Bernie Krause interview 1977

This article, written by Doug Lynner, appeared in Synapse Magazine, July/August 1977. Please note that all (c) are with the magazine and the author. We have included the original printed pages of the article and scanned/OCR’d it for you (below the scans).

Bernard Krause is perhaps best known to synthesists for his recorded collaborations with Paul Beaver, starting in 1967. Beaver is generally credited with introducing voltage controlled systems to the Los Angeles recording community. After Paul Beaver’s death on January 5, 1975, Bernie Krause finished their last project and moved into varied pursuits including studio work on the Tubes’ latest record “Now” (A&M SP-4632) and work in Marine Biology.

Douglas Lynner: How was it that you originally got started with synthesizers?

Bernard Krause: Well, I read an article in Time or Newsweek in 1965 about a fellow in New York, Eric Siday, who was earning $5,000 a second doing sound for commercials. In the meantime, I was playing guitar as a studio musician in San Francisco and I had been in Los Angeles and New York playing as a studio musician before that. I wasn’t making a very good living at it and it was a difficult struggle. When I heard that there was a fellow making it that way I figured I’ve got to find out what this is all about because I love music but I don’t want to struggle with it like everybody else. And when I read about the instrument he was playing, a M·oog synthesizer, I got very interested in the field. I tried to find a place in San Francisco that had one and although they didn’t have a Moog, they had a Suchla. I enrolled in Mills College at the tape music center and began to study with Pauline Oliveros, TonyGnazzoand Warner Jepson. I began to put together my understanding of electronic music … a much more tedious struggle than the one I had just abandoned. It was very academic and most of them didn’t know really what was going on, and I began to learn, myself, what it was really all about. Still it was really difficult to get information because nobody could relate it to you in a way that was understandable. I worked at the music center through ’66 and ran into Jae Holzman (then President of Elektra Records) who asked me what I was in to. I told him about the synthesizer which could produce theoretically any sound audible to the human experience and he said, ‘That’s really interesting, I’m going to try to do something with synthesizers and I want you to meet some people.” So in early’67 he put me together with Mort Garson and Paul Beaver. They flew up to San Francisco to see what a synthesizer looked like because they’d never seen one before and I showed them the Suchla at Mills. Holzman asked Garson to write the music for a record called The Zodiac Album which was done in April of ’67. Cyrus Faryar did the narration and one of Mort’s friends wrote the script. Some ofit was very good and some of it was a little tacky but it was an interesting concept. Jae was one of the great record concept people. He really had it together that way. That was the first pop album in which a synthesizer was featured. I worked with Paul on that in the studio, although I didn’t get credit for it. Out of that we became partners. Jae asked us to do an albu.m based on a conception by Beaver and me. It was an album called, “The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music,” which defined in lay terms what electronic music was all about. I finally had met a person who really understood it and was able to articulate it in some form. I came down from San Francisco several times a week and had bull sessions with Paul. We just sat down and went over definitions of the instrument and what it was doing. I recorded all of this and finally edited it down into the Nonesuch Guide which has become a standard reference. It was on the charts for 26 weeks. And that’s how I got together with Paul, and synthesizers.

Synapse: Were you involved with Paul in Parasound at that time?

Krause: Yes, Pau.l and I both shared the company. Wewereequalpartnersinit. The company was designed to do several things aside from our own albums, record production, commercials and several other things that we eventually got into from a different aspect. Paul went into the design of new electronic equipment and concept work “When I first saw Paul he was on a sound stage with 30 feet of equipment … we’ve come a long way from there.” fornewelectronicgearandequipment. I was more interested in scientific applications of sound; working with environments, and marine biology, and discovering new ways to record sound in marine audio.

Synapse: Could you describe some of what you were doing?

Krause: Well, I’ve been taking courses in Marine Biology. I plan on completing my doctorate in the field someday. I imagine it will take me several years to get it but it’s a field that I really want togo into on a full time basis. There’s been work done by John lilly in the field in communciations and there’s been work done by a fellow whose name is Thomas Polter, who works at the Bio Sonar Laboratories at the Stanford Research Institute. Those two gentlemen have paved the way for people like Roger Payne, who just put out a second album of whale sounds on Capitol. His first one was the Songs of the Humpback Whale, which is very popular. And now this new one is fabulous. This is what interests me. The equipment these people are using is very primitive and my interest is in developing new equipment, new concepts for recording, new ways of tracking the mammals by satellite; checking out their biotelemetry and inventing new packages for biotelemetry (breathing, heartbeat, other body functions and sounds that they emit under water). These transmitters that I’m thinking about will be designed to track these pods by satellite. I’m interested in finding new devices that will play back sounds to them; that will synthesize the sounds of the cetaceans (whales, porpoises) whatever they happen to be, and let them feedback off their own vocalizations.

