San Diego County Arts Writer

Blips, bleeps, blops, pointillistic screebs, atonal addlings, rolling microtonal rumblings and regular patches of white noise have long characterized what has become known as new music.

Today UC San Diego kicks off a high-level, 11-day orgy of the stuff under the general heading, “The Pacific Ring Festival.” For years the UCSD music department has been a hothouse for such modern-day music making, especially in the area of computer-assisted composing, and the festival has attracted some of the world’s top modern composers, within the festival’s context of Pacific Basin countries.

So people who don’t normally subscribe to these modern musical masters may take the opportunity to test the aural waters. What should one expect? How does the newcomer to new music set his or her aural orifices to maximize the measure of musical pleasure or at least to minimize misgivings?

An excellent program has been compiled that provides about as much information as anyone could wish. But the novice at new music might also ask some of the composers whose works will be heard how to prepare himself for the experience.


Conlon Nancarrow is one such gentleman who writes mostly for player pianos since mere musicians have trouble keeping up with some of his music that zips along at 175 notes per second.

One of the festival’s major concerts, at 8 p.m. Friday in Mandeville Auditorium, will feature Nancarrow’s music for both real and mechanical musicians.

Nancarrow was forthright, issuing a blunt warning. “It will probably be quite a shock for anyone who hasn’t heard” new music before, he advised. “This is going to be a strong dose for anyone coming for the first time. They should start little by little.”

Also on the Nancarrow program will be music by Morton Subotnick, a composer with a theatrical bent, and Japanese native Joji Yuasa, a UCSD professor.


Yuasa’s “Question,” and “Towards the Midnight Sun” explore his interest in processing the sounds made by traditional musical instruments through a computer. Through his music, some of which will be performed by choir and piano, Yuasa tries to express the fundamental activities of mankind.

As for the audience, Yuasa said: “I like for people to have an attitude to hear a natural sound,” albeit strained through microchips.

Traditionally, audiences pay attention to melody, tempo, pitch, motives and rhythm, composer and festival coordinator Roger Reynolds said. But that’s not where Reynolds is coming from in “Vertigo,” a world premiere collaboration of quadraphonic computer and video synthesis that is part of the 8 p.m. program Friday at Mandeville Auditorium.

Reynolds, who shares the bill with video artist Ed Emshwiller, said that, in “Vertigo,” he began to explore the relationships notes could have with one another, the “distinctness of individual (musical) events--where they occur in auditory space and the time of their arrivals.”


Also on Saturday’s very high-tech program will be more music by John Chowning and Joaquin Orellana, and more video by Emshwiller and Nam June Paik.

Perhaps the festival’s most accessible evening will be the inaugural concert tonight. It’s another collaboration of work by the duo (The), and John Cage and Toru Takemitsu.

“Audiences definitely have to be open-minded--no preconceptions about what the limits of music and art are--to see one of our concerts,” said (The) member, trumpeter Edwin Harkins. “You have to be prepared for a not purely musical evening. There’ll be a certain amount of theater.”

Cage, one of modern music’s true gurus, was less skeptical about people understanding his music. “The important thing about life is to become more open and less closed. I don’t think it will be as difficult as you think,” Cage said. “I think if you listen to the sounds of the environment--traffic and so forth--and the music that comes over the radio and TV, you’ll be much closer to what we’re doing.”