Biography (To Front Page )

Time Line

MORTON SUBOTNICK  is one of the United States' premier composers of elec 
tronic music and an innovator in works involving instruments and other media, including interactive computer music systems.  Most of his music calls for a computer part, or live electronic processing; his oeuvre utilizes many of the important technological breakthroughs in the history of the genre. 

The work which brought Subotnick celebrity was Silver Apples of the Moon.  Written in 1967 using the Buchla modular synthesizer (an electronic instrument built by Donald Buchla utilizing suggestions from Subotnick and Ramon Sender), this work contains synthesized tone colours striking for its day, and a control over pitch that many other contemporary electronic composers had relinquished.  There is a rich counterpoint of gestures, in marked contrast to the simple surfaces of much contemporary electronic music.  There are sections marked by very clear pulses, another unusual trait for its time;  Silver Apples of the Moon was commissioned by Nonesuch Records, marking the first time an original large-scale composition had been created specifically for the disc medium - a conscious acknowledgment that the home stereo system constituted a present-day form of chamber music.  Subotnick wrote this piece (and subsequent record company commissions) in two parts to correspond to the two sides of an LP.  The exciting, exotic timbres and the dance-inspiring rhythms caught the ear of the public -- the record was an American bestseller in the classical music category, an extremely unusual occurrence for any contemporary concert music at the time.  It has been rereleased on Wergo cd with The Wild Bull

The next eight years saw the production of several more important compositions for LP, realized on the Buchla synthesizer: The Wild Bull, Touch, Sidewinder and Four Butterflies . All of these pieces are marked by sophisticated timbres, contrapuntally rich textures, and sections of continuous pulse suggesting dance.  In fact, Silver Apples of the Moon was used as dance music by several companies including the Stuttgart Ballet and Ballet Rambert and  The Wild Bull, A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur and The Key to Songs , have been choreographed by leading dance companies throughout the world. 

In 1975, fulfilling another record company commission, (this time, Odyssey) Subotnick composed Until Spring , a work for solo synthesizer.  In this work, changes in settings which Subotnick made in real time on the synthesizer were stored as control voltages on a separate tape, enabling him to duplicate any of his performance controls, and to subsequently modify them if he felt the desire to do so.  While the use of control voltages was nothing new, it suggested to Subotnick a means to gain exact control over real-time electronic processing equipment. 

The next step in Subotnick's use of control voltages was the development of the "ghost" box.  This is a fairly simple electronic device, consisting of a pitch and envelope follower for a live signal, and the following voltage controlled units: an amplifier, a frequency shifter, and a ring modulator.  The control voltages for the ghost box were originally  stored on a tape, updated now to E-PROM.  A performer, whose miced signal is sent into the ghost box, can then be processed by playing back the pre-recorded tape or  E-PROM, containing the control voltages.  As neither the tape nor E-PROM produce sound, Subotnick refers to their sound modification as a "ghost score".   By providing the performer with exact timings, co-ordination between performer and the ghost score is controlled. 

Two Life Histories  (1977) was the first piece involving an electronic ghost score; the bulk of Subotnick's output for the next six years was devoted to compositions involving performers and ghost scores.  Some of the more notable works in this series include Liquid Strata (piano), Parallel Lines (piccolo accompanied by nine players), The Wild Beasts (trombone and piano), Axolotl (solo cello), The Last Dream of the Beast (solo voice) and The Fluttering of Wings (string quartet).  The subtlety, sophistication and control over real-time electronic processing that Subotnick demonstrated in these innovative works secured his reputation as one of the world's most important electronic music composers. 
Subotnick reached the apex of live electronic processing in his work Ascent Into Air (1981).  Written for the powerful 4C computer at IRCAM, this piece involved many of the techniques which Subotnick had developed in his ghost scores.  In addition to the processing normally available to him with his ghost boxes, Subotnick was able to spatially locate sounds in a quadraphonic field and to modulate the timbres of the instruments.  But perhaps the most significant aspect of this work is its use of live performers to control the computer music; the live performers, in effect, serve as "control voltages" to influence where a sound is placed, how it is modulated and by how much, etc. -- the reverse situation of the ghost score compositions.  Even more remarkable is the ability of traditional musical instruments to control computer-generated sounds.  The sophistication of this control is currently unavailable using the commercial MIDI devices which many electronic musicians, including Subotnick, favor today. 
Since 1985, Subotnick has been using commercially available MIDI gear in works such as The Key to Songs, Return  and "all my hummingbirds have alibis".  His more recent pieces are also marked not only by pulse-driven rhythms, but also by clear diatonic melodies and harmonies. 

