Untitled: David Tudor’s “Never-Ending Series of Discovered Works” | November 11, 2017 | American Musicological Society meeting, Rochester, NY

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You Nakai is presenting a paper on Tudor’s Untitled/Toneburst at the annual meeting of American Musicological Society.
Untitled: David Tudor’s “Never-Ending Series of Discovered Works”
In 1972, David Tudor composed Untitled, a seminal work of live-electronic music in which modular electronic components are hooked up to form feedback loops in order to generate sounds without exterior input. Tudor’s innovative approach has exercised a wide influence on the later development of noise music, and has been hailed as the precursor of the current trend of “no-input feedback” in electronic music. However, the nature of Untitled is shrouded in enigma. The configuration diagram of components employs peculiar symbols of Tudor’s own design, obstructing a straightforward identification of instruments. More critically, Tudor’s description of the piece as “part of a never-ending series of discovered works” calls into question the very delineation of Untitled as a standalone “work.” A subsequent remark that “all versions are performed live,” furthers the mystery—is Untitled a part of a series, or a series in itself? Resorting to its performance history only adds more layers of confusion. Despite his aim to perform everything live, the proliferation of components forced Tudor to record the output of an initial set-up in advance and use this as input source to a simplified configuration in performance. In 1975, Tudor created Toneburst, set to Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance, which used the same no-input principle without resorting to recorded sources. Shortly before his death, Tudor revived Toneburst for other musicians of the Cunningham company to perform, while expressing reservations for Untitled to be performed by others. Again, a mereological-ontological question ensues: is Toneburst a “version” of Untitled? Or is it yet another “part of a neverending series”? This paper presents a genealogical inquiry into the Untitled/Toneburst complex through detailed examination of extant sketches, instruments, and recordings. By decoding Tudor’s symbols, the components of Untitled and Toneburst have been fully identified. The analysis of recordings has further revealed that the same three source tapes were used not only in all performances of Untitled, but also in all performances of Toneburst after its revival. These revelations offer a key to articulate the idiosyncratic status of “work” in Tudor’s live-electronic music, and its connection to his distinct approach to composition and performance.