Local electronic music pioneer Andrew Rudin revisits his groundbreaking early work tonight at The Rotunda

Andrew Rudin | Photo courtesy of the artist
Andrew Rudin | Photo courtesy of the artist
In 1967, Nonesuch Records released Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon, which was immediately recognized as a landmark work of the nascent electronic music movement. Unexpectedly, it also became a hit.

The album was created using a synthesizer built by pioneering instrument maker Donald Buchla, so Nonesuch turned to his leading peer, Robert Moog, in search of a follow-up. Moog referred the label to a young Philadelphia composer named Andrew Rudin, who had been instrumental in bringing Moog to the University of Pennsylvania. Rudin used the commission to create Tragoedia, a four-movement piece inspired by the four fundamental emotional processes of Greek tragedy.

The 1969 album met with critical acclaim (High Fidelity Magazine’s Alfred Frankenstein proclaimed, “In Andrew Rudin’s hands the electronic idiom finally comes of age”) but soon was lost in relative obscurity as the art form rapidly and bountifully evolved. Tonight at the Rotunda, Bowerbird will present “Meeting Moog,” a concert portrait of Rudin’s early electronic music featuring Tragoedia with a live video accompaniment by Rudin’s former student Peter Price. The program will also include two earlier works, Il Giuoco (1966) and Paideia (1967), both of which are accompanied by films created by the composer.

When Rudin arrived at the University of Pennsylvania to study with composer George Rochberg, he had no intention of working with synthesizers. “I didn’t even know that they existed,” recalls Rudin, now 74. “In those days, when one heard the word synthesizer it meant only one thing: the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer, which was a giant contraption that ran on hundreds or thousands of vacuum tubes and within an hour’s work you’d have to find what tube had burnt out and replace it. It also operated on punch paper tape like a player piano, which would get snarled and the three hours that you spent making four seconds’ worth of music would be trashed.”

A few years earlier, however, a childhood friend of Rudin’s had become a member of the ground-breaking Alwin Nikolais Dance Company, which purchased one of Moog’s earliest synths. After Nikolais demonstrated the instrument to Rudin, the composer persuaded Moog to build one of his first large-scale studios in the basement of the Annenberg School of Communications.

“Bob Moog was a typical science nerd type,” Rudin says with a laugh. “He came down to Penn with a synthesizer in a cardboard box underneath a Greyhound Bus. But the wonderful thing about working with him was that he was kind of a frustrated musician himself, so you didn’t have to be some sort of engineering genius. He wanted to make things easily available to the musician. I feel really lucky that I was in the right place at the right time and happened to meet him at the beginning of it all.”

Born in Newgulf, Texas, a small town south of Houston, Rudin (pronounced “roo-DEEN”) began composing small classical pieces and music for theater productions while in high school. He then studied at the University of Texas at Austin before heading east in the summer of 1960. At Penn he studied under a number of renowned teachers, including, briefly, Karlheinz Stockhausen and George Crumb. The pieces he created on Moog’s newly-installed synthesizer became his first mature works. “I was fascinated with it because it was the latest, most avant-garde thing to do at the time,” he says. “I was absolutely convinced that once they had the equipment, I would work with it and make something. When you’re 26 you think you can do anything.”

That includes writing music for an almost wholly unprecedented new instrument that makes bizarre electronic noises. “The first thing is that writing doesn’t apply,” Rudin says. “What was fascinating to me was that I could work directly in the sound. It was much more like sculpting than it was like writing. I would simply find a sound by fiddling around with the instrument and coming across a sound that appealed to me. It was like someone gave you a trumpet and you thought, ‘I’ll try to play something legato, and I’ll try to play something high, and I’ll try to play something fast and jittery with it.’ Then I would edit the tapes, like working in film where you shoot a lot of footage and see what you can cut together out of it.”

