Department History - Sixties

HISTORY 1965-1969



“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.”

--Ernst Krenek


Robert Erickson


Harry Partch


Pauline Oliveros




Muir College Provost John Stewart began planning a cutting-edge music department at UC San Diego in 1964, shortly before University of California President Clark Kerr approved new theater, visual arts, and music departments in 1965. When the Department of Music opened in 1967, as led by founding faculty members Will Ogdon and Robert Erickson, its commitment to new and experimental music placed UC San Diego among a handful of university music programs looking toward the future instead of back at the past.

The early headquarters for the progressive new department consisted of a few rustic wood buildings and Quonset huts left from when Camp Matthews, a U.S. Marine training base, occupied the UC San Diego site. The first course catalog, produced for the 1967-1968 academic year, included classes ranging from “The Nature of Music” (including tape music composition and small group 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.

Today–some five decades after its inception–the department’s growing list of renowned faculty, alumni, and their many important contributions to the development of new and experimental music has solidified the department’s international reputation.



Video Interview with Roger Reynolds 2009 (64MB Quicktime)




UC San Diego’s music department was conceived during the 1960s. It was a time when political and social unrest swept across American college campuses and arts programs began to question and redefine their missions.

Stewart, who served as both the Muir provost and a literature professor, had more than a passing interest in music. While at Denison University in Ohio, Stewart double majored in English and music. He played piano, bass, trumpet, and saxophone and performed the oboe with New England symphony orchestras. In 1966, the year before UC San Diego’s music department was scheduled to open, visiting Regents Lecturer and Professor of Music Rosalyn Tureck proposed opening a Bach institute on campus. Instead, Stewart kept the focus on avant garde music of the 20th century, and Tureck's Bach project never began.

Stewart once said that his goal at UC San Diego was to create the West Coast equivalent of Darmstadt, the German experimental music center. The first step he took toward achieving this was hiring Austrian emigré composer Ernst Krenek as a consultant. Born in 1900, Krenek studied composition and counterpoint during his teens and 20s with composer Franz Schreker (1878-1934). Schreker had experimented with timbre and extended tonality while utilizing elements of Romanticism, Naturalism, Symbolism, and other turn-of-the-century styles. Meanwhile, Krenek studied music at the University of Vienna, the State Academy of Music in Vienna and the State Academy of Music in Berlin. He also had an internship as the director of the State Opera House in Kassel, Germany from 1925 to 1927.

Krenek moved from Vienna to Berlin to Paris and back to Vienna during the 1920s, digesting the music of Bartok, Berg, Mahler, Schoenberg (specifically his 12-tone system), Stravinsky, Wagner, and Webern. Krenek was familiar with popular American composers such as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, as well as with the American jazz performed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and others. Krenek’s use of American influences is often mentioned alongside that of Kurt Weill. For instance, 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. Though Jonny spielt auf caused an outcry from Hitler’s followers and from staunch supporters of old-school classical music, it became a runaway hit and was 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 Charles V whose territory had included Austria. In the opera, Krenek defends Christian humanism against Hitler and Nazi nationalism. While composing the music, Krenek began using Schoenberg's 12-tone technique for the first time, a style he soon mastered and used until the end of his life. Meanwhile, the rise of Nazi influence meant that Krenek’s anti-nationalist, avant garde opera was unable to premiere in Vienna as planned. Instead, the premiere did not take place until 1938, when it debuted 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. After moving to the U.S., 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. While there, he mentored Will Ogdon, Robert Erickson, and Thomas Nee, each of whom he eventually recruited as UC San Diego’s founding music faculty members. 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. Krenek and his wife bought a home in Los Angeles in 1956 and moved again in 1966 to Palm Springs, where Krenek fell in love with the California desert. (Ogdon and Erickson were known to share this passion for nature and the California landscape.)

At UC San Diego, Stewart followed Krenek’s recommendations and hired Ogdon (who, like Krenek, had used the 12-tone system), Erickson, and Nee, who became the artistic director of the La Jolla Civic Orchestra (now the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus).

Ogdon composed his first piece in 1938, four years before arriving at Hamline to study with Krenek. By that time, Krenek was already writing 12-tone music, and Ogdon was quick to follow his lead. Ogdon’s Three Piano Pieces (1949) was chromatic and atonal, with echoes of Bartok and Schoenberg. A few years later, Ogdon composed Two Kechwa Songs (1955) for soprano June Jeffries Peterson, who performed the work in a series directed by Nee.

