Living on the Earth: The Experimental World(ing) of Ramon Sender

Ramon Sender was a founding and core member of the San Francisco Tape Music Center (SFTMC), an independent organization for experimental cultural production that operated between 1962 and 1966. In San Francisco, Sender experimented with new media, technological instruments, musical forms, and performance practices, collaborating with other composers, directors, filmmakers, and dancers. Indeed, this community has been celebrated and chronicled within the academic discipline of musicology, and Sender’s contemporaries Pauline Oliveros and Morton Subotnick have seen mainstream recognition as pioneers of experimental music. Yet Sender falls through the cracks: his work rubs up against musical and compositional expectations, and makes generative frictions between composerly production and something radically other.

Using Anna Tsing’s concept of “worlding”, this paper follows Sender during his transition away from the legibility of composerly production at the SFTMC, and towards radically democratic, de-skilled, communal practices at the Morningstar Ranch commune. It argues that Sender’s ostensibly non-compositional practices, such as technologies for sun staring, musical accompaniments to hatha yoga practice, and de-skilled group singing, retain and extend the technologies and ideologies that he developed at the SFTMC. Considering these practices as extensions of experimental musical production productively disorients the study of experimental music, forcing a reevaluation of musical experiment as both sensory and political, both affecting the inner psyche and effecting outward action.

Ted Gordon is a PhD Candidate in the History and Theory of Music at the University of Chicago whose research lies at the nexus of experimental music studies and science and technology studies. His dissertation, “Bay Area Experimentalism: Music & Technology in the Long 1960s”, follows musicians through the intersecting worlds of experimental music, systems theory, post-war technoscience, and communal living. He has written for the Library of Congress and the American Musicological Society’s “Musicology Now!” Blog, as well as Cultural Anthropology (forthcoming). He is an improvising musician in the greater Chicagoland area, performing on viola and the Buchla Music Easel.