The Philadelphia Composers Forum premiered Rudin’s first major synthesized composition, Il Giuoco, on a program with pieces by Crumb and Vincent Persichetti. “That first concert absolutely marks the dividing line between my student days and my life as a professional,” Rudin says. “It was a piece that totally represented what I would do and not something obviously influenced by anybody else.” Continue reading →


Ideal Bread breathes new life into Steve Lacy’s music tonight at The Rotunda

Photo by Bryan Murray
Photo by Bryan Murray

A disciple of Thelonious Monk, the late soprano saxophone great Steve Lacy was the master interpreter of the legendary pianist’s deceptively tricky compositions. He translated them into his own distinct voice while navigating the spiky eccentricities by which so many musicians get snared.

Josh Sinton, leader of the quartet Ideal Bread, takes the same loving liberties with Lacy’s music, breathing new life into it while irreverently transposing them onto the baritone saxophone, the soprano’s polar opposite. A onetime student of Lacy’s, Sinton has used Ideal Bread as a way to continue his studies, using his mentor’s idiosyncratic compositions as a substitute for the man himself, who passed away in 2004. The quartet – which features Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Adam Hopkins (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) – will perform at The Rotunda tonight, playing music from their recently-recorded, Kickstarter-funded third album, which features “recompositions” of music from the 1970s collected on the box set Scratching the Seventies/Dreams.

Deviating from the strict adherence to Lacy’s written material of their first two releases, the new music is based on Lacy recordings that Sinton refers to as “embryonic,” freeing him to more radically reinterpret it. His arrangements take Lacy’s music in directions inspired by the diverse likes of Anthony Braxton, Wynton Marsalis, John Cage, Iggy Pop and Mos Def, among others. Also on the bill will be Philly percussionist/bandleader Kevin Diehl’s Afro-Futurist ensemble Sonic Liberation Front and Dan Peck’s tuba-driven doom metal trio The Gate.


Get schooled on “mugham” with local Azerbaijani expert Jeffrey Werbock (playing The Rotunda on 9/6)


Presented by Fire Museum, Philadelphia-born musician Jeffrey Werbock will perform traditional Azerbaijani mugham compositions at The Rotunda in West Philly on September 6th.  The enigmatic and transcendent music of the Caucasus Mountains circles around three main instruments – the oud, the tar and the kamancha – and is one of the first styles of music to include open improvisations, forming a base for modern day free jazz and blues.  Having studied and presented the music for over 35 years, Jeffrey Werbock is one of the U.S.’s foremost experts in the ancient Eastern art of mugham; tickets and information for his lecture and performance at The Rotunda can be found here.  Watch a short informational video with Werbock below.


Archer Spade to premiere new “TCHMENTREACH” piece at The Rotunda tonight


archer spade

Local experimental duo Archer Spade (Dan Blacksberg and Nick Millevoi) will perform the world premeire of “TCHMENTREACH,” a piece they commissioned from prolific avant-garde metal guitarist Mick Barr, in West Philadelphia tonight. In addition to the premiere, Barr and composer / clarinetist Jeremiah Cymerman will perform solo sets of their dark, twisting improvisations.  More information on the show at The Rotunda can be found here.  Watch videos of the performers below and learn more about Mick Barr in the 5049 Podcast with Jeremiah Cymerman here.

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Watch an album teaser from VaVatican (playing The Rotunda on 1/16)

Avant-garde jazz quartet VaVatican is prepping for the release of their next record Falling In Love With U with a teaser video and an appearance at The Rotunda this Wednesday, January 16th.  Finding a middle ground between free-form improvisation and angular structures, the Prom Night Records musicians operate in the vein of abstract painters, creating detailed and impressionistic soundscapes that tell a hundred different stories for each interpretation.  Information for Wednesday’s free show with Superlith and MPSP can be found here.  Watch VaVatican’s teaser trailer below.


Tonight’s Concert Picks: St. James & The Apostles at RUBA, Folkadelphia presents ((TACO)), Prairie Empire and The Sun Flights at Green Line Cafe, We’re About 9 at PSALM Salon, XPN Welcomes Garland Jeffreys at World Cafe Live at The Queen, Many Arms at The Rotunda

St. James & the ApostlesHardworking Philly outfit St. James & The Apostles play RUBA Club Studios tonight alongside Themuffinmanisaband.  St. James is Jamie Mahon and The Apostles are Mahon’s cousin Mike Kiker and second-cousin Jeff Castner.  Together, the trio fuses anthematic rock with moments of twang and the refreshing power of Kiker’s organ playing on their latest record Baphomet.  More information about the 21+ show can be found here.  Below, watch St. James & The Apostles’ BITBY video filmed this past October.

