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Review: Revisiting a Throbbing Classic of Electronic Music


Morton Subotnick performing “Silver Apples of the Moon” at the Lincoln Center Festival.

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

By now, we’re used to what are known as “historically informed performances” of early music, which seek to revive the instruments and styles that audiences in, say, the Baroque era would have known.

The most historically informed way to present Morton Subotnick’s “Silver Apples of the Moon,” a milestone work of electronic music from 1967, would be to play a pristine copy of its original LP recording on a top-notch stereo system for a small group of people. Mr. Subotnick conceived the work as a recording, though it was introduced at a downtown New York discothèque, where many in the crowd could not resist dancing when the music turned throbbing.

On Thursday the Lincoln Center Festival celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Silver Apples of the Moon” in the first of three live performances at the intimate Kaplan Penthouse, where Mr. Subotnick, 84, rendered the roughly 30-minute composition with a synthesizer and other computer resources. In a program note, he explained that he could now present “Silver Apples” using original samples from the recording, along with “new complementary musical materials” to “spontaneously reassemble, transform and ‘revisit’” this seminal work.


Joan La Barbara in “Crowds and Power.”

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

“Silver Apples” (the title is taken from a line by Yeats) sounded as fresh, intricate and inventive as ever in this live realization. It begins gently, with distant sounds that could be fluttering birds; gurgles that ripple mysteriously; and skittish bursts of metallic pitches that nod to pointillist contemporary styles. Soon it segues into teeming episodes alive with whistles, whooshing sounds and dizzying eruptions.

Though slightly ominous, the music mostly seems playful and trippy. Halfway through, the piece obsessively explores frenetic riffs and rhythms, settling into grooves for long stretches, though passages of eerie harmonies lend a touch at once angelic and fearsome. This piece exemplifies the pure electronic music Mr. Subotnick was interested in writing. (Other composers, Pierre Boulez among them, would go on to use these varied resources as complements to traditional instruments.)

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