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David Behrman

New York, NY

Born 1937

For me these days, making music and multimedia art for performances or installations is a process of balancing 21st century tools and home-spun devices; and of making flexible forms that rely on participation among different people, among different personalities.

Now that we're all living in the 21st century whether we want to be or not, we have dazzling new high-tech machines and techniques to work with, but we have to accept a certain ambivalent love-hate relationship with these products of our corporate world.

Thinking of music and sound art, on the one hand, computers and digital music-making devices have never been as miraculously powerful and reliable as they are today. Some software packages like Max /MSP are infinitely personable and endlessly fascinating. I'm amazed when I compare audio recording and post-production work today with the way it was in the Sixties when I worked on the night shift at Columbia Records. It used to take three burly professional engineers an hour to accomplish with large fifty-thousand-dollar machines what one can do today alone with a laptop in ten seconds.

On the other hand, it is only in recent decades that music instruments and software have become corporate products for the most part, mass-produced and mass-marketed, and only recently are the computers used for music the same ones found in tens of millions of business establishments.

So it isn't surprising that there had to be a reaction among artists to this corporate stain, if one could put it that way, that has recently spread into the fabric of music.

It has been interesting for me to learn that some independent-minded young artists whom I've gotten to know recently won't even go near a computer when they think about doing their music. Their instincts tell them to rebel against this "obedient" mode in which artists--like everyone else--are pushed into continually buying the latest computer and the latest software packages from big companies, and then spending a vast number of hours learning how to use them.

In the old days (I'm thinking back to the years when I was young) there was less of a distinction between high tech and low tech. The early analog synths were made by creative individuals; even the early microcomputers that appeared in the late Seventies were mostly made by garage start-ups and there wasn't much difference between those and the crafts shops that had made lutes, guitars or violins for centuries. There had usually been good relationships between performing musicians and the craftspeople who made instruments -- sometimes they were the same people.

One of the earliest lessons I learned--it was back in the Nineteen-Fifties and it came from John Cage and David Tudor--was that the distinction between instrument-builders and performing musicians could be erased altogether. Some of the early pieces by John Cage, like Water Walk and Cartridge Music, used instruments that were either newly-invented or "borrowed" from the everyday world. And in the Sixties, from David Tudor and Gordon Mumma I learned that you didn't have to have an engineering degree to build transistorized music circuits. David Tudor's amazing music was based partly on circuits he didn't even understand. He liked the sounds they made, and that was enough.

Those of us who have worked with technology for a long time are veterans of explosive change. Never before have the techniques available to a single generation transformed themselves with such fierce rapidity as they have for us.

From the past we have precious acoustic instruments which have accompanied the human race for centuries, as well as the tinkerer's arsenal that my generation grew up with -- the soldering iron, the vise-grip, the alligator clip, the resistor and capacitor, the color-coded wires. From the new software we have "intelligence amplification" -- a fresh technique useful for exploring interactive participation among people. We've learned from John Cage not to make fixed objects.

1959 BA., Harvard College

1964 MA., Columbia University


2005 My Dear Siegfried (XI Records)

1993 Wave Train (Alga Marghen)

1991 Unforeseen Events (XI Records)

1990 Navigation and Astronomy, on Music from Japan (Classic Masters)

1988 Leapday Night (Lovely Music)

1977 On the Other Ocean (Lovely Music)

1969 Runthrough, on Sonic Arts Union (Time Records)


2007 eyeSpace, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, touring the U.S.

2005, 2002 View Finder, T.W. Stanford Art Gallery, Stanford University

2002 View Finder, Parochialkirche, Berlin

2002 Pen Light, Parochialkirche, Berlin

1998 Pen Light, Studio 5, Beekman, New York

1997 In Thin Air, Addison Art Gallery, Andover, Massachusetts

1987 A Map of the Known World (collaboration with George Lewis), DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts.

1986-1990 Algorithme et Kalimba (collaboration with George Lewis), La Villette Science Museum, Paris.

1982 Sound Fountain (collaboration with Paul DeMarinis), Hudson River Museum

1977 Cloud Music (collaboration with Robert Watts and Bob Diamond),Whitney Museum, New York.

Year Awarded 2004
Category John Cage Award