Don Buchla – “How Complicated Could a Metronome Be?

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“. . . . . . cranking up the Buchla electronic music machine until it maneuvers itself into the most incalculable sonic corner, the last turn in the soldered circuit maze, and lets out a pure topologically measured scream. Ultima-time with heavy-duty wiring, the works . . .The music suddenly submerges the room from a million speakers . . . . . . . a soprano tornado of it . . . all-electric, the Buchla screaming like a logical lunatic . . . ”

– Tom Wolf “The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test”

Educated in physics, physiology, music, and astronomy, Don Buchla’s multi-faceted creativity has been applied to fields as diverse as space biophysics research, musical instrument design, and multi-media composition. Much of his work has centered on the refinement of communication channels between man and machine, notably the invention of mobility aids for the visually handicapped, the development of instrumentation for bio-feedback and physiological telemetry, and the design of interactive electronic musical instruments and performance-oriented music languages.

For this event, Buchla will present a part of his modular electronic musical instrument called the 200e. This particular module, called the Polyphonic Rhythm Generator, when used in conjunction with certain sound generating modules, forms a sophisticated metronome that finds application in odd meter music such as that commonly found in Eastern Europe and Africa, but which has only occurred in Western music in the last century or so.

Buchla will explain various details of the device and demonstrate its application in various musical settings with the assistance of Rumen Sali Shopov and Joel Davel, who will demonstrate several complex Eastern European and cross rhythms, and Buchla’s wife, Nannick Bonnel, who will add a piano to Rumanian music that traditionally eschews keyboard instruments for a performance which combines both the electronic and acoustical, injecting contemporary elements into the rich traditional music of Eastern Europe.

Buchla founded the alternative band, Fried Suck, was a founding member of the 15-piece Arch Ensemble, and co-founded the Electric Weasel Ensemble, the Muse and the Fuse, and the Artist’s Research Collective. He served as technical director of the California Institute of the Arts, the San Francisco Tape Music Center, the Electric Circus, and the Electric Symphony. He has collaborated with such luminaries as Ami Radunskaya, David Rosenboom, Anthony Braxton, David Wessel, Morton Subotnick, Peter Apfelbaum, Suzanne Ciani, George Lewis, Nannick Bonnel, and his son, Ezra. He has developed several exotic controllers that provide expressive alternatives to traditional musical input devices; recent inventions include Thunder, Lightning III, Wind, Rain, 50 Fireflies, the Piano Bar, and the Marimba Lumina. He is currently completing a major redesign of the 200 series modular synthesizer (called the 200e) and contemplating his next project.