James Brody Biography

James Brody (b.1941) studied composition at Indiana University with Iannis Xenakis and Franz Kamin and was a Teaching Assistant in the electronic studio during its first years at IU. Brody wrote the liner notes for the original Nonesuch LP of 'Iannis Xenakis - Electroacoustic Music'. He was co-founder of the FIASCO group in Bloomington, CAPASA in San Antonio and the Baltimore Composers Forum. In 1970, he taught composition, theory and electronic music at East Texas State University. He has written many electroacoustic and instrumental works. The following works have been presented at the annual International Computer Music Conference(s) (ICMC): Barzakh for tape (1983), 7-1-7…for tape (1996), Background Count, percussion and tape (1998), Syllepsis - Hommage à Iannis Xenakis (2002), Transport (2006) ZAZON (2008). Traces for solo woodwinds and brass, piano, harp, percussion and strings was commissioned and performed by the Harrisburg Symphony in 1994. Theta Ticker was performed at the IV Brazilian Symposium on Computer Music, August 1997 and the Beckonings series at Stanford University, June 1999. A Glance into the Garden for flute and tape was played at SEAMUS 2000 and ZAZON at SEAMUS 2009. Brody was a guest composer at the Electronic and Computer Music Studio of The Peabody Institute and is an active member and past president of the Baltimore Composers Forum. Background Count was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC as part of a concert of the SONIC CIRCUITS International Electronic Music Festival. Syllepsis was played on a concert at MAXIS, a Festival of Sound and Experimental Music, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, England, Spring 2002. DRD4 for flute, clarinet, contrabass and piano, based on the genetic code, was performed by Washington Musica Viva in 2003. Techqua Ikachi!, for four channel electroacoustics, four instrumental groups, chorus, singers and actors with a text by Frederick Schreiner based on the Hopi story of creation, was premiered at York College of Pennsylvania in 2004 where he was a member of the adjunct faculty of York College of Pennsylvania. Brody currently resides in northern New Mexico near Santa Fe where he is helping to design a music program for the Santa Fe Complex (www.santafecomplex.org). His current compositional project, which has resulted in 2 finished works, is called the Archipelago Project, in which Brody seeks to use various powerful MIDI algorithmic generators, Artwonk and NODAL so far, to drive a sampler (Kontakt3) richly set up with hundreds of sounds (the makeup of the sounds changes from work to work).The results have included reatime performances and 'frozen' works and there are plans to expand into the areas of lighting, visual events and audience interaction employing sensors of some kind.

Program Notes of Selected Works

Syllepsis -- Hommage a Iannis Xenakis (2000) is built out of experiments with varied repetition. Two shareware programs on the PC, Granny by Rasmus Ekman and Crusher by Joerg Stelkens, both granular processing programs, assisted me in creating much of the raw material of the work, sounds derived from single woodwind and piano notes. Many of the percussion sounds were recorded in sessions with percussionist Barry Dove. Syllepsis is (a figure of in which a single word appears to be in the same relationship to two others, but must be understood in a different sense with each of its pair..." (from the Web site of Dr. Ken Barker at the University of Ottawa). The title came after the piece but I found that the phenomenon of syllepsis occurred many times during the work, even on a larger scale. The dedication to Xenakis came after hearing of his passing. Besides working (with difficulty) through his mathematics classes, I was deeply influenced by his conception of worlds and masses of sound. This influence has gratefully found its way into my music.

Theta Ticker is the result of an ongoing (naive) sound experiment to see if there might be some direct correlation between musical rhythm and brain waves. The obvious repeated sound is at a frequency of 5.2 Hz right in the middle of the theta brain wave band. A penetrating quality to this sound seems to have some kind of hypnotic effect. If some listeners find the sound environment unendurable, they should feel free to leave for a minute. Structurally the other sounds in the piece are organized in the proportions of the Fibonacci series, 1-1-2-3-5-8-13. The transformations of a small number of 'real-world' sound sources were accomplished using the Sound Forge and Cool Edit programs on a Pentium 150 computer in the composer's home studio.

