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Bob Ostertag - Bob Ostertag Plays the Serge 1978-1983  

2016-11-06 22:33:51|  分类: Free Improvisati |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Bob Ostertag   -   Bob Ostertag Plays the Serge 1978-1983 - neurosis01 - Puzzle
Artist: Bob Ostertag 
Album: Bob Ostertag Plays the Serge 1978-1983
Genre: Experimental
Label: Analogue Motions
Recording Date:  1978-1983
Quality: FLAC


Original composer notes
This music was made a long time ago, by someone very different from the person I am today. I had not heard some of this music since it was recorded thirty-five years ago.
The Greek fanzine Mountza (which “focuses on the hardcore-punk underground and the do-it-yourself cultures”) recently interviewed me, and their first question was why I did not become a punk rocker in the late 70s and early 80s. After listening to these recordings, I am not so sure that I didn’t, for these recordings remind me of how noisy our music was. My comrades and I didn’t wear safety pins or spike our hair, but our sound fit right in at CBGBs, where we often played.
I played a keyboard-less, modular Serge synthesizer. We didn’t call them “analog” synths back then since “digital” synths did not yet exist. This was the very early days of voltage controlled synthesizers. The first ones were built in the 1960s, but they were large, heavy, and quite expensive, and were usually found in research studios at large universities. It took another decade for the first models to appear that could be described as portable, and even then there were very few people who would have considered carrying one around night after night. And they were still expensive. But Serge Tcherepnin offered his synthesizers in the form of a kit the buyer put together, which dropped the price to where a resourceful young person who was maniacally driven to do so could scrape together just enough money to build one.
When I showed up in New York City in 1978 with my newly assembled Serge and my friends Ned Rothenberg and Jim Katzin, I was fortunate to find several other like-minded new arrivals who eventually became known as the “New York downtown improvisors” (John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, Fred Frith, Polly Bradfield, Toshinori Kondo, Leslie Dalaba, Wayne Horvitz, and others). This gave me the unique opportunity to hone my improvising skills on the Serge in a collective context in gig after gig at a variety of off-the-map venues: a karate studio, the basement of a West Village pet store, CBGBs, Zorn’s girlfriend’s apartment (shows sold out at 5 audience members), etc.
I was not the first person to perform concerts on a modular analog synthesizer, but I may have been the first to fully devote myself to improvisation with a synth as my main instrument, and to play not with other synthesizer players but with saxophonists, guitarists, violinists and so on. It was not obvious how to go about doing that. The Serge had no keyboard but rather a collection of knobs and buttons with an overlay of tangled wires. Everything about these instruments suggested a music of slowly evolving patterns. But I wanted to go toe-to-toe with my friends in the angular, turn-on-a-dime improvisational style we were developing. Eventually I settled on an approach that involved a contact mic between my teeth that I could bite to generate triggers, a radio as a source of uncertainty, and a lot of patch cords hung around my neck for patching on the fly.
You could never get back anything you made on an analog synth. The dials were not precise enough, the configuration of patch cords too complex. Rule #1 of working with these instruments was to always have a tape recorder handy and to hit the record button if you had something you liked, because you would never get it again.
Before the 1980s were through, digital synthesizers had completely displaced the analog instruments. The digital systems were smaller, lighter, less expensive, and had presets so you could return to configurations you liked. MIDI made all the digital synths compatible with each other. When digital systems came around, everyone quickly dumped their old analog systems (well, by “everyone” I mean the tiny handful of people who were seriously into the modular analog synths).
And yet, today there is a new generation of synthesizer players (many many times larger that my cohort) who look back longingly at the days of the modular analog instruments. They feel boxed in by the predictability of computers, so the unstable nature of the old systems is seen as a plus instead of a minus. The mouse and the trackpad feel so detached and generic that the old hardware knobs and buttons seem like a wonderful alternative. (That one surely comes as a total surprise to everyone from my generation: that decades later, with accelerometers and gyroscopes and Wii’s and touch screens and much much more, knobs and buttons would be what people want!) And then there is that “analog sound” that is so fetishized in today.
Last year I started playing a Buchla 200e (a new modular synthesizer based on Don Buchla’s instruments of the 1960s and 1970s) and discovered that in some ways I too prefer that instrument to the laptop-based instruments I have used for many years now, but this has little to do with knobs, buttons, patch cords, or the “analog sound.”
First, old synthesizers were “instruments” in the sense that they make sound from the moment you turn them on to the moment you turn them off. You spend very little time fussing with operating systems, drivers, upgrades, version compatibility issues, crashes, and so on. You are using your ears almost the entire time you are in front of it.
Second, though the computer promises infinite software reconfigurability with just one piece of hardware, there is something liberating about playing a synthesizer that just is what it is. You cannot write more code to add another feature. You have to make use of the tools the inventor gave you. Again, what this ultimately leads to is more time using your ears. In other words, more music.
Most importantly, the way one has to think about music with a modular analog synth is very particular. You cannot do anything that could ever be represented by symbols, so “scores” are out of the question. They have nothing to do with the “timelines” of today’s music software. They are definitely algorithmic, but they are not precise enough to involve mathematical calculation. And “patching” one of these things is emphatically not “programming.” It involves a completely different sort of mind set. The closest I can come to describing it is that one has to think not in terms of math but of geometry: the modules generate shapes, and everything hangs on how you cause the shapes to overlap and intersect. For such highly engineered technology, the experience is surprisingly intuitive and spontaneous.
One final note about reverb: lots of the synthesizer in this recording is drenched in reverb, but not the kind you hear today, when you can buy an amazingly good sounding digital reverb for not much money and dial in anything from a “warm cathedral” to a “tiled bathroom.” Nothing even close to that was available. If you were working in a studio, they might have run wires to a mic and speaker in the basement of the building, so that if the building’s HVAC machines were not making too much noise you could add reverb by playing your music through the speaker in the cement-walled basement and recording it again by mic. But for playing on stage, your only option for adding reverb was to run your audio signal through some coiled springs. While the springs had the advantage that you could kick them and produce a thunderous explosion, they were hardly high fidelity. I would be so curious to hear the synth parts on this release with all the spring reverb stripped away, but alas that is not possible. And many younger players insist they are enthralled with the cheezy old reverb as much as with the old synthesizer itself. Who knew?

#1:
Bob Ostertag - Serge synthesizer, radio
Jim Katzin - violin
Ned Rothenberg - alto sax
#2:
Bob Ostertag - Serge synthesizer, cassette tape, contact mic, toys, voice
Fred Frith - home made guitar, six string bass, amplified tea tins
#3:
Bob Ostertag - Serge synthesizer, radio, contact mic, toys
#4:
Bob Ostertag - Serge synthesizer
Jim Katzin - violin
Ned Rothenberg - alto sax
#5:
Bob Ostertag - Serge synthesizer
Jim Katzin - violin
Ned Rothenberg and Richard Rogers - piano
#1,2 recorded by Bruce Levinson.

01. At the Squat Theater, New York City, 1979 (7:41)
02. At the Public Access Synthesizer Studio (PASS), January 7, 1983 (18:03)
03. At an unknow venue in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1980 or 1981 (20:42)
04. In a small storefont on Mott Street, New York City, 1979 (8:49)
05. In a classroom at Oberlin College, 1978 (4:11)

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