Fasten your seatbelt, this is one of the weirdest CDs in our collection. The League of Automatic Music Composers 1978-1983 is a retrospective look at the wild creative output of a group of musicians and computer scientists from northern California in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Members Tim Perkins and Jon Bischoff describe the League in the album’s liner notes:
The League of Automatic Music Composers was a band/collective of electronic music experimentalists active in the San Francisco Bay Area between 1977 and 1983. Widely regarded as the first musicians to incorporate the newly available microcomputers of the day into live musical performance, the League created networks of interacting computers and other electronic circuits with an eye to eliciting surprising and new “musical artificial intelligences.” We approached the computer network as one large, interactive musical instrument made up of independently programmed automatic music machines, producing a music that was noisy, difficult, often unpredictable, and occasionally beautiful.
The work of the League partook of the distinctive cultural atmosphere of the San Francisco Bay Area in the seventies and eighties, a rich blend of communal ideologies, radical culture, technical innovation, intellectual ferment, and a hands-on attitude that has been a hallmark of California life since the pioneer days. In the air then there was a sense of new possibilities, and the feeling of the need to build a culture from the ground up. For music, specifically, this meant redefining everything about how it’s done, from the instruments and tuning systems to the musical forms, venues, and social relations among players and audiences.
Published by New World Records in 2004, this CD is a compilation of previously unreleased performances recorded on cassette that spent two decades in a shoebox. By now you’re probably wondering what on earth this music sounds like. Imagine an old 8-bit video game gone mad with a sense of humor. The tracks, many excerpted from longer performances, are given descriptive titles like “Dense Drone”, “Maritan Folk Music” and (my personal favorite) “Pedal with Twitter”. You can also check out this video of the League performing in what appears to be someone’s living room sometime in the late 70s.
The League of Automatic Music Composers 1978-1983 is available to check out on CD or to download from Freegal with your library card and pin number. If you’re interested in learning more about experimental and early electronic music, you might also enjoy the excellent boxed set compilation OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music. If you’re interested in making your own electronic music, check out the how-to book Circuit-Bending: Build Your Own Alien Instruments by Reed Ghazala, local author and famed inventor of circuit-bending.
We also host a monthly Experimental Music at the Library performance series at the Main Library every third Wednesday at 7pm.
Listen to This! is a weekly music column by Popular Library Music Geek/Reference Librarian Steve Kemple, featuring off-the-beaten-path music from the library’s collection. It is also a twice-monthly listening program held every 2nd and 4th Wednesday night at 7pm in the Popular Library Department at the Main Library.