Background Count is the result of fascination, serendipity and painstaking editing. I have been fascinated with the sound of the geiger counter ever since I was a child and given a Gilbert Atomic Energy Kit as a present. It contained a cloud chamber (which I couldn't get to work), a geiger counter and a collection of radioactive samples (which, I am sure, would be considered very dangerous today). I remember listening for long periods of time to the random clicks of the geiger counter, speeding up and slowing down. One day as I was surfing the World Wide Web several years ago, I did a search for 'geiger counter' and discovered a site in Switzerland which said that one could listen, in real time, to the discharge of a counter picking up the background count of cosmic rays. I recorded a sample of the sound, transferred it to the computer and painstakingly 'edited in' a different sound at every discharge point, keeping attention to form and movement. The percussion part is compiled, using the magic of the computer, from a visual representation of the points.

Entrainments, completed in October of 1995 was composed on a PC with a Pentium 75 Processor using the Cool Editor. Sounds were gathered and recorded from many sources. Entrainments is a representative of the musique concrete genre. The object in this work is to present a 'standalone' sonic environment, one which has life and inner workings of its own. The music is developed in small cells which are joined, juxtaposed and overlaid, with the aim of inner coherence and sometimes surprising variety. Sounds have an intrinsic temporal logic. The experiment comes from discovering this logic and finding appropriate antecedents and consequents to the sounds. This kind of sound work is an ongoing preoccupation of the composer.

Turning (1999) was inspired by a Macintosh software program called ‘Metasynth’. The program allows the composer to work in the graphics domain on the computer screen and, for example, interpret a complex on-screen drawing by assigning a sound, say a single percussion tap to the picture. The pitch of the sound is transposed according to its position in the y-axis of the picture, and unfolds in time along the x-axis. Many Different sounds were subjected to the same kind of treatment. Actually, the sound elements were created on the Macintosh, then brought over to a Pentium II PC and composed using Cool Edit Pro.

7-1-7...is a work of musique concrète completed in February of 1995. It was composed and constructed using the Cool Editor 1.34 by David Johnston on an IBM clone 486-25. The title and the music are based on the rhythm of an ancient breathing practice taught to the composer by Reshad Feild and having a history that dates back, at least, to egyptian heiroglyphics. In the practice, one inhales for a count of 7, holds for a count of 1, exhales for a count of 7, holds for a count of 1, etc. The inbreath is perceived as entering through the soft fleshy area under the sternum; the outbreath exits at the sternum. The music roughly parallels the in and out breaths, but there is a hidden turnaround in the middle, like the Persian carpet that must have an imperfection in it. One may do the breath while listening to this music, or any music, or no music at all; or one may simply listen.

Salat (for the memory of my mother) was composed in 1970 at the electronic studio of East Texas State University. The university chorus gathered for a recording session and provided most of the raw sounds for the work, the others coming from several sets of oriental bells and a few tones produced on a Buchla synthesizer. Several of the words sung by the chorus are wasifas or mantras from the Sufi tradition. Some sections of the work would have been much easier to produce using modern samplers, but such things were not available, tape loops, a voltage controlled gate and a tape player with a continuously variable speed control were used.

Barzakh (1983). The word barzakh means ‘connection or threshold between different levels (of existence or consciousness)’. The piece is a contemplation after the death of the composer’s father and was realized at the University of Texas Electronic Music Studio on a Fairlight. There are both concrete and generated sounds in the work.

Miralia (1967), an early work, used the original Moog synthesizer to create all of its sounds. Some sounds are routed through a huge EMT reverberation device, a popular feature of studios of that time. The challenge of this work was to use only electronic sounds to produce an environment which sounds ‘alive’. The work was substantially edited and revised in 1997.

A Glance into the Garden (1998) is a commission from the Baltimore Composers Forum. The composer was asked to choose a painting from an exhibit at the Gomez Gallery in Baltimore of the works of 3 artists and write a work based on the chosen painting. The work chosen was The Secret Garden by Nancy Scheineman. The music was then performed at a concert in the gallery with the chosen painting, a large triptych, as a backdrop to the performers., Rather than being a literal programmatic work, the piece is based on certain of the work’s images which seemed to suggest audible events. In the absence of any image, however, the work may be approached from a purely musical perspective. Software used: Metasynth and Cool Edit Pro. Flutist Leslie Marrs gave the premiere and plays on the recording. Marcia Odden, a flutist in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, has performed the work at numerous venues in the Twin Cities region. The work has also been performed at the Taos Chamber Music Festival and the 2000 SEAMUS conference in Baton Rouge

Back to Brody Home Page