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David Tudor

Bandoneon! (a combine) (background)

David Tudor, Bandoneon ! (a combine)
At the time 9 Evenings took place, David Tudor was known mainly as a pianist and, more particularly, as an interpreter of the works of John Cage, with whom he had been collaborating since the early 1950s. Starting with Fluorescent Sound in 1964, Tudor embarked upon the path of composition. Bandoneon! (a combine), one of his very first compositions, combined three main elements: a bandoneon, this coupled with an electronic device, and a linking of sound and image. These elements were also present in works prior to Bandoneon! (written by other composers and played by Tudor), where one can read the premises of the piece devised for 9 Evenings.

A pianist, David Tudor learned in the early 1960s to play the bandoneon. Mauricio Kagel had introduced him to this accordion-like instrument of Argentine music and had composed for him a piece for the bandoneon entitled Pandora's Box (1961). Tudor initially planned to play this piece for 9 Evenings:

“I bought one bandoneon and had one built for me, a big one, so I had in my mind that I would make a performance with it. The concept of Kagel's piece interested me. It was a piece of composed music like an endless loop. And so when they asked me to do an evening at 9 Evenings, I thought about a possible realization of this piece, and then my thoughts grew, and I started to accumulate equipment and I saw the possibilities in using the bandoneon and I completely forgot my connection with Kagel's piece.” (1)

Other composers also wrote bandoneon pieces that Tudor interpreted. In 1964, for example, he played with Pauline Oliveros, the composer of Duo for Accordion and Bandoneon with Possible Mynah Bird Obligato. And on August 6, 1966, in St Paul de Vence, he interpreted Gordon Mumma’s Mesa, originally composed for a Merce Cunningham dance piece entitled Place. In this work (2), the sound of the bandoneon played by Tudor was picked up by six microphones, processed through an electronic device (operated by Mumma) and played over four speakers. Mumma was already envisioning a configuration that would enable the electronic device to function automatically: “If these logic modules are operated in their fully automatic modes the most extreme performance situation for MESA is possible: a duo between the Bandoneonist and the electronic circuitry. Most often they are operated semi-automatically, with a second human performer making decisions and overriding parts of the internal logic. Usually this second performer is myself, the composer.” (3) This duo is indeed what Tudor would accomplish with Bandoneon! by adding an additional element to the image/sound link.

Tudor also explored this association in another work, Lowell Cross’s Musica Instrumentalis, performed on May 13, 1966, at the Art Gallery of Toronto (4). Bandoneon music picked up by stereo microphones controlled the sweep of electron beams across modified black-and-white TV screens, in the process generating images. This system was refined by Cross as early as 1965, and was used in 9 Evenings.

Clarisse Bardiot © 2006 FDL

(1) David Tudor, quoted in Joel Chadabe, “A Conversation with David Tudor,” 1993. Available on the Internet at:

(2) Gordon Mumma, “Creative Aspects of Live Performance Electronic Music Technology,” Audio Engineering Society, Papers of 33rd National Convention, New York, Oct. 1967. Available on the Internet at:

(3) Ibid.

(4) “I knew about David Tudor's interest in the Argentine tango instrument, the bandoneon, introduced to him by Kagel. Its "stereophonic" output from both ends of the instrument lent itself well for use with x-y display devices such as oscilloscopes and my modified TV set. Taking a bold plunge, I asked David Tudor if he would like for me to set up performance conditions for him, his bandoneon, a stereophonic microphone array, and modified TV sets (soon to include color TV). He agreed enthusiastically "You betcha!," and he presented the premiere performance of my Musica Instrumentalis at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) on 13 May 1966.” Quoted in Lowell Cross, “Remembering David Tudor: A 75th Anniversary Memoir” in Frankfurter Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft, TM1, 2001, pp. 1-35. Available on the Internet at: