Remembering David Tudor: A 75th Anniversary Memoir


David Tudor was a quiet, private, and highly secretive individual. He enjoyed the company of others, but in the 1960s and 1970s he seemed wary of making close personal ties; his work was the overriding concern of his life. He mentioned his former close friend Mary Caroline Richards to me only one or twice in passing. He never discussed his family, politics, philosophy, or religion in my presence. On Sunday afternoon, 10 October 1999, I had the opportunity to speak with Joy Nemiroff, David Tudor’s sister, for the first time. During our telephone conversation I apologized to her that I knew almost nothing about her. I explained that David Tudor never mentioned his family to me. She chuckled (reminding me of David Tudor’s chuckle) and said, “Remember, I grew up with him.” David Tudor was two years younger than his sister.

He never owned a car during our acquaintance; he may not have even learned to drive one. But this was no impediment to his activities; why drive when he could get others to drive (and load and unload) for him? His 100–year–old farmhouse near Stony Point, NY was modestly furnished; I found it to be a bit cold in winter. He had hot and cold running water indoors (from a well) but by necessity he and his guests used an outhouse.

David Tudor was the quintessential experimental composer. He experimented at home, he experimented on his travels, he experimented on stage: before, during, and even after his concerts. He kept a supply of almost–dead batteries on hand for powering his many electronic modules, treasuring them much more than fresh ones, which he could always buy. He liked the sounds he obtained from his equipment while his batteries were dying – he liked to be surprised during his own performances, just as John Cage did. Even when performing another composer’s music, he experimented, pushed matters “to the edge,” and contributed his sound materials on his own terms. Once after an all–Cage concert at the University of Rochester, he said to me, “I believe that it’s my responsibility to add as much dirt as possible to the performance.” Perhaps he thought that John Cage’s ideas, and Cage’s ways of realizing those ideas, were too pure. I miss the inscrutable David Tudor, “warts and all.”

List of Collaborative Works by Lowell Cross and David Tudor, 1966–1980

  • Musica Instrumentalis (Cross, composer; 1966).*
  • Bandoneon ! (Tudor, composer; 1966).*
  • Reunion (conceived by Cage; Cage and the Duchamps, players; Behrman, Cross, Mumma, and Tudor, composers; 1968).*
  • Video III (1968). Live electronic music with video images on black & white and color TV sets modified by Cross; University of California, San Diego; La Jolla, CA, 10 May 1968.

Note: the following are joint Lowell Cross – David Tudor works, in collaboration with Carson D. Jeffries.

  • Audio/Video/Laser with VIDEO/LASER I (1969).*
  • VIDEO/LASER II (1969–1970).*

All following works were performed in conjunction with VIDEO/LASER III

  • Free Spectral Range I – IV (1973, 1976, 1977).*
  • Laser Concert (1979). Live electronic music with laser images; Xenon (a "disco"), New York, NY; 28 February 1979.
  • Laser Concert (1980). Venice, Rome, Linz.*

*See text.


I am very grateful to Professor Elizabeth S. Sasser, Lubbock, Texas; David Hunter, Music Librarian, The University of Texas, Austin; Kathleen McMorrow, Music Librarian, University of Toronto; Professor Maggi Payne, composer, Mills College; Udo Kasemets and David Behrman, composers; Julie Martin, E.A.T., Inc.; and my dear friend Professor Elizabeth Aubrey, colleague and musicologist – for the contributions that each has made in the preparation of this memoir.

© 2000, 2001 by Lowell Cross. All rights reserved.

Lowell Cross is professor of music and director of the recording studios at The University of Iowa. He considers himself to be an erstwhile composer and former laser light show operator. His publications are on subjects ranging from the history of the early electronic music studios to a method for recording low–flutter measurement tapes for use with professional analog recording equipment. He has been responsible for over 50 commercial CD releases, as recording engineer, producer, and/or mastering engineer.

NOTE: The first half of this article appeared in edited form in Musicworks magazine (Toronto), no. 79 (spring 2001), pp. 25–31.