Friday, November 8, 2013

New website, etc..

Greetings fellow Dockstaderians,

We have a new website up for the film which can be found at Check it out and let me know what you think. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter (@TodDockstader)! While there will ultimately be some overlap between these outlets, I will try to make each destination as unique an experience as possible. I always love hearing from other Tod enthusiasts, and can now be reached at

Friday, August 2, 2013

New filming underway

My old friend and professional filmmaker Rocco has recently joined the project and we are in the process of kicking this film into high gear. We've been meeting with and filming Tod on a weekly basis and are putting together a list of potential interviews. I've also recently launched a facebook page for the film ( which will have updates, exclusive photos, clips, etc... You can even check out some of the cartoons Tod drew in college!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

An exciting email, and a reflection on musique concrète in everyday life

As you might imagine (or perhaps have even done) I regularly get messages from Dockstader fans all around the world. I'm always thrilled when I get these messages and I feel privileged to be so closely associated with Tod. It's a pleasure to interact with fellow Dockstaderians, and to share your praise with him. His music was so overlooked for so long that he's constantly surprised by the fact that people really enjoy his work now. Last week I received a particularly surprising and interesting email from a Dockstader fan: a gentleman by the name of Pete Townshend.



Turns out that when Pete was working on the music that would become TOMMY, he used a chunk of Tod's music in his demos as a way to say "I want to do something like this here." By the time the album was released, those bits had been re-written so Tod's music didn't appear on the album, but now over forty years later, Townshend is working on a deluxe boxed set of TOMMY and wants to include the demos "as is." He went searching for Tod in order to properly credit him and to make sure that he was properly paid, and in the process found this blog. If by the time you're reading this the album is already out, then perhaps you've found this website by way of The Who, in which case, welcome. I recommend watching this video if you haven't yet.

Pete had his engineer send me an mp3 of the demo in question, but added this caveat: "It might attract attention, and then disappoint serious scholars of musique concrète. There is a lot of my noise going on at the same time." This got me thinking, as I am prone to do, about the role musique concrète has played in popular culture almost since it's invention. 

The Classical Avant-Garde often finds itself re-packaged and either sold to, or foisted upon an unsuspecting public. Play atonal music for most people and the common response will be "Sounds like film music," because as we all know dissonance = scary monster. Electronic sounds surround us every day. Would-be dubsteppers should be forced to listen to Stockhausen, Subotnick, Oliveros, Dockstader, et al... and hopefully realize that that music should be the foundation upon which they build, not some guy in a mouse mask. But musique concrète has crept into the mainstream in more subtle ways.

The classic example I use when explaining what the term means is to tell people that Revolution #9 from The Beatles White Album is essentially musique concrète. The technique is often associated with "found sounds" used in either "musical" or abstract ways. But I feel the definition can be even broader than that since the term translates as "fixed music." Under this idea, I would argue that the majority of recorded popular music can be considered "musique concrète."

To stick with the Beatles comparisons for a moment, the entire second half of their output were studio constructs, never intended to be played live. Slicing, splicing, layering, etc.. created these works. So much of today's music is "assembled" in the studio using digital versions of the same techniques. This is why it was so easy for someone like Dockstader to quickly adapt to digital editing, the basic principles are all the same. And of course, one of musique concrète's most basic techniques, speeding up a sound, is familiar to anyone who has ever heard the Chipmunks.

Even if we stick to a more "traditional" definition of "found sounds" we can still hear the influence of this style all around us. Sampling is directly linked to the idea that sounds carry meaning, and those meanings can help inform a new piece of work. Whether you're building a song using the sound of trains or snippets of James Brown, the listener will respond based on their experiences with the original source material. Early Hip-Hop, Plunderphonics, and today's mash-up culture all exploit these associations to build layers of meaning into their works.

But the area that we hear musique concrète these days that I find the most surprising is in commercials. Nearly every KitKat commercial that I can remember from the last decade has been made by using pitched breaking sounds to re-create their familiar theme song. Pringles did quite a bit of literal "popping" in the recent past. And now there's a high-end faucet commercial that uses musique concrète. I wonder if this means that I've somehow become a target demographic?

