1.0  History of the League

The League of Automatic Music Composers came about through a confluence of technological change and radical aesthetics. In the mid-1970’s, composers active in the experimental music scene centered loosely around Mills College in Oakland were greeted by the arrival of the first personal computers to hit the consumer market. These machines—called microcomputers because of their small size compared to the mainframes of academia and industry—could be bought for as little as $250. Their availability marked the first time in history that individuals could own and operate computers free from large institutions. To the composers in this community it was a milestone event. Steeped in a tradition of experimentation, they were busy at the time building homebrew circuits for use in 'live' electronic music performance. The behavior of these circuits often determined the primary character of the music. The idea of using the electronic system itself as a musical actor, as opposed to merely a tool, had started with composers like David Tudor and Gordon Mumma. A natural continuation of their example could also be found in the local composers who performed with self-modifying analog synthesizer patches as well. One of these players was the late Jim Horton (1944-1998). Horton was a pioneering electronic music composer and radical intellectual who was first out of the blocks in purchasing one of the new machines--a KIM-1 in 1976. Horton's forward-looking enthusiasm for the KIM quickly infected the rest of the community. In a short time many of us acquired KIMs and began teaching ourselves to program them in 6502 machine language. Programs were entered directly into the KIM's 1K of memory via a hexadecimal keypad, and saved onto audio cassette--the cheaper the cassette machine the better. Loading programs back into the KIM's memory from cassette was a notoriously flaky proposition often requiring frequent re-tuning of the control circuit onboard the KIM. There was a strong feeling of community among the composers who were learning to program these tiny computers. This shared spirit was particularly helpful when it came to getting a foothold on the more esoteric, and sometimes pesky, aspects of KIM-1 operation.

John Bischoff's KIM-1 computer music system circa 1980
photo: Eva Shoshany


"The scene at Mills seemed worlds away from the electronic music studios I had been exposed to. They still had the public access studio going at that time, and they let me try out the electronic equipment myself and showed me how things worked. David (Behrman) was rehearsing with Rich Gold, John Bischoff, and Jim Horton, who were using tiny computers called KIMs. They were not exactly my image of what computers were like—a board about the size of a sheet of paper with a tiny keypad and a few chips."

George Lewis, quoted in Composers and the Computer, p. 79, by Curtis Roads, William Kaufman pub. 1985

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