21st Sensory Music: In Conversation with Composer Randall Woolf

As 2010 draws to a close, it should be noted that this year has marked the centennial of the premiere of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, arguably the first contemporary composition to use “multimedia” as we (mis)understand it today. That is, as defined here, accompanying visuals that are produced by electric/electronic means.

With this as a point of entry, a discussion of the previous 10 decades of new music with visuals, and their ever evolving technology, seemed a good way to lead into a mini-profile of the work of composer Randall Woolf. His catalog contains many compositions where the elements of video and staging are prominent features in a unique combination of current technology and contemporary culture in what is 21st century classical music.

Randall Woolf

This blog post is made up of three interdependent parts: this hyper-linked text as an outline, embedded video examples, and an audio interview/conversation (24 min.) between Randy and myself, recorded and edited by Jocelyn Gonzales. Feel free to hop, skip, and jump around all three as you feel fit.

You can listen to the audio here:
All told, it simply wasn’t possible to cover everything that the topic deserved but we did touch upon a number milestones, in rather broad strokes, in this order:

01. Prometheus: Poem of Fire (1910)
02. Synesthetes & Synesthesia
03. Wagner’s stage directions
04. If C=blue, then F#=?
05. Berg’s Lulu and its filmmusik
06. Schoenberg & Satie
07. Walt Disney, Russian animation, and Marcel Duchamp
08. Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho
09. The composer as “the last rigger on the ship” in film scoring
10. ELP, Kiss, Pink Floyd
11. Late 70s/early 80s and the advent of MIDI
12. The newer generations’ use of video
13. Fancy screen savers vs. narrative content

Around 9:15 in the audio, our conversation turns to Randy’s work itself. He says it best when he says that his goal is to incorporate aspects of real life into his compositions. We discuss four of his pieces which use video in a number of ways. Excerpts of these works are found below:


music: Randall Woolf, video: “The Cameraman’s Revenge,” by Ladislaw Starewicz, produced by the Khanzhonkov Company, Moscow 1912


music: Randall Woolf, video: Mary Harron & John C. Walsh


music: Randall Woolf, video: Mary Harron & John C. Walsh, Jennifer Choi, violin


music: Randall Woolf, video: Margaret Busch, text: Valerie Vasilevski, dance: Heidi Latsky

* * * * * * *

As we conclude, we speak of Randy’s upcoming work, including a new commission from Newspeak based on the Detroit Riots of the 1960s, and as to what the future may hold for the continued marriage of media in modern music.

Speaking of the future, we wish you all a very Happy 2011 and look forward to all the new work to come from us and from all of you.

Patrick Grant

Another Branch of (DJ) Scientific Research

Back in your school daze, the science club and the orchestra kids might have worked opposite ends of the school hallway. But we met someone who belonged to both cliques as a kid, and grew up to have careers in both disciplines.

Mark Branch is an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. He showed us around the facilities he supervises in the electromagnetic test section, where he prepares instruments and satellites for launch into outer space.

But as DJ Scientific, Mark is also one of the most sought after nightclub DJ’s on the DC circuit, and he’s moving into producing hip hop music in his own studio.

I produced a quick profile of Mark for PRI’s Studio 360, the arts and culture show on public radio.

Listen here:

Now you know, we are great admirers of our friend Elan Vytal, who also goes by the name of DJ Scientific. I’m not sure who started using the handle first, but wouldn’t it be great if we could get these two to make some noise in the same room?


BIG BANG on 10/10/10


Composed & directed by Patrick Grant
Text by Patrick Grant and Charles Liu with Brian Schwartz

Performed by Patrick Grant Group: Patrick Grant, Kathleen Supove, Marija Ilic, & John Ferrari
Charles Liu, narrator

Technical assistance: Erick Gonzales & Jocelyn Gonzales
Performed May 21, 2006 on the One-Two-Three-GO! New Music Concert Series, NYC
Video editing and post-production 2010

BIG BANG was commissioned by the CUNY Graduate Center Science & the Arts performance series in NYC, an initiative of the Science Outreach Series, presenting programs in theatre, art, music, and dance that bridge the worlds of art and science. Supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Lounsbery Foundation. For further information on Science & the Arts at: http://web.gc.cuny.edu/sciart/

