Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interview with Andrew Rudin

Charles Andrew Rudin was born in Newgulf, Texas, on April 10, 1939. He became interested in music early in his childhood, and began to take piano lesson when he was 7-year-old, with Lila Crow, the only piano teacher in Newgulf. She also took the young student to attend operas in Houston, Texas. Some time later Andrew Rudin also studied trombone and cello, and began to compose his own pieces at age 15.

In 1957, Rudin entered the University of Texas, in Austin. Also at that time, he became aware of the works by european experimental composers, including Pierre Schaeffer's musique concrète, Karlheinz Stockhausen's elektonische musik, and Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening's tape music. In early '60s, he left the University of Texas and moved to Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with composers George Rochberg, Karlheinx Stockhausen, Ralph Shapey, and Hugo Weisgall. After his graduation, Andrew joined the faculty of The Philadelphia Musical Academy. A friend of Andrew's from high school had just joined the dance company of the famous choreographer Alwin Nikolais, who was one of the very first customers of Robert Moog - Nikolais had bought one of the first Moog Synthesizers in 1964. The choreographer was also responsible for Andrew Rudin's very first contact with the Moog Synthesizer. When Rudin became aware that the University of Pennsylvania's music department was beginning to set their studio for experimental music, he contacted Robert Moog and U Penn soon had the first large-scale electronic music studio designed by Bob Moog. In 1966, Rudin composed and realized his first composition with the Moog Synthesizer, "Il Giuoco," a piece for film and synthesized sounds.

In 1967 Nonesuch Records, a record company specialized in releasing inexpensive classical music records, became interested in having electronic music in their catalogue. First, they released Morton Subotnick's "Silver Apples of the Moon," Kenneth Gaburo's "Music For Voices, Instruments & Electronic Sounds," and  Beaver & Krause's "The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music," and then, via a recommendation from Robert Moog, Nonesuch became aware of Andrew Rudin's electronic works and commissioned a full-LP composition. In 1968 "Tragoedia - A Composition in Four Movements for Electronic Music Synthesizer," a piece composed between October 1967 and April 1968 was released, using instruments designed by Robert Moog. Some excerpts from "Tragoedia" were used by Italian director Frederico Fellini in his 1969 film "Satyricon." Andrew Rudin realized a second work for film and synthesized sounds, "Paideia," and continued to compose for ensembles and dance companies.

During the seventies, Andrew Rudin taught electronic music, composition, and music theory at The Philadelphia Musical Academy. In 1972 "The Innocent", an opera that blended orchestral music, electronic sounds, and voices was premiered. Andrew Rudin not only composed the score, but also was the responsible for the scenery, projections, and costumes. In 1975, Alwin Nikolais hired Andrew Rudin as his music assistant, and he collaborated with Nikolais in several performances, including "Styx," "Arporisms," "Guignol," and "Triad." Andrew also composed for the choreographer Murray Louis the electronic pieces "Porcelain Dialogues" and "Ceremony."

Andrew Rudin joined the graduate faculty of The Juilliard School of Music from 1981 to 1985, where he taught seminars in Opera of the 19th and 20th Century, Operas of Mozart, String Quartets of the 19th and 20th Century, and Wagner's "Ring" cycle. His pieces "Memories of Texas Towns & Cities," "Two Elegies for Flute and Piano," and "Cortege" (written in memory of his mother) were premiered. In 1991 "Ballade" for horn and percussion was written, and in the following year "Chiaroscuro" was premiered as a dance work at Philadelphia's Painted Bride Gallery. In the Spring of 2001, a concert of Andrew Rudin's music was presented in celebration of his retirement from The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, and included his electronic composition "Il Giuoco" and also the newly composed "Sonata for Violin and Piano." In 2004, Rudin joined the board of directors of Orchestra 2001, an ensemble from Philadelphia. He is currently the Orchestra's board of directors vice president, among other activities.

My first contact with Andrew Rudin was via Facebook, and then via email to do the following interview. I'd like to thank Mr. Rudin so much for the time he kindly spent to answer the questions. During my research for this interview I became a little bit more aware of his works (mainly the electronic pieces and early works with the Moog Synthesizer), and it's a pleasure and honor to share some information about this great composer and very kind human being with the readers of this blog. And here's the interview:

ASTRONAUTA - Andrew Rudin, how did you start in music? And when did you realize that you would be a composer and musician?

