Friday, June 13, 2014


Ussachevsky was one of the most significant pioneers in the composition of electronic music, and one of its most potent forces. Born in 1911 in Manchuria, China, Ussachevsky was the son of a Russian Army captain. His childhood was spent on the windswept and sparsely settled Manchurian plain, visiting with the nomadic tribesmen in their tents, and singing Old Slavonic chants as an altar boy in the local Russian Orthodox church. By the time he arrived in California, at the age of nineteen, he was a skilled pianist gifted in the interpretation of Romantic music, and a fluent improvisor. After receiving his undergraduate degree in music from Pomona College, he earned a Ph.D. in composition from the Eastman School of Music. From 1947 until his retirement in 1980, Ussachevsky taught at Columbia University, where he was known for his teaching of sixteenth-century counterpoint. But in his career there, he began experimenting with the use of tape recorders to manipulate sounds. Through much experimentation he developed the first works of "tape music," a uniquely American synthesis of the French musique-concréte and the German pure electronic schools. In 1952, Ussachevsky's first works of tape music were performed at an historic concert at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, along with works of his colleague Otto Luening. Through a five-year grant awarded by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1959, Ussachevsky co-founded the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and directed its course for the next twenty years as the leading electronic music studio in the United States.