Alden Ashforth – Byzantia: Two Journeys after Yeats

Alden Ashforth - Byzantia: Two Journeys after Yeats LP front cover
Alden Ashforth - Byzantia: Two Journeys after Yeats LP back cover
Alden Ashforth - Byzantia: Two Journeys after Yeats LP side 1

Byzantia is an avantgarde music jewel on Orion Master Recordings, a baroque and classical music label founded by Giveon Cornfield in Canada in 1962, later relocating to Malibu, CA, in 1967. The label published Aaron Copland’s piano music, soloists like Jean-Pierre Rampal or Yehudi Menuhin, as well as avantgarde music LPs such as James Nightingale’s Pandorasbox, as featured in a previous post. A selection from the 600 Orion releases until 1988 is currently being reissued by Canadian label Marquis Classics.

A composer, jazz researcher and educator, Alden Ashforth was born in New York around 1930. He studied music in New Jersey with various teachers, among which Roger Sessions and Milton Babitt. In the early 1950s, he produced jazz and blues sessions with New Orleans musicians, such as the Emile Barnes 1951 Dauphine Street Jam Session, or the Kid Clayton 1952 sessions, both published by Folkways in 1983. In 1969, Ashforth became director of the UCLA electronic music studio. Along other US composers such as Virgil Thomson, John Cage or Milton Babitt, Ashforth contributed a waltz to the concert of contemporary waltzes by contemporary composers organized in San Francisco in 1979, later released as a Nonesuch LP in 1980. Starting 1980, Ashforth taught composition at Princeton University and UCLA. Ashforth’s song cycle Aspects of Love was also published by Orion (ref. ORS 79335).

In both sections of Byzantia, inspired by W. B. Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium, the music emerges from a background of electronically-produced bird songs, as well as river and ocean wave sounds. More abstract synthesizer parts – some produced by the composer’s own amplified brain waves, like Alvin Lucier’s Music For A Solo Performer (1965) – gradually develop in conjunction with sustained organ notes and Moog traits. The composition maintains this perfect balance between radical, abstract sound experiments and melodious passages involving nature or real instrument imitations (trumpet, bells). The music is not pure meditation, though, and the pairing of organ tuttis and Moog fortes at times produce devastating washes of sound. While not a poem set to music, Alden Ashforth’s Byzantia certainly pays homage to the Irish poet with a music retaining some of the refinement and poetry of the original.

01 Sailing To Byzantium (20:00)
02 Byzantium (18:32)

Alden Ashforth, synthesizer (Buchla, Moog), biofeedback, tape
James Bossert, organ

Total time 38:32
LP released by Orion Master Recordings, Malibu, CA, ref. ORS-74164, 1974


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9 Responses to “Alden Ashforth – Byzantia: Two Journeys after Yeats”

  1. 1 botanizingthecinema June 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    I am looking forward to listening to this recording, your description is so enticing. However, the download process is confusing me—I keep getting led to one download page after another—mirrorcreator, iLivid, iMesh etc. It is very labyrinthine (or byzantine?). What should I be doing? (by the way, I am such a fan of your site. I learn so much through your excellent, succinct writing)—Christian

  2. 2 continuo June 12, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Hi, Christian. Many readers seem to be confused by Mirrorcreator. Here’s a little How To:

    When the Mirrorcreator page opens, scroll down immediately to the bottom of the page and wait for the 8 or 9 download links to appear. They are named: BayFiles, DepositFiles, Uptobox, Badongo,, TwoShared, File Jungle, SendMyWay, TurboBit, ZippyShare, etc. There is still an intermediary page before you can finally reach one of these genuine download sites. Everything else (iLivid, iMesh, etc) is advertising. I hope this helps.

    Thanks for the nice comments.

  3. 3 botanizingthecinema June 12, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Thanks for the instructions. I just started the download with Bayfiles. It is taking quite a bit of time, but I guess that is how they encourage one to purchase the premium ;)

  4. 4 continuo June 12, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    You got it!

  5. 5 Daniel Urria (@gesticulator) June 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I really liked this. Thank you.

  6. 6 continuo June 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    It’s pretty good, I think. Thanks for your comment.

  7. 7 Rod Stasick September 22, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I worked for a distributor that carried these Orion recordings.
    Sometimes they were a bit “dry” in their explorations, but
    now-and-then a special one would crop up. One strange little
    memory for me concerning these recordings: Their album
    numbering, tho simple, was something I’ve always thought clever:
    the last two numbers of the year released followed by chronological numbers. So this one was the 164th release from 1974.

  8. 8 continuo September 23, 2012 at 8:17 am

    It should be mandatory for a record company to include year of release in the reference digits. It would save the life of some record collectors.

  9. 9 Steve T. December 9, 2014 at 6:06 am

    I’m Alden Ashforth’s partner, and I’m very glad to see this. He’s in his 80s now and not very well, but I know he’ll be pleased to know his music is still getting attention. I’ll be sure to tell him.

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