Department History - Sixties
History | Sixties
“A composer engaged in progressive [music] is al- ways hopeful. He writes for himself, and in doing so, he is quite sure that he writes potentially for everybody, for he thinks that he is not basically different from his fellow men, only a few paces ahead of them.”
In 1964 Muir College Provost John Stewart began to plan a cutting-edge Department of Music at UC San Diego. University of California President Clark Kerr approved new Theatre, Visual Arts, and Music departments in 1965. When the music department opened in 1967, led by founding faculty Will Ogdon and Robert Erickson, its commitment to new and experimental music placed UCSD among a handful of university music programs looking toward the future instead of the past.
Headquarters for the progressive new department was a few rustic wood buildings and Quonset huts left from the days when Camp Matthews, a U.S. Marine training base, occupied the site of UCSD. The first course catalog, produced for the 1967-1968 academic year, ranged from “The Nature of Music” (including tape music composition and smallgroup improvisation) to “Music of the Twentieth Century (after 1950),” “Advanced Problems and Projects in Recording, Editing, and the Specialized Use of Electronics in Music,” and “Seminar in Electronic Sound.” The basic Music 1 course encompassed elements of music, dance, theatre, and visual arts.
Video Interview with Roger Reynolds 2009 (64MB Quicktime)
Today--some five decades after its inception--the department’s growing list of renowned faculty and alumni, and their many important contributions to the development of new and experimental music, have solidified the department’s international reputation.
UCSD’s music department was conceived in 1960s. It was a time when political and social unrest swept American college campuses, and arts programs began to question and redefine their missions.
Stewart, a literature professor as well as Muir provost, had more than a passing interest in music. At Denison University in Ohio, he had double majored in English and music. He played piano, bass, trumpet, and saxophone. He had performed on oboe with New England symphony orchestras. In 1966, with UCSD’s music department scheduled to open the following year, visiting Regents Lecturer Rosalyn Tureck, a prominent music teacher at UCSD, proposed a Bach Institute located on campus. Instead, Stewart kept the focus on avant garde music of the 20th century, and the Bach project never happened.
Stewart said that his goal at UCSD was to create a West Coast equivalent of Darmstadt, the German experimental music center. His first step was to hire as a consultant Austrian emigré composer Ernst Krenek. Born in 1900, Krenek studied composition and counterpoint during his teens and twenties with composer Franz Schreker (b. 1878). Schreker had experimented with timbre and extended tonality, while utilizing elements of Romanticism, Naturalism, Symbolism, and other turn-of-the-century styles. Krenek studied music at the University of Vienna, the State Academy of Music in Vienna and the State Academy of Music in Berlin. He had an internship as the director of the State Opera House in Kassel, Germany from 1925 to 1927.
During the 1920s Krenek moved from Vienna to Berlin to Paris and back to Vienna, digesting the music of Bartok, Berg, Mahler, Schoenberg (the 12-tone system), Stravinsky, Wagner, and Webern. Krenek was familiar American popular composers such as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, as well as American jazz by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and others. Krenek’s use of American influences is often mentioned alongside Kurt Weill’s. Krenek’s 1927 opera Jonny spielt auf incorporated elements of African-American jazz in telling the story of an African-American musician, an unfamiliar subject for European audiences. The opera caused an outcry from Hitler’s followers as well as staunch supporters of old-school classical music. It also became a popular hit performed on stages around the world.
Krenek’s most famous opera, Karl V, was commissioned in 1930 by conductor Clemens Krauss for the Vienna State Opera. Krenek was inspired by the Roman emperor whose territory had included Austria. In the opera, Krenek defend Christian humanism against Hitler and Nazi nationalism. Composing the music, Krenek began to use the 12-tone technique for the first time, and he continued to use the system for the rest of his life, becoming known as a leading 12-tone composer. Meanwhile, the rise of Nazi influence on the arts meant that Krenek’s anti-nationalist, avant garde opera did not premiere in Vienna as planned. Instead, the premiere did not take place until 1938, in Prague.