Synapse: After the Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music, what other albums did you and Paul do?

Krause: We did four other albums together. One on limelight. Three for Warner Brothers, and one which we had planned called, “Citadels of Mystery” which I completed on my own after Paul’s death.

Synapse: What kind of ideas and developments were you working with those albums?

Krause: Well, the first was a thing called, “Ragnarok” which we did for limelight. It was mostly a repository for all the garbage that Paul and I had in our minds. We had to get rid of all the crap we had in our heads before we cou.ld really move on to something serious and Mercury gave us just enough bread todoit. We hada$9,000 budget for the album. They’re really high rollers at Mercury. When they take a chance, they really take a chance. We put another $9,000 of our own in it. Everything sucked from the beginning. I’m not happy with that album but it did prove some important things to us. One, that we could record a serious album on 4-track with difficulty, and two, that we could use synthesizer with voice, process different instruments through it and achieve different kinds of effects that later we used on all our subsequent albums. Really adventurous stuff at that time (1968).

Synapse: And then from there?

Krause: In a Wild Sanctuary on Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers was really magnificent. They gave us all the budget and moral support we needed. They gave us feedback that we needed and room to expand and they trusted our judgement because it was a new field.

Synapse: That seems to be the album that was most successful.

Krause: Actually no. The Nonesuch Guide was the most successful of them all and it’s the one that we continue to get royalty checks from and Wild Sanctuary is still in the catalog and it’s still a decent seller. The one that followed that, Gandharva, which we did in Grace Cathedral with Gerry Mulligan, Bud Shank and several others, is also doing very well. It was an attempt to use synthesizer live with organ, guitar, harp, Oute and saxes in a live perfomance situation and record it quadraphonically. The first such attempt to my knowledge.

Synapse: What persons or influences do you think are responsible for the whole for increasing the ability for synthesizers to be used and enjoyed.

Krause: Don Buchla is one. He believed that because the synthesizer was a new instrument … actually it’s the first new instrument since the saxophone in 1860’s … it should therefore be approached differently without the use of keyboards in the traditional sense. It should be touch controlled and you should try to develop new techniques for playing it. Moog felt that it should be keyboard oriented because musicians could make the transition easier. I had the idea and Paul had the idea at one point that if the keyboard is good for the keyboard player, there should be a string control.led synthesizer for the string player and so we tried to develop this. We made several attempts at it. Both went belly up. But there are a few semi-successful ones commercially available.

Synapse: What otl1er types of co11trollers or instrumental interfaces can you envision? Krause: Alpha rhythm, brain waves, skin resistance, stellar information, vibration from the earth, from plants, from any kind of information transmitter. I mean, I c.n’t imagine anything that wouldn’t work. There isn’t anything that I wouldn’t apply it to and checkout.

Synapse: What do you feel about the synthesized orchestral music that has found popularity?

Krause: Doesn’t mean anything to me.

Synapse: Why is that? What do you feel about it?

Krause: It’s very easy to set upa series of sawtooth wave forms, make them sound like strings or horns and play somebody else’s music. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s very rude. lt’s very well done technically and sounds very good but it doesn’t mean anything. I don’t get off on it.

Synapse: What sort of directions do you prefer?

Krause: Um, well, to push sound to the limit. To break through new ground in making a synthesizer sound powerful, and forceful and dynamic without making it sound like something else; without the squeaks and the squaks and the funny high pitched nasal sounds that people often go for with synthesizer because they’re easy to get and everybody says, “Yeah, far out.” I find myself as a side man doing it for other people and it sometimes gets very boring.

Synapse: How have you been utilizing synthesizers since your work with Paull

Krause: I did an album called, “Citadels” and it incorporated jazz, synthesizer and vocal chorus. I tried to use the synthesizer to reinforce the sound of other instruments; to make them sound bigger or to make them sound more spacious. We used a bass flute on one of the tunes that we did on “Citadel” and I coupled the line on synthesizer to magnify it. Not to imitate the flute but to make it expand in space: in aural space. And I used it asa solo line in some instances. I never used it for strings. When I wanted strings, I used strings. When I wanted horns, I used horns. I don’t like to synthesize them particularly. I think it’s a cheap way to go, and I think it sounds bad. Some think it’s very good. I can’t comprehend it. I find it sounding very much the same. I try to push the synthesizer beyond its popular limits. Paul and I, did a thing that I feel is very important. We did a cut called, “Spaced” done on In a Wild Sanctuary. We did that big chord gliss. You can’t do that on most instruments. Synthesizer is the only one. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. The kind of thing that Cecil and Margouleff did on Tontos Expanding Head Band where they synthesized the human voice. That’s pushing the use of the synthesizer beyond any scope; any realm of possibility that you would ordinarily think of, and that’s what I’m talking about. It happens in very few instances, but I get tired of all the rest. I don’t have the patience.