In addition to music in the electronic medium, Subotnick has written for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, theater and multimedia productions.  His "staged tone poem" The Double Life of Amphibians, a collaboration with director Lee Breuer and visual artist Irving Petlin, utilizing live interaction between singers, instrumentalists and computer, was premiered at the 1984 Olympics Arts Festival in Los Angeles. 
The concert version of Jacob's Room, a monodrama commissioned by Betty Freeman for the Kronos Quartet and singer Joan La Barbara, received its premiere in San Francisco in 1985. Jacob's Room, Subotnick's multimedia opera (directed by Herbert Blau with video imagery by Steina and Woody Vasulka, featuring Joan La Barbara), received its premiere in Philadelphia in April 1993 under the auspices of The American Music Theater Festival.  The Key to Songs,  for chamber orchestra and computer, was premiered at the 1985 Aspen Music Festival. Return, commissioned to celebrate the return of Halley's Comet, premiered with an accompanying sky show in the planetarium of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles in 1986.   Subotnick's recent works -- among them Jacob's Room , The Key to Songs, Hungers, In Two Worlds, And the Butterflies Begin to Sing  and A Desert Flowers  --  utilize computerized sound generation, specially designed software Interactor and "intelligent" computer controls which allow the performers to interact with the computer technology. 

Subotnick’s  recent  works include: 3 CD ROMS; All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (1994), Making Music (1996), Making More Music (1998) and an interactive ‘Media Poem’, Intimate Immensity,  premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in NY (1997). The European premiere (1998) was in Karlsrhue, Germany.  Echoes from the Silent Call of Girona  for string quartet and CDROM was premiered (1998) in Los Angeles by Southwest Chamber Music. 

 Currently, Subotnick co-directs both the Composition program and the Center for Experiments in Art, Information and Technology (CEAIT) at the California Institute of the Arts.  He tours extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe as a lecturer and composer/performer.  He is published by European-American. 

[bio by Christian Hertzog from Contemporary Composers ] 

Awards Guggeneim Fellowship
Rockefeller Grants (3)
Meet the Composer (2)
American Academy of Arts and Letters Composer Award
Bradeis Award
Deutcher Akademisher Austauschdienst Kunsterprogramm (DAAD), Composer in Residence in Berlin
Lifetime Achievement Award (SEAMUS at Dartmouth)
Lifetime Achievement Award(Amercan Composer's Orchestra, NY)



