Carl Stone "Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties", Notes by Carl Stone, Jonathan Gold, Richard Gehr, and Marc Weidenbaum

Carl Stone "Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties", Notes by Carl Stone, Jonathan Gold, Richard Gehr, and Marc Weidenbaum

Composer's Notes


Sukothai  was composed in 1977, and is an example of a layering process that I developed that year, where a sound is mixed back with itself, and the result is then mixed with itself, and so on until the results take on a completely different character than from the whence they began. The impulse to make the piece came about one night when I was working in the studios at KPFK-FM in Los Angeles where I was on staff in the music department. Having graduated a two years earlier from CalArts, where I had majored in electronic music composition, I now no longer had access to large expensive studios filled with room-size synthesizers and multi-channel tape recorders. Instead, the best equipment at my disposal was an LP turntable and a pair of stereo tape recorders housed in the station's small production studio, next to a large classical music library. I somehow hit upon the idea of dubbing a small fragment of music from a recording two times, once on the left and then once again on the right channel of a tape recorder, creating a small canonic effect. I rewound the tape and then re-recorded this two part canon twice again, and in doing so quadrupled the number of voices, thereby creating a somewhat more complicated rhythm.  Intrigued, I doubled down and repeated the process, creating an eight-voice canon, and continued this way into the night as I rewound and re-recorded, again and again, until I had repeated the process enough times to produce 1024 layers of the same sound. As the process continued the sense of rhythm gradually disappeared as the layers of the harpsichord merged into a wash of sound. The structure of the piece is made by a serial assembly of all the generations from start to finish, so that the listener can hear the gradual development and transformation as the sounds move from melody to pure texture.

SHING KEE (1986)

Shing Kee is the systematic treatment of a short fragment of Schubert lieder as sung in English by  the Japanese pop singer Akiko Yano. In the first part of the piece, the fragment gradually emerges through repetition and is time-stretched to fill a pre-defined temporal unit. With each repetition slightly more of the sample is introduced. Consequently, as the fragment becomes longer, it must also become faster. In the second half, the time-unit itself becomes longer while the fragment size remains constant, causing the sample to slow-down and dissolve. The work was performed in real-time using a Prophet 2002 sampler under the control of a Macintosh Plus.

KUK IL KWAN (1981)

In 1980, while working as the music director at KPFK,  I was attending the Audio Engineering Society's Los Angeles exhibition when I happened upon the booth of a small French company I had never heard of, Publison. They were demo-ing a multi-fx processing machine called the DHM 89 that could do a quasi "sampling", i.e. take a stereo audio input, snag it in memory, shift pitch and loop with a variable window-size, all in real-time. I immediately felt some potential for my own work, as I had been struggling to find a way to adapt my interest in musical appropriation to live performance. My immediate attraction and desire was tempered by the cost, about the same as a small car at the time. But a grant from the Aidlin Foundation enabled a purchase and so I began to create several pieces for live performance. After some early attempts, the first piece I launched to the public was Kuk Il Kwan, which premiered in Utrecht at a concert sponsored by the Institut voor Sonolgie in 1981.

The materials of Kuk Il Kwan were for the most part field recordings made both around my home in Los Angeles as well as from each city that the work was performed, Because additional materials were recorded and added each day while on tour the resources of the piece were continuously expanding. Live input of my voice and some pre-recorded musical material are also used, and everything was mixed and fed into the Publison which I controlled by working the front panel knobs in performance.  This recording on this album is a synthesis of two recorded performances. The first recording was rescued from the vaults of the Kitchen in New York City where I performed the piece, December 3, 1981. While good in some respects, the recording unfortunately starts about one minute after the performance began, stops about one minute before the performance ended, and has several inexplicable gaps in the middle. I've used a second recording, from a concert produced by the Independent Composers Association in Los Angeles April 16 1982, to fill in the rough spots and create a kind of meta-performance suitable for release.

Later in 1982 I began to experiment with using LP records as input to the Publison. Dong Il Jang was written first, and uses a variety of music as sources ranging from Western classical to Asian folk, as well as American R & B. Shibucho uses the same basic techniques as in Dong Il Jang, and even a similar structure, but the materials are limited to music released on one particular record label, as everything came from one three LP set. Both of these recordings were made in studio, but without editing or overdubbing so that they correspond to the live performances I was doing at the time.

LIM (1974)

Both of these pieces were composed in 1973/1974 while I was a student at the California Institute of the Arts, are chronologically the earliest pieces in this set, and the only one's based purely on electronic sounds. Realized on the Buchla 200 series synthesizer in Studio B303, they are, as best as I can recall, the only pieces in my entire output that use no microphone collected sounds whatsoever.

– Carl Stone

Carl Stone by Edward Colver

Critic's Notes on Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties

Of the serious composers to come out of 1980s California, Carl Stone is the one who has always performed in nightclubs as well as concert halls, for spiky-haired punks as well as the Ph.D-and-ponytail set – his brand of electro-acoustic bricolage was probably better known among jazz musicians than it was to the blue-haired Monday Evening Concerts crowd. He had a substantial pop audience, well before his techniques began to be appropriated by hip-hop artists, and he was beloved by those followers who had gone beyond Brian Eno records to appreciate Stone's sophisticated, pulsing, arch-form collages. He composes for the computer, not the orchestra; his greatest instrument may have been the Publison, a long-discontinued French digital delay that allowed him to peer inside a single musical moment the way an electron microscope allows a scientist to scan the mysteries of a crystal. When it was stolen, he relearned how to lean on a microprocessor until it screamed.