Complete project info at: http://www.strangemusic.com/BigBang.htm

© 2006 Patrick Grant/sTRANGEmUSIC



1. Prologue

2. Running the Film in Reverse

3. The Quantum Gravity Era

4. The Big Bang

5. The Universe Takes Shape

6. Formation of Basic Elements

7. The Radiation Era

8. Beginning the Era of Matter Domination

9. Birth of Stars and Galaxies

10. Earliest Life

11. Homo Sapiens Evolve

12. The Stellar Era Ends

13. Epilogue

Patrick Grant

Antonin Artaud: tHE pHILOSOPHER’S sTONE

This is posted in observance of Antonin Artaud (Sept. 4, 1896) – playwright, poet, actor, visionary.

“We do not mean to bore the audience to death with transcendental cosmic preoccupations. Audiences are not interested in whether there are profound clues to the show’s thought and action, since in general this does not concern them. But these must still be there and that concerns us.” – Antonin Artaud


a tone-poem for gamelan, strings, and 2 synthesizers by Patrick GRANT after a scenario by Antonin ARTAUD (La Pierre Philosophale – 1931), commissioned by the Cornell Gamelan Ensemble 2003


Antonin Artaud

Project Description

The Scenario

Theatre of Cruelty Manifesto

Artaud and the Balinese Theatre

An Analysis of “The Philosopher’s Stone”

The Picasso Connection


music for gamelan, strings, and 2 synthesizers – 2003

PDF Score – 120 pp – 8 MB





Houston Press
The Examiner
Holidays 123
92.7 FM, Sonora, CA
Salt Lake Magazine
CBC Radio 2

It’s funny how a holiday that I “invented” for my web site in the 90s actually caught on. Mostly, it seems, by summer school programs looking for activities for the kids i.e. homemade instruments, listening exercises, and the like. It gets a little bigger every year.

So, in the spirit of all that: do something that is sonically unusual for you, whether it’s listening to a random CD or getting out of the house and going to a musical event that you normally would not. It’s all relative.

Happy Strange Music Day!

Strange Music Day Quiz - STAR 92.7 Sonora, CA


Salt Lake Magazine

CBC Radio 2 - Canada

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Patrick Grant

H2Opus: Behind the Music (w/video)

Make Music New York 2010

And so, after months of planning and promotion, our Make Music New York 2010 performance of H2Opus: Fluid Soundscapes by Multiple Composers at Waterside Plaza in Manhattan came to pass on June 21st. Funny. Considering everything that could go wrong, musician schedules, illness, broken guitar strings, it all came down to the elemantal. It seemed that, after all of that, our only concerns were the possibility of rain and the reality of wind.

The weather forecast for that day was great. Nothing but pure sunshine all day. Yay! Sort of. On every piece of electronic that we as consumers buy, we see that notice in bold on every instruction manual: “WARNING! Do not store or operate this equipment in direct sunlight.” Man, they are not kidding.

With temperatures in the mid 90s and with no cover of any kind, we were sitting ducks for El Sol. The result was having to prolong the set up process as much as possible and, even then, do so with Manhasset music stands serving as umbrellas for the sound board and such at my station. I couldn’t even read the LCDs on most of the stuff until the sun went down a little further. Everything felt hot to the touch and, as usual, I kept my quiet veneer on the outside while I was privately freaking out on the inside. This I do for my team. I’m long beyond the days of counter-productive displays of dismay when there’s problems to be solved.

The upshot to this was that, after waiting 90 minutes longer than planned to set up, we were going to have to start the show without a proper, if any, soundcheck. Electronics and computers really do strange things when over heated. My computer wouldn’t boot up and read the MBox correctly. Our sound board, with each of the 11 pieces pre-programmed for levels, decided to give me random settings. One can always pre-program these levels in rehearsal and know that at the gig some minor adjustments will be necessary to accommodate for the different space/venue.  Well, this was like Bizarro World.

For smaller, more convivial shows like this, I’ve been able to run the sound from my station no problem exactly because of this programmability. In this situation, we sure could have used a dedicated soundman. My attention was all over the place.  I told the group and people afterwards: “You have just witnessed the last time I run sound while performing, no matter how small the gig, EVER!” I mean it.

