Lawrence Casserley - Biographical Information

Short biography

Lawrence Casserley (born UK, 1941) has devoted his professional career, as composer, conductor and performer, to real time electroacoustic music. In 1967 he became one of the first students of Electronic Music at the Royal College of Music, London, UK, on the new course taught by Tristram Cary. Later he became Professor-in-Charge of Studios and Adviser for Electroacoustic Music at the RCM, before taking early retirement in 1995.

He is best known for his work in free improvised music, particularly real-time processing of other musicians' sound, and he has devised a special computer processing instrument for this work (picture above). He has worked with many of the finest improvisers, particularly Evan Parker, with whom he works frequently as a duo partner, in various larger groupings and in the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. He also works as a soloist, processing sounds from voice, percussion and home-made instruments. CDs have been released by ECM, Konnex, Leo Records, Psi, Sargasso and Touch.

Much of Casserley's work has involved collaboration with other art forms, including poets, eg Bob Cobbing, and visual artists, including Colourscape artist Peter Jones. He is a Director of the Colourscape Music Festivals, presenting contemporary music in the unique environment of the Colourscape walk-in sculpture. He also collaborates with Peter Jones on sound/light installations.

Casserley's "instrumental" approach to live computer sound processing is the hallmark of his work; the Signal Processing Instrument allows him to use physical gestures to control the processing and to direct the morphology of the sounds. This is the culmination of forty years of experience in the performance of live electronic work; his earliest live electronic pieces were performed in 1969, and he has performed many of the live electronic "classics" of the 20th century; he has also collaborated with other composers to realise their electronic performance ideas. He is noted for the breadth and variety of his collaborations, which cross styles and generations.


Text below by John Palmer, from the liner notes to the CD "Labyrinths" - Sargasso SCD 28030:

Lawrence Casserley - The heart in the machine

By now, Lawrence Casserley has established himself as one of the most stimulating composers and performers in the British music scene. Sprung from the avantgarde and experimental circuit of the 1960s, his musical output has grown steadily over the past 36 years, covering a wide range of instrumental forces from orchestra and chamber works through to electroacoustic. It is however in the latter medium that Casserley has managed to maintain a distinctly uncompromising profile throughout the years. And when so many composers embraced the safety of the tape medium, he courageously continued to choose the more risky and adventurous path of live-electronics.

Unlike many other musicians working in this field, the electronic medium is for Casserley a physical extension of the musical mind and body. Marshall McLuhan's claim that 'technology is the natural extension of man' finds here an admirable example. There is always a natural cohesion between, say, a guitar and its electronic counterpart: one may be the transformation of the other, but the two sources are always one instrument. It is this unity that makes Casserley'sperformances so intriguing. And in the hands of the wizard, electronics become powerful means of expressivity and lyricism taking the listener through labyrinths of sound.

John Palmer,May 1999

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Another Short biography

Lawrence Casserley (born August 10, 1941 in Little Easton, Essex, UK) has dedicated his career to the development of live electronic processing as an instrument in its own right. In 1952 his family moved to New York, so his later schooling and university education were in the USA. After one year at Columbia University, New York, he left in order to develop his increasing interest in music. While undertaking various employment he attended evening classes, and later part-time day classes at the Chicago Musical College, Roosevelt University, Chicago, studying composition, conducting, percussion and flute. In 1966 he received a BMus degree with a major in composition, and returned to the UK to pursue postgraduate studies in composition, conducting and percussion at the Royal College of Music, London. In 1967 he became one of the first students on the new Electronic Music course at the RCM taught by Tristram Cary. In 1970 he was invited to join the RCM teaching staff as Cary's assistant, and subsequently became Professor-in-Charge of Studios and Adviser for Electroacoustic Music, before taking early retirement in 1995. From the 1970s onwards he led and/or performed with many live performance and/or multi-media groups, most notably Hydra (the multi-media group he formed with Eddie Franklin-White), Peter Donebauer's VAMP (Video and Music Performers), Tube Sculpture and the Electroacoustic Cabaret. During the 1980s he collaborated with Simon Desorgher in creating the Nettlefold Festival, which later became the Colourscape Music Festival; he continues to be a Director of Eye Music Trust, which runs this festival, as well as many other events and educational projects based around Peter Jones's inspiring inflated structures. He also collaborates with Peter Jones on interactive audio-visual installations under the title "Chromatic Harmony". Since leaving the RCM he has focused on free improvised music, and has developed a Signal Processing Instrument especially for live sound processing in improvised music. He is best known for his collaborations with Evan Parker (CDs on Touch and psi) and his Electro-acoustic Ensemble (CDs on ECM), but has also collaborated with many other musicians for performances throughout Europe, North and South America, India and Japan. He also has CDs released by Sargasso, Leo Records and Maya Records; new releases on psi and Konnex are in preparation.

