By: Jorge Munnshe
David Borden has been
active on the electronic music scene for more than three decades. In 1967, he first made
contact with Robert Moog and his synthesizers. After a couple of years
experimenting in the Moog Studio, changing his methods of composing and learning the outer
limits of what was possible on these new instruments, he founded the band Mother
Mallard (the first all-Moog ensemble), together with Steve Drews and
Linda Fisher. Mother Mallard became a pioneer band of Space Music, minimalism and
other innovative trends.
How did your musical vocation begin?
"Jorge, if you really want to know the answer to that question, I'll have to go back to the Second World War. In September of 1944, during the first weeks of school (this was First Grade), the teacher asked if anyone in the class was interested in taking piano lessons through the school. Our Public School System in Brookline, Massachusetts was among the top public school systems in the USA (the lessons were only $1 because the school subsidized them). I immediately raised my hand and Miss Clifford took down my name. A few days later I received news that I was too young to start lessons. I was 5 but the guidelines stipulated that the student must be at least 6. That day when I walked home from school, I started crying when I reached my street. My mother (unknown to me) always looked out for me through the window (the third floor of a three family walk-up) and rushed down to greet me, asking me what was wrong. The next day, my father went to the school and convinced the principal that they should give me a chance and start me on a trial basis. And of course, the rest is history, as they say. My father learned to play the piano late in life (really starting at age 33) and so we had an upright piano in the house when I was born. As I was coming into consciousness as an infant, I heard my father practising whenever he came home. His job before the war was as a bouncer at a restaurant and bar in a very rough section of Boston. He had been a champion gymnast in high school, and was very muscular. There's a lot I could say about the circumstances, but suffice to say, he practised Chopin, Lizst, Grieg, Gershwin, and various popular ragtime pieces of the day like Nola, Dizzy Fingers, and Wabash Blues. I can still hear him pounding out sections of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue over and over again for hours (maybe that's why I took to repetition so easily?!) That, I think, was really my beginning as a musician, just listening to him practise in the next room. We lived in a five room apartment with my grandparents and had no central heating. My bedroom was next to the living room where the piano was. I think that this close proximity to constant piano practising routines subconsciously trained my ears so that I developed perfect pitch, because as soon as I started taking piano lessons myself, learning the letter names of the notes, I instantly recognized the pitches on the piano without looking at them. There's a lot more I could say about this environment that was very positive to my development, but basically it was this early beginning, and the always-present and constant parental support that were the things that made my vocation possible."
How did you discover the electronic
instruments for the first time and when did you realize that they were necessary to
develop your music?
"My first encounter with electronic instruments, and electronic methods of composing (with tapes and tape manipulation) were through recordings of Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky in the late fifties. But it was the work of John Cage that I grew to love. It was when I was studying with Boris Blacher at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin in 1965-66 that I saw my first electronic studio. He was showing me how he had completed an opera which included synthesized sounds. But it wasn't until 1967 in Ithaca NY, where I was Composer-in-Residence in the School District due to a Ford Foundation Grant, that I first made contact with Robert Moog and his synthesizers. Bob showed me his studio which was located at his company site in Trumansburg NY, just a short distance from Ithaca. He gave me access to the place and a basic introductory lecture on how all the stuff worked. But since I am such a slow learner (and continue to be!), it wasn't until 1968 that I felt I had full command over the Moog Synthesizer as a studio instrument. Remember, this was before live performances on synthesizers, and it was just a studio recording medium at that time. And also, even though these early synthesizers were controlled by keyboards, they were monophonic; i. e. no more than one note at a time was recognized by the instruments. After a couple of years experimenting in the Moog Studio, changing my methods of composing, learning how to be a recording engineer on state-of-the-art four track tape recorders and learning the outer limits of what was possible on these new instruments, I was ready to try live performances using these studio-bound instruments. Richard Teitelbaum had already been performing live on a Moog in Rome as part of Musica Eletronnica Viva. But no one had ever tried using several Moogs in an ensemble, mainly because they were so expensive. But with Moog's help Mother Mallard (my new music group) and the First Moog Quartet began doing just that. The First Moog Quartet played arrangements of pieces from the classical repetoire--and I'm not certain of the dates of their existence, but it was short-lived. Mother Mallard started doing music especially created for the Moogs in 1969. The first all-Moog Mother Mallard ensemble consisted of composer/keyboardists Steve Drews, Linda Fisher and me."
Which synthesizers, electronic instruments and equipment do you use in your music? And in 1970-73?
"I started accumulating post-Moog stuff in the mid-eighties. I now have a bunch of rackmounted synths controlled by a Yamaha KX-88 for live performance and recording. Included are the following: Oberheim Matrix 1000, Yamaha FB01s, TX81Z, TX802, TX816, E-Mu Proteus-2, Alesis QuadraSynth + Piano, QS7, Korg X5DR, Wavestation, M1Rex, Roland Juno 60, MiniMoog (MIDI), Digidesign SampleCell, and most recently, a Novation Supernova. Whew! That's a lot of stuff. I also have a Unity DS-1 Sampler, but haven't used it yet. I'm thinking of adding a really good E-Mu Sampler, and then I can own the world. At the Cornell Studio, I have more stuff and also access to ProTools. I also have an S-Video Player with a video capture card and monitor for film work. Add to that a Tascam D-88 and a Panasonic stereo DAT recorder, a couple of effects boxes, and that rounds it out. And, I almost forgot-running the whole thing is a Macintosh G3 with MOTU software and a couple of MOTU MTP AV Midi Timpieces."
"In 1970-73 we used three modular Moog systems and two MiniMoogs plus an RMI Piano. We had two Scully tape recorders, a four-track and a two-track, plus a Revox two-track. I forget the kind of mixer we had, but it was very good for its day. Although this setup sounds simpler, it was much more difficult to record due both to the limitation of separate tracks and the lack of any synchronizing technology save for the ever-present click tracks. One had to keep playing for an entire take, sometimes lasting twenty minutes or more, with no mistakes."
Has Terry Riley or other musicians been a big influence for your musical career, especially at the beginning??
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