REVIEW: Morton Subotnick at Cafe Oto

Morton Subotnick
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Morton Subotnick
(Cafe Oto, 5 June 2015; day one of two-day residency; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

In his first concert in the UK for nine years, electronics pioneer, Morton Subotnick, brought the extensive scope of his compositional and technical genius to Cafe Oto, casting a spell of disarmingly fresh-sounding yet retro-tinged electronica.

Originally a classical clarinettist in the 50s in LA, he responded to the ever-renewing wave of new developments in electronics. In the mid-sixties he brought in Donald Buchla to work with him to realise the first analogue synthesizer, since when he has held fast to his mission to innovate and educate and to open up possibilities for listeners, performers and new generations of musicians. Most recently, in 2012 he created a digital app designed to stimulate young children's compositional talents, in effect, finger painting with music on an iPad.

Subotnick's sophisticated performance techniques have evolved over the years in ways both rational and emotional. He has amassed a store of prepared samples from previous works which he draws on to form the basis of each performance and modifies these with specially created patches linked to scores displayed on-screen.

With calm demeanor, in the first session of his two night residency, Subotnick manipulated sounds through an arsenal of analogue and digital devices, based around a wire-sprouting Buchla Music Easel and an Apple laptop, evolving a stream of subtly structured textural layers in a compelling mix, at times ethereal and at others stridently charged.

The characteristic bleepings of sixties electronics were trickled and diffused to re-emerge with even more delicate tinkling tones. In contrast, beats and rhythmic pulses were built up to industrial strength with surprisingly visceral intent, to fast fade out to return to an intricate pattern of shifting shades and nuanced sound washes.

A short encore followed the delighted audience's standing ovation, acknowledging not only the achievements of the evening but also Subotnick's significant stature in the field.

Ealier, Cam Deas put in a strong opening set with a similar quadrophonic synthesizer set-up that owes much to Subotnick's pioneering work, yet is cast in Deas's own language, echoing with suggestions of bells, zithers and raw rumbling undercurrents.

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