...And, in fact, [Herb Blau] made the first season so uncompromisingly difficult from a social standpoint that he was fired after the first year.
BERNSTEIN: Oh, I didn't know that.
SUBOTNICK: We started with Danton's Death, which is almost impossible to do anyway.
A couple months ago, I was tagged by both Devin Hurd at HurdAudio and Peter Matthews at Feast of Music for the book meme that's been floating around for some time. In essence, pick up a book close at hand, open to page 123, find the fifth sentence, and post the subsequent three sentences. Appropriately enough, given the proclivities of the two gentlemen who tagged me, the book sitting at the top of the pile right now is The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde, edited by David W. Bernstein. (If you're unfamiliar with the history of the SF Tape Music Center, click here for a PDF of the Cliffs Notes version.)
The book release event two weeks ago couldn't have been more fitting. It was held in the basement of a public library a block off of Haight. I showed up about a half hour early, and nearly all the seats were already filled. I chose to stand (naturally) off to the side, and for the next 30 minutes watched the room fill beyond capacity. Every seat was taken, and all the space around the seats was occupied. There were even people standing outside the room in the entryway, standing on their tiptoes and craning their necks. They were of all ages, and it felt like we were all there to pay homage to these legends who had such a profound impact on the cultural legacy of San Francisco in the second half of the 20th century.
Stuart Dempster—whose Underground Overlays from the Cistern Chapel completely blew my mind when I first heard it about 10 years ago—opened the event by didjeriduing the room. (I myself have never before used "to didjeridu" as a transitive verb, but it was in the promo language for the event, so I'm not neologizing here.)
After we had been didjeridone (didjeridid?), the panel was about get underway when a very commanding, uniformed woman strode into the room and spoke to the event organizer. The fire marshal demanded that the room be cleared of most of the people who were standing, or else the entire event would be shut down. Honestly, all I could do was laugh, because how wonderful that the Tape Music Center folks, who are now in their 70s, can still bring out the fire marshals more than four decades after the premiere of In C.
Many of the folks did leave the hall, but those who stayed opened all the windows so that people could sit outside and listen to the talk. From left to right were Don Buchla (not pictured), Ramon Sender, David Bernstein, Morton Subotnick, Bill Maginnis, and Stuart Dempster. Terry Riley was scheduled to be there too, but had to decline at the last minute and sent his regards in a written statement. And Pauline Oliveros was saluted at length, and they played an excerpt from Bye Bye Butterfly (which manipulates an excerpt from Madama B., if you're looking for an opera angle here).
It was an extraordinary evening, listening to these artists tell their amazing stories of ingenuity, resourcefulness and creativity. By all rational standards there's no way they could have created the work they did with the resources that they had—or, more accurately, didn't have. And yet in the process they laid the groundwork for so many things that are integral to music as we know it today, including synthesizers and tape loops.
Unfortunately I only had my phone that evening, so for better images take a look at this Flickr set. There are also accounts of the event at Matrixsynth and Overlap (which includes a photo of people kneeling outside at a window, listening in).