Contes de la mémoire

Jon Appleton

… a beautiful recording of computer music… Earwaves, USA

A startling piece of digital composition and yet another example of Appleton’s warmth and irrepressible humanness… Sonomu, UK

CD (IMED 9635)

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 9635
  • 1996
  • UCC 771028963522
  • Total duration: 48:54
  • Opak
  • 127 mm × 142 mm × 10 mm
  • 70 g

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Jon Appleton brought a lot to electroacoustic music. As well as realizing tape pieces, he has pioneered live computer music, hitting the road in the seventies with the Synclavier, the first digital synthesizer, which he had designed in close collaboration with Sydney Alonso. His activity extends beyond traditional categories. He has worked with instruments, dance (especially the Pilobolus Company), poetry, jazz (he made a record with Don Cherry and he got Oscar Peterson to play the Synclavier). He likes to tell stories in his music, and he is a superb narrator. But he did not only compose. He organized the first international competition of electronic music. He had close encounters with various musical communities, from Sweden to Japan and Tonga. Thanks to his action, a number of Russian musicians could visit various music institutions in the USA: he organized in 1994 the American debut of the Turkina sisters, who already played on two pianos for Rachmaninoff and Katchaturian… before the World War II! Jon has written and edited texts about music: his articles are lucid, eloquent and clear. His graduate course in composition attracts to Dartmouth bright students from all over the world: his teaching respects their differences.

In his music as well as in his talk, Jon Appleton is clear and illuminating. We first met in the middle of the night — yet the sun was up in the sky! I should explain, though, that this was midsummer in Sweden, the season when it never gets dark, during a memorable meeting on music and technology with participants such as Pierre Schaeffer…, Max Mathews, Gottfried Michael Koenig, R Murray Schafer, Lars-Gunnar Bodin. Jon spoke about music, technology, education and imagination: what he said was both original, sensible and sensitive. Right away I knew that he could count on me. Even though we live on different sides of the Atlantic, Jon is a close friend, helpful in many ways. He also helped several composers, in the South of France as well as in Russia and other places. Jon is lively, open, direct and positive. He understands people and cares about them. He is fun!

Jon’s music is very diverse — his rich personality gets through in several ways. I am especially fond of his tape pieces, which display imagination, craft, humor, tenderness. Thanks to digital recording, we can now hear them without the old surface noises and scratches. This disc is a denial to those who claim that tape music is dead: quite the contrary! Jon’s tape music does not have a visual counterpart, yet it is spectacular — a “cinema for the ear,” as François Bayle puts it. Listener, open your ears for an exciting trip, écoute voir!

Jean-Claude Risset, Marseille (France) [viii-96]

Memory’s Tales, the Works

Looking back over the thirty years of electroacoustic music represented by the music on this recording, it can be difficult to untangle the web of personal, cultural and technological influences which shaped these pieces. Unlike my instrumental music from the same years, in which one can observe a certain stylistic consistency, my work in electroacoustic music consisted of three, distinct approaches.

Two of these approaches appeared early in my music; the abstract manipulation of timbre (Georganna’s Fancy, 1966 and Spuyten Duyvil, 1967) and the use of ‘found musics’ and recognizable objets sonores (Chef d’œuvre, 1967 and Homage To Orpheus, 1969).

The third approach, not represented on this recording, are the ten years I spent composing electroacoustic music for the Synclavier, a live performance instrument I helped develop. These pieces combined the stylistics elements of my instrumental and electroacoustic music.

I began composing electroacoustic music because it was the only aspect of ‘new music’ in the 1960s that I found compelling. The serial music I was urged to compose while in graduate school, and that we were told would be the ‘music of the future,’ seemed emotionally vapid to me. In the final years of the 20th century, young composers look with nostalgia to the 1960s and the liberation artists were supposed to have felt. We did feel that there were no ‘rules’ and, as I told Nat Hentoff, in 1968: “a revolution has not occurred in the arts so much as it has in our own attitudes. In this period of change we should feel elation at the approach of a new order of civilization.” Thirty years later I am embarrassed by my naïveté but at the same time recognize the excitement which propelled my work in electroacoustic music. Here was a truly new kind of music. Here was a new way to awaken the emotions and consciousness of listeners. Here was a way I could express myself without the burden of past traditions.