Now the wind. It’s a good thing I saw this one coming days ahead of the show. Living at Waterside Plaza, I felt like an ancient mariner, going down to the performance site for every night leading up to the show and taking wind readings. “No good,” I thought. “This wind off of the East River is going to blow our music and our stands all over the place.” We had to find a solution.

My trick was to go to an art supply store next to the School of Visual Arts on 23rd St. and buy a half dozen sheets of black foam core. From these I made and gaffer taped to each stand “wings” (bad choice of words) that could fit 4 pages of music so page turns would not be necessary within a piece. In turn, these music stands would be heavily gaffer taped to the stage so that they wouldn’t blow over. That was half the problem solved. Keeping the music on the stands was the other half.

I called around and found a place in Queens that would cut (and deliver) 9 sheets of 1/4″ clear Plexiglass that would fit on top of the music to hold it down and yet enable us to read it. That seemed to do the trick.

One of the reasons I had approached Waterside Plaza about us doing a Make Music New York performance was, I thought, “How hard good it be. It’ll be EASY! I live there. Just bring everything down on luggage carts and such.” It was harder than that but certainly not as hard as dragging all those 88 key fully weighted keyboards off the premises. Plus, I wanted it to be our “Big NYC Moment.” You know, playing an outdoor gig on the East River on the first night of summer in Manhattan…hell, I romanticized it as being something like our “rooftop concert.”

And, you know: it was just that. Attendance was GREAT, all ages were represented, kids were dancing, the mature folks were bopping in their seats, and the stand-offish teens hung the duration on the perimeter lest they would blow their cool. Most of all, the musicians played great and we did well as a group. We were completed on the diversity of the music played and to me, that meant a lot. After all, “diversity” is this city’s middle name.

H2Opus: Video Excerpts
(click lower right icon in the player to enlarge)

Things to watch for in the video:

1. Musicians struggling with their music against the wind
2. The clever editing around the kids riding scooters back and forth
3. Performing while adjusting the sound at the same time (when possible)
4. The sound of the wind into the mics (you can even see it in the trees)
5. Musicians leaning into their music more and more towards the end as the sun goes down and the light fades

Afterwards, having had a proper sound check, I wanted to do it all over. Not possible. That’s live performance. So ephemeral.

Having this repertoire together now, we all are looking forward to doing it again in some way in this upcoming season: INDOORS!

Patrick Grant

H2Opus: First Rehearsal for Make Music New York 2010

Here’s a slideshow from the first rehearsal of H20pus: Fluid Soundscapes for Multiple Composers, a special performance produced by Patrick Grant for Make Music New York taking place on Monday June 21, 2010 at Waterside Plaza, 23rd Street & The East River, from 7PM – 9PM.

In these photos from June 15: Composers Dan Cooper, Gene Pritsker, Joseph Pehrson, Kamala Sankaram & Patrick Grant with performers Kathleen Supove, Marija Ilic and Lynn Bechtold. Drummer/percussionist John Ferrari will join in beginning rehearsal No. 2.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “H20pus: First Rehearsal for Make Musi…“, posted with vodpod

Pieces on the Program:

Lonely Ride Coney Island – Patrick Grant
Prudendurance Wet –
Joseph Pehrson
Wading for Bait Man –
Patrick Grant 
Water Possessed 4-
Gene Pritsker
Sounds of Sirens –
Patrick Grant
Lucid Intervals –
Patrick Grant
Deep Time 2-
Gene Pritsker
Solstice Bells –
Dan Cooper
Pilgrim –
Kamala Sankaram
Fishbowl – Dan Cooper
Design –
Dan Cooper


The MMiXdown Goes to Motown for the DEMF (Updated)

Post DEMF Update:

What a time that was. According to reports, over 83,000 people came down last weekend to Hart Plaza in Detroit to take part in the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Truly, the best artists in this genre were there, representing many countries and continents besides those from Techno’s birthplace, Detroit.

The view from the hotel room at the Greektown Casino-Hotel. Canada can be seen across the river behind the Renaissance Center (left).