ANDREW RUDIN - I was eager to take piano lessons from about age 5. But our house had no piano. My parents were not in any way connected to music. I believe in the early 1940's, the Classical music, especially piano playing, that I heard on the radio attracted me. The only live exposure to such music was played in the Methodist Church which I attended. We lived in Newgulf, Texas... a town constructed to house the workers of the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company. There was one woman in town who taught piano. Fortunately, she was well trained and was actually a rather sophisticated musician. After begging my parents for two years for lessons, I transgressed one day after school and accompanied a friend to her piano lesson. Afterwards, I more or less enrolled myself for lessons. Then... I had the dilemma of telling my parents what I had done. Fortunately, they laughed, went to Houston, and bought me a piano.

ASTRONAUTA - How was your first contact with electronic music and why did you become interested in composing electronic pieces?

ANDREW RUDIN - When I became a student at University of Texas in 1958, the first information about the European Experimental Music Studios, particularly in Milan, Frankfurt, and Paris began to be discussed by interested composers and students. We were all puzzled by what exactly this was. I think the earliest pieces I heard were of musique concrète works by Pierre Schaeffer. Then we begin to be aware around that time of Stockhausen's early "Studien". And probably unknown to us then, the RCA Synthesizer, which was later appropriated by Columbia and Princeton Universities, was beginning to be experimented by Milton Babbitt and others. One of the earliest American works I recall hearing was "Concerto for Tape Recorder and Orchestra", a joint collaboration by Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky. It was recorded by the Louisville Symphony, which put out a subscription series of recordings in the 50's and 60's of new works. When I left Texas to enroll in the graduate seminar of George Rochberg at The University of Pennsylvania, we made the journey as a class into New York City to attend the historic event that was the concert of music first produced there in the Columbia/Princeton Studio on the RCA Synthesizer. I was intrigued by this new medium immediately, and was happily anticipating that U Penn was trying to set up an experimental music studio there, but didn't really know, beyond tape recorders, mixing boards, oscillators, etc. what to put in it.

ASTRONAUTA - How did you meet the choreographer Alwin Nikolais, and what are your memories about him?

Alwin Nikolais and Andrew Rudin
ANDREW RUDIN - When I came to Philadelphia to attend Graduate School, I reconnected with a friend from my high-school days in Texas, who was in NY trying to find training as a dancer. His summer classes with Hany Holm out in Colorado had led him to the Henry Street Settlement School where Nikolais had become a teacher and had built his dance company and presented yearly shows in their small theatre on NY's Lower East Side. I came over to see rehearsals, visit my friend, and was allowed to see the performances if I agreed to hand out programs and usher, which I was thrilled to do. As a result, I came to know most of the dancers in the company and Nikolais and his partner, Murray Louis, also a choreographer with his own company. It was I believe in Spring 1963 that Nikolais, seeing me as usual working in the lobby of the theatre in vited me to come the next day after the matinee to show me what he called "The Moog-o-phone". His sound technician, James Seawright, had seen Moog's prototype demonstrated in an electronics show and told Nikolais, "it's like a little Synthesizer (meaning the RCA Synth). It sits on a table. (the recent invention of transistors had made this possible). Nik, you should HAVE this."And, indeed Nikolais did purchase either that very prototype or very possible made the first order from Moog. Everything was hand-soldered on peg boards. Printed circuits came several years later. I was greatly intrigued by what I saw and heard, but also immediately saw certain things that to me, as a composer, seemed limitations. Mainly the monophonic nature of the instrument, and the very limited control over envelope generation... being as I remember in the earliest design only three stages: Instant, med. and slow, with relatively little difference between these stages. But I returned to my studies at U Penn and reported what I'd seen and they contacted Moog and invited him for a consultation. Immediately thereafter one of Moog's first large-scale studios was commissioned for instalation in the basement of the Annenberg School of Communications on the Penn Campus. It occupied a space intended as a radio broadcast studio, with triple-paned glass separating two rooms in typical fashion, and in the basement, windowless and sound-proof. My recollection is that Moog came on a Greyhound bus, and brought synthesizer components in a cardboard box.

