In David Tudor’s electronic music, home-brew modular devices were carefully connected together to form complex feedback networks wherein all components—including the composer/performer himself—could only partially ‘influence’ one another. Once activated, the very instability of mismatched connections between the components triggered a cascade of signals and signal modulations, so that the work “composed itself,” and took “a life of its own.” Due to this self-producing, perpetuating nature of his works, Tudor insisted on what he called “the view from inside,” focusing more on the internal observation of his devices and sound than in materials external to the immanence of performance. When Tudor passed away in 1996, it became apparent that the sheer lack of resources outside the work—scores, instructions, recordings, texts—had made many of his music impossible to perform in his absence. The works that took a life of their own could not survive their composer’s death partially because of his utter reliance on them to do their work. By connecting often mismatched resources obtained from extended research on Tudor, this paper presents modular observations that seem to offer certain perspectives on the issue of life and death surrounding Tudor’s music. A comparison with developments in systems theory, most notably autopoiesis, outlines a mechanism for the endless life of sounds that compose themselves. Moving out of this theoretical reflection, a fieldwork report of an ongoing attempt to ‘revive’ some of Tudor's works is offered. This report demonstrates the observer shifting from one ‘inside’ to another—from an electronic circuitry inside a particular device, to a network composed of several devices, and further into the activation of a composite instrument. Meandering away from the archives, the composer’s “view from inside” of his electronic devices is set side by side with recent insights of object-oriented ontology. A certain portion of this observation then feeds itself back to the perspective of autopoiesis, while others proceed to extract a distinct notion of ‘life’ out of object-orientation, this time in programming: an indeterminate ‘waiting’ time inherent in each ‘object’ that cannot be computed within a singular universal time. This latency embedded in objects that await activation correlates to the trajectory of the observer who is always in a transit from one ‘inside’ to another, finding different objects on each level of observation, and for whom, therefore, the delineation between life and death is always indeterminate. This view provides further explanation to the operative mechanism of Tudor’s music, wherein mismatched components sought to activate and influence one another, constituting an ‘electronic ecology’ endowed with a life of its own, but filled with partial deaths. The paper thus observes ultimately a parallel between the composer’s trajectory within his performances and that within his life, while attempting to reenact the complex nature of these said trajectories through the meandering manner of its own delivery.
"Hear After: Matters of Life and Death in David Tudor’s Electronic Music,"
Vol. 3, Article 10.
Available at: https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cpo/vol3/iss1/10