Martin Bartlett

Martin Bartlett should be a familiar name. As well as working with a who's who of electronic music, he was an inspiring and original thinker, composer, performer and organiser. His music is distinctive for its warmth and fleshiness, for taking joy from the incidental and anecdotal, and it remains a characterful counterpoint to much contemporary electronic music. It is his preoccupation with building aleatoric elements into electronic music that distinguishes his work, and he devised elegant and open interactions for instrumental performers and computer-controlled synthesizers. This included building his own electronic devices, and extensive work on the Buchla 400.

Key influences were Pauline Oliveros, John Cage and David Tudor, all whom he studied under. Like many of his generation, he became interested in non-Western compositional and philosophical practices, and in 1981 he travelled to India to study Carnatic vocal music with V. Lakshminarayana Iyer in Madras and then on to Burma, Thailand and Indonesia where he studied shadow theatre. He studied South Asian music with Pandit Pran Nath, gamelan with K.R.T. Wasitidipuro, and closely collaborated with Don Buchla on live performances and synthesiser design. He was particularly interested in the Javanese gamelan, which led to him founding the Vancouver Community Gamelan in 1986. On his travels to Indonesia he made hours of field recordings, many of which are accompanied by vivid narrations on the rituals and ceremonies he was documenting.

In 1973 Bartlett and seven others founded the Western Front in Vancouver – a cultural cooperative, gallery and performance space that still exists today. In 1982 he was made professor at Simon Fraser University where he remained for the rest of his life. Bartlett died young, of AIDS-related causes, in 1993, but his music remains a rich source of inspiration, and is characterised by an irresistible and unselfconscious charm that renders his sound unique. These selections, along with the companion LP Anecdotal Electronics, and Luke Fowler’s film Electro-Pythagoras, aim to redress this prior neglect, shedding light on this little known personality from electronic music history, who still has so much to say.