Charles Wuorinen has been a powerful voice in American music for over four decades, and his early piece "Time's Encomium" representing one of his most famous works. With "Time's Encomium," Wuorinen became the youngest ever composer to be awarded a Pulitzer prize. Released originally on Nonesuch, then on Tzadik, "Time's Encomium" is representative of Wuorinen's distinctive early style. Of the piece, the composer said, "'Time's Encomium' is the title because in this work everyting depends on the absolute, not the seeming, length of events and sections. Being electronic, 'Time's Enconium' has no inflective dimension. Its rhythm is always quantitative, never qualitative. Because I need time, I praise it."
I was reminded of this piece earlier this week. After a few hours digging around the dusty archives in Prentis Hall, the home of the Columbia Computer Music Center (once the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center), I was introduced to my musical hero, Victor. "Victor" was the nickname for the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer, the first (certainly, the most famous) true synthesizer, back in its glory days, and if you're a fan of electronic music, that RCA Mark II is familiar to you too, even if you don't realize it. After the Mark I was tried out in 1955, the Mark II was developed as a truly composer-friendly instrument. The anecdotes surrounding Victor are indicative of just how important this mammoth electronic instrument was in transforming not only electronic music's expanses, but composition and sound in general. A particularly brilliant anecdote: after hearing Milton Babbitt's description of the machine's capabilities, Stravinsky was rumoured to have had a heart attack. While Wuorinen's "Time Encomium" received the 1970 Pulitzer, earlier pieces composed on and for the RCA Synthesizer at the Center are even more beautiful, memorable examples of how the development of electronics would forever alter music. Milton Babbitt, certainly the most proficient player of the Mark II, created "Philomel," one of the most fantastic tape music pieces of all time, on the Mark II. Ussachevsky, Luening, Carlos, Mauzey, Davidovsky, Shields, Wuorinen - all were touched by the Mark II. So many pieces can and do only exist in the recordings made on the sadly no longer functioning Mark II.