Long before Stanford University was considered a technology powerhouse, its most lucrative patent came from an under-spoken composer in its music department. Over the course of two decades, his discovery, "frequency modulation synthesis," made the school more than $25 million in licensing fees.
But more importantly, FM synthesis revolutionized the music industry, and opened up a world of digital sound possibilities. Yamaha used it to build the world’s first mass-marketed digital synthesizer — a device that defined the sound of 80s music. In later years, the technology found its way into the sound cards of nearly every video game console, cell phone, and personal computer.
Despite the patent’s immense success, its discoverer, Dr. John Chowning, a brilliant composer in his own right, was passed over for tenure by Stanford for being “too out there.” In Stanford’s then-traditional music program, his dabblings in computer music were not seen as a worthy use of time, and he was largely marginalized. Yet by following his desire to explore new frontiers of audio, Chowning eventually recontextualized the roles of music and sound, found his way back into the program, and became the department chair of his own internationally-renowned program.
This is the story of an auditory pioneer who was unwilling to compromise his curiosity — and who, with a small group of gifted colleagues, convinced the world that computers could play an important role in the creation of music.
I'm a fan of Desplat's film music - particularly the pieces he wrote for Moonrise Kingdom and the closing fugue which nods to Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Gide to the Orchestra - The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, Part 7: After The Storm (track 21 on the album)
Some say the Laurel Canyon music scene began when Frank Zappa moved to the corner of Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the late 1960s. Former Byrds bassist Chris Hillman recalls writing “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” in Laurel Canyon in 1966 in his house, on a steep winding street with a name he doesn’t remember. The Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison reportedly wrote “Love Street” while living behind the Laurel Canyon Country Store. Michelle Phillips lived with John Phillips on Lookout Mountain in 1965 during the Mamas and the Papas’ heyday. Books and documentaries have mythologized and romanticized this woodsy canyon nestled behind Sunset Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills. Still, misconceptions continue.
What is undeniably true is that from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s some of the most melodic, atmospheric, and subtly political American popular music was written by residents of, or those associated with, Laurel Canyon—including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn, J. D. Souther, Judee Sill, the Mamas and the Papas, Carole King, the Eagles, Richie Furay (in Buffalo Springfield and Poco), and many more. They made music together, played songs for one another with acoustic guitars in all-night jam sessions in each other’s houses. Many of those houses were cottages with stained-glass windows, and fireplaces that warmed the living rooms in the chilly L.A. nights. They took drugs together, formed bands together, broke up those bands, and formed other bands. Many of them slept with each other. The music was mislabeled “soft rock” or “folk rock,” especially in the Northeast, where critics panned it as granola-infused hippie music—too “mellow” and too white. But in truth, it was an amalgam of influences that included blues, rock and roll, jazz, Latin, country and western, psychedelia, bluegrass, and folk. It certainly was a forerunner of today’s “Americana.”