Morton Subotnick:
Creativity for a lifetime

December 1, 2008
Suzanne Thorpe

Children begin exploring sound in a spontaneous and creative way. The question is: How do we foster this potent period of childhood sound discovery and use it to build a foundation for ongoing creativity? Electronic musician and composer Morton Subotnick has developed a method with his innovative Creating Music software.

A ground-breaking electronic music pioneer, best known perhaps for his 1967 composition Silver Apples of the Moon, Subotnick has pursued an experimental approach to electronic composition and interactive software throughout his career. Now, adding to a rich life of musical innovation, he has completed Creating Music, a series of six CDROMS for children.

One of the Creating Music CDROMS

Creating Music is a musical learning environment for ages 4 and up that enables children to experiment with musical composition, performance, games and puzzles, and teaches them how to listen to music of all cultures. The software allows students to utilize a new musical canvas feature with which they can create musical compositions by drawing scores for their sounds. The interface is a touch-sensitive screen, or musical canvas, that allows children to organize sound with gestures that resemble finger painting. The sounds that the program produces are from four tuning and rhythmic categories, those of China, Africa, India and Western Europe. The program includes listening games that involve rhythm and melody. Every gesture results in a sound that is heard instantly. And changes in patterns are easily made with clicks of the mouse.

Creating Music is unique because it keeps intuition intact while it fosters musical creativity in all children regardless of their abilities in formalized musical environments. Subotnick observes that "in the West there is the notion that some people are musical and others are not, that kids can't play with music without training in an existing paradigm. This perception is false. Creating Music gives children the chance to create feelings in sound. It is getting at music and creativity from a cognitive base."

This fall, an exciting new music course offered at the Harlem School of the Arts is debuting the Creating Music method of exploring musical creativity. Subotnick and other educators will track the progress and learning curve for each student, and members of the American Composers Orchestra will work with students throughout the course. The program will be mirrored at the 92nd Street YMCA in January, with classes for autistic children.

According to Subotnick, music offers people an opportunity to define themselves culturally. And that self-definition can stay with someone for a long time. The Creating Music series allows for innate development at every stage of engagement, providing children with the opportunity to explore musical creativity before and after they are taught an instrument. And more, Subotnick believes that the skill sets learned during this period of childhood growth will enrich the lives of children for their lifetimes.

Photo by Joel Chadabe. Courtesy Electronic Music Foundation.