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Full Biography


Composer, Performer, Conductor, Improviser, Computer Musician

Last changed 3 Sep, 2001

Lawrence Casserley , composer, conductor, percussionist/vocalist and electroacoustic musician, has more than a quarter century of experience as a composer, performer and improviser of electroacoustic music, with a particular emphasis on live performance. His first live electroacoustic works were composed and performed in 1969 and he has continued to use electroacoustic means in performance, often combined with light, theatre, mime and/or video.

In 1972, in collaboration with the artist Eddie Franklin-White, he founded the mixed-media group Hydra, which combined electroacoustic and instrumental sound with light, smoke, lasers, projections, etc in an innovative series of performances over several years. Hydra performances involved extensive collaboration with other musicians, visual artists, writers, poets and technicians.

In 1984 Casserley collaborated with composer and flautist Simon Desorgher in founding London's Nettlefold Festival. This festival has spawned the performing groups Tube Sculpture, featuring the World's largest set of panpipes, and Electroacoustic Cabaret, a new approach to the presentation of contemporary music that has attracted wide attention. Since 1989 the festival has taken place entirely within the Colourscape inflatable sculpture, another new concept which has spawned the Music in Colourscape ensemble, who perform at other festivals. The festival is now known as the Colourscape Music Festival and has attracted support from Foundation for Sport and the Arts and the National Lottery. Such is the success of this unique festival that similar events are now being planned for other locations.

Casserley has performed and broadcast with groups ranging from the London Sinfonietta and the BBC Symphony Orchestra to the Electroacoustic Cabaret and Music in Colourscape, and he has been in charge of the electronics for the UK premieres of Stockhausen's "Mixtur" and "Trans".

He was on the staff of the Royal College of Music, London, where he became Professor in Charge of Studios and Adviser for Electroacoustic Music, for more than twenty-five years. In 1995 he took early retirement from the RCM and is now pursuing other projects.

While at the RCM Casserley collaborated frequently with the 20th Century Ensemble and John Lambert's Experimental Music Group. He also ran workshops in improvisation with live electronics for instrumentalists and composers.

He has considerable knowledge of the technology of electroacoustic music, having worked on both analogue and digital design projects; for a number of years he worked on the design of digital signal processing systems for live performance. Now he is focusing his work on the innovative IRCAM Signal Processing Workstation; in March 1992 he obtained one of the first Workstations to be delivered and has performed extensively with the ISPW.

It will be clear from the above that a predominant theme of Casserley's work has been collaboration, both with other musicians and with artists from other disciplines, and this is one of the defining aspects of his career. He has worked frequently with other composers to help them realise their electroacoustic ideas, eg John Lambert's Sea Change sequence and Edwin Roxburgh's Saturn. He has worked collaboratively with students - as a conductor, as a workshop director, and as a performance animateur. He has worked with musicians and other artists in a variety of collaborative environments. As an improviser he has worked with Melvyn Poore, Barry Guy, Evan Parker, Alan Tomlinson, Hugh Davies, Vanessa Mackness, Philipp Wachsmann and many others.

His varied talents range from playing one-man-band for London Flutes' celebrated rendition of the 1812 Overture, through conducting, controlling electronics in orchestral concerts, to playing the motorbike in Simon Desorgher's "The Infernal Clanking of the Chains and Cogs of Beelzebub". He revels in the opportunity to perform in different spaces and different environments, from numerous television studios to a Peruvian beach, from art galleries to gardens, from churches to pubs, from the Queen Elizabeth Hall to the River Thames, to Colourscape.

Whether on stage, playing or conducting, performing the role of the Minotaur in Colourscape, at the mixing console or controlling the ISPW, performing his own or others' works, or improvising, Casserley brings his varied and versatile musician's experience to the job.

Since 1989 Casserley has lived in Buckinghamshire, where he has established a special working environment for the preparation of electroacoustic performances. In Autumn, 1995 he improved facilities in his studio with the introduction of the new Yamaha O2R digital mixing console. This will provide up to eight digital channels to and from the ISPW, creating a highly integrated digital performance environment. The studio is also equipped with a high quality multi-channel speaker system. This facility is available to composers wishing to develop electroacoustic performances.

In January, 1996 he visited the STEIM studios in Amsterdam to research the possibilities of incorporating the SensorLab system into his work. As a result, he returned to STEIM early in 1997 to work on a larger project with Evan Parker and Barry Guy. In October, 1996 he performed in Bonn with Bärbel Nolden as part of the 50 Jahre Nordrhein-Westfalen Landesjubilaum.

Since 1987 he has established a reputation for his signal processing work in improvised music. in particular his CDs and concert work with Evan Parker in a number of different contexts including duos, trios, quartets and larger ensembles. In October, 2000 he toured Japan with Parker, Paul Lytton and Joel Ryan.

Since 2000 he has also been making light/sound installations in colaboration with Colourscape artist Peter Jones.

