Remembering David Tudor: A 75th Anniversary Memoir

The Expo ’70 Laser System, Oakland and Osaka; Ahmedabad, India; 1969–1970

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Fig. 11

Figs. 10 & 11, David Tudor, Carson D. Jeffries, and Lowell Cross with the completed VIDEO/LASER II, December 1969

David Tudor was able to secure for Carson D. Jeffries and me a commission from E.A.T., Inc. to construct a four–color (pure–spectrum red, yellow, green, and blue) laser deflection system for the Pepsi–Cola Pavilion at Expo ’70. With the termination of my employment at Mills College, I was free to devote full time to this project. After some delays, E.A.T. made available the funding to purchase a Coherent Radiation Laboratories Model 52G krypton laser and Bell & Howell mirror galvanometers and amplifiers. I kept these precious components locked in a secure storage area at our Oakland apartment until Carson D. Jeffries was ready to start to work. Even though he had his full load of teaching and research in the fall of 1969, he soon began the mechanical fabrication of the laser mounting assembly, the prism and mirror support hardware, and the x–y galvanometer alignment devices in the sculpture studio at his home in the Berkeley hills. I began to build the electronic control interface for the galvanometer amplifiers at our Oakland apartment. In December 1969, we were ready for the final assembly and testing of the system, which we named VIDEO/LASER II, in one of Carson D. Jeffries’ physics laboratories at Le Conte Hall on the Berkeley campus (see Figs. 10 & 11, David Tudor, Carson D. Jeffries, and Lowell Cross with the completed VIDEO/LASER II, December 1969).

For over a week in December 1969, David Tudor was a guest at our Oakland apartment. Unfortunately, Nora discovered what John Cage meant when he said, “David has no concept of time.” I confess to my share of the blame, but Nora became a “laser widow” and had to sit at home watching her excellent dinners become colder and colder on her beautifully–set dining table. I could see that David Tudor’s preoccupation with his work was becoming incompatible with Nora’s wishes to be a gracious hostess.

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Figs. 12, 13, 14, & 15, kinetic laser imagery from VIDEO/LASER II, December 1969.

My parents and sister, Professor and Mrs. J. C. Cross and Ms. Evelyn Cross (now Mrs. David Duncan), visited us in Oakland at Christmas 1969 – after David Tudor had left. I was very proud to show to them, and to Nora, our fully–functioning four–color laser light apparatus with x–y scanning. (see Figs. 12, 13, 14, & 15, kinetic laser imagery from VIDEO/LASER II, December 1969).

After our very family–oriented Christmas respite from Nora’s intense tour of duty as cook and hostess and my intense period of work on the laser system, she and I began to make our travel plans for the first half of 1970. I would leave for Osaka in early February to spend over a month installing VIDEO/LASER II and helping David Tudor with the sound system (Gordon Mumma designed the control console). Nora would join me in Osaka around 12 March, in time to recover from jet lag and to observe the dedication ceremonies of the Pepsi–Cola Pavilion on the opening day of Expo ’70, 15 March. VIDEO/LASER II worked perfectly as long as I was there to take care of it, but I was disappointed that there was no interest on the part of E.A.T. officials in making my laser–activating sound materials audible. The Expo crowds were overwhelming – 100,000 people stood in line to see the moon rocks at the U.S. Pavilion. Nora and I took refuge in restaurants in the Czech and New Zealand Pavilions, where we could eat non–Japanese food for a change. Over the six–month duration of Expo ’70, March–September, there were 2,000,000 visitors to the Pepsi–Cola Pavilion.

After a few days, we left Osaka and toured Kyoto, Nara, and a small part of Tokyo. Then we departed for Hong Kong and spent three wonderful days on a shopping spree. The next stop was Bangkok, but first we had to fly over Vietnam during a frightening thunderstorm while the battle of Hue was raging below. In Bangkok we toured the temple and palace grounds, ate Thai food, and savored our last European meal for the next several weeks at the Normandie restaurant.

Our destination was Ahmedabad, India. David Tudor had recommended that I act as a consultant at India’s first electronic music studio, an installation at the National Institute of Design (NID) in this “village” of 1.5 million people 275 miles / 440 km north of Bombay. The influence of David Tudor and Billy Klüver had secured for me a John D. Rockefeller III grant to sort out the studio’s many technical problems. Within a few weeks, I had solved the problems, supervised the rewiring of the patch panel, and had aligned and calibrated the two Ampex professional tape recorders. With its Moog synthesizer and auxiliary equipment, NID now had a truly functional electronic music studio, but alas, one without any composers.

I received several telex messages at NID from the Pepsi–Cola Pavilion – certain laser colors were not working properly. I tried to troubleshoot the problem via telex, but there was no one left at the Pavilion in April who could effectively maintain the system (see Klüver, Martin, & Rose, eds., Pavilion, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972). Almost thirty–one years later, at 8:30 a.m. local time on Friday, 26 January 2001, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake devastated large areas of Ahmedabad and much of northern Gujarat. The epicenter was in Bhuj, 185 miles / 300 km west of Ahmedabad.

While in Ahmedabad, we were the guests of the wealthy Sarabhai family, patrons of NID. David Tudor had known the Sarabhais for quite some time; he was a frequent topic of conversation. His recommendations had allowed us to travel to Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, and eventually around the world. Nora and I arrived back at our Oakland apartment in May 1970. In India we had time to act like real tourists. We went camel riding with the Sarabhais, visited many temples and other architectural sites in the Ahmedabad region, and traveled to Bombay, Udaipur, Delhi, and Agra. But unquestionably the most important event for us in 1970 was the birth of our daughter, Karen Adrienne, on 19 November!