Background Count

Electroacoustic Music by James Brody

James Brody

Total Time

Track Time Preview Cost +Add
1 Background Count (1997) for percussion 8:00 $1.99
2 Barzakh (1983) 6:08 $1.99
3 Entrainments (1995) 5:56 $0.99
4 Theta Ticker (1996) 7:59 $1.99
5 A Glance Into The Garden (1998) 3:12 $0.99
6 Turnings (1999) 7:14 $0.00 Free Downloads
7 7-1-7 (1995) 7:02 $0.99
8 Syllepsis (2000) 14:58 $2.49
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Full Album Includes ALC Version

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"High-tech electroacoustic music fills the new disc by James Brody. Yet it sounds more physical than technical. It reminds me somehow of the distant and lonely sound world of Vladamir Ussachevsky's musique concrete of the 1960s, except that Brody's sounds attract the ear more--no surprise after 40 years of technological development. Brody's real inspiration is Xenakis, to whom be dedicates Syllepsis, the longest and most recent piece. Over the course of a quarter of an hour, it builds up several layers, creating a white heat of intensity that only barely subsides in the last few seconds."


My approach to composition has been undergoing an evolution ever since I began and it is changing all the time. How and why did I begin to write music? As a student of musicology as Indiana University, I was involved in the transcription of medieval music and similar studies. In 1963, I met Franz Kamin. I didn't know he was a composer, but I heard him playing the Ives Second Sonata from memory and I used to listen outside his practice room door. One day I walked up to him in the hall and said, "do you know Varese?"  Thus began a long friendship which continues to this day. One day Franz said to me, "it's really stupid only to study other people's music. You have to write your own." He suggested I sign up for a composer's workshop and start making things.

Over the next few years I took composition courses from a number of the composers on the faculty of Indiana University. Franz was my primary teacher and always provided me with valuable insights which oft went far beyond the realm of music. One day I remember, in particular. I was writing a set of piano pieces. Kamin was lying on his bed in a dipsomaniacal stupor. I would write a passage and take it to him. He said, "no, no that's not strong enough." I would go back and work on it again, show it to him again. Again, "no, no, more, stronger!" And over and over again until I got it right and he said, "Yes, that will work." So it went: I would write what I was working on, take it in to composition lessons for the semester grade, and also show it to Franz for the suggestions that I really trusted.

We would also listen to music of all kinds. I'd just purchased a record that had electronic music from many of the European composers. One of the tracks was the piece Orient Occident by Iannis Xenakis. Both I and Franz recognized that this was a piece out of the ordinary, beyond anything we had heard both in form, quality of sound and in the power of the sound to suggest emotions and places that were real and evocative. We decided that we had to bring Xenakis to Indiana. So we wrote letters to the administration of the music school, I had meetings with them  and in less than a year they brought Xenakis to the faculty of the music school! At the same time, they installed an electronic music studio and made Xenakis the director. Xenakis taught his mathematics classes, sharing his ideas and hopes for music in the future and his discoveries about generating musical events and about set theory and music. Composition lessons with Xenakis took place once or twice a semester. The most important thing I remember is once I took him a piece that I was working on in the studio and he said, "yes, yes, that's starting to sound like you." Mostly, he left me on my own, and it was the influence of his presence that was most profound.

Electroacoustic composition has always been for me a process of working with sound. Often, a sound or group of sounds will provide the original inspiration for a work. There was only one composition named Miralia, composed in the mid-sixties, where I consciously decided to use only synthesized sounds from the original Moog synthesizer.

It was the influence of Xenakis and his electroacoustic music, which sent me on the course of using natural or recorded sound. In his Diamorphosis and Orient Occident he shows that recorded sounds often tiny or very soft sounds can be woven into a very rich sound world. In fact, this whole idea of worlds of sound, something that Xenakis talked about all the time, impressed me deeply. Some experiences of my own pointed to the necessity of creating sound worlds, environments where the most important happenings and occurrences consisted of sounds which were vaguely familiar, but somehow transformed from their source sounds then woven into a rich structure in which the sounds transformed over time and had intentional relationships, dramatic movement in a temporal fabric.