Personal and Academic History

Born 10 August, 1941; Little Easton, Dunmow, Essex, UK
1946 - 1952; Schools in UK
1952; Family moved to New York, USA
1952 - 1959; Schools in USA
1959 - 1960; Columbia University, New York; left to pursue musical studies
1960 - 1966; Various full and part-time employment while studying music at
Chicago Musical College, Roosevelt University, Chicago
Principle studies:
Composition (Karel Jirak, Robert Lombardo)
Conducting (Maurice Gomberg, Karel Jirak)
Percussion (Harold Kupper)
Flute (Ralph Johnson)
1966; Bachelor of Music (Composition) Roosevelt University
1966 - 1967; Post-graduate studies at Royal College of Music, London, UK
Composition (Herbert Howells)
Conducting (Harvey Philips)
Percussion (Alan Taylor)
1967 - 1969; Electronic Music studies at RCM with Tristram Cary
1969; Lever-Hulme Scholarship
Sir Adrian Boult Conducting Prize
1970; Appointed to teaching staff at RCM
1970 - 1972; Teaching at Cockpit Arts Centre, ILEA, London
- founded Electroacoustic Studio
1971 - 1975; Teaching at Hornsey College of Art Visual-Audio Workshop
1972; Married Judith Mary Vereker
1972 - 1975; Teaching at Goldsmiths College, University of London
1975 - 1993; Professor-in-Charge of Electroacoustic and Recording Studios, RCM
1983 - 1988; Co-Organiser of Nettlefold Festival, London
1989 - present; Co-Director of Colourscape Music Festivals
1993 - 1995; Adviser for Electroacoustic Music, RCM
1995; Early retirement from RCM
1995 - present; Freelance Musician

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Computer Music

A formative influence on Casserley's work came in 1963, when Karlheinz Stockhausen, Christoph Caskel and David Tudor visited Chicago. One of the works they played was "Kontakte", and hearing this work for the first time impressed on him the potential of the electronic medium. His first experience of computers came in 1966, his final year at Chicago Musical College, where he took a course in the use of computers for musical analysis. His project for the course was a motivic analysis of Varése's "Density 21.5".

In 1967, while a post-graduate student at the Royal College of Music, he joined a new course in electronic music founded by Tristram Cary. The RCM studio had close links through Cary with Peter Zinoviev's pioneering computer studio in Putney. In 1969 the material for the tape part of "Solos, Commentaries and Integrations" was created on Zinoviev's system, then further processed and montaged at the RCM studio.

From the first Casserley's major interest was in utilising electronics in live performance, and that has remained his prime concern. Throughout the 70s he worked with electronic performance in a range of contexts, collaborating with musicians, poets and visual artists as well as performing his own compositions.

In addition, he worked on the performance of many compositions involving live electronics. At the Royal College of Music he developed a close association with the Twentieth Century Ensemble, founded at the same time as the studio by Edwin Roxburgh. Casserley was in charge of the sound for many important Ensemble events, including the UK premieres of Stockhausen's "Mixtur" and "Trans", and performances of many other works by Berio, Halffter, Lambert, Gehlhaar and others. He was also instrumental in creating the electronic portions of scores by other composers, notably Edwin Roxburgh's "Saturn" and John Lambert's "Sea Change" cycle.

In the 70s he worked on a number of electronic design projects, including a design for a low-cost, microprocessor-based polyphonic synthesiser. By 1980 he was working on ideas for a real time digital signal processor. This work continued throughout the 80s, during which he produced several interesting prototypes, but was unable to find the resources to bring them into useable form. By the early 90s he was determined to stop counting nanoseconds and get back to making music. The appearance of the IRCAM Signal Processing Workstation in 1992 gave him the chance to eat his cake and have it too!

Since that time he has used the ISPW to re-create earlier live work by himself and others, to create new work, including his own compositions, collaborative work and realisations for other composers. Most particularly he has used the potential of the ISPW to develop new approaches to performance, which are finding a particular application in improvised music.

Since 1998 he has developed his computer instruments on MacIntosh computers using Cycling74's Max/msp software. This has included instruments for performance and interactive installations. In particular, he has developed a series of Signal Processing Instruments for improvised music.

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Very Short Biography

Lawrence Casserley (born UK, 1941) has devoted his professional career to real time electroacoustic music, and to the idea that live sound processing can be an instrument in its own right. In 1967 he became one of the first students in a new class in Electronic Music taught by Tristram Cary. Subsequently he became Cary's teaching assistant, then Professor-in-Charge of Studios and Adviser for Electroacoustic Music before taking early retirement in 1995 to pursue his performing career.

He is best known for his work in free improvised music, and has devised a special computer processing instrument for this work. He has worked with many of the finest improvisers, particularly Evan Parker, and is a key member of the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. Casserley's instrumental approach to live computer sound processing is the hallmark of his work; the Signal Processing Instrument allows him to use physical gestures to control the processing and to direct the morphology of the sounds. This is the culmination of forty years of experience in the performance of live electronic music. He also works as a soloist, processing sounds from voice, percussion and self-made instruments. CDs have been released by ECM, Konnex, Leo Records, Psi, Sargasso and Touch.

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