Laurie Spiegel adds historical context and detailed notes for all pieces. Also includes full text the Laurie Spiegel self-interview featured on the original cover.
The Expanding Universe
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The Expanding Universe is the 1980 debut album by composer and computer music pioneer Laurie Spiegel. The original album is reissued here as a massively expanded 3LP or 2CD set, containing all four original album tracks plus an additional 15 tracks from the same period, nearly all previously unreleased and many making their first appearance on vinyl in this brand new 2018 edition. Since this album’s first reissue in 2012, it has gone on to be widely established as a classic of electronic, ambient, and 20th century classical music. Some of the well-loved works included in this set are "Patchwork", the "Appalachian Grove" series, “East River Dawn” and "Kepler's Harmony of the Worlds", which was included on the Golden Record launched on board the Voyager spacecraft. The pieces comprising The Expanding Universe combine slowly evolving textures with the emotional richness of intricate counterpoint, harmony, and complex rhythms (John Fahey and J. S. Bach are both cited as major influences in the original cover's notes), all built of electronic sounds. These works, often grouped with those of Terry Riley, Phil Glass, Steve Reich, differ in their much shorter, clear forms. Composed and realized between 1974 and 1977 on the GROOVE system developed by Max Mathews and F.R. Moore at Bell Laboratories, the pieces on this album were far ahead of their time both in musical content and in how they were made. Each of the included works broke new ground, pioneering completely new methods of live interaction with computer-based logic - ways of creating music that are now reaching the heights of their popularity with Ableton Live, Max/MSP and other interactive music software entering mainstream music production.
MOJO, December 2022
"The album still takes in vistas of the frontier. Bleeping, rhythmic opener Patchwork was a reaction against atonal academic norms inspired by banjo music: structured yet evolving, its sense of jubilant hoedown is far from austere electronic experimentation. Old Wave, an early draft of ballet score Waves, brings feathered drones that glow like phosphorus, while Pentachrome contrasts cosmic echoes, subterranean droplet-percussion and pure abstraction.”
Review by Ian Harrison
Pitchfork's 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time #12
Pitchfork Best New Reissue
WIRE #1 Archival Release of the Year
Boomkat #3 Archival Release for 2012
Other Music #4 Reissue for 2012
SPIN #8 Reissue for 2012
New York Times Rediscovering the Electronic Music Godmothers by Steve Smith
Wall Street Journal Mechanizing the Musical Universe by Andy Battaglia
Frieze Magazine Interview by Geeta Dayal
Sex Magazine Feature by Dena Yago
"what’s new on The Expanding Universe is as diverse-sounding and alive as any electronic music issued this year, even though all of these pieces were conceived on a computer-analog hybrid system stashed in a Bell Labs hallway from 1973 to 1979 ... Spiegel’s improvisatory sensibility, and her disinclination to repeat herself at a conceptual level, makes all this previously unheard music a delight to explore. " - The New Yorker
"The Expanding Universe is a pioneering work in the fields of music composition and computer programing. Just as important, from the musical perspective, it is infused with an obvious appreciation of John Fahey's radical guitar instrumentals, in particular, and J.S. Bach ... very clear and intelligent, with a humble yet profound spirit, where nothing is disguised or exaggerated for gimmick. These pieces retain a revolutionary freshness and an honesty of which Fahey would be proud. They also reflect an appreciation for nature and Spiegel's ability to play banjo and lute." - Brainwashed
"Her previously out of print début, The Expanded Universe, is here reissued so definitively that it barely resembles the four pieces comprising the original. The extensive and insightful liner notes provide detailed production notes for each track and clearly align Spiegel within this perspective. Her contributions to early computer music and audio technology are well observed and as her reputation as a visual artist has grown so has awareness of her myriad innovations with analogue and digital synthesis." - The Sound Projector
"The previously unreleased "Drums" is particularly flabbergasting, if only for the way that it lays the groundwork for minimal techno over a decade before the genre was invented in Detroit and Berlin." - SPIN
"The freedom that vibrates out of these tracks reflects the spirit of their composer" - Dusted
"highly absorbing, cosmic-hallucination-provoking two and a half hours ... Ignored for three decades, “The Expanding Universe” now re-emerges, proud and torrential, as an absolute classic." - Playground Mag
