Anatomy and Evolution of Morton Subotnick’s In Two Worlds for Alto Saxophone and Interactive Computer

Jeffrey Heisler, Bowling Green State University


In 1987, Morton Subotnick completed his groundbreaking composition In Two Worlds.This pioneering work was a milestone for interactive computer music with its early use of the Yamaha WX7 Wind Controller, the electronic Air Drum, and Subotnick’s unique orchestration featuring solo alto saxophone, wind controller, full orchestra, and interactive computer. As a result, In Two Worlds contributed to rapid advancements in computer technology during the late 20th century as our contemporary society grew to anticipate and expect constant technological change. The instability in this environment spawned many innovations as well as rapid turnover in technology, thus forcing Subotnick to create several revisions of In Two Worlds between 1987 and 1992. Since the mid-1990s, the original hardware, software, and operating systems have become obsolete and unavailable; consequently, In Two Worlds has not been actively performed for the past decade.

This study seeks to consider the following problems: 1) Should Subotnick’s In Two Worlds be preserved for future performers? 2) If so, should one replicate the exact electronic parameters used in the original work, thus producing a time capsule from 1987? 3) Should performers expect continuous updates of the interactive computer patch for In Two Worlds as technology advances in the future? 4) Is there a correct or preferred version of Subotnick’s multiple revisions of this work? 5) Finally, what biographical events led Subotnick to the creation of In Two Worlds and what cultural and technological environments influenced his development?

This research will consider the evolution of performance, technology, and musical meaning in Morton Subotnick’s In Two Worlds by examining its conception, structural revisions, and changes in technology and orchestration. With the consent of the composer, the author and Mark Bunce1 have re-created a new version of the composition by updating and replicating the interactive computer patch to Max/MSP, thus making In Two Worlds performable again. This research will also address the problems of re-constructing past electronic works for performance with modern technology as well as proposing rationale behind the extensive revisions of In Two Worlds. Most importantly, this project will prepare the work for a new life in the saxophone repertoire by re-introducing In Two Worlds to saxophonists for performance with modern interactive computer technology.