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Mumma, Gordonlocked

  • Richard S. James
  •  and David Revill

(b Framingham, MA, March 30, 1935). American composer and performer of electronic music. He attended the School of Music (1952–3) and Institute of Science and Technology (1959–62) of the University of Michigan and studied composition, piano and the horn privately. As a composer and performer he co-founded and worked with the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music in Ann Arbor (1958–66) and the ONCE Group (1960–68). Mumma also collaborated with Milton Cohen's Space Theater in Ann Arbor (1957–64) and in New York with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (1966–74) and the Sonic Arts Union (from 1966). With these ensembles and as a soloist, he toured widely in the Americas, Europe and Japan. From 1973 to 1992, he taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz; he has also held numerous visiting lectureships, including Darius Milhaud Professor at Mills College (1981) and on the Cursos Latinoamericanos de Música Contemporanea (1975, 1977, 1981).

Mumma's musical development coincided with the rise of audio electronics, and he was a pioneer in exploring their musical applications. His reputation was founded on his contributions to electro-acoustic music, particularly his custom-built circuits for sound creation and manipulation. Mumma's ‘cybersonic’ circuitry modifies and interrelates live instrumental, ambient and electronically-produced sounds and their various transformations. Works employing these circuits resist the tendency of electronic music towards fixity; the electronics function instead to highlight the variability of live performance. Hornpipe (1967) joins cybersonic equipment with a French horn equipped with a double reed mouthpiece. According to Mumma ‘What happens next in the piece depends entirely on the interaction of resonant characteristics of the space with the horn itself and the performer, and those interactions are mediated and expanded by the series of electronically resonant circuits that literally make a map of the acoustical resonances of the space’. Mumma investigated phase- and time-shifting effects in Passenger Pigeon 1776–1976 (1976), Pontpoint (1966–80) and, most fully, Stressed Space Palindromes (1976–82), whose custom-built doppler-shift circuitry creates the impression of rapid changes in the size, shape and acoustic of the performance space. In the earlier Conspiracy 8 (1970), he had also begun to explore the possibilities of the computer as a performance instrument, an investigation which has continued in, for example, Than Particle (1985) for percussion accompanied by a commercially available synthesis system.

Beginning in the 1980s, Mumma's work has increasingly involved conventional, acoustic instruments. After the effulgence of electronics, Mumma became interested in severely limiting the compositional material and trying to ‘put that material together in relationships that sustain a larger form’. These instrumental works often employ classical structures as a reference point. The musical procedures of the Eleven Note Pieces and Decimal Passacaglia (1979) relate to those of the Baroque period, but with a 20th-century approach to pitch distribution. In the Sixpak Sonatas (1984–94), Mumma employs sonata form on the Scarlatti model, though with quite different content. His references to such structure give the listener a framework such that the form remains recognizable despite ‘preposterous deviations’.


(selective list)


Cybersonic works

Medium Size Mograph 1963, pf, cybersonic console, 1963

Horn, hn, cybersonic circuits, 1965

Le Corbusier, orch, org, tape, cybersonic console, 1965

Second Horn, hn, cybersonic circuits, 1965

Mesa, cybersonic bandoneon, 1966

Diastasis, as in Beer, 2 cybersonic gui, 1967

Hornpipe, cybersonic hn, cybersonic waldhorn, 1967

Swarmer, vn, concertina, saw, cybersonic circuits, 1968

Beam, vn, va, cybersonic modification, digital control circuitry, 1969

Ambivex, cybersonic cornet, 1971

Cybersonic Cantilevers, cybersonics, audience participation, 1973

Live elecs

Megaton for William Burroughs, pfmrs, elecs, lights, 1963

Conspiracy 8, digital cptr (1–8 players), 1970, collab. S. Smoliar; Telepos, dancers, elecs, 1971, collab. M. Cunningham; Phenomenon Unarticulated, dancers, elecs, 1972

Than Particle, perc, digital cptr, 1985


Sinfonia, 12 insts, tape, 1958–60

Densities, tape, 1959

Vectors, tape, 1959

Mirrors, tape, 1960

Meanwhile, a Twopiece, perc, tape, 1961

Epoxy: Sequence I, tape, 1962

Retrospect, tape, 1962–82

Music for the Venezia Space Theatre, tape, 1964

The Dresden Interleaf 13 February 1945, tape, 1965

I Saw Her Dance, crosscut saw, dancer, slides, tape, 1970

Stressed Space Palindromes, tape, 1976–82

Pontpoint, tape, 1966–80

Epifont, tape, 1984

Begault Meadow Sketches, tape, 1987



Suite, pf, 1959

Gestures II, 2 pf, 1962

Large Size Mograph 1962, pf, 1962

Medium Size Mograph 1962, pf (any no.), 1962

Very Small Size Mograph 1962, pf (any no.), 1962

Small Size Mograph 1964, pf duet, 1964

Very Small Size Mograph 1964, pf duet, 1964

Passenger Pigeon 1776–1976, synth, 1976

Eleven Note Pieces and Decimal Passacaglia, hpd, 1979

Los desparacidos, elec clvd, 1980

Octal Waltz, retuned hpd, 1980

Sixpak Sonatas, pf, 1984–94

Songs without Words, pf, 1995

Other instrumental

A Quartet of Fourpiece, 4 insts, 1960–62

Peasant Boy, pf trio, 1964

Communication in a Noisy Environment, cars, machines, insts, 1970

Schoolwork, crosscut saw, psaltery, melodica, 1970

Equale: Internal Tempi, 3 hn, 3 snare drums, 1975

Equale: Zero Crossing, fl, cl, sax, bn, vn, vc, bandoneon, 1976

Faisandage et galimafrée, variable trios, 1984

Aleutian Displacement, chbr orch, 1987

Ménages à deux, vn, vib, mar, vn, 1989–90

Recorded interviews in US-NHoh

Principal publishers: Berandol, Cybersonic Arts


(selective list)

  • ‘An Electronic Music Studio for the Independent Composer’, Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, 12 (1964), 240–44
  • ‘Alvin Lucier's Music for Solo Performer’, Source, 2 (1967), 68–70.
  • ‘The ONCE Festival and how it Happened’, Arts in Society, 4/2 (1967), 381–98
  • ‘Technology in the Modern Arts: Music and Theatre’, Chelsea, 20–21 (1967), 99–110
  • ‘From Decade 6, Tour Process, Years 6–9’, John Cage, ed. J. Bekaert (Brussels, 1970)
  • “‘Sun(flower)burst” and “Sound Modifier Console”’, Pavilion, ed. B. Klüver (New York, 1973), 238–42, 303–4
  • ‘Home Canning: Responsibilities in an Electronic Age’, Electronic Music: a Listener's Guide, ed. E. Schwartz (London, 1973), 224–6
  • ‘Live Electronic Music’, The Development and Practice of Electronic Music, ed. J. Appleton and R. Perera (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1975), 286–335
  • ‘… from where the circus went …’, Merce Cunningham, ed. J. Klosty (New York, 1975), 64–73
  • ‘Sound Recording’, Grove A


  • U. Kasements: ‘Current Chronicle’, MQ, 50 (1964), 515–19
  • H.W. Hitchcock: ‘Music as Process and Action’, Music in the United States: a Historical Introduction (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1969, 3/1988), 270–73
  • Michael Nyman: Experimental Music (London, 1974), 77, 82–7
  • Peter Manning: Electronic and Computer Music (London, 1985)
New Haven (CT), Yale University, Oral History Archive
D. Ewen: American Composers: a Biographical Dictionary
Musical Quarterly