Quite a number of years later, after I'd established my reputation as a composer of synthesized music, and had worked with a number of modern dance and ballet companies, Nikolais called me one day and asked me to come and talk to him about working as his music assistant. His success in touring with his company throughout the world made giving adequate time to the composition of the scores... He had always done virtually the entire enterprise himself... choreography, lighting, costumes, props, and the musique concrète scores... Himself... the true gesamtkunstwerk. In the intervening years, I had made a score for Murray Louis, and Nikolais, struggling then to mount a new show, Styx, wanted to recycle some of the sounds from Murray's score into this new work, with my permission and assistance. I was thrilled at the opportunity, and for the next two years worked with him on the scores for Styx, Arporisms, Triad, and Guignol. The score to which I made the greatest contribution was Triad, which was made almost entirely from "out-takes" of my early Il Giuoco from 1966. My relationship with Nikolais ended disappointingly when he became reluctant to appropriately credit me for my musican contributions. Even though almost everything one heard in Triad was created by me, he still took credit for the "sounds scores" and only acknowledged me in the fine-print of the various credits. This was not satisfactory for me and I severed my working relationship with him. It was understandable, after all those years of being "the guy who did it all", he was unable to relinguish that image. It was a bit like the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where a voice tells us, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." I learned a great deal from observing how Nikolais created and united the various media, and I remain a fan of his unique understanding of blending sound, movement, light, and image. But it was disappointing on an entirely human level.

ASTRONAUTA - And how about Robert Moog? How and when was your first contact with him? Did you keep in contact with Bob Moog after he delivered the Moog Synthesizer at Annenberg School of Communications' studio? And what are your memories about Bob Moog?

ANDREW RUDIN - Though I met Moog briefly, as noted above, through Nikolais and the dealings at U Penn, when he came to deliver the components we'd ordered, I didn't really get to know him well until I was appointed to the faculty of the Philadelphia Musical Academy in 1965. We immediately wrote grants and received funding to set up our own Moog-designed studio, and he came a numerous times over several years to bring us improvements, new components (most significantly his sequencers). He usually came on the bus, and usually stayed at my apartment while there. Except once, when he arrived early and, fearing to inconvenience me, and probably also being curious, he stayed a night at one of the odd enterprises, a chain of hotels run by a black minister, Father Divine. Bob found the whole experience, and being served his breakfast by various of Father Divine's "angels", to be amusing and to his liking. Bob was always a most amiable guy to be around, and he invited me up to Trumansburg, NY one summer, saying that if I could come up for a few days, he could show me how to make certain maintenance adjustments so I'd not have to wait for his visits. While there I met Walter Carlos (not yet Wendy), not yet the fabulously successful creator of Switched-On Bach. And some time later, I learned that had I made my visit 10 days later, I'd have gotten to meet a couple of The Beatles, who were among the many who made the pilgrimage to Moog's workshop. It is my understanding that when Moog began manufacturing his synths, he had no expectation that they would be picked up by any musicians other than the rather esoteric avant-garde then ensconced in the Universities. It was startling to him how quickly they became fixtures in virtually every rock band, and even the TV show, The Monkees, whose cast really were not even musicians or singers. It might be wrong but I believe that he had not even patented his designs, and that merely the fact that his name became synonymous with "synthesizer" was what ultimately made him commercially successful. It's interesting that his chief competition in those early days, Donald Buchla, was NOT taken up in the same way. I think this was because Bob was always seeking to provide musicians... Of all sorts... with the MUSICAL tools they needed. The thing I most recall him saying in response to a question I might ask, was... "Oh... would that be useful?" His greatest satisfaction seemed always to come from having made something compositionally accessible without complex knowledge of the electronic engineering involved. He remained accessible to me throughout the years that followed, helping me get Nikolais' now "ancient" and limping synthesizer in good order, and steering me to the preservation of many of my earliest electronic works from the moldering magnetic tapes to digital format. We rarely saw each other beyond the 60's in Philadelphia, but were in touch by phone and he once wrote me the most flattering letter of recommendation. I was greatly saddened by his untimely exit.

ASTRONAUTA - In 1966 you composed and realized "Il Giuoco," how was the process to realize that piece? And how was the reception of critics and audience to the piece?