In 1937, Krenek fled Nazi Germany for the United States, joining Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and countless other expatriate European artists whose modernist works were viewed with suspicion and suppressed by the Nazi regime. Krenek directed the Monterverdi Opera and went on to teach at the Malkin Conservatory, the University of Michigan, and Vassar College. In 1942 he became dean of fine arts at Hamline University in Minneapolis. There, he would mentor Will Ogdon, Robert Erickson, and Thomas Nee, whom he eventually recruited as UCSD’s founding music faculty. In the late 1950s, struck by the serialism of Boulez and electronic music composed by Herbert Eimert and others, Krenek began to compose his own electronic works. In 1956, Krenek and his wife bought a home in Los Angeles, and in 1966, they moved to Palm Springs, where Krenek fell in love with the California desert (Ogdon and Erickson shared this passion for nature and for the California landscape).
At UCSD, Stewart followed Krenek’s recommendations and hired Ogdon (who, like Krenek, had used the 12-tone system), Erickson, and Nee, who became artistic director of La Jolla Civic Orchestra (now La Jolla Symphony & Chorus).
Ogdon composed his first piece in 1938, four years before he arrived at Hamline to study with Krenek. By that time, Krenek was writing 12-tone music and Ogdon followed his lead. Ogdon’s 1949 Three Piano Pieces was chromatic and atonal, with echoes of both Bartok and Schoenberg. His Two Kechwa Songs (1955) were composed for soprano June Jeffries Peterson and performed in a series directed by Nee.
Along with musical experimentation, Ogdon’s compositions drew from literary sources. His 1969 By the Isar is a musical setting for D.H. Lawrence’s River Roses. He wrote it for bassist Turetzky and his wife Nancy, a flutist. Among other distinctions, Erickson was among the first composers of tape music (the forerunner of computer music) whose students included Paul Dresher (at UCSD), Terry Riley, and Morton Subotnick. In a reflective article in LA Weekly, music critic Alan Rich wrote “Composer Robert Erickson, one of the most influential teachers I’ve ever known, played me tapes of natural sounds waves, Sierra brooklets that he had retuned through recycled coffee cans; you couldn’t get more Californian than that.”
During Nee’s 31-year tenure directing the La Jolla orchestra, his programs incorporated modern music alongside classical, cultivating an audience for the experimental music at the heart of UCSD’s Department of Music. In San Diego, Nee was the most visible advocate for new music.
“For me, Krenek was the perfect teacher,” Erickson says in the documentary video Change: The Music of Ernst Krenek (1988, available at UCSD’s Arts Library). “He never gave tasks, he never controlled your style.” Krenek believed that the traditional composer’s education of imitating Beethoven and other masters restricted creativity. “We wanted to make a rather different music department,” Erickson says, “one with a lot of daily contact between teachers and students, but without the usual packaging into degrees, units, grades and other trivia. We wanted a place where making and performing music was a central activity, where research and theory could reflect twentieth-century concerns”. Ogdon and Erickson built a department that brought together experimental studies, composition, performance and technology, theoretical studies, and literature and special studies.
In 1967, the first class included experimental music pioneers Jack Logan (trumpet), Alan Strange (composer/visual artist, author of the pioneering book Electronic Music Systems and Techniques, Alan Johnson (clarinetist/conductor), and Bill Mullen (composer/violist). Also in the thick of things were John Glasier (microtonal musician and Harry Partch’s assistant), Rob Robboy (cello), and Lester Wylie (cello).
In the late 1960s, computers were the size of a room, magnetic tape was the predominant recording medium, and few could imagine the significant influence technology would have on performers and composers.
Pauline Oliveros joined the faculty in 1967. A composer and computer music pioneer, Oliveros had studied with Erickson at San Francisco State University and was an early member of the San Francisco Center for Tape Music.
“His teaching was notable for supporting me to work in my own way as he did with all his students,” she told one interviewer in 1995. “His attitude in teaching composition was devoid of sexism or racism. He was ethical. His delight was helping others to be creative and professional in composition what ever [sic] the style. Erickson was skillful in drawing out the best abilities of his students. He was tireless in his investigation of music and had a wealth of advice and pointers to relevant musical resources—always useful and specific. His guidance was invaluable to me and to my peers (all male). None of us sounded alike in our compositions even though we liked and admired each other’s work.”