So if Pete is concerned about what the "serious scholars" think about "some reverse guitar and swannee whistle nonsense (he) cooked up," then I'd suggest the scholars look elsewhere. Personally, I'd rather celebrate the hidden influence that Tod had on a Rock & Roll classic than worry about the "purity" of an art form that is now being used to sell candy bars, potato chips, and fancy kitchen ware.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

In which the scholar talks at length about Tod Dockstader

For the last several months I have been sorting through the 4,202 music files that I found on Tod's old computer. This work was done as my Senior Honors Project at the University of Rhode Island. This video presentation includes a brief history of Dockstader and an overview of the work that I've been doing.

Exempa440: the cataloguing of Tod Dockstader's computer from Justin H Brierley on Vimeo.

More information and an abstract for the project can be read here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Friend Tod: Use Blue Walker! :) Always

As I arrive at my weekly visit with Tod I am always filled with wonder. I wonder what kind of mood I’ll find him in. I wonder if he’ll remember me. I wonder where our conversation will go. And I wonder about the physical details of his surroundings. For example, the items on his small desk are often carefully arranged in some fashion whose meaning I can only guess at.

The one item that is the most wonderful of all is his blue walker. It’s the sort of walker that has four wheels, a seat, and a small basket under the seat. Often times this basket is so full of random items that it doesn’t fully close, rendering it’s functionality as a seat moot. There’s usually an assortment of DVDs, some loose, some mismatched, others unopened. There are sometimes articles that somebody has printed or torn from a magazine. Occasionally a bit of a plastic plant will be stuck in the hole at the end of the handgrip as a bit of decoration. One time he had a stuffed bumblebee tucked into the pocket of his jacket that hung from his walker. Apparently he had hijacked it from one of his visits to Beverly. (The bumblebee can be seen in the penultimate shot of Unlocking Dockstader: episode one).

And then there are the tissues: facial tissues, half rolls of toilet paper, paper napkins. He’s constantly grabbing them from around the home; he’ll see a box sitting on a table and say “Oh I need those,” grabbing them and adding them to the collection. To be fair, he does frequently have the sniffles, so it’s not like it’s just some weird pathology.

Other times the blue walker has been a source of concern as he’s left it somewhere and forgot where it is. The staff will buzz around looking in his usual places until it turns up in a bathroom or on the patio or wherever it might be.

On a recent visit I discovered that he had acquired? Stolen? Let’s say “appropriated” these two little flowers in their pots.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Friend Tod: an introduction

When I first met Tod Dockstader, he was a name on the spine of a few CDs in my collection. He was the sound of a music that I didn’t (and still don’t) completely understand but that I was intensely drawn towards. He was a myth of a recording engineer who created a world all his own and on his own terms. Today he is still all of those things, but for me he has become something else entirely. He has become my friend. We’ve built up our weekly routine: I explain, to his great amazement, that my Zoom H4n replaces his old Nagra tape deck and how my tiny SD card can hold hours and hours of recordings, we share laughs as we listen to his music, and as I leave him he genuinely thanks me for my visit. I believe, despite his dementia, that he truly does remember me, and I know from his smile as I leave that he enjoys our time together.

As I move into the next phase of making this documentary, I hope to show this human side of Tod. For every creator, no matter how great or little their work, no matter how tragic or commonplace their life, is human. Nowhere in the previously existing writings about Tod do you discover one of the most startling (for me anyway) facts about him: he’s funny! He has this strange sense of humor that often comes through in the amusing wordplay he engages in. I can’t do it justice here in written and remembered form, but I hope to share those moments with you so that you too can get to know him the way I do.

So, I will be showing these other sides of Tod in two ways. First, I will be trying to capture those moments on film and/or audio, and second through this blog. I will be occasionally posting musings like this one to share some personal moments, and to reflect on my thoughts as I continue on this fascinating journey.