ANDREW RUDIN - A year out of Graduate school, I spent teaching instrumental music as a substitute in the Philadelphia School System. But, someone was needed to teach one course, Advanced Orchestration, at The Philadelphia Musical Academy, and I was recommended and jumped at the opportunity and determined to make it the most outstanding demonstration of my capabilities. This then led the next year to my hiring to teach music history and theory and eventually composition there and to be taken full-time onto their faculty. At the same time, all the interested parties... composers and performers... in contemporary music in Philadelphia held several meetings and The Philadelphia Composers' Forum was establish, eventually under the directorship of my student colleague, Joel Thome. Somehow, the first season's concerts were determined and I was to be included on a spring offering featuring Vincent Persichetti, and George Crumb, not yet very well known, and having just joined the faculty at U Penn. I offered that I would present a work of mine for two pianos (playing one myself) and Tenor Saxophone. But as it was short, I brashly offered that, since Penn was setting its electronic studio, I'd have an electronic work as well. Such is the confidence of being 25 years old. Though I knew nothing whatever about how such things were made, I was convinced I could do it. Well, delivery of installation of Moog's instruments, and all the rest that was needed was delayed considerably, and time was running out, so that by the time I was granted access to the studio I think there was only about 6 weeks until the concert. However, I happily experimented with Moog's components, found many wonderful sounds that I liked, and felt completely freed of the constrains of notation. It seemed to me much more like sculpting. Or the making of a film, where many takes are made and the film results from the mixing and editing of these many takes. It was entirely liberating. And, as I began to assemble the composition, I began to be uneasy about its presentation. I could not be comfortable with the idea that people would be hearing Persichetti's Piano Quintet, Crumb's Violin and Piano pieces, or even my own 2-piano/saxophone work, and then sit and look at an empty stage as a tape played. Part of our agreement as student composers working in the Annenberg School was that we'd make sound-tracks and musical scores for student film-makers. And so, I decided that I would make my own 16mm film to accompany my synthesized composition. Since it was the high quality of the sound and the stereophony that was of primary importance to me, and since I could not afford the expense of optical sound tracks affixed to the film, much less the superior quality of magnetic tracks, the two elements were run as separate elements, never being utterly precise in their synchronization. I only remedied this situation last February for presentation of these works by Bowerbird in Philadelphia, in, at last, digital format, where they can be seen now also on YouTube.

The reaction of the mere novelty of the synthesizer and film piece, frankly walked away with the evening, even though I was the "unknown" composer. I mark that event as the end of my student days and the beginning of my professional life as a composer. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Daniel Webster wrote: "His electronic opera had an immediate appeal. The palette of sound he has cultivated is brash and strong. In his score are sounds which approach that of a corps of trombones, assertive dragon growls and bronzy middle range colors and an interpolated soprano voice. Few of the high frequency sounds intruded but when they did they had added importance. In a sense, his style is eclectic; his electronic scores sometimes approached a tonal brass style of the post-romantics."

Shortly after this premiere, I was selected by the ISCM as one of the US representatives to the 5th Biennale of the City of Paris, which I attended, taking me for the first time to Europe. And Moog was greatly impressed with Il Giuoco, and used it as a demonstration piece as to what machines were capable of. In an interview for the Christian Science Monitor, he said that he "often felt like Doktor Frankenstein, what with pop albums with the likes of "Moog Indigo" and "I'm in the Moog for Love." When asked what works he did approve of, he cited Switched-On Bach and my work.

ASTRONAUTA - "Tragoedia - A Composition in Four Movements for Electronic Synthesizer" was commissioned by Nonesuch Records and released in LP, in 1968. It was a period in which academic electronic music was becoming popular to audiences that weren't accustomed to listen to electronic music. How do you see that period, looking in retrospect? How the contact with Nonesuch Records was made, and how "Tragoedia" was created?

ANDREW RUDIN - Nonesuch, in those early days, under the very creative directorship of Teresa Stearne, provided inexpensive classical music recordings of very high quality and exploring many unusual niches of the repertoire. People were willing to take a chance on something a bit out of the standard repertoire, because it didn't cost much. I'm not sure I've got the exact year correct, but somewhere around 1967 or so, Nonesuch released a work by Morton Subotnick, entitled "Silver Apples of the Moon", a composition made on a Buchla Synthesizer. Quite unexpectedly, it became a huge hit for them, appealing to avant garde electronic music devotees but also to the "turn on, tune in, drop out" psychedelic generation. It's driving, jazzy ostinati, and bright timbres found an audience no one knew existed. Nonesuch then commissioned a two-LP set called, "The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music" by Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause. When they queried about what they knew of this developing scene, they immediately steered Nonesuch to Moog, who immediately mentioned me. Both Beaver and Krause contacted me and even expressed interest in studying with me. Initially the plan was to release Il Giuoco on a compilation with other composers. But with the success of Silver Apples... they took a very daring risk and gave a 26-year-old composer an entire LP to fill with a new and original composition, to be "premiered" as it were on your turntable and sound-system in your living room. In those heady days, when the only true "masterwork" in the genre was Edgard Varèse's Poéme Electronique, my work and Subotnick's and others was to be found in three locations in a record store: 1.) Filed alphabetically under our last name, 2.) in a separate bin labeled "Electronic", and 3.) in still another bin labeled "Psychedelic". I was astonished upon the release of Tragoedia to receive the following review from Alfred Frankenstein, in the magazine Hi Fidelity: "The best large-scale electronic work I have ever heard. In Andrew Rudin's hands the electronic idiom finally comes of age. In its early phases it was hedged about with a million arbitrary thou-shalt-nots, with the result that every electronic piece sounded like every other electronic piece. Rudin, however employs the entire spectrum of electronic expression, including sounds of fixed pitch. His handling of it all - the colors, the textures, the rhythms, the sonorous space which is so powerful an electronic resource - is masterly, and his piece actually does equal the grandeur of his theme, which is nothing less than the essence of Greek tragedy. This seems to be the composer's first work to appear on records. It is most unlikely to be his last."