Perhaps the greatest frustration I experienced as a composer of electroacoustic music was the constant need to develop a new technique for the various equipment used to produce the music. I still use my piano technique, but have long ago abandoned my ability to splice tape, control tape loops, patch an analog synthesizer, use various computer-music languages… Now I struggle with software like MAX and hardware like ProTools III knowing that in another decade the tools will have changed again. There are some composers who relish the challenge of new technology and the artistic opportunities it provides. For some, new technology has provided the sole motivation for being a composer. For me, studio technique was a necessary evil which could have the advantage of forcing me to limit my materials and to be less facile when composing.

I can still remember the excitement I felt beginning each new piece when I first began composing electroacoustic music. I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going or what would be the result of my hours in the studio. Nevertheless, a recognizable style did emerge and today, when I start a new piece, is a fear that I can do nothing truly new. Of course there is the satisfaction the skills honed over the years will enable me to produce a composition worth hearing, I do wish that I could recapture that youthful quality of seeing the world in a new way. I am sure all experienced artists feel the same way.

The music should stand for itself and thus my comments about the individual works on this recording will be brief, ancillary and dedicated to providing information that might be of interest to other practitioners and critics of electroacoustic music. The listeners can take care of themselves and stop reading here.

Having spent the year 1965-66 at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (New York City) — where we believed that our artistic work was the center of the universe — I was forced to reconsider my work as a composer when I moved to rural Vermont in 1967. Suddenly I was confronted by the fact few of the people in my village knew what a composer did and none knew about electroacoustic music. That same year, stranded by weather at the Newark airport, I took the opportunity to ask my fellow passengers “what do you think about the new electronic music?” Later I assembled the choicest answers, placed them on a bed of sequenced, electronic sound produced by a Moog synthesizer, and called the piece Newark Airport Rock. Nearly thirty years later, Esmé Thompson suggested that I do a companion piece to show how things had changed. Between planes in San Francisco, I asked passengers the same question. Again I assembled the most interesting answers, composed a MIDI based accompaniment using E-MU and Roland synthesizers and Vision sequencing software, and named the piece San Francisco Airport Rock.

As mentioned above, the pieces Spuyten Duyvil, Georganna’s Fancy, and Homage To Orpheus were all assembled in what was then called a ‘tape studio.’ These studios, such as the one constructed at Dartmouth College in 1967, with the assistance of James Seawright, were modeled after the first studios for electroacoustic music in France. Several tape recorders and sound modifying equipment were connected to a central mixer. When I listen to these pieces I can remember how they were made and why they sounded the way they did, but I can no longer recapture the musical vision I had at the time. They almost sound like music composed by someone else. Perhaps this is because many years have passed since I have heard them.

The opposite is true of Chef d’œuvre. It so happens that composers are often saddled by others with a ‘signature’ work. It is my Boléro. It is the work of mine that has been most frequently played and recorded. Using the sounds of a singing commercial for Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pizzas by the Andrews Sisters, there is a frenetic pace and sense of humor which can be heard in subsequent works. The tape studio techniques used to produce this piece are the same used in Times Square Times Ten, a longer work in the same genre. Here we have a programmatic, musico-archeological cross section of Manhattan. In 1969 I wrote that this piece “moves from the street to lower and lower levels below 42nd Street and Broadway. Sonic objects from the past lurk in the subway tunnels and at times try to assert themselves again. In the end they are buried and can only emerge from the tunnels as ghosts which ride the trains.” In 1986 I returned to this style of composition in works such as Homenaje a Milanés (1987), Dima Dobralsa Domoy (1994) and ’U ha’amata ’atou ’i te himene (1996).