Two observations: the performers that were the most successful (in our opinion), that connected with the audience on a performative level, we’re those that actually had people on stage playing an instrument in addition to the laptop and turntable-driven music. The other was that many groups, no matter where they were from, incorporated many microtonal elements, that is, riffs and patterns that did not adhere to any equal-tempered scale. In fact, many of these were retro analog timbres that grunted and groaned in between the notes, sounding very vocal-like (in all octaves) and sometimes imitative of a guitarist’s bending of the strings.

It should be said too that, even though dance music was to the fore at night, that, during the day, the main stage was reserved for ambient artists and experimenters from all over who, with their dedicated followers in attendance, were so grateful, as was I, to hear their work on such a massive and very clean sound system.

The "Made in Detroit" logo created by Robert Stanzler in 1981.

We had to miss the third and final day to get back to our work and concerts here, BUT, the techniques and great vibes we brought back are going to last for some time. What a musical city, no matter the decade, no matter the style. Inclusive as hell. Everyone is welcome. We look forward to returning in the coming year.

May 29, 2010, Hart Plaza, Detroit – Evening performance excerpts by Josh Wink (USA), Claude VonStroke (USA), A-Trak (Canada), and Richie Hawtin a.k.a. PLASTIKMAN (UK).

Excerpts of the evening’s performances by Derrick Carter (Chicago), Kraak & Smaak (Netherlands), Rolando (Detroit), Robert Hood (Detroit), Ricardo Villalobos (Chile), and finishing the night on the Main Stage, hometown hero Kevin Saunderson’s INNER CITY (Detroit).


The Detroit Electronic Music Festival a.k.a. MOVEMENT 2010

The MMiXdown goes to Motown this coming May 29-31 for the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, also known as Movement, for its 2010 edition.

Time Out New York‘s Bruce Tantum described the festival in a recent article:

Detroit: It’s a prime example of urban decay; it’s the poster child for the failings of the capitalist system. But whatever its shortcomings, the city has one very big thing going for it: Its musical history is as rich as it comes. From the jazz and blues of its Black Bottom neighborhood, through the emotion-soaked soul of Motown and the cosmic grooves of Parliament-Funkadelic, to the jam-kicking punch of the MC5 and the Stooges, Detroit has long shown a sonic sensibility that outshines 99 percent of other towns its size. Since the mid-’80s (a quarter century—can you believe it?), one of the sounds that’s had the world cocking an ear toward Detroit is Techno, so it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the world’s leading celebrations of electronic dance music takes place in the Motor City. This coming Memorial Day weekend, that blowout—the annual Movement festival—takes over downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza, with scores of after-parties helping to spread the techno gospel.

The three-day event attracts the top echelon of techno’s artists and DJs. This year’s headliners are hometown heroes Richie Hawtin (in his Plastikman guise), Juan Atkins (in Model 500 mode) and Kevin Saunderson (performing with his classic Inner City combo, the group responsible for late-’80s technopop hits like “Good Life” and “Big Fun”). And the rest of the scene’s elites will be on hand as well, with American stars such as Claude VonStroke and the Martinez Brothers mingling with international superstars like Ricardo Villalobos and Michael Mayer. (That’s not to mention wild cards along the lines of funk fiend Mr. Scruff and dubstep doyen Martyn, nor the dozens of other big names playing at unofficial ancillary events.) But despite the scope of the festival, Movement executive director Jason Huvaere sounded remarkably calm … “I only panic when I look at the calendar,” he jokes. “But it is a massive amount of work. When this festival began in 2000, I think a lot of people tried to treat it as a part-time job, and I can tell you, it is not. This is a 365-day-a-year job. We don’t have a couple of artists; we have 100 artists. We don’t have one stage; we have five. We don’t have 2,500 people every day; we have 25,000. The scale is immense.”

Read the full article HERE.

PLASTIK FANTASTIC Richie Hawtin’s set of brooding techno, performed in his Plastikman guise, is among the weekend’s highlights.

The Greektown Casino Hotel will be MMiXdown HQ while we attend the festival. Expect pictures, video, and other content when we get back (as long as we can stay away from those damn slot machines).

Detroit’s Movement festival runs May 29–31. Go to http://paxahau.com/movement for more info.

Patrick Grant