alcides lanza over lunch at SFU

Alcides Lanza (aka alcides lanza) is a Canadian composer of Argentinian birth who has been living and working in Montreal since the early 1970s when he took up a post in composition at McGill University. He has been a performing composer since his early days in South America and New York City and was an early pioneer in the performance of live electronic music. In the past decade, he has been performing marathon piano recitals at Pollack Hall in Montreal, events that feature four to five hours of piano music of the twentieth century: solo piano music, and music with tape and/or live electronics and processing. For more formal biographical information, visit the lanza page at the Canadian Music Centre.

We recorded the stimulating conversations had over lunch after alcides and Meg Sheppard's performances at the SFU Image Theatre on March 6, 1999. Here are text excerpts from two topics we thought might interest our readers:

1] the McGill Electronic Music Studio and the philosophy of maintaining really old gear like the VERY BIG MOOG Studio, analog tape recorders and so on, and

2] information on electronic studios in Argentina with a really great story about chickens.

The initials refer to the following around the table: al = alcides; bt = Barry Truax; jo = John Oliver; dk = Damien Keller; ac = Andrew Czink.

We hope you enjoy.

The McGill Electronic Music Studio
and the philosophy of maintaining really old gear like the
VERY BIG MOOG Studio, analog tape recorders and so on

jo: Is the MIDI studio still there, still running?

[MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a communications protocol established in 1983 that allows electronic musical instruments to interact with each other.

al: the MIDI studio is running on G3s

jo: Is the MOOG studio still there?

[Robert Moog invented the first Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music modular synthesizer in the mid-1960s. MORE INFO at the Synthmuseum]

al: Yes. We refuse to sell it.

bt: Good for you.

al: We are really going to make a very good effort next year to find extra money to be able to repair it properly because, you know, the technology is old, and you don't have the money so it's noisy, but it's still working. It's an excellent pedagogical tool.

bt: I think it's true. I think it's a mistake that everyone just charged ahead, everything being digital. It doesn't work pedagogically with all students. I keep the Sonic Studio a mixture of analog and digital, and it actually, it's my bias, but, as a computer music composer, it's my bias, but I think it's better pedagogically to have both.

al: I agree with you.

bt: And I think it's going to come back, I think it's going to come back, because digital is not getting the interactivity...

al: A few years ago I was really under pressure from some of the higher-ups, they said "oh the MOOG synthesizer and the ARP and the Synthi, sell everything, all the analog stuff" and so I did a minimum list of things I'd like to keep. And the thing is, the electronic studio has to keep prerequisite courses for people who try to get into the Sound Recording program. And the Sound Recording Program is one of the strongest programs at McGill. And so I said, we have to keep at least two analog two-track tape recorders. "Why two, just one [they asked]" No, two because at least you can copy from one machine to the other. Two four-tracks in the same direction and two eight-tracks: that's my minimum requirement. The rest could be DATs and ADATs, that's fine. Not only because of the SRP, you know, you might as well teach them all the newest digital technology, but they are going to get a job in a small recording studio and there is going to be an old tape by you or me that at least it has to be cleaned up, decoded, and passed to ADAT, so they have to know something about this...we cannot completely switch. So that's my minimum these days.

Information on electronic studios in Argentina (LIPM and others) with a really great story about chickens.

al: I have known Conrado Silva [composer] for 35 years.

jo: Do you know what he's up to now?

al: Not very recently. But I know that he runs a studio in Brazilia. We [wife actress/singer Meg Sheppard] have never been to Brazilia. He's an ex-student of John Cage. We did many projects together.

jo: When was the last time you were down there?

al: Last year


al: [to dk:] What's the problem about Argentina? Tell me. I come from there. I need to know.

dk: ...not many resources...

al: What about the exditella with Kröpfl ? That's phenomenal machinery... They have Next computers and very good rapport with Stanford with the exchange program.

[Editor's note: alcides clarified in a later email the following: <"exditella": means Instituto Di Tella in Buenos Aires. Within it there was the CLAEM [Centro LatinoAmericano de Altos Estudios Musicales], directed by Ginastera. I was part of the first bunch of fellows there [with Nobre, Valcarcel, etc]. In local argot we used to say "el ex Di Tella", which you transcribed your own way. The composer's name is Francisco Kröpfl. He developed the EMS studios at the Di Tella [CLAEM]. The operation survives today as the only surviving part of the CLAEM, but under a different name: LIPM [Laboratorio de Investigacion y Promocion Musical or similar]].

al: What about the electronic studio in Santa Fe? I bet you didn't know about that one?

dk: No I didn't.

al: There is something there. What about the studio with Oscar Bazan in Córdoba?

dk: Yah okay, I know that one.

al: Did you know that the chickens used to steal his splices...he used to hang all his splices...I went to school with this guy. So he set up his own laboratory at his home in Cordoba, he's poor and they have this chicken farm in the back, well a few chickens just to eat the eggs. So he set up all his tape recorders and everything there and apparently he was doing a piece with lots of splices so he cut all these ..so he put the splicing tape on all these sounds one, two three, seventeen... apparently the chickens they developed a taste for magnetic tape and they were eating them.

["splicing" is a technique used in tape-based studios to put different recordings together. Different sections of sound material recorded on magnetic tape (often "mylar") are cut up, then put together in new combinations using a special adhesive tape. The process is called splicing.]

bt: I'm not sure I'd want to have chicken in that restaurant.

az: Mylar-fed chicken...a new delicacy.

To learn more about alcides lanza, please visit his page at the Canadian Music Centre