My relationship with Russia (and the Soviet Union) has been long and complex. My father was born in Kishinev (Moldova) and my step father in Ufa (Russia). My parents dedicated a large part of their lives to Communism. I was raised listening to Russian folk and symphonic music and to believe that the future could be found in the Soviet Union. Imbued with an interest in politics, many of my pieces would have both artistic and political purposes such as Apolliana (1970), Dr Quisling in Stockholm (1971), ’Otahiti (1973), Homenaje a Milanés (1987) and Ce que signifie la déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen de 1789 pour les hommes et les citoyens des îles Marquises (1989). An epiphany occurred in 1969 when I was forced to think about the role I might have had as a composer of electroacoustic music had I lived in the Soviet Union. The defection to the West by writer Anatoly Kuznetsov affected me deeply. For the first time I came to understand the effect of political oppression on artists. The composition CCCP (In Memoriam: Anatoly Kuznetsov) was a direct result. It combines the voices of Tolstoy, Stalin, Kuznetsov, Radio Moscow and Russian folk music to create what I have referred to elsewhere as ‘musical storytelling.’ Some twenty years later I became a close friend of the late Dmitri Pokrovsky, an extraordinary singer and choral director who had grown up in Moscow at the same time I grew up in Hollywood, California. Through him I learned much about politics, music and the Russian side of my own musical personality. To celebrate that friendship I composed Dima Dobralsa Domoy which tells, through music, the search for one’s Russian home. The title means “Dmitri finally returns home after a long journey.”

In the process of developing the Synclavier, I used several digital systems to compose pieces. Some of these pieces are Stereopticon (1972), Zoetrope (1974), Georganna’s Farewell (1975), The Sydsing Camklang (1976), Mussems Sång (1976), In Deserto (1977), Syntrophia (1977), and Oskuldens Dröm (1985). Perhaps the strongest of these is In Medias Res (known in Brazil as “Sudden Death”). It is abstract music and the title only refers to the fact that the piece ends with startling abruptness. Sequences of digitally generated sound were combined using multitrack, analog tape recorders. At the end of the work there is the briefest reference to Irish folk music inspired by some of the drones used in the work.

For many years I have wanted to acknowledge those musical colleagues whose musics has helped shape my own. The list — see below — includes family, friends, and some musicians I have never met.

Thanks to Kathryn Alexander, Sydney Alonso, Ted Apel, Jason Appleton, Michael Appleton, Moses Asch, François Bayle, Gerry Beauregard, Eve Beglarian, Jamshed Bharucha, Juan Blanco, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Georges Boeuf, Josefina Bosch, Leo Brouwer, William Brunson, Michael Casey, Don Cherry, Gabriel Chodos, John Chowning, Tim Claman, Bill Cole, Charles Dodge, Martin Dupras, Beatriz Ferreyra, Collette Gaudin, Emmanuel Ghent, Jacob Gimpel, Herbert Gladstone, Ray Guillette, Fred Haas, Chris Halaby, Vaughn Halyard, Charles Hamm, Sten Hanson, Vladimir Horowitz, Keith Jarrett, Cameron Jones, David Evan Jones, Alain Joutard, Sofele Kakala, Homer Keller, Thomas Kessler, Sergei Kossenko, Léo Küpper, Lauren Levey, Ted Levin, Ingram Marshall, Max Mathews, Martin McKinney, John Mellquist, Leonard B Meyer, Pablo Milanes, Nana Mouskouri, Gordon Mumma, Brad Naples, Melinda O’Neal, Gaby Pahinui, Ronald Perera, Ileana Perez, Oscar Peterson, Sally Pinkas, Russell Pinkston, Dmitri Pokrovsky, Larry Polansky, Regina Porto, Sergei Prokofiev, John Puterbaugh, Andrew Rangell, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Michel Redolfi, Steve Reich, Jean-Claude Risset, Frederic Rzewski, Theodore Saidenberg, Pete Seeger, Conrado Silva, André Smirnov, Igor Stravinsky, Kirsten Stromberg, Yoriko Takahashi, Richard Taruskin, Ivan Tcherepnin, Carmen Tellez, Joel Thome, Molly Thompson, George Todd, Robert Trotter, Julia & Galina Turkina, Dmitri Uchov, Kojiro Umezaki, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Alexander Walden, Mark Weltner, Christian Wolff, Scott Wyatt, Shin Yasuda.

