Roger Marsh Composer


I spent Autumn 1976 to summer 1978 in San Diego, USA, on a Harkness Fellowship.  I was a fellow at the Centre for Music Experiment and related research (CME) at the University of California San Diego. UCSD was a very exciting place at that time.  A number of progressive composers had relocated from the East Coast and Mid-West – especially from Illinois – and built a music department in which contemporary music stood front and centre.  There’s a brief history of the beginnings of the department here. When I arrived in 1976 Roger Reynolds, Will Ogden, Robert Erikson, Jean-Charles Francois and Pauline Oliveros were all there. And of course Bernard Rands.  The spirit of Harry Partch lived on, and even Ernst Krenek made an appearance during my stay. Over the course of my 21 month residency there was quite a bit of further UK infiltration, and I offer my personal recollections of that for the record:

British musical invasion of UCSD 1975-1979

University of California San Diego, Centre for Music Experiment and Related Research

  1.  Bernard Rands was invited by UCSD for a one-year lectureship. He was supposed to return to York in 1976, but UCSD made him an offer and he stayed.
  2.  I was awarded a Harkness Fellowship to visit UCSD for 12 months and then Illinois for 9 months.  I was to be a post-doc fellow at CME (under Roger Reynolds) and then go on to work with Ed London in Illinois.   In the event I decided to stay in San Diego for the whole 21- month fellowship.  At CME I met and worked with Reynolds briefly before he went off on a long sabbatical to Japan.  Pauline Oliveros became my ‘supervisor’, though I don’t remember any supervising or even any real interest from her in my well-being.  The reason for that was, undoubtedly, the fact that Bernard Rands – my York supervisor and friend – continued to look out for me, and we worked together on a few projects.  I taught some classes for him from time to time.  I had more dealings with Jean-Charles Francois, Bert Turetzky and others.  Pauline and I were worlds apart. Reynolds and I were also worlds apart and I think he was very suspicious of me: I was not rigorous enough for him.

1977  Glyn Perrin, who was completing his York DPhil, notionally under the supervision of Bernard who was no longer in York, managed to persuade both York and the British Academy (pre-AHRC) to let him use his grant to spend a year in San Diego.  He arranged it all himself as far as I remember, and found lodgings with a very interesting couple who were heavily into Marxist politics (California style) and whose house was a meeting point for some interesting, totally non-music, people.  The intellectual atmosphere of that house suited him down to the ground.  He also became a Fellow at CME. We put on some concerts together, and in particular he and I spear-headed the administration of the first ‘What’s Cooking’ festival of performance art; indeed, the title was my idea after a particularly frustrating planning meeting where Allan Kaprow, David Antin and Pauline seemed to talk about food for most of the time.

Richard Orton visited us in Cardiff by the sea. He arrived at our house with a tongue full of prickles (he had taken a bite out of a prickly pear on the way up the street!) and spent the first 30 minutes of his stay picking them out in front of the bathroom mirror. He apparently gave a talk at CME on October 24, but I don’t remember it.  Maybe I had to miss it for some reason.  He told us that in Illinois he had been warned that Herbert Brun and his students would question him fiercely.  In the event it was fine, he said. The Q &A which followed his talk consisted of the Brun students and the Martirano students, who hated each other, arguing fiercely while Richard stood by and watched.  I had recently completed ‘Not a soul but ourselves…’ and Richard kindly looked carefully through the score at CME.  The piece was composed with a strict structure – roughly chorus/dialogue/chorus/dialogue/chorus/dialogue/chorus -coda.  Richard said he thought the piece needed tightening by removing a chorus.  I explained that the structure exactly mirrored the structure of Finnegans Wake and it was important it stayed that way.  He just quietly said again he thought I should remove a chorus.  So I did, cutting out the third chorus which I was particularly fond of.  He was so right.  I went on to tell students that story regularly for thirty years, when trying to persuade them to deviate from their carefully calculated structural designs.

