- An Interview with James Dashow
A pioneering composer of computer music, James Dashow (see Figure 1) was a co-founder of the Centro di Sonologia Computazionale at the University of Padova. He has taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Princeton University, and the Centro para la Difusion di Musica Contemporanea in Madrid. For many years he was co-producer of a contemporary music radio program for Italian National Radio and Television (RAI). He lives north of Rome but lectures extensively in the U.S. and Europe. Mr. Dashow has received com-missions, awards, and grants from numerous organizations. Most recently, he was awarded the prestigious Prix Magistère at the 30th Festival International de Musique et d'Art Sonore Electro-acoustiques in Bourges, France. His music has been recorded on Capstone, Wergo, BMG-RCA, Neuma, ProViva, CRI and other labels. Complete lists of the composer's works, recordings, and awards are available on his Web site, www.jamesdashow.net. His oeuvre includes works for tape (used here in the general sense to refer to fixed electronic media), live instruments plus tape, and instruments without electronics; but he uses the computer in composing even his purely instrumental music.
James Dashow visited the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media at the University of Washington in early March 2002 for a concert of his recent works and to conduct a master class. During the three days of his stay, we managed to have an extended interview-like conversation in front of a microphone on one of the islands just off the coast of Seattle. Several of the little restaurants on the island have their own pier nudging out into Puget Sound for customers (like us) who prefer to take their coffee or wine outdoors in the early spring sunshine. As we say in Seattle, "The mountain was out": Mt. Rainier rose majestically in all its splendor between the two mountain ranges (the Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east) that surround the city. These were the perfect conditions for an interview.
Richard Karpen: First of all, a belated congratulations on the Bourges Magisterium prize. Part of the prize was a concert of your works. Which pieces did you play?
James Dashow: Thank you. I shared a concert with Beatriz Ferreyra, who was the other Magisterium winner in the 2000 edition of the Festival. I chose a couple of scenes from my planetarium opera Archimedes; my radio piece, or "lyric satire" as I like to call it, Media Survival Kit; and the quadraphonic electronic piece, . . . at other times, the distances. These pieces are all from the last five years or so, except for one of the Archimedes scenes, which was originally composed in 1988 for a series of concerts in Italy. I have since considerably reworked it, making it more compact to fit with the pacing of the opera as a whole, and intensified the timbral development of the sounds using the newer technology that has emerged since its original composition.
Karpen: Has the new technology changed the way you work? In the 1960s when you started to compose using computers, research and development of new technologies and techniques were central to the creative process for you and for your colleagues. You had to do your own audio hacking, as it were. You even wrote your own digital audio synthesis program, MUSIC30, as late as 1990.
Dashow: Well, that's a long story. The old saying about necessity and invention was at no time truer than during the early years of computer music. The idea of generating new kinds of sounds and modifying or tweaking sounds at any point along their dynamic evolutions were extremely suggestive to musical invention. I don't mean just building the frequency content of the sounds from scratch, which by itself was enough to trigger musical ideas of all sorts, but also playing around with the dynamic envelope: working directly on the attack and [End Page 14] decay portions of each sound, and its composed movement in space.
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I was lucky enough in the 1970s at Padova to be able to...