Special 2020 Joint Session

AMS Cold War and Music Study Group / SMT Post-1945 Music Analysis Interest Group Joint Session

Sunday, November 8, 6:00 PM, Central Time

Mediating the Cold War

Martha Sprigge and Laura Emmery, Co-chairs


Recent scholarship in music studies has demonstrated the central roles that technology and mediation played in shaping musical practices since 1945, as well as our understanding of these practices during the Cold War and its aftermath. This alternative-format panel is a joint session of the Cold War and Music Study Group of the AMS and the Post-1945 Music Analysis Interest Group of the SMT. It features paired lightning talks from music scholars across sub-disciplines, who engage with these topics across different geographic regions and cultural-political contexts. Together, the panelists will offer new perspectives on, and prompt dialogue about, analyzing the role of mediation and technology in musical life during the Cold War.


Innovation and Collaboration at CLAEM

Antares Boyle, Moderator

Recording Technologies and Cold War Cultural Consciousness

Martha Sprigge, Moderator

Response and Discussion

Laura Emmery, Moderator

  • Response 1: Gabrielle Cornish, AMS (7–8 min)
  • Response 2: Jennifer Iverson, SMT (7–8 min)
  • Q&A with entire panel (15 min)


Eduardo Herrera, “Scientificity, Experimentation, and Electroacoustic Music at CLAEM”
Latin America’s most successful early electroacoustic studio was hosted at the Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales (CLAEM), part of the Torcuato Di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A combination of resourceful innovation and productive collaboration during its eight years of existence earned CLAEM’s Laboratorio de música electrónica (1964–1971) an important place in the regional and transnational world of contemporary music. Composers and music critics in Buenos Aires found a natural affinity between experimentation and the creation of electroacoustic compositions. The connection was such, that the label música experimental (experimental music) was used interchangeably with música electrónica (electronic music). This allowed electroacoustic music to function discursively within Cold War imaginaries of music composition as research, not only referring to the development of techniques or apparatus but also in reference to the compositional process of these works. The use of the word laboratorio in the name of CLAEM’s studio was not coincidental; many aspects of electroacoustic creation were discussed through allusions originated in the scientific world, which further corroborates the idea of electroacoustic music as experimentation and closely related to the sciences. In this presentation, I argue that the grounding of the connection research – electroacoustic composition was a pedagogical methodology that explained the creative act in three stages: generation, elaboration, and assembly (or montage) of materials. Such understanding of the creative process in the electroacoustic studio extended to the different pieces of equipment which were classified in correspondence to one of those stages, giving a profound sense of industry and technology to electroacoustic experimentation. As a lateral consequence, new insight emerges regarding the conditions of a Latin American electronic studio within the economies and politics of the Cold War.
Noel Torres-Rivera, “Collaboration, Politics and Technology in Rafael Aponte-Ledée’s Presagio de Pájaros Muertos

Rafael Aponte-Ledée (b.1938), Puerto Rican fellow composer at CLAEM (1965-1966), once referred to Presagio de Pájaros Muertos (1966), a work for electroacoustic tape and reciter, as his boldest musical attempt at the Center. However, the absence of data about this work following the composer’s own decision to discard it in 1969 had represented a critical obstacle not only for the consideration of the composer’s aesthetical and political stances during those years, but also for a better reflection on early interdisciplinary artistic manifestations at the CLAEM.

In this paper, according to comprehensive archival and ethnographic research, I address the composer’s interaction with the technology at CLAEM in order to reconstruct the work’s sonic and literary components. I pay particular attention to the fortuitous artistic collaboration that materialized during the premiere of the work between Aponte-Ledée, engineer Fernando von Reichenbach, and actor Norman Briski. Certainly, the work as premiered, despite the composer’s initial categorization for the piece, converged in a space between the musical and the theatrical, and his inability to replicate these specific circumstances through subsequent performances heavily influenced the decision to discard it. Therefore, I argue that, from Aponte-Ledée’s perspective, there was a conceptual transfer from the work as electroacoustic to the work as instrumental theatre. In other words, that in the same way that the act of preparing a tape for an electroacoustic piece crystallizes a particular sonic combination, his ultimate decision to discard it was triggered by his inability to crystallize the performative and spatial elements as they happened during the premiere. Throughout the analysis I highlight: 1) How the shared space of the ITDT stimulated artistic collaborations between different disciplines; 2) The correspondence, in Aponte-Ledée’s particular case, between politics and technological experimentation; and 3) The composer’s particular relation with his work vis-à-vis his status as an avant- garde/experimental composer.

George Adams, “Maryanne Amacher’s Musical Technologies”

Maryanne Amacher was a prominent figure in American experimental music from the late 1960s onward, due to both her ingenuity as a composer and her expertise as a sound engineer. Her technological prowess enabled a conceptually rich compositional output that exceeded the spacial and temporal boundaries of typical musical performance. Ironically, the technological and conceptual vibrancy of her music has made it difficult to reproduce and record—or to theorize and analyze. Indeed, as Amy Cimini notes, to write about Amacher’s “wild sound” one must adopt some commensurate wildness of analytical method.

In this talk, I argue that the logistical and theoretical difficulties of Amacher’s work are expressions of a Cold War-era American cultural consciousness in which military technological efficacy threatened unprecedented destruction. Through long-distance telecommunication performances such as City-Links (1967–), and her use of audible “combination tones” resulting from vibrations in the inner ear, Amacher harnessed this technological efficacy and directed it toward musical ends. Rather than destruction, she geared her musical technologies for the production of an optimistic musical future by collapsing the bounds of musical time and space, and blurring the distinctions between bodies, instruments, performers, and listeners. Amacher’s work still leads the analyst well beyond the methods of music theory. But by considering how her music collapsed conceptual boundaries, we may begin to collapse some of the methodological boundaries between the apparent difficulties of her music, its place in American cultural history, and present-day practices of music analysis.

Ryan Gourley, “Soviet Jazz on American Vinyl: Diasporic Politics and Record Circulation”

Upon returning from a tour of the USSR with Benny Goodman, American vibraphonist Victor Feldman released a best-selling record titled “The World’s First Album of Soviet Jazz Themes” in 1963. Despite the sensationalist title, his album of Soviet-inspired jazz was certainly not the first in the world, nor even the first in the United States. By that time, the Russian diaspora in America had already been dancing to Soviet swing for more than a decade, though few outside the community had taken notice. Scholarship on Soviet popular music has largely concentrated on its social and ideological status within the confines of the country. I shift perspectives to consider the circulation of Soviet jazz outside the country’s borders, examining the role of record labels managed by Russian-American expatriates. My paper addresses the role of diaspora in the (re)mediating processes of circulation, reformatting, and politicization of Soviet jazz in America. Drawing on archival research at the Museum of Russian Culture in San Francisco, I analyze how diasporic record labels imparted their political views by curating and creatively reissuing recordings. Different generations of immigrants presented conflicting views of Soviet cultural life and held contrasting conceptions of the jazz genre itself. Given that Soviet-produced vinyl was difficult to come by in the United States, I highlight how a handful of record labels acted as intermediary points which affected the American reception of Soviet records. Ultimately, I argue that the expansive circulation of Soviet jazz recordings complicates the paradigmatic framing of the genre as a one-way cultural flow from the United States to the Soviet Union. An expanded notion of circulation yields new insights into the ways in which recordings are (re)mediated and politically inflected as they travel from place to place.