Synapse: What problems do you think exist with synthesizers that are available at this time?

Krause: Well, the dust really hasn’t settled for me, as far as people really discovering what the potential of synthesizer sound is; of coupling a number of oscillators with several filters. with several amplifiers, with different control units or sequencers and so on. We don’t really quite understand what the potential of that is and won’t until artists get down.and refine it for a couple of more decades. I’m sure it will probably take that long unless some four year old genius comes along and solves it next week. I just don’t think that the right instruments are going to be made for a while, not until that happens. The technology is available but the people to direct Moog and ARP and Buchla and E-mu, to tell them what to do, what really needs to be done, don’t exist right now. Many of the folks playing the synthesizers are well over 30. They came up from the bands in the 60″s . . . the music of the 60’s and the thinking of the60’s. And there’s a certain kind of rut. They’re the ones who are giving feedback to the manufacturers. They were already established, for the most part, before they did that. So the difference between those people and Paul, is Paul saw it all, He was timeless. When I first saw Paul he was on a sound stage with 30feet of equipment ona table. He scurried back a.nd forth between tape recorders. strange keyboard instruments and oscillators, plugging them in and playing them to score, in real time. You know we’ve come a long way from there. I think it’s going to stay pretty much where it is until people settle on certain techniques of synthesis.

Synapse: Until there becomes sort of a standard that people can use as a reference?

Krause: Yeah, you need some kind of standard reference, and you need a standard reference that is really unique in its intelligence.

Synapse: What other projects have you worked on since Citadels?

Krause: Citadels I did in September and October of ’75 and I’m doing some film scores.

Synapse: What films will you be doing?

Krause: A couple of small things in San Francisco. I’ve been doing radio and television commercials, A lot of those. I’ve been writing with a woman who wrote two Broadway shows and an Off-Broadway show and some stuff for Sesame Street and Electric Company. I’m producing for different artists . I’m looking more and more to get into record production. That’s what I really want todo now.

Synapse: As opposed to perform?

Krause: Yeah, as opposed to perform. I also did a little work with the Tubes.

Synapse: What were youdoingwith them? Krause: It started off as a possibility to produce them and I did one number with them, a single, and then it ended up I was just playing synthesizer with them on the new album and did several tunes, which I enjoyed very much incidentally. I think they’re a very talented group. They’re quite inventive.

Synapse: Did you feel their approach to synthesis is unusual fora popular group?

Krause: It’s much more open and much more free because synthesizer is an integral part of the group and because Bill Spooner and Mike Cotton are really interested in exploring possibilit.ies and the regions of sound. They love to do that and I like working with people who have imagination.

Synapse: Are there any people that you’ve worked with in tlie studio that are not necessarily synthesizer players but are interested in hearing things they’ve not heard before?

Krause: Van Dyke Parks, The Doors, Paul Rothchild who was The Doors’ producer. Relatively few. Of the two or three hundred groups or artists that I’ve worked with, very few stick out as being really on top of what it’s all about; mostly because at the time I was working with them they just wanted to score a synthesizer player for the studio; to have it on thei.r album. It was very hip to have synthesizer on your album.

Synapse: You’ve pretty much said that you feel there are really very few people that can play the synthesizer we/I. Everyone I talk to feels the same way and I wonder. well, if this is the case, what is responsible for this? ls it just tl,e amount of time spent learning ordo people need to open themselves, make themselves vulnerable because they have to learn something? Where do you think the problem lies?

Krause: Partly in the ego of the a.rt.ists who you’re talking to, and partly in professional I jealousy; not wanting to recognize other people. I recognize several othe.r musicians as being very talented but their facility is not in physics of sound which is what synthesizer is really all about. Their facility is really more in keyboard. I could hardly say to anybody that Stevie Wonder is not a good synthesizer player. He’s a great synthesizer player, but really what he is is a good keyboard man and he happens to select reasonably tolerable sounds for his work. He does good work. He’s very technically proficient. Some of the things he did on the last album are sensational, but in terms of again pushing the synthesizer, I can’t think of too many people. Cecil and Margouleff are the only ones that really come to mind that have been doing that kind of work.

Synapse: Do you feel that there isan any way in which the term “electronic music” falls short in describing the sounds? For instance, does the term mean to you that a sound is produced electronically or does it describe the timbres or approach? How do you use the term? Krause: What ever anybody wants to recognize as electronic music is okay with me. I mean, I have no quarrel, no axe to grind there.

Synapse: No, I mean for yourself.

Krause: Hammond organs are as electronic and amplified guitars are as electronic to me as a synthesizer. Any amplification of any vibrating source is electronic music to me. It doesn’t make any difference what it is.

Synapse: So it is a matter of technology then?

Krause: Yeah. Simple as that. Amplify a vibrating source and you have electronic music.