Daryl Runswick
    Looney Tunes
          Electric Phoenix
                     
& The Kronos Quartet

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This picture cost me 3 dollars from a street vendor in New York with a cardboard cutout. It was taken in 1985 as I was in the early stages of planning Looney Tunes, my setting of the words, speeches, asides and gaffes of President Ronald Reagan, for double quartet (vocal and string) with keyboard sampler and electronics. Weeks previously, on the day the Americans bombed Tripoli, Reagan had been on the TV news justifying that atrocity. He actually called Gaddafi and his people 'these looney-tunes'. I grabbed my recording Walkman (the same one as for Lady Lazarus) just in time to capture him saying 'I warned them – I meant it'. That recording, made on cassette tape from a TV loudspeaker, is the sample you hear at the end of Looney Tunes: it's the only time Reagan's actual voice is used.

Later, early in 1986, I visited the Federal Library in Minneapolis to research Reagan's utterances. In this place they keep a record of every word spoken by every President while in office – not just speeches and press conferences, but every aside, every request for a glass of water, every cough. I waded through this morass for two days to glean my texts.

Previously unissued                         

Looney Tunes marks the debut in my works of the sampler, an instrument that continues to loom large in my music to this day (though now reduced from a hardware keyboard to a computer plug-in). The first sampler on the market that ordinary mortals could afford was the Ensoniq Mirage, and I must have been one of the first Europeans to own one. I learned its intricacies for this piece. It was a very crude device with such a poor recording quality that the stuff you put in never sounded quite how you expected. Naturally I made a virtue of this, producing quasi-electronic sounds whose origin you couldn't quite guess. (I was rather disappointed when the next generation of samplers reproduced what you put in them quite accurately. A moment in history had passed.)

 
Kronos ca.1986

 

 

 

 

 

Looney Tunes had its premiere at the Darmstadt Summer School in 1986. To my mild surprise (Darmstadt has a long and dishonourable tradition of booing pieces which don't fit its purist serial ideas) it went down very well. It was then brought back to The Purcell Room in England, where (as you can hear in this recording) it got a few laughs and incidentally won me a publisher. It was now programmed for Electric Phoenix's upcoming US tour with the Kronos. Reagan was of course still President. To my astonishment and anger the Kronos refused to perform it. Why? Did they expect a riot? – or were they perhaps nervous of offending their sponsors? When asked straight out by Terry they said, 'Let's just say this isn't a Kronos kinda piece'.
 

Electric Phoenix for this recording are Judith Rees, soprano, Mary King, mezzo, Daryl Runswick, tenor and sampler, Terry Edwards, bass, and John Whiting, speaker and sound projection. The Kronos Quartet are David Harrington and John Sherba, violins, Hank Dutt, viola, and Joan Jeanrenaud, cello.


Recorded live, straight from the mixer desk, by John Whiting
at The Purcell Room, London, Sunday 3rd August 1986.
 
This recording is covered by copyright