Along with Oliveros came recording engineer James Campbell from the University of Illinois. Campbell had worked with Oliveros at the Tape Music Center, and he became the department’s authority in technical matters. Oliveros and Campbell spearheaded the creation at UCSD of one of the earliest electronic music studios on the West Coast, equipped with a Buchla computer suited to music applications, as well as Moog synthesizers and other new technologies. Borrowing the department’s portable tape recorders, students were sent to explore tha campus and capture interesting sounds. Back at the department’s Quonset hut studio, they cut, spliced, and dubbed to create a new work.
Other important faculty hired in the 1960s included conductor Daniel Lewis; John Silber, an improvising trombonist and medievalist scholar who had studied with Ogdon and Erickson at Wesleyan University; contrabassist and improviser Bertram Turetzsky; violinist/conductor Rafael Druian (who later led the New York Philharmonic); and composer Kenneth Gaburo, whose Rockefeller Foundation grant enabled him to launch NMCE IV, a collaboration between an actor, a mime, a gymnast, and a sound-movement artist. Gaburo went on to produce several more interdiscplinary works.
When renowned avant garde Italian composer, pianist, and critic Niccolo Castiglioni arrived as a visiting professor in 1968, his willingness to come to a new program in a sleepy corner of the United States offered evidence of the music department’s growing international reputation. Castiglioni worked with the 12-tone system, was involved with Luciano Berio’s early work at RAI electronic music studio in Milan, and had taught summer courses at Darmstadt, Germany’s renowned experimental music center.Other visiting lecturers also made a mark. Barney Childs’ compositions included music for Turetzky. Instrument builder and composer Harry Partch came to UCSD after Ogdon offered space in a Quonset hut for the odd-looking instruments Partch had been building. Frustrated with conventional instruments and Western music’s chromatic scale, Partch developed his own 43-tone scale and instruments to go with it. At UCSD, his first class was a disaster. According to one student, it was a stream-of-consciousness rant where Partch “denounced the department and the entire state of American music”. Partch and academia parted ways, but he lived in the area for many years and his influence continued at UCSD.
Composer Roger Reynolds joined the faculty in 1969. Reynolds had met Stewart in 1965, during a trip down the West Coast. He visited as a Regents Lecturer in the fall of 1968 and joined the faculty the following year. He chose UCSD, he said, largely on account of Ogdon’s vision of a dynamic, interactive artistic community under the department umbrella.
Reynolds, a pianist who earned a BSE in Engineering Physics as well as an MM in Music Composition at the University of Michigan, was an early adopter of computers for music. At UCSD, he founded the Center for Music Experiment (CME) in 1971. CME evolved into what today is known as UCSD’s Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at Calit2. Reynolds served as Calit2’s first composer-in-residence from 2007 to 2010, strengthening the connection between music and technology.
The world renowned IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in Paris, created by Pierre Boulez and opened in 1977, used CME as its operational model by bringing together artists, scientists, mathematicians and engineers to model and develop new music. UCSD has continued to have an influence at IRCAM (and vice versa), with students from both sides of the Atlantic commingling.
Reynolds won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for his composition Whispers Out of Time, debuted his epic multimedia work Sanctuary in 2007, and in 2011 is busier than ever creating new works which combine live performance with the latest video, multi-channel audio, computer processing, and other technologies.
In the 1960s graduate seminars were intense and personal. According to Reynolds they were “more like psychiatric encounter groups. The students were extremely radical and intellectually aggressive.” Performance of works by grad and undergrad composers was central to the Ogdon credo. Each quarter there were several concerts (today, there are more than 100 department of music concerts each academic year).
By 1969, the year of Woodstock and Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, UCSD’s Department of Music, still operating out of old military buildings, had solidified its international reputation with its world-class faculty, innovative curriculum, and grad performers and composers who were making their mark in the world of new music. With computers and software entering exponential growth mode, and with increasingly tech-savvy faculty and students, the department of music was ideally positioned for the decade ahead.