Ogdon’s compositions drew inspiration from literary sources as well as from musical experimentation. His 1969 work By the Isar is a musical setting for D.H. Lawrence’s River Roses, written 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, 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 sound waves, Sierra brooklets that he had retuned through recycled coffee cans; you couldn’t get more Californian than that.”

As one of San Diego's most visible advocates for new music, Nee introduced programs that incorporated modern music alongside classical during his 31-year tenure directing the La Jolla Civic Orchestra, cultivating an audience for the new experimental music created and performed within UC San Diego’s unique department.

“For me, Krenek was the perfect teacher,” Erickson said in the documentary Change: The Music of Ernst Krenek (1988, available at UC San Diego’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, one with a lot of daily contact between teachers and students, but without the usual packaging into degrees, units, grades and other trivia," Erickson explained. "We wanted a place where making and performing music was a central activity, where research and theory could reflect 20th century concerns.” With this mission in mind, Ogdon and Erickson built a department that brought together experimental studies, composition, performance, technology, theoretical studies, literature, and special studies.

The first class of 1967 included experimental music pioneers Jack Logan (trumpeter), Alan Strange (composer/visual artist and author of 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 (cellist), and Lester Wylie (cellist).

In the late 1960s, a single computer was large enough to fill an entire room, magnetic tape was the predominant recording medium, and few could imagine the significant influence technology would soon have on performers and composers.

Pauline Oliveros joined the music 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,” Oliveros said of Erickson during an interview 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 became the department’s authority in technical matters. Oliveros and Campbell spearheaded the creation of one of the earliest electronic music studios on the West Coast at UC San Diego, equipped with a Buchla computer suited to music applications, Moog synthesizers and other new technologies. Borrowing the department’s portable tape recorders, students were sent to explore the campus and capture interesting sounds. Back at the department’s Quonset hut studio, they cut, spliced, and dubbed the sound samples to create new works.


      John Silber


Other notable faculty hired during 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 and 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.


      Niccolo Castiglioni


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. Instrument builder and composer Harry Partch came to UC San Diego after Ogdon offered space in a Quonset hut for the odd-looking instruments Partch built. Frustrated with conventional instruments and Western music’s chromatic scale, Partch developed his own 43-tone scale and instruments designed to accomodate it. However, Partch's first class at UC San Diego was a disaster. According to one student, the course comprised of a stream of consciousness rant in which Partch “denounced the department and the entire state of American music.” Partch left academia soon after, but he lived in the area for many years and his influence continued at UC San Diego.

Composer Roger Reynolds joined the music faculty in 1969, four years after meeting Stewart on a trip along the West Coast and one year after visiting the campus as a Regents Lecturer. Reynolds attributed his decision to join the faculty to Ogdon’s vision for the department as a dynamic, interactive artistic community. A pianist who earned a BSE in Engineering Physics and an MM in Music Composition at the University of Michigan, Reynolds was an early advocate for computer music. Shortly after arriving at UC San Diego, Reynolds founded the Center for Music Experiment (CME) in 1971. CME evolved into what is now known as UC San Diego’s Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at Calit2. Reynolds served as Calit2’s first composer-in-residence from 2007 to 2010, further strengthening the connection between music and technology.

Reynolds won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for his composition Whispers Out of Time, debuted his epic multimedia work Sanctuary in 2007, and continues to stay busy by creating new works that combine live performance with the latest technologies, including video, multi-channel audio, and computer processing.

When the department first launched, graduate seminars were intense and personal. According to Reynolds, the seminars were “more like psychiatric encounter groups. The students were extremely radical and intellectually aggressive.” Performance of works by graduate and undergraduate composers was central to the Ogdon credo. Each quarter comprised of several concerts; today, the department supports more than 100 concerts during each academic year.

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 develop and model new music. Since then, UC San Diego has continued to influence IRCAM (and vice versa), with students from both sides of the Atlantic commingling.

The Department of Music solidified its international reputation by 1969, despite its continued operation within the old military buildings. Featuring world-class faculty, an innovative curriculum, computers and software entering exponential growth mode, and graduate performers and composers making important progress in the tech-savvy world of new music, the department was ideally positioned for the decades ahead.


Summary written by Dirk Sutro