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Many Arms want to thrash with you at The Rotunda on 1/04

When life gives you six arms, make a lot of noise.  That could be the mantra of Philly avant-jazz trio Many Arms, considering their affinity for experimental jaunts into noisy worlds most of us haven’t yet discovered.  On their third and latest LP released by Tzadik, Many Arms (guitarist Nick Millevoi, bassist John Deblase and drummer Ricardo Lagomasino) reach a level of clarity that seems counter-intuitive when the sheer wildness of their free jazz compositions is taken into account, but it works (Spin thinks so too).  Many Arms will be joined by saxophonist Colin Fisher at The Rotunda this Friday, January 4th.  Tickets and information can be found here.  Below, watch the trio perform “Beyond Territories.”  You can also grab a name-your-own-price download of their Live at First Unitarian Church over on Many Arms’ Bandcamp.


Weekend Picks: Tycho at The Rotunda, White Birds at Kung Fu Necktie, Augustana at TLA, Snowmine at Johnny Brenda’s


Scott Hansen is an artist with a vision. Before he debuted on the music scene as electronic composer Tycho, Hansen was known by his graphic design pseudonym, ISO50. As ISO50, Hansen produces intricate, often illusionary water color pieces—images that make an appealing first impression and grow more complex when scrutinized. His songs sound about the same. Hansen’s 2002 EP, Science Of Patterns, and the 2004 album Sunrise Projector hinted at his musical ideas, but it wasn’t until his 2011 album, Dive, that Tycho seemed to communicate in music what ISO50 did in visual art. Not surprisingly, Tycho’s current tour features a video component, which Hansen appropriately debuted on the ISO50 blog. Hansen will be playing both his music and visual art tonight in a show that’s certain to be sunny and synesthetic. Tycho performs with Beacon at 8:30 p.m.; tickets to the all-ages show are $5–$15. —Naomi Shavin

Since forming from the remains of Drink Up Buttercup, the members of White Birds have been quick to separate themselves from their former endeavor. Where Drink Up was fast and frantic, White Birds is slow and mellow. The band’s self-titled EP demonstrated just how much the members have evolved, with a dreamy tone and echoing harmonies. White Birds’ new album, When Women Played Drums, expands the fuzzy pop sound; the album comes out February 14th, but you can pre-order it now on Bandcamp. White Birds be joined at Kung Fu Necktie by Univox, whose Key Studio Session we posted earlier this weekWhite Birds performs with Univox and Tutlie at 8 p.m. at Kung Fu Necktie; tickets to the 21+ show are $10. —Nicole Soll

Snowmine front man Grayson Sanders has received praise for his mellow and melodious voice, with many noting similarities to both Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. The Brooklyn-based indie pop band’s debut album “Laminate Pet Animal” is obviously a tribute to all things natural and lullaby-esque, what with the use of odd instruments (including arbitrary household items, such as dish brushes and brooms) that help create a cultured sound. The band was featured as Weathervane Music’s Shaking Through artist for the month of November, and brings its Fleet Foxes-caliber potential to Johnny Brenda’s for the Philadelphia Bandcamp Hunter showcase. Snowmine performs with Gracie and Tours at Johnny Brenda’s at 9:15 p.m; tickets to the 21+ show are $5. —Lisa Henderson

Augustana had a rough 2011. The San Diego-based quartet was dropped from its label, Epic, following disappointing sales of its third album, had to cancel a summer tour with Jack’s Mannequin, and lost several of the original band members. But just as rumors of the band breaking up surfaced, lead singer Dan Layus announced he and the remaining members would continue making music under the name Augustana. Dan Lamoureux, who had previously played keyboard with the band, returned on drums, and Augustana released dates for a short winter tour. Despite the changes in the band, Augustana’s rock sound remains the same, and their set will feature both new music and hits off previous albums, such as “Boston” and “Sweet and Low.” Augustana performs with Graffiti6 at 8 pm at Theatre Of Living Arts; tickets to the show are $17. —Nicole Soll