Jon Appleton, White River Junction (Vermont, USA) [viii-96]

Some recommended items
In the press


Dwight Loop, Earwaves, December 31, 1999

Electroacoustic music from Dartmouth College composer and author with a beautiful recording of computer music that is similar to his tape works, which are some of his best. Liner notes are great guide to his music and explain it well.

… a beautiful recording of computer music…


Erik Benndorf, Artefakt, no. 5, December 1, 1998

Jon Appletons Lebenslauf wirkt mächtig. Er wird als Mitglied einer Gruppe Forscher, die das Synclavier hervorbrachten und aufgrund seines weltweiten Engagements um die Elektroakustik gewürdigt. Sein Essay im umfangreichen Booklet ist offen und ehrlich: “I had no idea what I was doing”, “The music shouid stand for itself”, “we should feel elation at the approach of a new order of civilisation” und der Paradesatz des selbstbewußten Künstlers: “Today, when I start a new piece, is a fear that I can do nothing truly new.” Die Contes de la mémoire des Herrn Appleton sind selbstverständlich allesamt neu, werden es auch hartnäckig bleiben und jede weitere Reproduktion gleichgültig hinnehmen. Das macht sie jedoch keineswegs gut. Außer der Beharrlichkeit des Musikers in den Anfangstagen der erschöpften Kunst, fremdartigste Geräusche zu sammeln und zu produzieren, und der Tatsache, daß Herr Appleton der treibenden Individualisie rung des Komponierens mittels Schere und Kleber weitreichende Schübe gab, kann ich nichts würdigen. Das ist nicht wenig, aber seinen Geschichten mangelt es an deutlich an Leidenschaft, an Hingebung für Schokotorten und den Stiefel in der Fresse. Die Contes de la mémoire ruhen bereits stolz, aber fernab, im Archiv. Abschließend meinte Jon Appleton: stop reading here.


