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Friday, October 13, 2006

Paul Lansky's Radiohead Adventure

Paul Lansky was one of the first electronic/computer music composers, and he's still a professor at Princeton. Here is his charming account of being sampled by Radiohead. A short loop of his track Mild und Leise [mp3] became the chord sequence for Idioteque. "Mild und Leise was composed in 1973 on an IBM 360/91 mainframe computer. I used the Music360 computer language written by Barry Vercoe. This IBM mainframe was, as far as I know, the only computer on the Princeton University campus at the time. It had about one megabyte of memory, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (in addition to requiring a staff to run it around the clock). At that point we were actually using punch cards to communicate with the machine, and writing the output to a 1600 BPI digital tape which we then had to carry over to a lab in the basement of the engineering quadrangle in order to listen to it. It uses FM synthesis, which had just been worked out at Stanford, and also a special purpose filter design program written (in Fortran IV) by Ken Steiglitz. What's especially cute, and also occured to Jonny Greenwood, is that I was about his current age, when I wrote the piece - sort of a musical time warp." Somewhat cooler than hanging about with Radiohead is this short clip of Paul being taught to play the Theremin by... Leon Theremin! (Thanks Martin)

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