Remembering David Tudor: A 75th Anniversary Memoir

Toronto and London, Ontario; Hope, Michigan; Stony Point, New York; 1967–1968

In the 1960s the Estonian–born composer Udo Kasemets directed an innovative series of “Mixed Media Concerts” at The Isaacs Gallery, 832 Yonge Street in Toronto. He invited David Tudor to perform there in three concerts: Saturday, 15 April (8:30 p.m.) and Sunday, 16 April 1967 (3:30 and 8:30 p.m.).

David, his bandoneon, and his heavy, footlocker–style carrying cases full of electronic gadgetry occupied what room was available in my small bachelor apartment. I was listed on the concert program as David Tudor’s assistant. Following are the works he performed:

Light Piece for David Tudor

Pauline Oliveros
(projections by Anthony Martin)

pandorasbox, bandoneonpiece

Mauricio Kagel

Solo for Voice 2
Fontana Mix (realization for piano and electronic circuits).

John Cage

In addition to hosting David Tudor and taking part in his concert tours de force, I was invited by CBC Radio to review his performances and two others taking place during the week of 16 April. The music critic for The Toronto Star, William Littler, received the same invitation and my good friend, the composer Harry Somers (1925–1999), interviewed us. The two other performances were Hello, Dolly playing at the O’Keefe Centre with the redoubtable Carol Channing in the lead role, and Arlo Guthrie singing “Alice’s Restaurant” and other hippie–era songs at a Yorkville coffeehouse not far from The Isaacs Gallery. I could identify with David Tudor’s performances, of course, and to a certain extent, with Arlo Guthrie’s, but not Hello, Dolly—as I duly reported over the air. I received the impression that the circumspect critic William Littler did not particularly identify with any of the three performances, and least of all, David Tudor’s.

Fig. 8

Fig. 8, Hope College concert program.

John Cage, David Tudor, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and I were invited to give a performance on Thursday evening, 11 May 1967 at the Dimnent Memorial Chapel on the Hope College campus in Holland, Michigan (see Fig. 8, Hope College concert program).

With the equipment setup well underway and apparently progressing to his satisfaction, John Cage looked around the college campus and discovered a well–equipped kitchen. He then went mushroom hunting. He did not find any morels, as he had hoped, but he did find some good edible specimens in the woods nearby. Next, he went shopping and came back with bread, butter, and a couple of bottles of red wine. He sautéed the mushrooms in butter, and I confess that I found his mushrooms to be a welcome, delicious treat, complemented by the bread, butter, wine, and the mutual conviviality of the composer–performers. John Cage was as pleased with the concert as we all were with his role as cook.

In the spring of 1967 Nora Horompo and I were engaged (we first met in the University of Toronto music library in September 1966). David Tudor invited us to visit him in Stony Point the following fall, not long before our marriage on 25 November 1967. Nora and I remember his excellent talents as a cook. From his trips to India he had developed a flair for the cuisine of that region, but he had his own interesting variations on that style of cooking. He treated us to a dinner of

Flank steak, marinated in yogurt, garam masala and "secret" ingredients, sliced diagonally, skewered, and cooked on a hibachi

Curried potatoes

Cucumber salad with yogurt dressing

California red wine

Dates and shredded coconut.

In February 1968, David Tudor, his bandoneon, and his heavy equipment cases arrived again in Toronto, this time at Nora’s and my new apartment at 74 Spadina Road, next door to my former bachelor pad. He and I were invited to perform on Friday, 23 February 1968 at the University of Western Ontario in London, in a presentation of my works entitled Electronic Sights and Sounds. The two pieces on the program were Video II (B) and Musica Instrumentalis (David Tudor, bandoneon), preceded by my introductory remarks. The main attraction for us was the powerful black–and–white Eidophor television projector installed in the University’s Natural Science Centre Amphitheatre. Its intensity was so great that it could be used outdoors to project large TV images in daylight. I began to think about large–scale projections and late–1960s technologies, especially lasers. Within a year and a half, David Tudor and I, in collaboration with the brilliant physicist and kinetic sculptor Carson D. Jeffries, presented the first multi–color laser light show to employ x–y scanning.

By this time John Cage had asked me to build the electronic chessboard for Reunion, an event scheduled for Tuesday, 5 March 1968 at the Ryerson Theatre in Toronto—less than two weeks after the University of Western Ontario performance. David Tudor visited us again for Reunion, which was to be an auspicious occasion: a game of chess, played on my chessboard by Cage and Marcel Duchamp, would bring about the selection and spatial distribution of sounds over an eight–channel array of loudspeakers surrounding the audience. Those sounds were to be from pre–existing works by John Cage’s composer–collaborators David Behrman, Gordon Mumma, David Tudor, and Lowell Cross. Duchamp decisively beat his chess pupil

John Cage within half an hour in the first game, despite the handicap of playing with only one knight. A second game between Mme. “Teeny” Duchamp and John Cage lasted until the wee hours of the morning of Wednesday, 6 March and had to be finished later. In the audience were Marshall McLuhan (who left early on this occasion, too) and the organizer of the event, Udo Kasemets. David Tudor did not enter into this affair with much enthusiasm (see the expression on his face in Fig. 1 of my documentary article about Reunion, in Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 9, 1999, pp. 35–42). From our performances together it had become increasingly clear to me that David Tudor felt that he had to be in control—complete control. He did not like at all the notion of a chessboard controlling his sounds, especially if those sounds could be blocked from being heard by the positions of chess pieces during a game. He wore headphones throughout the evening so that he could monitor his own performance.

Perhaps to compensate himself for his diminished sound–producing role, he asked me if I could connect his electronic modules into one of my two modified x–y television sets on stage. I complied with his request, of course, and later he reported "Since that time I have come to the point where I don’t need to hear the sound any more, but only to look at it, because I can tell what it would sound like from seeing it" (David Tudor, the consummate virtuoso, quoted in Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, 1974, p. 83).