In the world of American experimental music, DAVID TUDOR was something of a legend. For a number of years following the Second World War, he was the only performer to devote himself systematically to this music. In doing so, Tudor became a touchstone for some of the most radical musical activity of the 20th century. The praise accorded him by the composers whose music he performed attests to Tudor's unique ability not only to meet the requirements of fully notated scores, but also to accomplish more than anyone had imagined in music in which some degree of indeterminacy was a compositional principle.
David Tudor was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1926. He studied with H. William Hawke (organ, theory), Irma Wolpe Rademacher (piano) and Stefan Wolpe (composition and analysis). His first professional activity was as an organist. He established himself as a pioneer in the performance of new music as early as 1950, when on December 17th, in New York, he gave the American premiere (and second performance anywhere) of Pierre Boulez' Deuxième Sonate pour Piano. From the early 1950s on, Tudor became John Cage's closest associate. Cage stated that all of his works until about 1970 were written either directly for Tudor or with him in mind. Tudor also gave first or early performances of works by Earle Brown, Sylvano Bussotti, Morton Feldman, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Christian Wolff, Stefan Wolpe, and La Monte Young, among others. These composers often wrote works expressly for Tudor and a number of them stated that Tudor's unerring ability to find his own imaginative and virtuoso solutions to the often puzzling and sometimes deliberately difficult problems of notation and performance was essential to the actual composition of their music.
During this period, Mr. Tudor held positions as Instructor and Pianist-in-Residence at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, and at the Internationale Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik, Darmstadt, and expanded his performance activity to include Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and John Cage's "Project of Music for Magnetic Tape." In the early 1960s he and Cage initiated a trend toward "live" as distinct from taped, electronic music. Mr. Tudor has conducted seminars in Electronic Performance at various American Universities and at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India.
In the late 1960s, Tudor gradually ended his active career as a pianist. He had begun to work with the electronic modification of sound sources in the late 1950s, departing from the then common practice of fixing music on magnetic tape. Instead, Tudor created electronic sounds directly during performances, thus pioneering what was later to be called "live electronic music." By the mid-1960s, Tudor's ideas and performances had inspired a new trend in electronic music. By the end of the decade, Tudor became fully involved in live electronic music, producing his own compositions using electronic technology.
As composer, Tudor draws upon technological resources that are both flexible and complex: he employs, for the most part, custom-built modular electronic devices, many of his own manufacture. His method employs choices of specific electronic components and transducers, and their interconnections, that define both composition and performance. His sound materials unfold through large gestures in time and space, and many of his compositions are associated with collaborative visual forces: light systems, dance, television, theater, film or four-color laser projections.
Bandoneon! produced at the "9 Evenings: Theater & Engineering," New York, 1966, calls for lighting and audio circuitry, moving loudspeaker sculptures, and projected video images, all actuated by the bandoneon. Other collaborative works include Reunion (with John Cage, Lowell Cross, Marcel Duchamp, and Gordon Mumma 1968) and a number of works for video and/or four-color laser display in conjunction with Lowell Cross and Carson Jeffries (1969 to 1977).
As one of four Core Artists who collaborated on the design of the Pepsi Pavilion for Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan (a project of Experiments in Art and Technology), Tudor conceived and performed several new works of his own, including Microphone (first version). It was this work that led Tudor to establish important new compositional procedures which became the basis for most of his music composed in the 1970s.
Many of Tudor's works are associated with collaborative visual forces: light systems, dance, television, theater, film or laser projections. Tudor's several collaborations with visual artist Jacqueline Monnier included the development of a kite environment installed at the Whitney Museum (Philip Morris) in 1986, at the exhibition "Klangraume" in Dusseldorf in 1988, and at the Jack Tilton Gallery in New York City in 1990. Other collaborators have included Lowell Cross, Molly Davies, Viola Farber, Anthony Martin, Sophia Ogielska and Robert Rauschenberg. In 1982 he premiered Likeness to Voices/Dialects at IRCAM in Paris, commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation and realized at the Metz Centre Européen pour la Recherche Musicale.
He was affiliated with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company since its inception in the summer of 1953. With the death of John Cage in August 1992, Tudor succeeded him as Musical Director. The Company has commissioned many works, including RainForest I (1968), Toneburst (1974), Forest Speech (1976), Weatherings (1978), Phonemes (1981), Sextet for Seven (1982), Fragments (1984), Webwork (1987), and Virtual Focus (1990). Neural Synthesis (1992) was created for Cunningham's Dance, Enter; and most recently, Soundings: Ocean Diary (1994) for John Cage's last conception, Ocean.
Tudor died Tuesday, August 13, 1996, at his home in Tomkins Cove, New York. He was 70 years old.