Tudor, David (Eugene)

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Tudor, David (Eugene)

Tudor, David (Eugene), significant American pianist and composer; b. Philadelphia, Jan. 20, 1926; d. Tomkins Cove, N.Y., Aug. 13, 1996. He studied piano with Josef Martin and Irma Wolpe, organ and theory with H. William Hawke, and composition and analysis with Stefan Wolpe. At the age of 11, he encountered one of Messiaen’s organ compositions, an occasion marking the beginning of his devotion to the music of his time. Although for many years he performed a wide variety of earlier music in his capacity as accompanist for such dancers as Katherine Litz and Jean Erdman and the saxophonist Sigurd Rascher, Tudor’s role as a pioneer in the performance of new music was established as early as 1950, when he gave the U.S. premiere of Boulez’s 2ndPiano Sonata (N.Y, Dec. 17, 1950). At that time, he also began a close association with John Cage, whose works he propagated with eloquence in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. From 1950 to 1965 he was a touchstone and at times even a catalyst for the composition of a body of music of often extreme radicalism, giving first or early performances of works by Brown, Bussotti, Feldman, Stockhausen, Wolff, Wolpe, and Young, many written expressly for him.

Tudor was affiliated with the Mercé Cunningham Dance Co. since its inception in 1953, creating an array of works including Rainforest (1968; for Rainforest), Toneburst (1975; for Sounddance), Forest Speech (1976; for “Event”), Weatherings (1978; for Exchange), Phonemes (1981; for Channels/Inserts), Sextet for Seven (1982; for Sextet), Virtual Focus (1990; for Polarity),and Soundings: Ocean Diary (1994; for Ocean). Upon Cage’s death in 1992, he was named music director, a position he retained until his death, being succeeded by Takahisa Kosugi. Tudor was a member of the summer faculty of Black Mountain Coll. from 1951 to 1953, and he also taught courses in piano and the performance of new music in Darmstadt (1956, 1958, 1959, and 1961). He gave seminars in live electronic music at the State Univ. of N.Y. at Buffalo (1965-66), the Univ. of Calif, at Davis (1967), Mills Coll. in Oakland, Calif. (1967-68), and the National Inst. of Design in Ahmedabad, India (1969). In 1968 he was selected as one of the four Core Artists for the design and construction of the Pepsico Pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka.

Recent research into Tudor’s work as a performer during the critical period of 1950 to 1965, in particular by John Holzaepfel, has shown two common assumptions to be false. First, Tudor did not work under the supervision of the American avant-garde composers whose music he played but rather prepared his perfor manees of their works privately and independently. Second, in music in which some degree of indeterminacy is a compositional principle, Tudor did not limit himself to improvising from the score. Rather, it was his practice in numerous cases to undertake a rigorous series of preparatory steps, including measurements, calculations, computations, and conversation tables, translating the results into a more conventional notation for use in performance. Nevertheless, it may have been inevitable that the freedoms entrusted him by composers, combined with Tudor’s own extensions of the use of sonic materials in his realizations and his sense of a decrease in the challenge he saw as essential to the composer-performer relationship, gradually led him away from piano playing and into the performance of live electronic music, an area in which he was also a pioneer, with a series of works to which he signed his own name. As a composer, Tudor was experimental and radical, drawing upon technological resources both flexible and complex. He was a pioneer in this respect, and an inspiration to a new generation of composers and performers, designing his own sources of sound production, using conventional sound- transmitters as sound-generators, programming feedback as a component of his compositions, and mixing both output and input matrices. His works were often collaborative; in addition to works for dances by Cunningham, he created works for laser productions by Lowell Cross, visual installations by Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, as well as collaborative works for television, theater, and film. Some of his pieces took the form of electroacoustic environments in which sounds might be activated by audience movements. The Neural Synthesisseries (1992-94) used a neural-network chip to process both analog and digital signals.

Tudor’s considerable library of manuscripts, electronic equipment and modular devices, and audio tapes was acquired after his death by the Getty Research Inst. for the History of Art and the Humanities in Los Angeles.


Fluorescent Sound (Stockholm, Sept. 13, 1964); Bandoneón!for Factorial Bandoneón (N.Y., Oct. 14 and 18,1966); Assemblage (1968; in collaboration with J. Cage and G. Mumma); Rainforest (Buffalo, N.Y., March 9, 1968); Reunion (Toronto, March 5, 1968; in collaboration with D. Behrman, J. Cage, L. Cross, M. and T. Duchamp, and G. Mumma); Video III (San Diego, May 10,1968; in collaboration with L. Cross); Video/Laser I (Oakland, Calif., May 9, 1969; in collaboration with L. Cross) and II (1970; in collaboration with L. Cross and C. Jeffries); Pepsibird, Microphone, Pepscillator,and Anima Pepsi (1970); First week of June (Paris, June 5, 1970; in collaboration with J. Cage and G. Mumma); Melodies for Amplified Bandoneón (1972); Mono-bird (Munich, Aug. 30,1972; for J. Cage’s Birdcage); Rainforest 3 (Radio Bremen, May 5, 1972; for J. Cage’s Mureau); Untitled (Radio Bremen, May 8, 1972; for J. Cage’s Mesostics re Mercé Cunningham); Free Spectral Range I (Oberlin, Ohio, Feb. 16,1973; in collaboration with L. Cross), II (1973; in collaboration with L. Cross), III (1976; in collaboration with L. Cross), and IV (1977; in collaboration with L. Cross); Microphone (1 to 9) (1973); Laser Birdand Laser Rock (Iowa City, June 12-14, 1973); Rainforest IV (1973; in collaboration with others); Photocell Action (1974; in collaboration [light composition] with A. Martin); Toneburst (Detroit, March 8,1975); Forest Speech (1976) and Forest Speech 2 (1978; in collaboration with others); Pulsers (1976) and Pulsars 2 (1978); Video Pulsers (1977; in collaboration with V. Färber and R. Rauschenberg); Weatherings (N.Y., Sept. 27, 1978); Audio Laser (1979; in collaboration with L. Cross); Laser Concert (1979; in collaboration with L. Cross); Phonemes (1981); Likeness to Voices/Dialects (1982); Sextet for Seven (Paris, Oct. 27, 1982); Sea Tails (1983; in collaboration [film] with M. Davies and [underwater kites] J. Monnier; also Sea Tails [sound totem version],1986); Dialects (Oakland, Calif., Oct. 5, 1984); Fragments (Angers, Dec. 7, 1984); Hedgehog (Boston, Sept. 28 and 29, 1985); Web, for John Cage (1985) and Web, for John Cage II (Munich, Oct. 17, 1987); Electronics With Talking Shrimp (N.Y, April 25, 1986); Line & Cluster (Munich, Nov. 17,1986); 9 Lines, Reflected (N.Y, Sept. 17, 1986; in collaboration with J. Monnier); Webwork (N.Y, March 4, 1987); Five Stone (Berlin, June 16, 1988); Virtual Focus (N.Y, March 20, 1990); Coefficient I (1991) and Coefficient: frictional percussion and electronics (N.Y, Feb. 26, 1991); Neural Network Plus (1992) and Neural Syntheses Nos. 1-9 (1992-94); Untitled (1975/1994) (1994); Soundings: Ocean Diary (Brussels, May 17, 1994); Toneburst: Maps and Fragments (1996; in collaboration with S. Ogielska).


J. Holzaepfel, D. T and the Performance of American Experimental Music 1950-1959 (diss., City Univ. of N.Y, 1993).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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