Remembering David Tudor: A 75th Anniversary Memoir

Toronto and Buffalo, 1964–1966

I addressed my letter of application for admission into the graduate program in music at the University of Toronto, as well as all of my correspondence about working in the Electronic Music Studio (UTEMS), to its director, Professor Myron Schaeffer (1908–1965). Upon my arrival at the Faculty of Music’s Edward Johnson Building, he welcomed me with great courtesy, showed a sincere interest in my activities, and gave me an introduction to the remarkable collection of equipment designed by Canada’s pioneering figure in electronic music, Dr. Hugh Le Caine (1914–1977). Myron Schaeffer was to become my advisor and principal professor. I soon learned, however, that he was seriously ill with heart disease. In spite of his illness, he was determined to work as hard as he could during that academic year, teaching his seminars and beginning work on a textbook on the techniques of electronic music composition. He and his wife “Lilein” treated me to their hospitality, and I in turn drove him to appointments with his cardiologist. When I left for Lubbock for the 1964 Christmas holidays, he asked me to buy him a bottle of Cuervo Gold tequila when I was in Texas. Cuervo Gold was a favorite of his—but it was not sold then in Ontario’s provincially–operated liquor stores. I was happy to comply, and I took the bottle to his residence upon my return in early January. Unfortunately, he was never able to enjoy my New Year’s present. Within days, he entered a hospital and died shortly thereafter. Mrs. Schaeffer insisted upon giving the bottle back to me, but I just put it on a shelf, unopened. I had known Professor Schaeffer for only four months, but I was devastated at his passing.

In the winter and spring of early 1965, David Tudor spent time in Buffalo, only an hour and a half drive from Toronto. He was affiliated with the State University of New York, and on 1 and 2 March, the Cunningham Company presented performances there. I attended the one on Tuesday, 2 March, renewing my acquaintance with David Tudor. This occasion was the first of the very few times that I heard him perform while seated at a keyboard, actually playing on the keys rather than working inside the instrument. He performed with John Cage in a quiet two–piano piece by Morton Feldman (Ixion, for the dance Summerspace), but his formidable technical prowess was evident. Even in this quiet piece, he revealed his remarkable control, his natural freedom of movement, and the immense reserves of his muscular power. Unquestionably, he was a pianist of the very first rank who, I discovered, more than lived up to his international reputation. It was during this period—the mid to late 1960s—that he was moving away from being a pianist and becoming a practitioner of “live” electronic music: as performer, collaborator, equipment collector, and eventually, composer. This shift in his direction was disappointing to some of his admirers, including certain composers who wanted him to perform their piano works.

David Tudor wanted to visit Toronto to see UTEMS; he was especially interested in Le Caine’s equipment, about which he had heard so much. The new director, Professor Gustav Ciamaga (who as a fellow Canadian greatly admired Le Caine), took great pleasure in having famous visitors come through so that they too could admire Le Caine’s accomplishments. Later in March 1965, David Tudor came to Toronto, bringing with him Mauricio Kagel. The visitors were suitably impressed by what they saw at UTEMS, but I could tell that David Tudor wanted to engage in some socializing. After dinner, I invited him to my small “bachelor” apartment at 70 Spadina Road. He saw the unopened bottle of Cuervo Gold, and with his eyes lighting up he said, “Tequilaaaaah!” The bottle was mostly consumed that evening, and mostly by David Tudor. It was on that occasion that I observed for the first time his great fondness for tequila. He “loosened up,” told stories about well–known composers and performers, and thoroughly enjoyed himself. When the bottle was nearly empty, I called a taxi to take him back to his hotel. David Tudor and I had many more occasions to drink tequila together over the next decade and a half. I even taught myself how to make margaritas, which he enjoyed immensely.

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Figs. 4 & 5, Video II (B), November 1965–January 1966.

In the fall of 1965, Ciamaga hired Anthony J. (“Tony”) Gnazzo as Research Associate for UTEMS. His duties were similar to those of a Tonmeister in the German electronic music studios, but he also performed maintenance tasks, ordered supplies, kept records, and composed his own electronic music. While still a graduate student at Brandeis University, he was a member of Myron Schaeffer’s 1964 summer seminar in electronic music at UTEMS. Also in that fall of 1965, Ciamaga, Gnazzo, and I presented a concert of electronic music in the Recital Hall of Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, affiliated with the University, and not far from the Edward Johnson Building. My Three Etudes for Magnetic Tape (composed late 1964–early 1965) were on the program. I made extensive use of equipment designed by Le Caine and dedicated the set of pieces to him. But despite my pride in having composed these pieces in a real electronic studio, I was dissatisfied with their concert presentation. They, like all “abstract” tape pieces, contained no visual interest at all. I decided during that concert to put electronic visual interest into my performances of electronic music. With Gnazzo’s assistance as Tonmeister, I began my Video series that autumn, culminating in Video II (B), for which I modified a black–and–white television set into an x–y display device. The electronic sounds “drew” evolving Lissajous patterns on the TV screen in exact synchronization with the music (see Figs. 4 & 5, Video II (B), November 1965–January 1966).

Fig. 6

Fig. 6, AGT concert program.

In early 1966, David Tudor visited me again in Toronto, seeing for the first time Video II (B). He really must have liked it, because for months afterward he would say to people, including Cage, “Just wait till to you see Lowell Cross’ Video II (B).” By then, I knew about David Tudor’s interest in the Argentine tango instrument, the bandoneon, introduced to him by Kagel. Its “stereophonic” output from both ends of the instrument lent itself well for use with x–y display devices such as oscilloscopes and my modified TV set. Taking a bold plunge, I asked David Tudor if he would like for me to set up performance conditions for him, his bandoneon, a stereophonic microphone array, and modified TV sets (soon to include color TV). He agreed enthusiastically “You betcha!”—and he presented the première performance of my Musica Instrumentalis at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) on 13 May 1966. Also on the program were Gnazzo’s In the World and Cage’s Variations VI (see Fig. 6, AGT concert program).

I have documented Musica Instrumentalis and Video II (B) in issue no. 9 of Source, music of the avant garde (1971). This occasion was one of several when John Cage visited Professor Marshall McLuhan, the University of Toronto’s famous writer on the media, technology, and society, whom John Cage invited to the concert. I noticed McLuhan leaving the Gallery shortly after Variations VI began.