Time Line  
Serenade 1 [1958]
For Clar,Mandolin, Violin, Cello and Piano
Two Preludes for Piano [1958]
Sonata fro Piano 4 hands [1959]
First performed in Aspen Colorado
Sonata fro Piano 4 hands [1959]
First performed in Aspen Colorado 
For Viola, Tape, and 16mm Film 
Premiered at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in October, 1963.
Sound Blocks: an Heroic Vision [1961]
For 2 Xylophones, violin, cello, 4 Lighting Flats and 2 Tape Recorders
Music Director for the Ann Halprin Dance Company [1961-65]
Works:The 5 Legged Stool; Parades and Changes
Co-Founder and Director of the SF Tape Music Center
Taught at Mills College [1959-65]
Mandolin [1961-63]
14 Minutes 
For Viola, Tape, and 16mm Film 
Premiered at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in October, 1963. 
Play! No. 1 [1963]
For WW Quintet, Piano, Tape and Film by Tony Martin 
Premiered at the SF Tape Music Center
Play! No. 2 [1964]
For Orchestra, Conducter and Tape 
Premiered by the St Louis Symphony Orchestra. Composer conducting
Play! No. 3 [1965]
For Pianist/Mime, Tape, and 16mm Film by Tony Martin 
Commissioned by Leonard Stein, and premiered by him at the 
Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, California in March, 1965.
Play! No. 4 [1965]
For soprano, vibraphone, Cello, 4 "Game Players", 
2 "Game conductors" and two 16mm Films by Tony Martin 
Premiered at the University of Washington, Seattle, supervised 
by the composer, Spring, 1965. 
First Director of Music for the Vivean Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center [1966]
Wrote Music for: The Caucasion Chalk Circle and Danton's Death
Artist in Residence at NYU School of the Arts [1966-1969]
Director of The Electric Circus in NY
a Multimedia Discotech
Silver Apples of the Moon [1967]
Commissioned by Nonesuch Records
The Wild Bull [1968]
Commissioned by Nonesuch Records 
Touch [1969]
Commissioned by Columbia Records 
Joined team to plan Cal Arts 
Started the Electronic Music Studio at Univ of Pittsburgh
Cal Arts opens
Became Associate Dean of Music 
Sidewinder [1971]
Commissioned by Columbia Records 
Four Butterflies [1973]
Commissioned by Columbia Records
Resigned as Associate Dean of Music at Cal Arts and became head of Composition 
Two Butterflies  [1974]
for Amplified Orchestra 
1232-3301; Timp; Perc (solo and tutti); Harp; Strings 
Commissioned by the NEA for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, 
premiered on April 17, 1975 conducted by Zubin Mehta. 
Before the Butterfly  [1975] 
for Orchestra and 7 Amplified Instruments 
Soloists: Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, 
Harp, Violin, Viola, Cello 
2222-3221; Timp; Perc (3); Cel; Strings 
A Bicentennial Commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, 
Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland 
Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Boston Symphony Orchestra. 
Premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in April 1976 
conducted by Zubin Mehta. 
Until Spring [1975]
Commissioned by Columbia Records 
Ten [1963, revised 1976] 
Fl, Ob, Tpt, Tbn, Perc (3), Pf, Va, DB
Two Life Histories [1977]
For Clarinet, Male voice and an Electronic Ghost Score 
Text: Greek mythology and Old Testament 
Premiered by Marvin Hayes (voice) with the composer (cl.) 
at the Theater Vanguard, Los Angeles, in April, 1977. 
Liquid Strata [1977]
Version for Piano and Electronic Ghost Score 
Commissioned and premiered by Ralph Grierson 
at the Ojai Festival in May, 1977. 
Passages of the Beast [1978]
For Clarinet and Electronic Ghost Score 
Commissioned by the International Clarinet Society
Parallel Lines [1978]
For Piccolo, Electronic Ghost Score, and 9 Players 
Ob/E.H., Cl/Bass Cl, Tpt, Tbn, Harp, Perc (2), Va, Vc 
Commissioned by Lawrence Trott and the International Piccolo 
Society.  Premiered at the Contemporary Music Festival,
Valencia, California, in March, 1979. 
and premiered by Ramon Kireilis at the 
International Clarinet Congress, Toronto, in June, 1978. 
The Wild Beasts [1978]
For Trombone, Piano, and Electronic Ghost Score 
Commissioned by Miles Anderson.  Premiered by Miles 
Anderson and Virko Baley at the Contemporary Music Festival, 
Valencia, California in March, 1978.
A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur [1978]
Commissioned by the J.B. Lansing Speaker Company 
After the Butterfly [1979]
For Trumpet, Electronic Ghost Score, and 7 Players 
2 Cl, 2 Tbn, 2 Vc, Perc. 
Commissioned by Mario Guarneri, premiered at the 
Monday Evening Concerts, Los Angeles, in October, 1979. 
Place  [1979]
3333-5331; Timp; Perc (3); Harp; Celeste; Mandolin; Strings 