Gil Gershman, Sonomu, September 28, 1998

Appleton, an American pioneer of electronic music, might be best known for co-designing the Synclavier and as a founding member of the CIME (International Confederation for Electroacoustic Music) and the SEAMUS (Society for ElectroAcoustic Music in the United States). His academic and theoretical associations aside, Appleton has a welcome sense of humor. Take Newark Airport Rock, a witty 1969 piece in which comments on “the new electronic music” were collected during a random survey of passengers and strung together with a jumbled quasi-Beat arrangement of Moog squiggles and sequenced electronics. Some of the opinions are extremely funny (a few favorites are the clueless “You’ll hear it when you want to hear it,” and “We get enough of that in the Army!,” “You mean that stuff we hear on the airplanes?”), others are surprisingly perceptive and revelatory — and the teens who declare that it’s “with-it!,” “really neat!,” “cool,” and “a beautiful thing… really nice” give the burgeoning artform a rather prescient stamp of generational approval. San Francisco Airport Rock, a 1996 sequel constructed with reactions gathered during another (more recent) impromptu survey, finds that not as much as changed as we’d like to think, despite the apparent assimilation of electronic music into the culture of popular music. Again the teens seem most receptive, whether commenting on e-music’s noted drug-friendly aspect or on the potential for self-expression in the Computer Age, and the adults tend to be more readily dismissive — “Like the music in the elevators?,” “Oh, it’s not real!,” and the popular “I prefer music played by musicians without computers” — with the notable exception of one woman who “met Moog when he first came out with the synthesizer” and a man enamored of e-music’s disreputable sibling, New Age. Name recognition is up — one surveyee impressively namechecks Koyaanisqatsi — and, rest assured, Gen X still deems it “great,” and — yes, “cool.” Even if one girl thinks it “sucks,” a trenchant insight which Appleton accents to especially humorous effect. Twenty years later, and it appears that the “new” electronic music still has a way to go in terms of mainstream acceptance. The other pieces on Contes de la mémoire span Appleton’s prolific career and include both his “signature” works — Chef d’œuvre, a bustling concrète abstraction composed in 1967 exclusively using the sounds of the Andrews Sisters singing in an ad for Chef Boy-Ar-Dee (you have to love this guy!) — and music of more recent vintage (Appleton’s comparatively solemn electronics-and-tape paen to a friend’s Russian heritage, 1993’s Dima Dobralsa Domoy). With Appleton’s music, whether dating from the earliest days of his experiments with electroacoustics in his Dartmouth University tape studio (Georganna’s Fancy [1966] and Spuyten Duyvil [1967]) or witnessing the refinement and maturity of his compositional techniques, there is always an extraordinary energy. Timbres swell and scatter; archival recordings and extremely active electronics react to convey a sense of excitement and urgency (CCCP (In Memoriam: Anatoly Kuznetsov) [1966], prefiguring Dima Dobralsa Domoy and paying homage to the Russian writer’s courageous defection). Among Appleton’s most advanced “tape-studio” pieces, Times Square Times Ten presents Manhattan, 1969, in exacting cross-section, a musical excavation of the City from its busy streets to the subterranean whispers of life in its subway belly. Cutting a vertical swath of city-life with observant precision, Times Square Times Ten is the City in miniature — a sonic core-sample so studiously idealized that it could only have been crafted artificially. Another of Appleton’s older tape constructions, 1970’s Homage To Orpheus revisits the acousmatic tinkles and chimes of Nordheim or Bayle, so convincingly in fact that the composer confesses to feeling distanced from it, and that it “almost sounds like music composed by someone else.” No such comment can be made about In Media Res, a pinnacle of Appleton’s digital abstractions. Over nine minutes of gorgeous rippling sonorities, bagpipe-like drones and agitated multitracked synthetics — brought to a sudden close after a section of itchy organ-toned polyphonies. A startling piece of digital composition and yet another example of Appleton’s warmth and irrepressible humanness, qualities so critical to the ageless appeal of his innovative œuvre.

A startling piece of digital composition and yet another example of Appleton’s warmth and irrepressible humanness…


Alcides Lanza, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:3, September 1, 1998

Contes de la mémoire (Memory’s tales): a very appropriate title, considering the eclectic content of this compilation of tape works by Jon Appleton. San Francisco Airport Rock (1996) depicts spontaneous answers to the question posed by the composer: (Q) “What do you think about the new electronic music?” (A) “Yes, I met Robert Moog…” Oh, it is nice, I like this music…” “No, I don’t know…” “I listen to it on the radio….” The accompaniment consists of drones and gentle washes of light “techno” music with soft voices looping in the background. In a way, the piece criticizes itself. E-mu and Roland synthesizers and the Vision sequencer were used for this piece, partially realized at MlT, then mixed down at the Bregman Electronic Music Studio at Dartmouth College (of which Mr. Appleton is the director). The companion piece, Newark Airport Rock (1969), composed more than a quarter of a century earlier, is a more striking and sonically rich documentary. Newark Airport Rock, already a memory from the distant past, rings more true with answers to the same question recorded at the New Jersey airport. This piece has an atmospheric accompaniment, prepared using a Moog Mark lll synthesizer at the Bregman Studio.

Dima Dobralsa Domoy sings a completely different tune: Realized in 1993, it includes recordings of speech sounds in a declamatory style with distinct Russian echoes. These very light rhythmical phrases transmute themselves into train noises, sharing the stage with some background ethnic dances and a concertina moment. The title means “Dmitri returns home after a long journey,” and refers to the composer’s friend, Russian singer and choral director Dmitri Pokrovsky, from whom Mr.Appleton absorbed knowledge of politics, music, and his own Russian heritage.

