Dreamsong, Love In The Asylum, Mars Suite

Wergo 2020-2, WERGO Schallplatten GmbH
Published by B. Schott's Sohne International, Mainz, Germany

Cover art: Diane Fenster

Where to order this CD

This recording consists of three of my early compositions produced at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University. The first two of them, especially Dreamsong, became very well-known and influential in the field of electroacoustic music and have received many honors. In those early days of computer music my colleagues and I were pioneering the development and use of many of the techniques of digital synthesis, recording, and sound processing that are now commonplace. Due to the almost fanatical emphasis on sound quality that was then a part of the CCRMA atmosphere, these works continue to stand on a par with the best that current instruments can produce. I hope that you will experience some of the excitement and inspiration that I felt in bringing this unusual music to life.

Dreamsong (1978)

Dreamsong is a careful blend of synthesized sounds and recorded natural sounds that have been digitally processed or resynthesized. The result, termed "a classic of the genre" by New Yorker music critic Andrew Porter, is an expressive sonic continuum ranging from unaltered natural sounds to entirely new sounds -- or, more poetically, from the real world to the realm of the imagination. This widely influential work was one of the earliest to achieve, through the precision of digital processing, a smoother integration of these two elements than was previously possible in either studio-produced electronic music or live performance.

In Dreamsong , the listener is repeatedly drawn in by references to familiar musical, vocal, and environmental material, only to be transported into a vivid alien landscape by an unexpected and surprising sonic manipulation. Constant transformations of timbre and texture, fluid shifting between familiar sounds and imaginary musical images, and illusory spatial movement all combine to powerful musical effect. An extended melodic line adds a strong thread of continuity.

Dreamsong premiered at the first concert of the then-newly-created Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, in November 1978. The vocal timbres are based on the voice of soprano Marilyn Barber.

Love In the Asylum (1981)

I. Mad as Birds
allegro ridendo
accelerando perpetuamente
II. Pirouette
III. The Magician's Daughter

Love in the Asylum is a love song to the calculated insanity and spontaneous magic that one must sometimes call upon in order to live in this strange universe of ours. It features an orchestra of familiar instrumental and vocal sounds, new sounds drawn from the imagination, and---perhaps most expressively---sounds that fluidly shift between the two. The work, which critic Paul Lehrman called "one of the most devastatingly beautiful pieces of electronic music I have ever heard", is built of two psychological layers. Foremost is a layer of cheerful confidence and exuberance, colored and occasionally overpowered by a dark emotional undercurrent of anxiety and psychological imbalance.

All sounds in Love in the Asylum were synthesized except for the laughter and the player calliope music. It includes a number of musical quotations, including quotations from other works of electroacoustic music. The spatial sound paths at the beginning of the first movement are from Turenas (1972) by John Chowning, who was a primary mentor, and influenced McNabb's decision to specialize in electroacoustic music and performance.

Love in the Asylum premiered on November 2, 1981, at the Monday Evening Concert Series in Los Angeles.

Mars Suite (1979, rev. 1984)

I. Orbital View
II. Chryse Planitia
III. Olympus Mons Flanked by Clouds

Mars Suite is a concert suite of the soundtrack music composed for Mars in 3-D, a U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration film of stereographic images relayed to Earth from Mars by the Viking lander and orbiter spacecraft.

The first and third movements were written to accompany the images taken from orbit around Mars: panoramas of rugged cliffs, vast craters, and the towering Olympus Mons volcano flanked by ethereal white clouds. The second movement, Chryse Planitia, is music of the ancient and desolate landscape, frozen and sandswept, that was revealed by the Viking lander craft. The spoken text includes some of the geographical place-names surrounding the two landing sites.

The fundamental harmonic structure of Mars Suite is derived from the well-known opening bars of the last movement of Gustav Holst's The Planets, which features two minor triads a major third apart. The use of a specially-designed just tuning system results in uniquely beautiful and expressive harmonic textures and melodies.

About the Recording

This recording was made by a direct digital transfer from the computer that synthesized and processed the music to the digital master tape. Orbital View and Love in the Asylum were both realized on the Systems Concepts digital synthesizer at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University. Dreamsong was composed before the advent of the real-time synthesizer, and used a conventional mainframe computer to directly synthesize and process sounds using custom software.