RIP Tod Dockstader (1932 - 2015)


Tod Dockstader. Water Music. 1966.

Six years after Toru Takemitsu’s “Water Music” and eleven years after Hugh LeCaine’s “Dripsody” piece we have another piece utilizing the sound source of water droplets. In this example one notices the utter elasticity of the Tape Music medium. Dockstader comes from a background in film editing and sound engineering in Hollywood. While most if not all of his peers from this time came from strictly academic backgrounds, Dockstader forged his own path and arguably presents us with the most beguiling and rigorous examples of the American Tape Music tradition. When the studio he was employed at (Gotham) and composed his early works at shut down, Dockstader was unable to continue his tape experiments due to the snobbery of his academic peers despite radio play and critical recognition. Rejected by the likes of Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky of the Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Center, it wasn’t until the 1990’s when re-issues of his music appeared on CD that Dockstader regained the confidence and the opportunity to return to composition. His Aerial series on the label Sub Rosa is worth seeking out.

As I went, the sound got easier but the organization got harder, and I entered into a struggle I hadn’t anticipated. John Cage (in Silence) tells of the effort it took him to overcome his musical training and become a Listener to sound again. There came a struggle to resist forcing the sounds too far into Music and away from a true art of sound, This, I think, is the continuing struggle in electronic music of all kinds. It’s very hard to stay a Listener.
—  Tod Dockstader
Two Moons of Quartermass: II. Second Moon
  • Two Moons of Quartermass: II. Second Moon
  • Tod Dockstader

Tod Dockstader : Two Moons of Quartermass: II. Second Moon

Dockstader on Dockstader :

I don’t remember just when I first heard musique concrète; it must have been in the early 50s. I think I liked the idea of it more than the Toonerville-Trolley sound of the early pieces. In Pierre Schaeffer’s original definition, it meant working with the sound in your ears, directly with the sound, as opposed to “abstract” music in which the sounds are written. Like Schaeffer, a working sound engineer, I had the training to be a “worker in rhythms, frequencies and intensities.” As a non-musician, I couldn’t write music, but this “new art of sound” didn’t need notation. In the beginning, musique concrète wasn’t even agreed upon to be music; Schaeffer’s first presentation of his work was called “a concert of noises.”


Tod Dockstader - Pond Dance





Bottle Dervish
  • Bottle Dervish
  • Tod Dockstader
  • Electronic: Boosey & Hawkes (recorded music for film & television)

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This library record of cues and miniatures by Tod Dockstader was just reissued on Mordant last month after being previously unearthed as a Creel Pone title seven years ago. Each piece is paired with a word or phrase that corresponds to the feeling it’s meant to evoke. For “Bottle Dervish,” it’s “whirling dance.” Volume 2 is due for reissue as well in the coming months.

Smithsonian Folkways Remembers Tod Dockstader (1932–2015)

Electronic composer and musique concrète pioneer TodDockstader passed away on Friday, February 27, 2015, at the age of 82.Dockstader began his career in Hollywood as a film editor, moving into sound engineering and eventually composing in 1958. Dockstader’s first release was the 1968 Folkways album Eight Electronic Pieces, which later became part of the soundtrack of the 1969 Fellini film Satyricon (Wired).  

Throughout Dockstader’s career, he blended electronic sounds and tape manipulation with acoustic instruments. A documentary about his life, “Unlocking Dockstader” by filmmaker Justin H. Brierley, is currently in production. Upon Dockstader’s death, K. Martin from The Wire wrote, “Dockstader will be remembered as the innovative, visionary figure he undoubtedly was.” 


Tod Dockstader. Apocalypse Part 2. 1961.