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  • Image, Engagement, Technological Resource: An Interview with Roger Reynolds
  • David Bithell

Roger Reynolds (see Figure 1) has been a major figure investigating the confluence of music and technology since the 1960s. As resources have evolved, his works have explored live analog electronics, fixed analog and digital media, and live processing of acoustic sound—all unified and directed by a distinct compositional voice that balances intuition with formalized thought (see Table 1).

Having studied music and engineering at the University of Michigan, Mr. Reynolds was a co-founder of the ONCE group. Later, after seven years of organizing and performing in new music concerts in Germany, France, and Japan, he joined the young music department at the University of California, San Diego, in 1969. Once there, he founded the Center for Music Experiment and has remained a vital force on its faculty for the last 37 years.

His work with new technology has led to notable residencies including those at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), Stockholm's Elektroakustisk Musik i Sverige (EMS), and Les Ateliers UPIC in Paris; grants and commissions from most major awarding agencies; and frequent performances at major festivals around the world. Recently, his ILLUSION for actors, singers, instrumental soloists, chamber ensemble, and eight-channel computer-processed sound was premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group. He is currently working on Sanctuary, an evening-long percussion quartet with computer processing and staging.

The present interview is drawn from a larger discussion that included aspects of Mr. Reynolds's work with multimedia. Here, we focus primarily on his conceptual and methodological approaches to music and technology and the exploration of recent compositional projects. We met twice at his home in Del Mar, California, in April and October 2005 and subsequently revised the materials via electronic mail.


Bithell: You recently had a lengthy interview published on the Web in connection with your Special Collection at the Library of Congress ( It is a sizeable and thorough glance at your work.

Reynolds: One of the things that you discover is that the life that you lead in your own mind is vastly more textured and complete than you consciously recognize. And the way that you discover that is by having people ask you questions. One can't interview oneself, but there is something about occasions on which some outside probing occurs that awakens you to things that you have not been considering—at least not consciously.

Bithell: As a teacher, you are very committed to the idea of artistic self-awareness and the ability to clearly articulate musical goals and the pathways to their realization.

Reynolds: If we can't exchange information about the work that we are making or the work that we are listening to, everything is impoverished. And I think that is one of the reasons that the world of contemporary art music in this country is in such difficulty. The discourse about it has degenerated terribly. It's not that people have nothing interesting to say anymore. The media are not interested in interesting things. And so the space in which one could actually say things that matter has reduced dramatically. It is a general issue that we need to try to address. [End Page 10]

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Figure 1.

Photo of Roger Reynolds by Malcolm Crothers.

Connections Between Multimedia and Computer Music

Bithell: It seems that there is an important relationship between music technology and multimedia composition, as both are extensions of "music." I was wondering if you see that in your work there is such a similarity?

Reynolds: I remember many years ago coming across a book, The Unity of the Senses, by a psychologist at Harvard named Lawrence Marks. Its premise was, if I can correctly summarize it, that the senses evolved from a singular origin and became specialized—as we now think of them—and therefore that there were relationships between the modalities that were very deep. Although Marks didn't get into this, it's clear...


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