Saturday, 23 April 2011

People In The Sky - Michael Czajkowski

The People In The Sky (1969), judging by the cover, looks very much like a product of California cultism involving hippies holding their hands up in the hope of hitching a ride on the chariots of the gods, although that’s unlikely to be the concept Michael Czajkowski had in mind. Then again, who knows? It was made in New York using the Buchla 100 synthesizer which, as you know, is a Modular Electronic Music System composed of functional modules, each designed to generate a particular class of signals or perform a specific type of signal processing. Each module is 7 inches high and 4 1/4 inches (or an integral multiple thereof) wide. Up to 25 modules sharing a single power supply may be assembled in a single cabinet to form a super-module. As you probably also know, it employs three varieties of signals, each with a distinctly different function:
   Audio signals, the raw material of electronic music, are formed by various sorts of generators (sine, square, sawtooth, harmonic) or are produced externally (tape loop, radio, microphone). In composing a piece, signals may be filtered, gated, mixed, modulated, or otherwise processed. A standard level of 0 dB (ref. 600 Ohms) is employed for audio signals within the system.
   Control voltages, used to determine frequencies, envelope characteristics, amplitudes and other parameters, are generated by keyboards, programmable voltage sources and envelope generators. The standard control voltage range is from 0 to 15 volts.
   Timing pulses are originated by keyboards, programmable sequencers, and pulse generators. They are used to trigger notes, open gates, or initiate chains of musical events. Timing pulses are about 15 volts in amplitude.
   And the rules for interconnecting are straight-forward. Any number of inputs may be connected to a single output. Timing pulse outputs may be paralleled and connected to one input. The system output may be derived from any module; output is of sufficient magnitude to drive line inputs on tape recorders or sensitive inputs on power amplifiers.
   Isn’t the technical aspect of machine music fascinating? No? Since The machines have currently more or less taken over the bunker, I felt I should find out something out some of them. But none of the above information lends a clue (unless you really know your machines) as to the nature of the sounds created by Czajkowski. By the way, Morton Subotnik used the same machine to create his classic ‘Silver Apples’ album. He also renamed the synthesizer, which it’s co-creator, Don Buchla had, with all the creative powers you would expect from a computer designer, called ‘The San Francisco Tape Music Center’. Whilst Buchla is better, I would have gone for ‘Fred’, just Fred, or perhaps ‘Mack’, standing for Modular Audio Control Komputer.
   Like Grossi’s ‘Computer Music’ of the last post, this is very much a ‘let the machines sing’ kind of album, albeit produced by different methods. And it gives the impression that whilst Czajkowski may be ‘playing’ the Buchla, as we know of machines, it very much has its own mind. Over the two 20mins-plus parts, it wanders in all kinds of directions. But unlike some musicians who do the same, it never seems to get lost because, of course, it does not really know where it’s going in the first place. Nor, I suspect, does it care.

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