Other Music was a San Francisco Bay Area–based new music ensemble that existed from 1975 to approximately 1986 (the end date is approximate because it was never officially decided to end the group; it just gradually wound down, as such things are wont to do). Other Music emerged from a class taught by composer John Dinwiddie, then an adjunct faculty member at New College of California, in Sausalito, in the spring of 1975. The class had three students, Henry Rosenthal, Dale Soules, and myself. We wished to perform new music, but we had no shared skill set that would have permitted us to perform any existing form of music, new or otherwise: I played recorders and had composed a number of pieces in pseudo-medieval style; Dale had played French horn and sung protestant hymns; Henry was an avid collector of new music recordings and a big fan of the Stooges and the MC5; he also played rudimentary rock guitar and had achieved a certain notoriety at New College by performing a piece involving a loaded revolver in a previous Dinwiddie music class.
Given our lack of suitable skills for playing any known form of notated music, it was decided that we would work on post-Cageian- or Fluxus–style improvisational formats—pieces with verbal rather than noted scores that tended to be very strict in a few parameters and completely free in others—such as Philip Corner’s “C Major Chord” (play anything you want as long as you play only C, E, and G) and Toshi Ichiyanagi’s “Piano Piece Number 4 for David Tudor,” which permits only sounds with gradual attacks and releases, precluding the use of the piano’s keyboard. We performed a concert of these pieces in February 1975, in living room of the home where Dinwiddie was then living in San Rafael, California, for an invited audience of New College students and faculty. Carola Anderson, who became the fourth core member of Other Music, was in the audience for that event (she fell asleep), but did not join the group until September. We traditionally dated the beginning of Other Music to that event, although the name was not chosen until the following fall.
Henry, Dale, and I enjoyed working together and decided to continue creating music together. We began writing our own pieces and performed a second concert at New College at the end of the Spring 1975 trimester. The New College “campus” at that time consisted of a couple of rented buildings on the waterfront at Gate 5 in Sausalito, near the site of the WWII-era naval shipyards (and, incidentally, near where Harry Partch had his studio in the 1950s). Other New College students had been collecting pieces of scrap metal from the waterfront and hanging them in the courtyard of the main New College building to create a “sound garden.” The proto-Other Music soon appropriated some of the better sounding pieces and, in general, began incorporating “found-object sound sources” (AKA junk) into our work. Among these, we found a six-foot square sheet of rusted sheet steel, flanged on three edges, to be an especially rich and varied sound source; we suspended this sheet of metal by piano wire in a slightly off-horizontal plane from a frame designed and built with help from New College art teacher Dennis Subia, and Dale christened it “The Metálkonk.” Other Music developed a half-hour long composition/improvisation in six movements for the Metálkonk, which we titled Sheet Music. Sheet Music was a cornerstone of Other Music’s repertory from late 1975 through 1976. It was videotaped as part of San Francisco public station KQED’s Open Studio series in December, 1975 and broadcast in March, 1976. (Complete Videos of Sheet Music) In addition to Sheet Music, the early Other Music continued to perform improvisational format-type pieces and also experimented with most other types of experimental acoustic music that were current in those years, including text-sound poetry an Steve Reich–style procedural music. Fortunately, except for Sheet Music, Other Music’s performances from this era were not recorded.
Meanwhile, in the summer of 1975, I attended Lou Harrison’s “Intonation in World Music” class at the Center for World Music in Berkeley and performed in a concert on Lou and Bill Colvig’s first justly tuned American gamelan (AKA, “Old Granddad,” the set of instruments for which Lou composed La Koro Sutro and the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan). Just Intonation had been a subject of discussion from the beginnings of Other Music (I had been exposed to JI through the music of Harry Partch when I was a student at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1969), though those early discussions wouldn’t have won any prizes for clarity. My studies with Lou Harrison gave me a clear understanding of the fundamentals of Just Intonation, and my experience of performing in the American gamelan fired me with a desire to create and compose for similar instruments.
I brought this new knowledge and vision with me when I returned to New College and Other Music in the Fall of 1975, and preached the gospel of justly tuned metal to my colleagues. The first result was a set of diatonically tuned tubular metallophones (the “Modular Metallophones”) which we made from brass tubing from a scrap yard in the Mission district of San Francisco (depicted in the photo at right). I composed several procedural/minimal pieces for these instruments (as far as I can recall, no one else composed for them) that became part of Other Music’s repertory in 1976. Other staples of Other Music’s repertory during this period included Henry Rosenthal’s Out Seed André Gide, performed on shaken plastic sheets, which (somehow) traced the arc of the writer’s career, The Stephanie Papers, a series of text-sound improvisations based on some elementary school exercises found in a Mission-district gutter, and Dale Soules’s Mis-Son Makes Friends, for a chorus of pairs singing close beating intervals.