Xenakis also spoke to us about the richness of sound. I was very interested when he explained how sound that does not have a lot of content in the higher overtone spectrum will not be very useful in electroacoustic composition. He said that you can slow down a rich sound, and still have a lot of character in the sound. However, slowing down a sound which does not have a rich overtone structure in the higher overtones would sound dull and lifeless.

Background Count is the result of my fascination developed during childhood with the sound of the Geiger counter. Few remember the Gilbert Atomic Energy Kit, which would be considered very dangerous today and which contained a cloud chamber, a Geiger counter and a collection of radioactive samples. I listened for long periods of time to the random clicks of the Geiger counter, speeding up and slowing down. One day, surfing the web several years ago I discovered a site in Switzerland where I could listen, in real time, to the discharge of a counter picking up the background count of cosmic rays and recorded a sample of the sound, transferred it to the computer and painstakingly 'edited in' a different sound at every discharge point, keeping attention to form and movement. I compiled the percussion part using Corel Draw, from a visual representation of the points.  I do intend to use the rhythmic patterns in a number of future works and consider that there is more inner life to the analog recording of the random discharges than there is to the sounds created by ‘random’ algorithms. Percussionist Barry Dove, the performer on this and other live realizations of the work, always looked forward to doing Background Count. He collects exotic percussion, and, since the selection of instruments is left to the performer, he was able to use instruments that he would not have the opportunity to use otherwise, instruments brought back from Africa and other places.

Barzakh (1983). The word barzakh means, in Arabic, ‘connection, isthmus or threshold between different levels (of existence or consciousness)’. The piece is the my contemplation of the death of my father. The work was realized at the University of Texas Electronic Music Studio on a Fairlight Electronic Musical Instrument. There are both concrete and generated sounds in the work.

Entrainments, completed in October of 1995 was composed on a PC with a Pentium 75 Processor using the Cool Editor. I gathered and recorded sounds from many sources. Entrainments is a representative of the musique concrète genre. The object in this work is to present a 'standalone' sonic environment, one which has life and inner workings of its own. The music is developed in small cells which are joined, juxtaposed and overlaid, with the aim of inner coherence and sometimes surprising variety. Sounds have an intrinsic temporal and structural logic and one part of composition is to uncover and work with this logic.

Theta Ticker is the result of a sound experiment to see if there might be some direct correlation between musical rhythm and brain waves. The obvious repeated sound is at a frequency of 5.2 Hz right in the middle of the theta brain wave band. A penetrating quality to this sound seems to have some kind of hypnotic effect. I tell some listeners who find the sound environment unendurable that they may leave for a minute. Structurally the other sounds in the piece are organized in the proportions of the Fibonacci series, 1-1-2-3-5-8-13. The transformations of a small number of 'real-world' sound sources were accomplished using the Sound Forge and Cool Edit programs on a Pentium 150 computer in my home studio when I lived in Baltimore.

A Glance into the Garden (1998) is a commission from the Baltimore Composers Forum. I was asked to choose a painting from an exhibit at the Gomez Gallery in Baltimore of the works of 3 artists and write a work based on the chosen painting. The work chosen was The Secret Garden by Nancy Scheinman. The music was performed at a concert in the gallery with the chosen painting, a large triptych, as a backdrop to the performers. Rather than being a literal programmatic work, the piece is based on certain of the work’s images (a surrealistic world of commedia dell’arte and contemporary characters) which seemed to suggest audible events. In the absence of any image, however, the work may be approached from a purely musical perspective. Software used: Metasynth and Cool Edit Pro. Flutist Leslie Marrs gave the premiere and plays on the recording. The work has also been performed at the Taos Chamber Music Festival and the 2000 SEAMUS conference in Baton Rouge.

