Editor's Notes

The Networking Issue

I have a confession to make.... The idea of organization has always frightened me. I've had an aversion to anything that seemed hierarchical, or merely organized since I was little. Although I think of myself as a “plays well with others type”, I have always gravitated to those situations in which the possibility of leaderless, organic solving of a problem is the highest. I’m convinced that it is why I enjoy improvising the most. It provides a high level of group consciousness and cooperation towards a common goal with the least amount of discussion. One possible explanation of this general distrust of any group with membership cards is the community I was raised in. When I was a child, if there was a problem, a group of people seemed to just appear, think about the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, drink a beer, experiment with possible solutions, drink another beer and find the one answer that, even if it wasn’t the most elegant or efficient, solved the problem the quickest. There was never any thought given to having to present the problem to a higher authority, have it debated at a distance and the solution blindly accepted. It never crossed their minds. The problem was handled as a group, a community, a gathering, and never as an association, organization, or coalition. I'm not a naive by-stander jumping on a Occupy X bandwagon, however. I understand the need for hierarchy in society. The use of the word “utopia” in talking about egalitarian anarchist structures is apt for a reason: they would take a miracle to put into practice. However, in the small spaces of our daily lives, we tend to over-organize, over-structure, and over-stratify our mundane human dealings. This creates a situation in which we lose, as individuals, our desire to take charge of our lives, as well as the ability to think creatively and critically. Once we lose that, it's a very short step to misplacing our identities as human beings. The place where strict hierarchical thinking is the most out of its element is in the arts. While funding, presenting, and artist rights organizations are absolutely essential and a vastly underappreciated part of any arts landscape, the tendency exists to set up very specific, stratified grassroots “artists collectives” under the direction of charismatic leaders, self-styled promoters, and well meaning fellow artists that are trying to band together to fight a common evil (in the case of music, usually the exact organizations they should be trying to find ways to collaborate with….funders, presenters, bookers, etc.). The result ends up being confrontation and misunderstanding more often than not. Not all of these organizations are counter-productive, but there is a tendency for them to fall prey to the loudest voices in the hierarchy usually those with the least amount of ability to work toward the common good. This promotes more stratification, more concentration on individual personalities, and less energy toward the ultimate goal.....MAKING MUSIC. It is not these organizations that we are concentrating on in this issue of Sound American. We chose the term networking as our focus for a reason. Instead of organization in a specific sense, all three of the featured groups of people have found themselves drawn together, due primarily to their physical proximity, to deal with a common aesthetic or attack a common problem. A certain amount of hierarchical organization has come and gone with each of them, but in general they have maintained enough flexibility in the way that they approach each other and their goals that they have been successful in their endeavors and have withstood the test of time. It’s our desire to celebrate their existence, their philosophies, and of course…their music. The League of Automatic Music Composers consisted initially of electronic musicians Jim Horton, John Bischoff, and Tim Perkis. Although sometimes augmented by Rich Gold and David Behrman, this core trio changed the shape of electronic music, becoming some of the first to use early Kim1 computers in a network to exchange and modify musical information. The sounds that resulted became a massive organism spinning dense webs of electronic pitch and sound, and were an early precursor to another such landmark networking group, The Hub, which Perkis and Bischoff were also instrumental in starting. I spoke to Tim and John (unfortunately Jim Horton passed away in 1998) at Tim’s home in Berkeley, California. We talked about the history of the League, the influence of the 1970s Bay Area experimental music scene, and how they view technology in the light of building organic social structures. Combined with some fantastic music from the League, SA is proud to present the conversation in its ongoing “listeners” series of streaming podcasts. We’re also incredibly excited that each of these organizations generously agreed to allow the streaming of certain tracks from their recordings. Bundled together as “mix tapes”, each group is presented separately on their own page, along with a brief description of the group and what makes the music special. I think this is an invaluable addition to the text and podcast. After all, Sound American is about music…yes, the ideas are interesting, and we can talk about hierarchy and utopian ideals of organization, but if the music isn’t interesting then it’s simply empty words. I think you’ll agree that there is nothing here that does anything but add to the strength of the argument that brilliant music can be made when a group of people come together because of their mutual love and respect for what it takes to make it.