About Expo
What's On

Back to Events

Saturday 24 June 2020

20:00 - 20:45
Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester

White Elephant: Joseph Byrd / SPUNK / Dreams of Tall Buildings

Sonic Arts Network and the University of Manchester present an ultra-rare appearance of Joseph Byrd - Fluxus founder and leading member of legendary US psych band ‘The United States of America’. Byrd presents White Elephant; his first graphic score for almost 40 years, performed by all-girl Norwegian electro-improv group SPUNK and sound art activists Dreams of Tall Buildings.

White Elephant draws from the full history of experimental music and sound over the past 75 years, incorporating elements of synthesized music, musique concr_te, tape music, amplified sound, found objects, noise, sampling, free improvisation, and non-linear notations, with multiple creative personalities blending their skills into a single work.

A composer with roots in avant-garde and performance art, who has also long experience in film and television scoring, Byrd has imagined a "space opera" in the form of an extra-galactic journey by a vast exploratory vessel in the year 9050, in which present-day photographs from the Hubble/NASA telescope form the basis for a score of notated, sampled, and improvised sound, occurring simultaneous with the Dreams of Tall Buildings score.

Joseph Byrd

Joseph Byrd was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1937, but grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where he played in local pop, country, and jazz groups. Following his M.A. at Stanford in 1960, he went to New York, where he studied (Morton Feldman, John Cage), performed (NY Pro Musica Motet Choir), and worked (secretary to Virgil Thomson, later staff arranger for Capitol Records).

Joseph Byrd was a founding member of the Fluxus group in New York in 1961-64 (which included Terry Riley and Yoko Ono), The New Music Workshop in Los Angeles in 1964-66 (which included Don Ellis), and the electronic rock band The United States of America (two LPs on Columbia Records, 1967-68). During this time and in the early 1970's, he was active in the pioneering of electronic instruments, working with Donald Buchla in Berkeley and Tom Oberheim in Los Angeles. Groups such as Portishead, Broadcast, and Radiohead have cited him as a major source.

Byrd’s work over the following two decades included film scores and electronic sound and he won 11 CLIO Awards for innovative radio and television commercials. He also produced several albums, including the critically acclaimed "Yankee Transcendoodle" ("The most ambitious electronic synthesis of "live" music ever attempted" – PLAYBOY, 1976), and "JAZZ" ("Byrd has provided Ry Cooder's guitar and voice with settings that are impeccably realized and never less than clever. An elegant recreation" – ROLLING STONE, 1978; "Best Record of 1978" – TIME)

Retiring to Humboldt County, California, in the 1990's, he now teaches at College of the Redwoods. White Elephant; his first graphic score for almost 40 years will be performed at this year’s Sonic Arts Network Expo Festival, Manchester.


SPUNK surfaced on the Norwegian music scene in 1999. This quartet of young female improvisers approach free improv with freshness, adding to their basic instrumentation of cello, trumpet, French horn, vocals, toys, small percussion, and electronics. By 2001, they were performing in Continental Europe and their second album came out in April 2002.

SPUNK was formed in 1995 by four music students with very different backgrounds. Singer Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, Lene Grenager, Kristin Andersen, and Hild Sofie Tafjord, when taken collectively, touch on classical, jazz, rock, techno, and country music. They created Spunk in order to explore fields outside their own studies and music engagements and free improvisation was the chosen form from the start.

SPUNK has played in many different settings: Theatre, dance performances, classical concerts, jazz clubs, techno clubs, churces, malls, art museums and festivals abroad and in Norway, collaborations with musicians and composers from various music genres, improvisation seminars, school concerts, concerts with participants, film music and music for art installations.


Dreams of tall buildings

Dreams of tall buildings formed at the end of 1999, they began recording sound textures from their environments and surroundings, drinking 13 coffees in an hour to short wave radio oscillations in brain storming sessions. They wish to remain anonymous and stress that they are not restricted to the red tape of the conformed and structured norms of being an x piece. Instead they state that by the end of the next year there could be 1000 people in DOTB or none. They have visions of collaborating with people in Spain and Australia simultaneously, unaware of each other’s existence.


Joseph Byrd


Dreams of Tall Buildings

Part of the 'White Elephant' graphic score by Joseph Byrd

Home | About SAN | Education | Events | Sounds | Membership | Shop | Links
Copyright 2004 Sonic Arts Network