So just who is this Tod Dockstader anyway? He is perhaps most well known for the startling electronic music he created in the 1960s. Initially released on the Folkways and Owl Record labels, many of these works have since been re-issued by Starkland and ReR Megacorp. He worked in a primarily Musique Concrète style, although occasionally added electronics generated by oscillators. All of these works were created by sneaking into Gotham Recording Studios at night where he worked as a sound engineer by day. Largely self-taught, he was always very conscious about not calling his work "music" instead preferring the term Organized Sound. In fact his lack of formal training meant that he was denied access to the studios at Columbia-Princeton. The records met with some minor critical acclaim, and one of his early pieces was used in the Fellini film Satyricon. And then he just disappears ....
This is where the story starts to get interesting. But first, some more background information to set the stage. He was born on March 20th, 1932 in Saint Paul, Minnesota and studied painting at the University of Minnesota. While there he drew cartoons for both the school newspaper and its magazine and found some occasional work as an illustrator. But the most important thing that happened while he was there was he met his future wife and life long partner Beverly. After graduation Beverly got a job teaching at an elementary school in Hollywood, so the two moved to California. Tod went looking for work as a cartoonist and was rejected by Disney, but welcomed in by the edgier studio United Productions of America (UPA) who produced Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing. While there, Tod mostly did storyboarding, but got the chance to learn sound and film editing as well. The two eventually moved east, which is when Tod landed the job at Gotham and created his most well know works. So what happened when he disappeared?
By that time (late 60s) Tod and Beverly had a daughter, Tina, and the three moved up to Westport, CT. There, along with business partner Fred Hertz, Tod formed the Westport Communications Group. The company specialized in making educational films for classroom use. Tina recalls her father immersing himself into each new project, becoming an expert on the subject at hand, be it the Civil War, the Roaring 20s, or some other aspect of American History. These films, which Tod wrote, directed, and created sound for, are clearly the work of someone who cared deeply about sound. They contain elements of sonic storytelling and will perhaps someday be counted along side his recordings as an important part of his artistic output. The myth of Dockstader says that after he no longer worked at Gotham that he no longer had any equipment to record. However, this is not true. Through his own company he was able to purchase the equipment that he needed, including at that time a Moog Synthesizer. His only musical output of this period were two lp's of short, Moog-based pieces released by Boosey & Hawkes and intended for film, radio, and television use.
At this point our tale takes a turn to the personal, but will help to understand what happens next. In the late 90s / early 00s Beverly started to change. While they didn't realize it at the time, she was developing Alzheimer's. Tina, who was now starting a family of her own in Massachusetts, convinced Tod to get a computer so that they could keep in contact via email. He quickly realized the computer's potential for creating music and set about transferring hours and hours of DATs that he had accumulated over the years. During this time he released the three disc set Aerial and collaborated with David Lee Myers on two albums. The computer also became an escape from the difficulties of care-giving. Beverly suffered several strokes which ultimately rendered her mute.
One contributing factor for the development of dementia is depression. By the mid-aughts Tod had been showing some minor signs of dementia, which were then accelerated by his depression over no longer being able to speak to his beloved wife. However, he continued to create until his own dementia made it no longer possible. His old computer is filled with hours of as-yet-unreleased works that are strikingly different than anything else in his catalogue. Perhaps some day these recordings will be regarded by musicologists as the Dockstaderian Late Style.
Today Tod resides in an assisted living community and makes daily visits to his wife Beverly who lives nearby in a nursing home.