, I mean 'asobi.' It's a kind of free play with the sound or with the technique. So I don't know, these days a lot of people approach composition in their own special way. But generally speaking, a lot of people start off maybe with a melody, then make a harmony or rhythm, that kind of thing. I almost never do that. In my life, I've hardly ever written a melody.

SHIMODA: In other words, you started exploring your idea of sampling sounds from here, there, and everywhere and making collages because of your jobs. We'll be arriving in Tokyo soon. Thank you very much. I really enjoyed interviewing you.
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Table of Contents

SoundArts 5
Akio Suzuki part 1 FUJISHIMA
CD Review
Peter Vogel
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