Trevor Wishart’s visit in 1977 was great.  His wife Jackie was with him, and we had a lovely time showing them the lagoons between Cardiff-by-the-sea and Del Mar, which were covered in egrets and other birds which, at that time, were not common in the UK.  The main focus of his visit was a presentation at CME on October 17 of Red Bird and Beach Singularity.

Red Bird was of course a knockout. But Beach Singularity seemed to completely flummox the Californian students. Of course  they were not all from California, but even so their idea of ‘beach’ was very different to Trevor’s.  Deck chairs, knotted handkerchiefs and donkeys are not a feature of West Coast surfing beaches.  Nor, I suspect, did they really get Winston Churchill.  In fact, I would say that irony was not their strong point.  I found it very amusing observing the culture clash.  But it got worse. Two days later Trevor came along to a presentation in the same space by Pauline Oliveros of her pieces ‘Rose Moon’ and ‘Bonn Feier’.  This time the students were more in their comfort zone. I don’t remember anything about Rose Moon except it was played in complete darkness, and we all laid back on the floor and meditated (or not).  Afterwards students reverentially expressed their deep emotional responses. I suspect Trevor was already agitated by this point.  But then Pauline introduced a film of the performance of her prize winning work for the 1977 Beethoven Festival in Bonn, called Bonn Feier.  The work is a collection of instruction pieces for indeterminate performers to be staged in and around Bonn (outdoors).  In the film an apparently homeless old man called, maybe Wolfgang, crops up uninvited at several of the events and joins in with his own improvised ‘dancing’ and singing.  It’s very touching, and entertaining, and not a little thought provoking. Afterwards there was a discussion, during which Trevor rather persistently interrogated Pauline about Wolfgang’s role in the performance, and specifically how much he got paid.  There was not a little tension in the room, and I remember Pauline saying in a quietly hurt way: ‘Why are you attacking me?’

It was rather like a later exchange at a York SPNM weekend when Trevor had a go at Gavin Bryars, and when Gavin gave as good as he got Trevor said: ‘I guess we’re just very different politically’. To which Gavin replied with feigned lack of comprehension ‘You mean the way we vote?’.

Vic Hoyland came out to San Diego for a while.  I think it was just a social visit. I don’t remember him giving a presentation or having any music played.

Jonathan Dunsby was a Harkness Fellow at the same time as me from September 1976; that’s how we first met.  He was a Fellow at Buffalo, but wasn’t happy there; so in December 1976 he transferred to USC in LA.  Christina and I were driving up to Toronto to spend Christmas with my mother at my aunt’s house in Toronto.  We then met up with Jonathan and his wife Ann in Buffalo and drove them back to California.  There were blizzards. It was the winter that Jimmy Carter offered up prayers for a thaw. The whole way we were just on the leading edge of a storm that penetrated right down to Dallas, where we stopped to see the Kennedy sights.  The car park was frozen.  When we got back to the car park, cars were sliding down the slope into one another.  What a trip that was.  Anyway, Dunsby then became a regular visitor to San Diego from his base at the Schoenberg Institute.

Bill Brooks is of course American, and was a fellow at CME and wrote for the Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble (EVTE) at the same time as me.  He then left to take up a fellowship at Keele University, where I reconnected with him when I took my first lecturing job there in 1978. He became an honorary Brit for most of his working career, and we hooked up again at the University of York where we were colleagues for over 20 years.

Tim Souster came out to CME in 1978 on a Churchill Fellowship (I think, or Leverhulme). We overlapped by about three weeks.  I sold him my car.  He had been at Keele and set up the studio there, which was another reason I took the job at Keele on my return.


RM, Richard Orton, Glyn Perrin and Bernard Rands in my kitchen at Cardiff-by-the-Sea, doing what we did best.

Glyn Perrin, Herbert Brun and RM at the Rands’ apartment in La Jolla.

Pauline Oliveros blindfold for the duration of the first What’s Cooking Festival. 

Trevor Wishart birdwatching near Del Mar.

Al Rossi: technician at CME, who made sure that things got done…..

UCSD library pictures from What’s Cooking 1977