Also Playing: Arctic Splash + DJ Deejay at PYT (10 p.m., free)

Brown Recluse + Acres Of Diamonds, Instamatic at Milkboy Philly (9:30 p.m., 21+, $8–$10); Jedi Mind Tricks + Diabolic, B. Lynch at Union Transfer (8:30 p.m., all ages, $18–$20); Jack’s Mannequin + Jukebox The Ghost, Allen Stone at Theatre Of Living Arts (7 p.m., $30.50); SOJA + The Movement, Fear Nuttin Band at Electric Factory (8 p.m., $25.95)

Rock To The Future Benefit featuring Polar Ice Cap + The Danger O’s, Fast Car, Jampa! at World Cafe Live (7 p.m., all ages, $7)


PREMIERE: Nothing’s “The Rites of Love and Death” Video

A blend of found super 8 footage and iPhone-recorded cityscapes shot atop North Philadelphia’s Divine Lorraine Hotel, the brand new music video from Philly shoegaze / coldwave ensemble Nothing is a stunning piece of work. First, in that it’s simply really intriguing on a visual level, and next because it’s the first acoustic ballad we’ve heard from this group known for noise-rock jams and spectral noir atmospheres. This unreleased track is an inticing harbinger of what’s to come in the EP Nothing plans to release early next year. Watch the clip above, download the title track from its Suns and Lovers EP below, and catch the band in concert this Friday at The Rotunda with YOU and Mueran Hermanos.


Interview: Gemini Wolf’s Michael McDermott on his opera, Pangea (at The Rotunda Nov. 11th)

Never one to shy away from ambitous musical projects, Michael McDermott – stage name: Mikronesia, one half of Gemini Wolf, founder of earSnake records – can now add “opera composer” to his curriculum vitae. This Friday, Nov. 11, his imaginative work Pangaea: When The Continents Were One premiers at The Rotunda for one night only. The multimedia fable blends an eclectic score, anthropological visuals and a 15-piece ensemble to look not just at the idyllic beginnings of mankind, but the point at which conflict between cultures began. The Key recently caught up with McDermott to talk about the work and its genesis.

The Key: I thought it’d be fun to being our interview with some free association if you’re game.

Michael McDermott: Sure!

TK: OK, then. Complete these sentences. “The most difficult thing about putting an opera together front-to-back is…”

MMcD: I guess coordinating lots of people’s different schedules. I mean, you could write an opera and record it all by yourself in the studio. But I just collaborated with so many different people. Just getting everyone to come to the studio at a certain time and record, that was the most difficult thing for me. I could have used an assistant manager or something. [laughs]

TK: “The easiest part about putting together an opera is…”

MMcD: Getting people to work on it with me. Everyone I asked said yes, which I was surprised about. I thought some people would be like “What, an opera? No that’s stupid, that’s prog-rock.”

TK: “The thing about Pangaea that will totally come as a surprise to the people hearing it is…”

MMcD: That they will still sit through and listen to an 80 minute piece of music front to back in the era of shuffle on your iPod or watching to a quick YouTube video.

TK: “My one regret about the project is…”

MMcD: Underestimating. I’ve already have people say “I want to come to it but I can’t make it that night, when’s the next one?” And I have to be like “I don’t know.” I wish I would have booked the premier to have several shows, or a long run. It seems like the work I’m putting into the premier is more work than I’ve ever done for one show. It would have been cool to perform it for an entire week. But I think down the road we’re going to do something like that.

TK: Awesome. Now to jump into broader questions, how did you come to decide “For my next project, I would like to write an 80-minute opera about Pangaea?”

MMcD: [laughs] Well, the idea of Pangaea is really kind of old. Even in High School I had this idea of writing an opera. Back then I probably thought of it more like a musical, and it became kind of opera of Pangaea…and slowly it morphed into this idea of making it about the ecology, war. And as the sound of the music I was interested in changed, it became more neo-tribal, integrating different kind of world musics together into this mulch of sound that really had no boundaries as far as what cultures they referenced. Which is also I think a comment on modern culture a little bit.

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