Joel Ryan

Born 1945 Danbury Connecticut. I pursued a scientific education studying physics as an undergraduate and as a graduate at the University of California San Diego. The social turbulence of the late 60’s lead to a reevaluation and change of academic directions first to philosophy where I pursued a PhD in Aesthetics and History of Science under among othera Herbert Marcuse. My link to science continued through my work at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography as assistant to Henry Menard, Head of the US Geologic Survey, researching the history of  marine geology and the dynamics of “Big Science”. My love of music and the arts had been separated from academic life to that point, but at UCSD my office was a few feet from the newly created Music and Art Departments. At that moment there was a vibrant crew of which included among others John BaldesariMannie Farber, David Anton and a music grad student, Jeff Raskin [who was later to be the designer of the Apple Macintosh].  This quickly led to a job programming the campus film program which allowed me to book and enjoy all the great “art” films of the 60s. Looking back the most important influence was however Pauline Oliveros who as head of Music was bringing to La Jolla great originals like John Cage and David Tudor, and Harry Partch who built his last great orchestra of  microtonal instruments. She also provided a vivid contemporary model of her own mounting large scale works that I found both musically captivating and liberating in their inclusive collaborative relation to improvization. This crystalized my decision to seriously follow my own music. I moved to Northern California during the last years of the Vietnam War taking a job in environmental physics at the Lawrence Berkeley Labs and spending my nights at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College in Oakland where I managed to convince Robert Ashley and David Behrman to let me join their new graduate program.

60’s Music Prehistory Though I had a variety of interests ranging from physics to critical studies I had always been immersed in music. I studied classical guitar with Hollywood composer Jose Barroso, and played a wide range of contemporary music as DJ on our college FM radio station. As a listener I think I was lucky to arrive in California at a perfect musical moment. I arrived a 17-year-old “serious” music snob from the East Coast, yet within a few years I had heard unforgettable performances by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, Roland Kirk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and a dozen more jazz heroes. I was studying North Indian music at Ravi Shankar’s school on Melrose Boulevard in Hollywood and going to concerts truly great performers like M. S. Subbulakshmi,Bismillah Khan,  Bhimsen Joshi, Ali Akbar Khan, Vilayat Khan the dancer Balasaraswati and the glorious Ali Brothers. John Cage’s book Silence came out in paper back from MIT in 1966, the year I graduated from college. I was reading it that summer while attending the Shankar school while paying for it with a full time job doing materials research on carbon fiber for an Aerospace company, Garret Air.  With Cages permission, I was conscious that I was in the process of re-balancing my musical universe to include all of the living music was hearing including Jimmy Hendrix and electronic.  The solution however broke for me forever the spell of euro-centric academicism.

By the 1970’s, after finishing with graduate school, I was fabricating a personal idea of electronic music based on what i could find on vinyl and ended up in Berkeley. I found a world of people in the San Francisco bay area with a similar surplus of scientific curiosity and practical energy. There were atomic scientists, left radicals, chaos mathematicians,, home-brew computer makers, ex-con phone hackers turned software entrepreneurs, and performance artists like the Cocketts. We had the permission of the times to invest our energy in the pursuit of the new.

Waking Up Electronic. … I discovered rather late that electronic music was the solution to a deeply felt problem of not being really a native of the music I loved. India Classical and Jazz (and perhaps even euro-modernism) all required more than rehearsals it required an aesthetic that seemed.  The electronic vernacular was a place where my skills and education and all my loves could find a home and one that had no history or social context that made me feel an outsider.