Allen Strange

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Allen Strange is one of the leading music educators, pioneering electronic music in academia. He studied with some of the prominent composers of the twentieth century, such as Harry Partch, Ken Gaburo and Pauline Oliveros, and has worked with Donald Buchla, who first created the voltage controlled synthesizer around the same time as Robert Moog. His book 'Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls' is still widely sought for its clarity and non technical musical presentation. He was also the president of the International Computer Music Association.

He currently lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, composing music, talking to his cats, playing bass in a jazz ensemble and cooking massive amounts of Mexican food.

Hello. Thanks very much for taking the time out to have a chat with Camel Audio. How did you get into composing and electronic music?

As a grad student in the 70's all I really knew about electronic music was the initial Varese, Berio and Stockhausen stuff. I heard a lecture by composer Lou Harrison and was fascinated by the timbres, tunings and extremely slow and long events. A bit later I heard a presentation by Vladimir Ussachevsky of Columbia-Princeton and this was my first in-depth exposure to electronic music. I immediately realized that this was a door for me into the world of new timbers, tunings and slow things! I wanted to go back to Columbia and study with Ussachevsky but he wisely pointed to the University Of California, San Diego. There I worked with Pauline Oliveros, Ken Gaburo and Robert Erickson. At UCSD we all explored the very first Buchla and Moog systems!

Can you tell us about your pursuit for electronic music education in the academic systems?

Ha - academia - in my 35 years of teaching they never understood what it was all about! The best I could do was to keep "them" away. I founded the Computer Music and Records Arts Program at San Jose State in the 70s. We were (and still are I think) the only state university to offer a true sanctioned degree in Electronic Music. This generation of educators is certainly more literate but in my generation it was a constant battle (but I won!)

Your classic work "Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls" has become widely sought after. Is it still available and do you plan a revision?

It is still in use and available as an on-line publication from McGraw-Hill Primus Editions. I have been approached about a new edition (there have been two) and I haven't really said yes or no.

Can you tell us about your work with Donald Buchla?

I met Don in the early 70s when he hired me to write the manual for the Music Easel and some other modules. We became good friends and formed the Electric Weasel Ensemble with my wife, Pat, Steve Ruppenthal and David Morse. We toured the US and Europe for several years. Don is not really a trained musician but he made some really interesting contributions to what we were doing.

You were president of the International Computer Music Association for many years. What was that experience like?

Madness- the group is a collection of over 400 composers/performers and scientists. Unlike SEAMUS there are very few students and SEAMUS does not usually attract the scientists. The best part of the gig was the annual conference which alternates between the Americas, Europe and Asia. Of course I made a lot of new friends and colleagues, heard some fantastic and horrible music, and had a lot of wonderful food and drink!

You are presently working on a major piece using Cameleon 5000. Can you tell us how you are using it and about the piece?

I am the composer in residence for the Bainbridge Symphony Orchestra here on Bainbridge Island. They have commissioned a piece for next year titled "Brief Visits to Imaginary Places" which are four "ear-movies" for orchestra and electronic soundscapes. These are not real experienced players with new music so there is no "hard sync" between the orchestra and the electronic tracks. They serve more as interludes and "pads" throughout the four movements which are triggered by MAX/MSP.

What do you like most about Cameleon 5000?

It was the characteristic "lushness" of the Cameleon 5000 that attracted me. In fact, I'm not doing a lot of voice design or tweaking to the factory voices (which is not usual for me!) I am doing a lot of layering and such using multiple instances of Cameleon 5000 in Digital Performer.

What are your plans for the next year?

Since I left academia I am really a 24/7 composer and have years of yet unrealized compositions to do! I do occasional run-out gigs with my wife and I am very involved with a group here called the Island Music Guild. I'm working on a couple of CDs, working with my wife who has a contemporary music ensemble here. I play bass in a jazz duo with David Bristow who is the guy who did the voice design for the first Yamaha DX7. People have be trying to seduce me back into academia but I am really avoiding it except for a brief stint I will be doing this year at the University of Oregon. In addition to that I grow chilies and cook a massive amount of Mexican food, drink good beer and cheap scotch!