In Media Res (1978), from the Latin “in the middle of things,” is set into a cryptic context in the liner notes: “known in Brazil as ‘Sudden Death’.” Analog multitrack tape recorders were used to store sequences performed on the Synclavier digital synthesizer. The sequences mostly sweep up and down the tessitura, or remain half frozen in static layers. There are citations of Irish folk music as well, used as a basis for the abundant . drones heard throughout this composition. The bagpipe insert contributes to a feeling of fragmentation (evident elsewhere on the disc). The technical display is not too impressive, as Mr. Appleton limits himself to shifting the speeded-up materials to the left or right channels, at times centering the acoustic image.

Times Square Times Ten (1969), at 9:02 is one of only two pieces of significant length in this collection. Sounds extracted from Edison cylinders were recorded and mixed down at the Bregman Studio. According to the composer, “…the piece moves from the street level to the levels below 42nd Street and Broadway, in the subway tunnels.” This is a good “paleo-sonic” trip through time, reflecting the soundscape of Manhattan from the 1890s to almost a century later and back. You can even read the title as x1 x 10 (times square times ten). Entertaining and impressive, with some spelunking audio intriguingly shifting the animal-like voice quality to an almost human one, then to a mechanical, nocturnal ambiance. I truly enjoyed this one.

From the same year comes CCCP (In Memoriam: Anatoly Kuznetsov), another very interesting radiophonic docurnentary, utilizing the voices of Tolstoy, Stalin, and Kuznetsov recorded from Radio Moscow and the BBC, as well as synthetic sounds from a Moog synthesizer. The defection to the west of writer Anatoly Kuzuetsov brings this piece into the realm of political storytelling. Using techniques like electronic switching, filtering, and speed variation, Mr. Appleton is at his best here.

Spuyten Duyvil (1967) is the first of three short analog pieces Mr. Appleton produced in the mid-1960 using the tape studio procedures then in vogue. In the accompanying booklet, the composer states, “I can no longer recapture the musical vision I had then.” For this listener, Spuyten Duyvil is engaging in its discovery of timbral nuances, the use of slowly evolving envelopes, and the intense sense of remoteness invoked by the music.

Georganna’s Fancy, (1966) is more ioyful, agile, and incisive, with sudden contrasting turns sounding very much like tape reversal. The disc closes with Chef d’œuvre (1967), pop-ish, almost Warholian. It is based on the sounds of a commercial for Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee (pizzas) as sung by the Andrews Sisters. The quote goes through a number of intriguing and imaginative transformatlons, spanning canonlc imitations and cartoon-like speededup moments.

In short, Contes de la mémoire is indeed a trip down memory lane — sonic snapshots from throughout the career of a well-known American composer. The style evolves from early tape music a la musique concrète to voltage-controlled synthesizers. It also exemplifies Mr. Appleton’s brilliant contribution to the development of one of the earliest computer-based digital synthesizers, the Synclavier, which he performed real-time during concerts as well.

This disc has all the traits of high quality production present in the empreintes DIGITALes releases from DIFFUSION i MéDIA. The sound is marvelous, the liner notes good, the layout excellent. The cover photo is of the painting Heliotrope (1993), by American artist Esmé Thompson.

This disc has all the traits of high quality production present in the empreintes DIGITALes releases.


André Mayer, Musicworks, no. 71, June 1, 1998

American Jon Appleton and Brit Jonty Harrison are pioneers of electroacoustic music, and the pivotal moments of their enterprising work are marvellously captured on these two retrospectives issued by the empreintes DIGITALes label.

Both artists are preoccupied with texture, and as such, few traces of melody or even conventional structure are to be found in their compositions. As with most experimental music, the focus is on the listener’s reaction to the sounds as opposed to the composer’s delight in making them.