He was correct. Fifty years later, I finally had more works on records. Contractual disputes in the licensing portions of Tragoedia by Nonesuch, without my permission, and without payment, for use in the sound-track of the film, Fellini: Satyricon, made me persona non grata with them and future projects were scuttled.

ASTRONAUTA - Besides "Il Giuoco," "Tragoedia," and "Paideia," do you have more electronic music compositions available? And "Paideia," how it was created?

ANDREW RUDIN - There are plans to release, on Centaur Records, with whom I have a contract, many of my early electronic works, including Il Giuoco and Paideia. Most of the other scores, Shore Song, View, Crossing, Porcelain Dialogues, were made as scores for various choreographers and dance companies. It should be released within the next 6 months.

ASTRONAUTA - Electronic music became very popular from the seventies on. Of course, the popularity brought good aspects and also bad aspects. How do you see today's electronic music, comparing to the early days, analog technology, and tape studios?

ANDREW RUDIN - In the 1970's, I did a number of works that incorporated synthesized (taped) sounds into works with traditional instruments: These included the ballet, Lumina, for the Pennsylvania Ballett, and the opera The Innocent, produced in 1973 in Philadelphia by Tito Capobianco. I also made pieces for voice with tape accompaniment, and a short work for Clarinet and tape. After my work with Nikolais, I became increasingly less willing to be defined primarily as an "electronic composer", and my experience with opera and theatre drew me increasingly in that direction and away from working electronically. I also found that schools, while happy to generate grants to found such studios, rarely are interested in the continual maintenance and upgrading that technology requires and this made me less and less interested in work there. I also began to feel that with the advent of computers, and the ubiquity of synthesized sounds in Rock bands, that I was less and less attracted to what was being created. And much of what had been truly a revolution in the 60's and early 70's how now been absorbed and even to an extent imitated and supplanted by the means of traditional means, for instance in the works of Penderecki and Ligeti, among others. In short, I find most of what I hear these days incorporating the vastly more sophisticated technology to be aesthetically less engaging. In short, I no longer work with electronics, feeling that I did what I wanted to do in that period of my life, and I'm now involved in other pursuits, though I'm still proud of the role I played, continue to regard those early pieces as worthy items in my catalogue.

ASTRONAUTA - What are your most recent projects, and plans to the future?

ANDREW RUDIN - My most recent work is Dreaming at the Wheel, a cycle of four songs for Baritone, on poems by Texan poet, Charles Behlen. It's scored for almost the same ensemble as Ravel's remarkable, Trois Chansons de Stephane Mallarmé, plus double-bass and percussion. It was recently premiered in Dallas.

In the decade 1975-1985, as I continued to work with synthesizers, I also composed a three act opera for traditional forces, based on Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters. It remains unproduced, but I hope to see it eventually find its way to the stage.

Recent years have seen the premiere and recording of my concertos for Violin, Viola, and Piano, as well as sonatas for piano, violin, viola, cello... all available on Centaur Records.

I'm about to travel for the first time to Moscow, where my Celebrations for 2 pianos and percussion will be performed. My most ambitious upcoming project is a chamber opera for 4 singers and an ensemble of 12 instruments based on Andre Gide's novella, The Pastoral Symphony.

ASTRONAUTA - Andrew Rudin, thank you so much for your time to answer this interview. I hope I can meet you in person someday! All the best to you!

ANDREW RUDIN - And, yes... I'd like very much if we might meet. I'm greatly intrigued that you and many like you in the younger generation continue to be fascinated by electronic music, and most especially the role that some of us played in its early development. 

Someone who recently listened to Il Giuoco, wrote to express to me that he regarded it as vastly superior to Subotnick's Silver Apples, and pointed out to me that it preceded in its date Subotnick's work, though of course did not have the circulation publicity Silver Apples had. I'd never put that together.

Thank you so much for your interest. I hope that I've not elaborated too much in responding to your questions. Certainly feel free to edit whatever degree seems desirable to you.

And let's do try to make a point to meet one day. Certainly contact me at any time I can be of use to you.

All the best -

Andrew Rudin

Andrew Rudin's website:


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  2. Thank you for sharing this incredible interview. Andrew's work is incredible.