From the 1977 Catalog

of the

Boston School of Electronic Music


Introduction

We are located in Boston's Back Bay, three blocks from Copley Square and one block from Beacon Street and the Charles River. We have an office on the first floor at 326 Dartmouth Street, and three rooms on the second floor: a library, a studio, and a combined studio/classroom.

We are an unusual school not only for what we teach, but for how we teach it and how we are organized. In less than five years (our first courses were given in May of 1972 and our first full semester in September of 1974) we have sprouted an international reputation for creative and solid instruction in audio synthesis, drawing students from as far away as Denmark and Israel.

Most college-level programs in electronic music are operated as adjuncts to composition majors: their physical facilities are organized as a "tape studio," of limited accessibility even to the limited number of composition students allowed into the program each year.

Both our curriculum and our physical facilities are organized for maximum flexibility and ease of access. We are actively engaged in breaking most of the artificial barriers found in other schools: between composition and performance, between studio and live, between keyboard, tonal music and "avant-garde," and between serious and "popular" music. There are differences among these, of course; but there need be no walls. We encourage both non-tonal abstract sound-improvisation (live and in the studio), and keyboard performance of classical, jazz, and rock music. Ensembles of our staff and students have performed at colleges--and at weddings. We have written some of the best-known owner's manuals in the industry, e.g. that of the Arp 2600, and laboratory manuals for universities.

We're proud of what we're doing. We're happy to hear of your interest in us.


Philosophy

We are the first independent school of electronic music in the country. We are the only school of electronic music to offer instruction and training to all applicants regardless of their musical interests and background.

Where we--the Boston School of Electronic Music--are now, twenty years ago there was only wilderness. You might think of us as the little trading post on the frontier; beyond us there is still the wilderness, yours for the taking. We don't give guided tours from a nice safe bus--we give survival training. It is rigorous, thorough, and disciplined. But compared to what lies ahead, even our training doesn't amount to much more than a compass, a map, and a slap on the back.

Twenty years ago there weren't even any trading posts; anyone who did electronic music was entirely on his own. The great pioneers, the earliest researchers and composers, had no teachers. They had only an immense capacity to learn, on their own initiative, whatever was there to be learned.

We are looking for students with initiative--the kind who might survive on their own. If you are that kind of student, our survival training can save you anywhere from three to five years of floundering around in the underbrush eating nuts and berries. We know the country and we haven't found any limits to it yet; we're still exploring.

Like any frontier, electronic music attracts numbers of confidence men, schemere, hangers-on, and medicine shows.

We've seen synthesizers pitched as "nothing-to-learn" devices that can make instant composers and performing virtuosi out of everyone. That is completely false. Achieving reasonable fluency with even a small synthesizer takes at least a year of study even for a musician who has already had years of study in piano or some other instrument; mastering a larger synthesizer can be the task of a lifetime. So there is plenty to learn: and that's what's so exciting.

And then we've seen people claiming to teach synthesis in eight-or-ten lectures and an hour with a synthesizer for each student. It can't be done. There is only one way to learn, and--except for the subject matter--it's not much different from the way you learn other musical instruments: long practice. Sitting in front of a synthesizer for hours at a time, systematically exploring every variable it offers, under the guidance of an experienced assistant, may sound laborious, but most students wonder where the time goes.

We've heard university composers who should know better complaining about the new popularity of the synthesizer; about black-and-white keyboards, about Walter Carlos, about Keith Emerson. They would rather chop off their hands than be caught using a synthesizer to imitate an existing acoustic instrument or to play tonal, 12-notes-to-the-octave, key-centered music with recognizable harmonies. We disagree. Synthesizers are capable of much else, of course. But why make walls where there are none?

Finally, we've heard the most amazing nonsense from heads and trippies and "spiritual" types claiming all sorts of mental interactions with ethereal vibrations and astral bodies and... we don't care, because that's not how synthesizers WORK. As long as that's understood, we're happy to carry on semester-long running battles about the rest. There are mysteries, of course, but they lie in the nature of human perception and spirit--not in the physics of audio synthesizers.

A synthesizer cannot be a musical instrument for anyone who is unwilling to make it one, by assimilating its basic concepts and its techniques until they become habitual. For those of us who have been willing, it has become a musical instrument of unparalleled beauty, flexibility, and expressiveness.

Music begins, perhaps, as the craft of organizing sounds into patterns that are intriguing, or beautiful, or expressive--that are, at any rate, very very human patterns. It ends, we believe, as a spiritual discipline like Zen or yoga. Perhaps the same could be said of any craft well and truly practiced; but we have chosen music and the synthesizer.

-- Jim Michmerhuizen, Founder and Director

 


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