The most illuminating composition on Contes de la mémoire is Newark Airport Rock written in 1969, for which Appleton approached unsuspecting travellers and asked them “What do you think about the new electronic music?” Their responses ranged from unbridled enthusiasm to outright repulsion. (Someone even asked Appleton whether he meant “elevator music”) Out of these sondry reactions Appleton created a dynamic collage of voices that he set to spiky jazz — the effect is fascinating. The first track on Contes de la mémoire, San Francisco Airport Rock, reprises this experiment twenty-seven years later (this time set to a canvas of ambient music). Whether or not it was the desired result, the only difference in these compositions is the vernacular of the interviewees — the lesson here seems to be that the acceptance of electronic music is still far from complete. (One chap emphatically said “I like real music by real musicians,” as sly an indictment of electronic music as has ever been uttered.) Appleton certainly had a stake in the matter, having helped design the Synclavier, the first digital synthesizer.

Contes de la mémoire also includes Dima Dobralsa Domoy (1993), which tells, through a variety of both organic and electronic tones, the tale of one Russian’s search for home. Appleton expands on a pet theme namely, the political oppression of artists — on the track CCCP (In Memoriam: Anatoly Kuznetsov), which is a memorial to Russian writer Anatoly Kuznetsov, who defected to the West. The track deftly combines Kuznetsov’s voice with soundbites of Stalin, Tolstoy, Radio Moscow, and Russian folk music to create an intensely emotional environment. But the most subversive track on this compilation is probably the last one. Chef d’œuvre, written in 1967, takes a jingle for Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee performed by the Andrews Sisters, and distorts it with vocoders and various other effects, resulting in a wildly delusional aural document that at once celebrates and lampoons classic Americana.

Appleton and Harrison’s work can be truly held up as visionary


Glenn McDonald, The War Against Silence, no. 143, October 23, 1997

Jon Appleton’s Contes de la mémoire, takes a much less abrasive approach to electroacoustic music. Until a giant, sadistic, gong-playing praying mantis infiltrates the album toward the very end, carrying a frazzled television set, most of these pieces sound like Eno, Dr. Who theme music or ethnic field-recording sampler collages.

The two pieces around which the album revolves, for me, are San Francisco Airport Rock and Newark Airport Rock, both of which are assemblages of random responses to the question “What do you think about the new electronic music?,” asked in Newark in 1967, and San Francisco in 1996.

The two sets of answers are nearly indistinguishable compendiums of blithe ignorance, indiscriminate approval, rank intransigence and dopey techno-mysticism. I don’t know whether Appleton’s deliberately vague phrasing (perhaps “the new electronic music” meant something specific in 1967, but in 1996 it could refer to practically anything, and Appleton’s academic electroacoustic music is hardly the likeliest referent) was a calculated tactic to elicit amusing stupidity, or he really expects to find a critical mass of sophisticated John Cage fans in a random airport sampling, but either way, the result does for music-appreciation about what Frank Zappa’s Porn Wars did for obscenity.


Tom Schulte, Outsight, June 1, 1997

This CD begins and ends with random street interviews on computer generated music. The techniques employed are varied as the answers of the interview participants. Appleton was co-designer of the Synclavier. In the 70’s he toured with this instrument now used by Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel, etc. To say Appleton’s music is diverse is an understatement. Many tape pieces are included in his varied collages. This disc is remarkable in the transference of this “electroacoustic” technique to CD. These pieces were created from ’66 to ’96, 30 years of experimentation. Appleton idenitifies two techniques: “abstract manipulation of timbre” and “the use of ‘found’ music and recognizable ‘objets sonores.’” The notes further give Appleton’s remarks on each composition and the time and place of creation.

To say Appleton’s music is diverse is an understatement.


George Zahora, Splendid E-Zine, May 26, 1997

Jon Appleton has been a central figure in electroacoustic music for close to 3 decades now. Contes de la mémoire is sort of like his “Greatest Hits” compilation — a collection of ten electronic pieces from throughout his career. The earliest of these pieces is Georganna’s Fancy (1966), which is an abstract piece based on timbre manipulation that seems to draw its inspiration from the phoneme-happy Darmstadt boys of the 1950’s (i.e. Stockhausen and Co.). Other early pieces include the 1967 Appleton theme song Chef d’œuvre, which samples a jingle for Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pizza by the Andrews Sisters, and the gloriously hip 1969 Newark Airport Rock which combines recordings of average people responding to the question, “What do you think of the new electronic music?” set to a cut ’n’ paste accompaniment of rock ’n’ roll samples. The most recent pieces (like Dima Dobralsa Domoy (1993) and San Francisco Airport Rock (1996)) are pretty mellow (perhaps too mellow) — they lack the bite that the 60’s-era pieces have. For anyone with an interest in American electronic music, Contes de la mémoire offers a valuable artistic history of one of its chief perpetrators.

