Top 100 Composers: Olly Wilson

The main composers that I've designated in red on the "Top 100 Composers" index were easy to pick. Composers such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, & Iannis Xenakis were people whose work I was very strongly impressed by.

After them, however, who to pick to fill out the aimed-for 100 becomes much more complicated. When I was 17, I gave a presentation in my English class on the electroacoustic part of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Inventions's "Flower Punk" song or on a part adjacent to it. Apparently a class assignment had been to discuss a favorite song. 2 gay guys in the class talked about Walter Carlos's electronic music, someone whose work based on Bach exemplified what I found worthless. No-one else in the class appeared to have any interest in such things.

As I 1st started to seriously research music, I tended to be looking for pieces that used electronics. Such recordings, of course, were few & far between in contrast to now. Basically anything that used electronics interested me but some of the more 'purist' stuff, i.e.: purely electronic rather than electroacoustic, had too limited a timbre base, despite the vast potentials, to hold my attention for long. Much of what came out of Columbia-Princeton fit that category. Anything that combined acoustic instruments with electronics was much more likely to please - at least timbrally.

The 1st record I got with a piece by Wilson on it was the "Electronic Music Vol. IV" collection on the Turnabout Vox label, a label that consistently published great stuff. The works presented were the 6 highest winners of the "First International Electronic Music Competition" at Dartmouth College in 1968. I got the LP in 1976. Wilson's piece, "Cetus" (1967), was the winning entry. I wasn't that impressed by the piece but I was delighted to learn that Wilson was black. Black composers using avant-garde techniques outside of the jazz context were rare & ones using electronics were even rarer. As such, I would've wanted to hear everything by him I could.

Alas, I didn't run across any other recordings by him until 2009 when I found CRI 370 "Other Voices" - a gap of 33 yrs!! It wasn't that the recordings didn't exist, it was that I've never had much money & my methods of accumulating recordings can be both highly methodical & haphazard. In this case, it was just a matter of my browsing through used sources until I noticed something by him. Since then, I've acquired 5 other records.

My knowledge of his work was then very piecemeal. I liked it but I heard individual pieces so far apart that there wasn't much connective tissue for me. He used electronics. CHECK. He used electronics with acoustic instruments. CHECK. He composed with a sophisticated attention to detail. CHECK. The people who performed his music were highly accomplished players whose work I'd admired elsewhere & whose repertoire I usually liked: Bertram Turetzky (contrabass on "Piece for Four"), Natalie Hinderas (ok, I wasn't previously familiar with her but she plays piano on "Piano Piece for Piano & Electronic Sounds"), Richard Bunger (acoustic & electric pianos on "Akwan"), Phillip Rehfeldt (clarinet on "Echoes"), & William A. Brown (ok, I wasn't familiar with him either but he's the tenor vocalist on "Sometimes"). All very impressive.

SO, I decided to collect these few recordings together in a retrospective & to listen to them in chronological order to get a sense of how much I like his work. Ironically, "Cetus", the award-winner, is my least favorite one by him but I still like everything.

Following the images of record covers is a scan of an article that Wilson wrote for The Black Perspective in Music journal, Volume 2, Number 1. The article is entitled "The Significance of the Relationship beetween Afro-American Music and West African Music". I include the entire article for the usual reason that I'm trying to be somewhat scholarly here & because I imagine this article may not necessarily be easy to find elsewhere.


Olly Wilson Retrospective: 1966-1984:

Side 1: 1966-1972:

01. "Piece for Four" - 1966 - 15:15

02. "Cetus" - 1967 - 4:15

03. "Piano Piece for Piano & Electronic Sounds" - 1969 - 11:25

04. "Akwan" for piano, electric piano, amplified strings, & orchestra - 1972 - 16:25

Side 2: 1974-1984:

05. "Echoes" - 1974 - 16:30

06. "Sometimes" - 1976 - 16:15

07. "Sinfonia" - 1984 - 23:56

I. "Moderato" - 9:48

II. Largo" - 8:55

III. "Aleggro" - 5:07








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