Although Barton and his wife Priscilla McLean have had a long and distinguished history of LP and compact disc albums throughout their professional composer/performer career, this album is unique in that it is the first one to present, on one CD, such a broad and comprehensive picture of their purely electronic music, spanning 1975 through 2001. Interestingly, although their materials and equipment have changed, their ideas of musical composition are still basically the same, creating a unity throughout the CD.
Regarding the graphic score of "Song of the Nahuatl" which comprises the cover of this CD, Barton McLean and graphic artist Gary Pyle felt a need to explore the subconscious visual domain suggested by the sounds. The artistic rendering preserves dynamics, timing, relative high and low pitch areas, and textural/timbral aspects, while presenting a truly artistic expression in its own right.
To impart a sense of the meaning and composition of these works, along with offering a glimpse into the milieu in which they were created, the following excerpts are quoted here from Priscilla McLean's new autobiography "Hanging off the Edge: Revelations of a Modern Troubadour", published by iUniverse (New York, Lincoln, NE, Shanghai) and also available with corresponding CD, featuring excerpts of her music described in the book, at:
Throughout the time span of the works on this album, Priscilla McLean kept detailed journals of her experiences, forming the basis of her autobiography. These excerpts, abridged and slightly altered, are imbedded in the more specific program notes on each work below.
Book Excerpt: from HANGING OFF THE EDGE, pp. 149 - 159
1973 -1978: South Bend, Indiana to Austin, Texas:
In 1973, Indiana University at South Bend (where Barton McLean taught) ordered from the EMS Studios in London a Synthi-100 synthesizer and digital 256 sequencer, which comprised the first commercial digital sequencing capability in the USA. By 1971 we had also begun our own home studio, purchasing a new Arp 2600 Synthesizer and three reel-to-reel tape recorders: two two-channel half-track Revoxes and a four-channel quarter-track Sony, and borrowing from the college a small Synthi AKS Synthesizerムan update of the EMS Putney, with a ribbon keyboard and 256-note real-time sequencer.
When Bart introduced me to the new studio with the Synthi-100, I stared unbelievingly here was a huge synthesizer, along a whole wall, with hundreds of push-pins (a matrix setup for connecting sounds, rather than the old patch cords), and twenty-two oscillators! The Synthi-256 Digital Sequencer was a full-sized keyboard, standing alone diagonally to the analog synthesizer, but connected internally.
In that studio with the giant machines, one raced from one end of the room to another to play and record the sounds, never sitting down, and in removing unwanted noise or editing out a recorded section, the composer had to take a metal splicing block and sharp razor blade, and pressing down very hard, cut through the 1-inch wide acetate tape in two places, remove the unwanted time segment, and rejoin the two remaining ends with special splicing tapeノSo we three Bruce, Bart, and I worked all our spare time, alternating with each other, in the I.U.S.B. Studio. I spent whole days there, sometimes 22 hours long, working and working to get just the right sound-combinations and record them
The McLean Mix
[NOTE: The McLean Mix, composing/performing duo of Barton and Priscilla McLean, has toured worldwide since 1974, and annually since 1983.]
The McLean Mix was born on September 19, 1974, in our World Premiere concert at St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana. The faculty, of which I was an adjunct professor, was delighted when I offered to perform with Bart our new electronic music, consisting of Gone Bananas by Bart, as he soloed on the Arp 2600. This was a light piece, and ended with Bart, having set the synthesizer to play the music by itself on its sample and hold controller, sitting on the edge of the stage eating a banana! Second was my Night Images six-minute stereo tape work. Next came my "Dance of Dawn", 22 minutes long. We finished the evening with a jazzy piece by Bart called Groove, which had us jamming on two synthesizers the Arp 2600 for me, and Bart on the Synthi AKS. These early live-performance compositions suffered the demise of all such pieces of the period, but fascinated the audience at the time they who had never heard any live electronic music. The works for stereo tape lived on, however.
"During the halcyon days of the 70's, when all electronic music was enthusiastically received and the audiences large and eager, an album produced out of this concert (CRI SD 335 with Priscilla's "Dance of Dawn" and Barton's "Spirals") garnered a dozen reviews from all over America, and the composers were looked upon as courageous explorers into a vast musical continent unknown and beckoning.
In August of 1976 we moved to Austin, Texas. After the Synthi-100 was removed from the Indiana University, South Bend Electronic Music Studio in 1974, we were left with its digital sequencer, a small ElectroComp 101 Synthesizer, the mini-synthesizer Synthi AKS, and the tape recorders and mixer. This wasn't enough to continue any quality work, so we added our own home studio equipment, and turned back to manipulating found soundsムsteak knives bouncing on violin strings, tennis balls on the piano harp, banging pots and pans, etc. All of these sounds in addition to ones from the synthesizers and sequencer I used in my next major electronic piece, "Invisible Chariots". Because of the unwieldiness of the musique concrete (recorded, not synthesized, sounds) medium, composing the piece was glacially slow.
For instance, the first sound is a scrape up a bass piano string with a metal bar. I wanted the echo from the piano to last over thirty seconds, so I had to record it onto a master tape, then re-record the echo from this tape to each of four channels of another tape recorder, recording each successive one a few seconds ahead of the last one, over and over, until thirty seconds evolved. Then I combined the beginning piano flourish, recorded at home, with a similar keyboard flourish created on the Arp 2600 Synthesizer and performed, playing (forwards and backwards) on the Synthi 256 Sequencer. Much more was involved to complete this complex beginning sound, and two months of time for thirty seconds of music!
After lying low since our performance in the old UT electronic music studio a few weeks after we arrived in Austin in 1976, The McLean Mix was revived and had several engagements the spring of 1979. This included Bart's new electronic piece "Song of the Nahuatl", finishing with my "Invisible Chariots", with all three movements. This varied according to the audience and schedule. [end of paraphrased excerpt]