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Long at the vanguard of American electronic music, composer Morton Subnotnick also pioneered the rise of multimedia performance through his extensive work in connection with interactive computer systems. Born in Los Angeles on April 14, 1933, he attended the University of Denver before earning his Master's at Mills College in Oakland, CA, where he studied composition under Darius Milhaud and Leon Kirchner. (From 1959 to 1966, Subotnick himself taught at Mills as well.) His earliest major work was 1959's Sound Blocks, the first of his compositions to focus on the relationship between musical, visual, and verbal components; much of Subnotnick's subsequent oeuvre pursued the same ideas, with later pieces like the multi-part Play! and 1965's Lamination I including films, lighting effects, pre-taped material, and other media elements.
In 1967, Subnotnick released the landmark Silver Apples of the Moon, the first electronic work commissioned by a recording company (Nonesuch). Realized via the Buchla modular synthesizer, which he helped design and develop, the album sold remarkably well, its success widely perceived as recognition of the home stereo system as a legitimate medium for present-day chamber music. Now composing specifically for the vinyl format, with works consisting of two halves to fit their respective sides of each LP, Subnotnick returned with The Wild Bull a year later, shortly followed by the two-part Reality. Touch, completed in 1969, was his first piece recorded on four-track technology; it was followed in 1970 by Sidewinder. All shared sophisticated timbres, contrapuntal textures, and pulsing undercurrents -- in fact, many were so rhythmic they were adapted for modern dance performances.
Subnotnick's next major plunge into multi-media was 1973's Four Butterflies, a piece for four-track tape and three films; a pair of orchestral compositions, Before the Butterfly and Two Butterflies, followed in 1975. Concurrent was his work on the "ghost box," a modification device designed to control real-time sound processing by means of a pitch and envelope follower in addition to taped, voltage-controlled components including an amplifier, a frequency shifter, and a ring modulator. As neither the tape with the control voltages nor the ghost box itself contained any actual sounds, Subnotnick dubbed the end result a "ghost score," introducing the concept in 1977's Two Life Histories; much of the work which immediately followed expanded upon the idea by bringing together live performers and ghost scores, resulting in pieces including Liquid Strata, The Wild Beasts, and The Fluttering of Wings.
With 1981's Ascent into Air, written for live performers and a 4C computer, Subnotnick's innovations in real-time sound processing reached their peak; not only did he spatially locate and modulate the timbres of live instruments in a quadraphonic field, but he employed his players to serve as "control voltages," determining where the computer-generated sounds were placed, how they were modulated and so forth. Computer technology assumed greater and greater importance in Subnotnick's later work, with pieces like The Key to Songs, Return, and all my hummingbirds have alibis taking full advantage of MIDI technology. Latter-day compositions -- among them Jacob's Room, a multimedia opera premiered in 1993 -- also regularly made full use of computerized sound generation, specially designed software and "intelligent" interactive computer controls.
Morton Subotnick (born April 14, 1933, in Los Angeles, California) is an American composer of electronic music, best known for his Silver Apples of the Moon, the first electronic work commissioned by a record company, Nonesuch. He was one of the founding members of California Institute of the Arts where he taught for many years.
Subotnick has worked extensively with interactive electronics and multi-media, co-founding the San Francisco Tape Music Center with Ramon Sender, and often collaborating with his wife Joan La Barbara. Morton Subotnick is one of the pioneers in the development of electronic music and multi-media performance and an innovator in works involving instruments and other media, including interactive computer music systems. Most of his music calls for a computer part, or live electronic processing; his oeuvre utilizes many of the important technological breakthroughs in the history of the genre.
Early career 
Subotnick graduated from the University of Denver. In the early 1960s, Subotnick taught at Mills College and with Ramon Sender, co-founded the San Francisco Tape Center. During this period he collaborated with Anna Halprin in two works (the 3 legged stool and Parades and Changes) and was music director of the Actors Workshop. It was also during this period that Subotnick worked with Buchla on what may have been the first analog synthesizer.
In 1966 Subotnick was instrumental in getting a Rockefeller Grant to join the Tape Center with the Mills Chamber Players (a chamber at Mills College with performers Nate Rubin, violin; Bonnie Hampton, cello; Naomi Sparrow, piano and Subotnick, clarinet). The grant required that the Tape Center relocate to a host institution that became Mills College. Subotnick, however, did not stay with the move, but went to New York with the Actor’s Workshop to become the first music director of the Lincoln Center Rep Company in the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. He also, along with Len Lye, became an artist in residence at the newly formed Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. The School of the Arts provided him with a studio and a Buchla Synthesizer (now at the Library of Congress). During this period he helped develop and became artistic director of the Electric Circus and the Electric Ear. This was also the time of the creation of Silver Apples of the Moon, The Wild Bull, and Touch.