Commissioned and premiered by the Oregon Symphony, 
Portland, in March, 1979 conducted by Lawrence Smith. 
The Last Dream of the Beast [1979] 
Soprano, cello section, tape and ghost electronics 
An aria from The Double Life of Amphibians 
Began working at IRCAM on the commission of The Double Life of Amphibeans 
The First Dream of Light [1980]
Tuba and Electronic Ghost Score 
Commissioned by Roger Bobo.  Premiered at the Los Angeles 
Philharmonic Composer's Choice Series in February, 1980. 
DAAD grant, lived in Berlin
Ascent Into Air [1981]
Chamber Ensemble and Computer 
2 Vc, Cl, Bass Cl, Tbn, Bass Tbn, 4 Percs, 2 Pfs, Computer. 
Commissioned by Mme. Pierre Schlumberger, Centre Georges 
Pompidou, and premiered by the Ensemble Intercontemporain 
conducted by Peter Eotvos at IRCAM in Paris, January 18-21, 1982.
A Fluttering of Wings [1981]
For String Quartet with or without an Electronic Ghost Score 
Commissioned by the NEA for the Juilliard String Quartet. 
Premiered at the Library of Congress on October 14, 1982. 
An Arsenal of Defense [1982]
Solo Viola and Electronic Ghost Score 
Commissioned and premiered by John Graham on November 7, 
1982 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. 
Axolotl [1982]
Version for Solo Cello and Electronic Ghost Score 
Commissioned and premiered by Joel Krosnick 
at the Library of Congress on February 13, 1981. 
Axolotl [1982]
Version for Solo Cello, an Electronic Ghost Score, 
and Chamber Orchestra 
1020-0020; Perc (2); Harp; Piano; 8 Cellos; 4 Basses 
Premiered at the Monday Evening Concerts, 
Los Angeles, on February 15, 1982. 
Trembling [1983]
For Violin, Piano, Tape, and Electronic Ghost Score 
Commissioned by The Library of Congress. 
The Double Life of Amphibians [1984]
Chamber Orchestra, Two Male Singers, One Female Singer, 
Dancer, Electronics.  Premiered at the Los Angeles Olympic 
Arts Festival, 1984, Lee Brewer, Director, Irving Petlin, Designer.
Return [1984] 
Commissioned in honor of Halley's Comet
The Key to Songs [1985]
2 Pianos, 2 Percs (mallet insts.), Va, Vc, Electronic Sounds 
All instruments amplified. 
Commissioned by the Fromm Foundation.
Residency at MIT
Conceived 'Interactor'
Hungers [1986] with Ed Emshwiller 
For Keyboard, Mallets, Cello, Voice, Female Javanese dancer, Video, Lights, and Computer 
Commissioned by the Los Angeles Festival and the Linz 
Ars Electronica Festival.  Premiered at the Los Angeles Festival, 1986. 
In Two Worlds (Saxophone Concerto)  [1987]
for Soloist doubling on Yamaha WX7 Computerized Wind Controller 
and Alto Saxophone, with Chamber Orchestra and Computer 
Premiered by the Electric Orchestra conducted by Richard Gonsky 
with John Sampen, soloist, January 1988, Cambridge, England. 
And the Butterflies Begin to Sing [1988]
Chamber Ensemble and Computer 
2 Vn, Va, Vc, DB, MIDI keyboard, Computer 
Commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. 
First performance July 31, 1988 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 
A Desert Flowers [1989]
for Orchestra and Computer 
1011-1111; Marimba; Perc (1); Piano; Strings 
(or amplified solo strings) 
Jacob's Room [1990-93]
Opera for 1 Singer, Cello, and Computer. 
New Music Theatre Festival, Philadelphia, Spring 1993 
All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis [1992] 
25 minutes
flute, cello, midi piano, midi mallets and computer 
premiered at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival 
Summer of 1992
The Key to Songs
Concerto Version for Two Pianos, Orchestra, and Computer.  Commissioned by Betty Freeman. 
The Los Angeles Philharmonic, April 1992.
All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis(CDROM )
Making Music. A CDROM for Children.
Intimate Immensity [1997]
A Media Poem [Interactive Technology]
80 minutes
Two, disclaviers, Two singers, Balinese Dancer and interactively controlled laserdiscs, computer sound and lights. 
world premirer at Lincoln center Festival 
Summer 1997
Making More Music. A CDROM for Children.
Echoes from the Silent Call of Girona [1998]
25 Minutes 
for String Quartet and CDROM 
commissioned for the: 
Southwest Chamber Music 
Blair String Quartet 
Chester String Quartet 
Montclaire String Quartet 
Premiered at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles, Oct. '98
Gestrures [2000
Version 1: Live performance

For 2 computers, images and surround sound.
Version 2: For DVD Surround Sound.
Version 3: Interactive CDROM.

 April 2001
release of
Morton Subotnick Volume 1:Electronic Works
A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur
Gestures: It Begins with Colors
 [Mode Records}