Is Stone celebrated today for his tendency to name his opuses after his favorite restaurants – Kong-Joo and Sukothai instead of Serenade or Sonata in C# minor? Perhaps. It makes the pieces evocative of a specific time and place, and hints at the trans-global origins of the source material, while maintaining an almost absolute level of abstraction. How did he arrive on bricolage as an aesthetic strategy? Feed him a glass of Suntory and he may confess that it may have arisen from a work-study job in the uncrowded Cal Arts music library when he was an undergraduate, a job that put tens of thousands of recordings at his disposal and countless hours in which to listen to them.

In his years in Los Angeles, Stone was perhaps the first citizen of the world of new music. He helped found the Independent Composers Association; he organized a countless number of concerts; and his radio show on KPFK gave Los Angeles, and indeed world new music a platform it had never had. By the time he decamped for San Francisco, and then Japan, he was already spending most of the year out of town on the new music circuit. But Los Angeles will always claim him as its own: a composer that sounds like L.A. 

 Jonathan Gold


KPFK console

During the period Carl Stone was composing Dong Il Jang (1982) and Shibucho (1984) in Los Angeles, punk and New Wave were winding down on the West Coast, and dance music was in the early stage of a long, slow ascent. There was a small but intense improvisation scene at places like the Anti-club, Galeria Ocaso, and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), and the second (or was it the third?) ska revival was underway somewhere in Orange County. But you couldn't say "contemporary classical," "new music," or whatever you want to call it was flourishing.

"Living in L.A.," Stone has said, "is like having a house in the country – without the good air." But nothing in the bad air hinted that Stone's collage experiments with music's very genetic material would anticipate a sea change in the way music was both produced and consumed. This is subversive sound of the highest caliber, created in plain sight, and sticks a subtle stake into the heart of the overground.

By processing vinyl reproductions of music from Okinawa, the Renaissance, and American Soul through a Publison stereo digital delay unit for Dong Il Jang (process was similar with Shibucho) Stone was unconsciously mirroring East Coast hip-hop's nascent turntable revolution, with "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (1981) its irresistibly itchy/scratchy call to arms. What began as live improvisation in Bronx clubs exploded into a commercial phenomenon that upended notions of authenticity and – more dangerous by far – copyright law. Stone's version was more manic but hardly less funky.

(It's a happy coincidence that the term "sampling" applies both to Stone's methodology as well as to another of his great passions, eating. Dong Il Jang and Shibucho are Korean and sushi restaurants, respectively, in Los Angeles.)

Stone was also mastering scale. Dong Il Jang and Shibucho are landmark works of microsampling, a technique echoed in work by Canadian "plunderphonics" mischief-maker John Oswald, New York composer Paul Lansky, Montreal DJ Akufen (Marc Leclaire), and many subsequent electronic musicians. Microsampling, in Stone's music, possesses hypnotic and free-associative properties akin to Byron Gysin's flickering hallucinatory Dreamachine. In Shibucho, Stone slices and dices the guitar riff of familiar oldies. Listeners are set semantically adrift from sources whose recognizable appearances, for only a few seconds each, register less as pleasure than as relief from a certain sonic anxiety.

Angst in LA? The say Los Angeles is all about appearances, but that's only half-true. Outlaw forces and strange designs have always simmered underneath the entertainment-industrial complex's will to hegemony. But for those who prefer their meanings destabilized and experiences micro-massaged, and I count myself among you, Stone was – and remains – our man.

— Richard Gehr


The composer Carl Stone is often associated with multi-channel work that immerses the listener in a spatial sonic zone, and with aggressive sample manipulation that explores its source audio from the inside.  The two early Stone pieces, LIM and Chao Praya, are neither. Conceptualized and recorded between 1972 and 1974, they are elegant, built from limited resources. They may play with the stereo spectrum, but their intended breadth is reserved.

They are student work, in the sense that they were recorded while Stone was an undergraduate at CalArts in Los Angeles. The early 1970s were an especially heady time at CalArts. The composers Ingram Marshall and Charlemagne Palestine were graduate students there while Stone, an L.A. native, was earning his bachelor’s degree, Barry Schrader was among the school’s instructors, and Buchla synthesizers were available if not abundant.

They are student work, in terms of when Stone committed them to tape, but they are fully realized performances, in the sense that four-plus decades later they are compelling, consuming listening experiences.

Chao Praya has at its heart the tingling wavering associated with a prayer bowl, or perhaps a police helicopter. It undulates, and in turn its various procedural wave forms reveal their constituent parts. Shades take on greater emphasis as increased volume brings details into focus.

LIM, in contrast with Chao Praya, often plays at higher registers and with greater variance. Here there are space ships rather than helicopters overhead. Here tonal shifts launch slow-motion cascades of moiré patterns. At even a modest volume, the results have a physical effect, playing with the ear. They tease at the nexus where sounds venture beyond human recognition.

Morton Subotnick, one of Stone’s teachers at CalArts, speaks of how he was drawn to electronic music when he began to dream music that an orchestra was not capable of producing. Stone’s is such music. This isn’t to say this work is opposed to the classical tradition. Quite the contrary, with their relatively compact length — barely 20 minutes combined — and economical contents, these two pieces have the air of études, of compositions that set out to explore a terrain, to map out combinations and permutations, the repercussions of resonances, and to set them down for study.

It is all too easy with the rise of digital media to credit the blank slate of streaming audio and the frictionless playback of solid-state drives with the level of nuance we experience in today’s sound design and audio recordings. Certainly these newfound comfort levels with quietude have created opportunities for musicians to nurse and adopt ambient proclivities. But the re-release of Chao Praya and LIM evidence that there are composers, Carl Stone key among them, who were working these fields from the beginning, who recognized at the start that new instruments would yield new forms.

  Marc Weidenbaum