Meet the 'founding father' of electronica

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMorton Subotnick performs in Washington DC

Morton Subotnick is a living legend in the field of electronic music, but in the early 1960s he was just a young, classically-trained composer living in California and looking for a new sound.

During a period of great upheaval in American society and the arts, he recognised that newly-developed technologies could change the way music is made.

"We had this world that changed almost overnight," Subotnick says. The long-playing record and hi-fidelity equipment had people "talking about the record player as almost being virtual reality,"

Subotnick, now 82, envisioned a world where a musician could be like a painter or a sculptor. He imagined the composer using what he called an "Electronic Music Easel" in a live performance.

Don Buchla, an engineer in Berkeley, was soon commissioned to make that vision a reality. Together, they created what is arguably the first analogue synthesizer, The Buchla Series 100.

Subotnick, who studied with the French composer Darius Milhaud, began his career playing classical music. "I was between two worlds from the very beginning," he says. He played the clarinet and wrote music for chamber ensembles and orchestras but he was also fascinated by the possibilities of creating a new classical music with the latest technology.

"I was playing chamber music and touring... and doing this thing that people didn't think was music."

In 1966, Subotnick moved from California to New York to become the first music director of the Lincoln Center Rep Company.

Image caption The synthesiser Subotnick uses today

He built his new studio in New York's Greenwich Village, at the same time as the counter-culture psychedelic era was beginning to take hold. His studio was located on Bleecker Street above an independent movie house.

His studio door was open for anyone and everyone to stroll in, and they often did. Famous rock musicians would plop on his couch at all hours of the night and would watch Subotnick tinker with his massive electronic gear. He had no idea as to who most of them were.

One day, at around three o'clock in the morning, a man walked in who was "fairly well-dressed," which was unusual for the time.

He announced that he was from a newly-launched record company called Nonesuch, a budget classical music label, and offered Subotnick $500 to record an album of electronic music. Subotnick was sceptical enough that he threw the man out.

Image caption Subotnick says he works with sound the same way a sculptor works with stone or clay

Fortunately, the record executive was persistent and returned the following night.

Subotnick accepted the offer - which had since doubled- and soon began work on the first electronic LP commissioned for a record label.

That album, Silver Apples of the Moon, utilised the Buchla analogue synthesiser. It was released after 13 months of experimentation and recording. The LP is now one of 300 recordings in the National Registry of Recorded Works at the Library of Congress.

Now, decades after the release of Silver Apples, Subotnick has become known as a pioneer in the development of electronic music and multi-media performance.

His music has been said to influence bands like Daft Punk, Kraftwerk and also electronica artists including England's Kieran Hebden of Four Tet and Tom Jenkinson, the UK artist known as Squarepusher.

Related Topics