Silver Apples of the Moon 
Early electronic music was made using wave generators and tape-manipulated sounds. Subotnick was among the first composers to work with electronic instrument designer Don Buchla. Buchla's modular voltage-controlled synthesizer, which he called the Electric Music Box and which was constructed partly based on suggestions by Subotnick and Sender, was both more flexible and easier to use, and its sequencing ability was integral to Subotnick's music.
At a time when electronic music was highly abstract, largely concerned with pitch and timbre, with rhythm an afterthought or of no consequence and patterns largely avoided, Subotnick broke with the academic avant-gardists by including sections with regular rhythms. Both Silver Apples and 1968's The Wild Bull (another Nonesuch-commissioned work for tape; they have since been combined on a Wergo CD) have been choreographed by dance companies around the world.
In 1969 Subotnick was invited be part of a team of artists to move to Los Angeles to plan a new school. Mel Powell as Dean, Subotnick as Associate Dean, and a team of four other pairs of artists carved out a new path of music education and created the now famous California Institute of the Arts. Subotnick remained Associate Dean of the music school for 4 years and then, resigning as Associate Dean, became the head of the composition program where, a few years later, he created a new media program that introduced interactive technology and multi media into the curriculum. In 1978 Subotnick, with Roger Reynolds and Bernard Rands, produced 5 annual internationally acclaimed new music festivals.
Approach to music 
Where previous electronic music had used non-traditional structures, Subotnick's electronic compositions are structured more like the classical music for acoustic instruments with which audiences are familiar, but with nontraditional timbres and pitch manipulations no orchestra could produce. He has also written for acoustic instruments, and studied with Darius Milhaud and Leon Kirchner at Mills College in Oakland, California.
In addition to music in the electronic medium, Subotnick has written for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, theater and multimedia productions. His "staged tone poem” The Double Life of Amphibians, a collaboration with director Lee Breuer and visual artist Irving Petlin, utilizing live interaction between singers, instrumentalists and computer, was premiered at the 1984 Olympics Arts Festival in Los Angeles.
The concert version of Jacob’s Room, a mono drama commissioned by Betty Freeman for the Kronos Quartet and singer Joan La Barbara, received its premiere in San Francisco in 1985. Jacob's Room, Subotnick's multimedia opera chamber opera (directed by Herbert Blau with video imagery by Steina and Woody Vasulka, featuring Joan La Barbara), received its premiere in Philadelphia in April 1993 under the auspices of The American Music Theater Festival. The Key To Songs, for chamber orchestra and computer, was premiered at the 1985 Aspen Music Festival. Return, commissioned to celebrate the return of Haley's Comet, premiered with an accompanying sky show in the planetarium of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles in 1986. Subotnick's recent works—among them Jacob's Room, The Key to Songs, Hunger, In Two Worlds, And the Butterflies Begin to Sing and A Desert Flowers-- utilize computerized sound generation, specially designed software Interactor and "intelligent" computer controls which allow the performers to interact with the computer technology.
All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (1994) was an interactive concert work and a CD-ROM (perhaps the first of its kind), Making Music (1995), Making More Music (1998) were his first works for children, and an interactive 'Media Poem', Intimate Immensity, premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in NY (1997). The European premiere (1998) was in Karlsrhue, Germany. A string quartet with CDROM, Echoes from the Silent Call of Girona (1998), was premiered in Los Angeles by Southwest Chamber Music.
Subotnick was commissioned to complete a larger version of the opera, Jacobs Room. This premiered in 2010 at the Bregenz Festival in Austria.
Subotnick is developing tools for young children to create music. He has authored a series of six CDROMs for children, mounted a children's website and he is developing a related school program.
Subotnick is working with the Library of Congress as they are preparing an archival presentation of his electronic works. He tours extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe as a lecturer and composer/performer. Morton Subotnick is published by Schott Music. Students of his include Ingram Marshall, Mark Coniglio, Carl Stone, Rhys Chatham, Charlemagne Palestine, John King and Lois V Vierk.
Personal life 
Subotnick is married to Joan La Barbara, a singer and composer. Subotnick's oldest son, Steven Subotnick, is an animator; his youngest son, Jacob Subotnick, is a sound designer and his daughter, Tamara Winer, is a psychiatric social worker.