"a set that's wonderfully on the cusp of analogue expression at the end of the 70s – tuneful, not noisy – rich in texture, yet never too dark – and warm, but never in a mellow sort of new age way! At some level, a record like this sits atop all the earlier experiments from Universities, electronic labs, European prog records, and other sources – and manages to draw all the best elements from them, and avoid any of the electronic pitfalls to come in an equally wide range of scenes. The balance here is perfect – and perfectly lovely at points" - Dusty Groove
"Even at its most abstract and intellectually challenging, Spiegel’s music was always tonal, melodic and musical in a way that was out of step with both uptown serialism and the downtown minimalists." - Spectrum Culture
Spiegel’s compositions –some three decades on– continue to emanate warmth, her analog sounds are by turns gurgling, beatific, and intimate, even when she’s contemplating distant planets, the chill of galaxies, and our own expanding universe." - MTV Hive
LP TRACK LIST
A1 Patchwork (9:46)
A2. Old Wave (6:53)
A3. Pentachrome (7:18)
A4. A Folk Study (2:03)
B1. The Expanding Universe (28:28)
C1. The Orient Express (10:02)
C2. Clockworks (5:22)
C3. Drums (7:09)
D1. Appalachian Grove I (5:22)
D2. Appalachian Grove II (7:56)
D3. Appalachian Grove III (3:14)
E1. East River Dawn (14:16)
E2. The Unquestioned Answer (6:30)
F1. Wandering in Our Times (11:44)
F2. Kepler's Harmony of the Worlds (10:40)
Laurie Spiegel is one of those rare composers in whom head and heart, left brain and right brain, logic and intuition, merge and even exchange roles.Though she is one of the highest-tech computer composers in America, Spiegel is also a lutenist and banjo player, and sees the computer as a new kind of folk instrument. She makes her most intuitive-sounding and melodic music from mathematical algorithms, and her most complex computerized textures by ear and in search of a desired mood. Form and emotion are as difficult to separate in her music as they are in that of her idol, J.S. Bach.
Spiegel was born in Chicago where in her teens she played guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and through them cultivated a devout philosophy of amateur music making. After receiving a degree in the social sciences, she returned to music. Having taught herself notation, she studied classic guitar and composition privately in London, then baroque and renaissance lute at Julliard, and composition with Jacob Druckman and Vincent Persichetti.
Having worked with analog synthesizers since 1969, she sought out the greater compositional control which digital computers could provide and wrote interactive compositional software at Bell Labs from 1973-79. She later founded New York University's Computer Music Studio, and became famous in rock music circles for her music software for personal computers, especially MusicMouse. MusicMouse's built-in musical logic allows even nonliterate musicians to create music in either tonal or atonal styles by hitting the computer's keys and moving its mouse. Distilled from centuries of musical practice, MusicMouse's statistical possibilities are enormous, and make any amateur feel suddenly in control of myriad elements. Still, the key to using MusicMouse to make successful music lies in what one does beyond the software, in both musical performance and electronic orchestration.
Despite her innovative involvement with technology, Spiegel the composer has never been dominated by Spiegel the computer technician. Her music from the 70s used compositional algorithms (in one case a realization of Kepler's "Harmony of the Planets", included in the Voyager spacecraft's record Sounds of Earth) to generate music in an accessible, minimalist vein. Some of that music was captured on her record on the Philo label, The Expanding Universe, containing works from 1974-6.
But in the early 80s, Spiegel distanced herself from the downtown New York scene that she had helped create, complaining that the new music scene's general direction was toward an "expansion of the collection of tools and techniques available to make music (useful, but not as the central content of a work)". "For me," she more recently explained, "music is a way to deal with the extreme intensity of moment to moment conscious existence." Since breaking away, Spiegel has lived as one of New York's most independent musicians, supporting herself by her software and circulating her music privately.
Those who fell in love with the folk like melodies and early algorithms of The Expanding Universe may be surprised to hear how much darker and more complex Spiegel's recent music has become. "Minimalism" may still aptly describe the slow movement of pitch in these pieces (Unseen Worlds), but it gives no hint of their complex timbres, glacial momentum,and cathartic climaxes. Such vibrant, expressive music could only have come from a composer who put her intuition and imagination first, yet who had the immense technical know-how needed to meet the challenges they posed.
– Kyle Gann