Turnings (1999) was inspired by a Macintosh software program called Metasynth which enables one to work in the graphics domain on the computer screen and, for example, interpret a complex on-screen drawing by assigning a sound, say a single percussion tap to the picture. The pitch of the sound is transposed according to its position in the y-axis of the picture, and unfolds in time along the x-axis. Many Different sounds were subjected to the same kind of treatment. Actually, the sound elements were created on the Macintosh, then brought over to a Pentium II PC and composed using Cool Edit Pro. a work of musique concrète completed in February of 1995. It was composed and constructed using the Cool Editor 1.34 by David Johnston on an IBM clone 486-25. The title and the music are based on the rhythm of an ancient breathing practice taught to me by Reshad Field. The practice dates back, at least, to ancient Egypt. In the practice, you inhale for a count of  7, hold for a count of 1, exhale for a count of 7, hold for a count of 1, etc. The in-breath is perceived as entering through the soft fleshy area under the sternum; the out-breath exits at the sternum. The music roughly parallels the in and out breaths, but there are two hidden turnarounds in the middle, like the Persian carpet that must have an imperfection in it. You may do the breath while listening to this music, or any music, or no music at all; or one may simply listen.

Syllepsis -- Hommage à Iannis Xenakis (2000) is built out of experiments with varied repetition. Two granular synthesis programs, Granulab by Rasmus Ekman and Crusher by Joerg Stelkens, were important in creating much of the raw material of the work. The sounds are derived from single woodwind and piano notes as well as percussion sounds recorded in sessions with percussionist Barry Dove. Syllepsis is “a figure of speech [or auditory phenomenon] in which a single word [sound] appears to be in the same relationship to two others, but must be understood in a different sense with each of its pair...” (from the Web site of Dr. Ken Barker at the University of Ottawa). Syllepsis started as a 4 1/2 minute composition and when Franz Kamin, my longtime friend and musical mentor said, "this piece has enough material for at least 15 minutes of music.  Why don't you try to develop what you have?" The present form of the work is the result of that development. The phenomenon of syllepsis occurs musically many times during the work, even on a larger scale. The work is dedicated to Iannis Xenakis and I have said many times that I wish I had seen him again.


Produced by: James Brody
Executive Producer: Marc Wolf
All Works Published by: Brody Music
Thanks to: Laris Kreslins
Mastered by: Jeremy Tressler, Eonta Sound
Score excerpt from Background Count ©1997
Photo of James Brody by: Reshad and Barbara Field
Artwork by: Simon Schmidt
® & © 2003 furious artisans


The composer would like to thank the following people for making this CD possible:
Siri Neel Kaur Khalsa, Franz Kamin, Geoffrey Wright, Richard Cameron-Wolfe, Iannis Xenakis, Nick Saxton



American Record Guide; 1/1/2004; Josh Mailman
High-tech electroacoustic music fills the new disc by James Brody. Yet it sounds more physical than technical. It reminds me somehow of the distant and lonely sound world of Vladamir Ussachevsky's musique concrete of the 1960s, except that Brody's sounds attract the ear more--no surprise after 40 years of technological development. Brody's real inspiration is Xenakis, to whom be dedicates Syllepsis, the longest and most recent piece. Over the course of a quarter of an hour, it builds up several layers, creating a white heat of intensity that only barely subsides in the last few seconds. What pleases me most about Brody's music, however, is how it straddles the divide between deadly seriousness and whimsical humor. Perhaps for that reason I prefer Turnings. Brody created it using the Metasynth software package "which enables one to work in the graphics domain". It's a gentle barrage of quick bleeps, bursts, squiggles, shakes, saws, and low drones--ear-candy for the electroacoustic music aficionado. All of the music on this release explores percussive sounds--acoustic, electronic, or both together. Yet two of the works also display Brody's fondness for pulse rhythms. Supposedly, Theta Ticker explores possible correlations between musical rhythm and brain waves; I hear it as an exploration of evenly spaced percussive pulses layered together. I found some of the other works on this release slightly tedious and the writing for flute in A Glance into the Garden rather generic. But these disappointments did not mar my overall enjoyment. If you already enjoy electroacoustic or percussion music, then you won't want to miss this well-produced release; but it won't change your mind if you're not already a devotee.

  • Artist Links: Marrs, Leslie [Flute] | Dove, Barry [Percussion]
  • Catalog #: FACD6806
  • Release Date: July 2003
  • Buy the compact disc here:

    James Brody: Background Count [Compact Disc]

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