messier81 logo      electronic music      Cover of "electronic music by o. powers" 

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1. Premonitions (8:27)

2. Cirrus I (9:23)

3. Maximum Entropy (13:18)

4. Fragment Q306 (1:45)

5-8. Four Moons:

Phobos (1:21)
Deimos (2:37)
Pan (2:12)
Charon (4:34)


The electronic music that most influenced me was created in the electronic studios of Europe and the U.S. in the fifties and sixties. I immersed myself in works such as those of Varèse, Stockhausen, Berio, Arel, Davidovsky, Subotnick, Dockstader, and not least the electronic score by Louis and Bebe Barron for the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. These pieces and others inspired me to work with electronic sounds myself during my undergraduate years at Ventura College and the University of California, San Diego. After working several long summer months in 1972 on an electronic study using tape splicing techniques, however, I must confess I began to look for more efficient ways to create electronic music—and found myself turning to improvisatory techniques. All the works on this CD (and, in fact, all my electronic works to date) involve improvisation to varying degrees. With the exception of Maximum Entropy, the works from the period 1970–74 are also highly dependent on tape echo. I was especially encouraged in these pursuits by the excellent I of IV (1966) by Pauline Oliveros, which uses both improvisation and tape echo. I was fortunate to have had several classes with her at UCSD; the second and third pieces on this CD were in fact composed during this time.


My most technically sophisticated work from this period, Premonitions was created using a Moog IIIP synthesizer, a sine-wave oscillator (in one section), and three stereo tape machines. (It was my first chance to record entirely on professional machines at 15 ips.) I composed the overall outline of Premonitions first, then used layered improvisations to generate the details. It was designed from the outset to be mixed down from two stereo tapes running in sync. Most of the time the two tapes had contrasting material, and only two points required accurate alignment—so even though the tapes had to run for over eight minutes in this fashion, a good mix was accomplished in a few takes. The title refers not only to the work’s general atmosphere of foreboding, but to a compositional technique where certain prominent events occurring later in the piece are first heard in a subdued, disguised form in the opening minutes.

Cirrus I

This work is a live studio improvisation on a Buchla 100-series synthesizer, recorded in real time with no overdubs or editing. The recorder, a Revox G36, had to be operated at 71/2 ips to obtain the desired echo rate. The piece takes advantage of the Buchla’s unique keyboard, where the keys can be independently adjusted in any sequence; the resulting pitches tend to be microtonal. Cirrus I invokes the experience of watching slowly passing clouds—and, in its opening and closing minutes, the sensation of an intriguing unknown music heard at a great distance.

Maximum Entropy

Here is another live, unedited Buchla synthesizer performance, this time without tape echo. Using almost every available module, I organized the synthesizer into six distinct “instruments,” each of which was under keyboard control. Some I played directly, while others used random voltage generators or sequencers to create strings of events that I could start and stop as needed. The title is a term that describes a possible future state of the universe in which all energy potentials are depleted; this work thus depicts the final moments of the universe as it approaches complete stasis.

Fragment Q306

A tape on which I had recorded a long multiple-feedback experiment was eventually reused for other things, leaving only this fragment of retrograde Buchla synthesizer sounds. Its sense of urgency and mystery seems only intensified by its terseness.

Four Moons

Made with two monaural tape machines, a homemade mixer, and a sine/square wave oscillator, these were among my first electronic explorations. Each piece has six layers of oscillator sounds, plus tape echo added both normally and in reverse (a technique featured in Forbidden Planet). They convey a kind of lost, wandering quality, and, due to the build-up of tape noise, distortion, and bias interference caused by the semiprofessional equipment used, sound strangely old and remote.

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