… a central figure in electroacoustic music for close to 3 decades now.


Bill Tilland, Option, no. 74, May 1, 1997

The popularity of computer music being what it is, even a distinguished electronic musician/composer like Appleton is heard largely on compilations or in retrospectives like this one, with selections spanning 30 years of artistic labor. Appleton himself admits that three of the early pieces “almost sound like music composed by someone else.” And yet there is a discernible stylistic continuity to the 10 works on this disc, partly due to Appleton’s heavy use of the Synclavier (an instrument he helped to develop) and partly due to his copious use of sound and vocal samples to create his “memory tales.” All of the selections are of interest, but my own favorites are the four somewhat longer tracks which allow Appleton to develop his ideas. Two of these tracks document Appleton’s exploration of Russian cultural history and his own heritage; they include samples of Russian newscasts and indigenous recorded music. Another of the longer pieces, In Media Res is a Synclavier tour de force which uses drone elements, including sampled bagpipes, and at times sounds like a hyperkinetic version of vintage Terry Riley. Times Square Times Ten is a musical “dig” in downtown New York, starting with street sounds, then subway clatter and snippets of old popular songs, announcements and radio broadcasts, along with the apparent creaks and groans of subway ghosts. The CD ends, humorously, with some clever sampling of the Andrews Sisters singing in an old Chef Boy-Ar-Dee commercial. Appleton’s work requires the listener’s full attention, but it consistently demonstrates wit, creativity and technical skill.

… consistently demonstrates wit, creativity and technical skill.


Minus A, Village Voice, no. 64, April 29, 1997

The guru of the synclavier has released a couple of new works, but mostly old pieces that hadn’t been available in decades. Appleton’s pieces stand apart from electro musics’s technology-driven history, often with refreshing, purposeful naïveté. In 1969 he made a piece called Newark Airport Rock by recording the answers of passing strangers to his question, “What do you think about the new electronic music?” That’s here with its 1996 sequel, in wich the best answer is “I don’t know what your talking about, I’ve just come from England.” The early works using ethnic music and environmental sounds seem timely in today’s sampler-driven scene, and I like the dreamy simplicity of the synthetised In Medias Res. Naturally, the disc ends with the once famous Chef d’œuvre of 1967, based on a Chef Boy-ar-dee TV commercial.

Appleton’s pieces stand apart […] often with refreshing, purposeful naïveté.

Further Out

Robin Edgerton, Douglas Wolk, CMJ (College Media Journal), no. 514, March 24, 1997

Jon Appleton has been composing and constructing electronic music since the early ’60s, and a professor at Dartmouth for nearly as long. This career retrospective begins in 1966, with a few abstract tape pieces typical of the period (layered machine sounds, Moog cascades punctuated by sharp points). But he quickly turned a humorist’s ear to the world of sound — his Chef d’œuvre mixes amplified and distorted cooking noises with the overlapping, stretched and pinched voices of the Andrews Sisters singing a Chef Boy-Ar-Dee commercial. Times Square Times Ten peruses the elaborate soundscape of the New York landmark, then messes with it: sidewalks seemingly breathe and twist, subway and truck rumbles become overpowering, the whole area becomes taken over by a giant wind chime, then by elfin voices from a wax cylinder. Other highlights include a piece for altered voices that ends up sounding remarkably similar to Native American chanting, but disorientingly not quite, and two pieces made from responses people in airports gave to the question “What do you think of this new electronic music?” — made, respectively, in 1969 and 1996.

More texts

  • Voir, February 13, 1997