TOD DOCKSTADER: biographical excerpts
an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, Dockstader majored in
psychology and art. Then, as a graduate student, he went on to study painting
and film, paying his way by doing cartoons for local newspapers and magazines.
In 1955, Dockstader headed for Hollywood. For his first
job there as an apprentice film editor, he cut picture and sound for
animated cartoons, including "Mr. Magoo" and "Gerald McBoing-Boing."
He moved on to writing and storyboarding cartoons, where his greatest
creation was "The FreezeYum Story," about a Good Humor salesman
who turned his ice-cream truck into a sonic spectacular, and got himself
fired for his dreams. Truth following fiction, Dockstader was then laid
off when the studio folded, and he moved to New York.
Becoming a self-taught
sound engineer and sound effects specialist, in 1958 he apprenticed as
a recording engineer at Gotham Recording. At this major commercial studio,
Dockstader surreptitiously used off-work hours to collect interesting
sounds and to experiment with musique concrète.
Dockstader's Gotham studio c. 1964
1960, he had built these into his first Eight Pieces. (Years later,
Fellini used parts of these in his film Fellini Satyricon.) In
1960, Gotham acquired its first stereo Ampex, and Dockstader revised
No. 8 into his first stereo piece, Traveling Music. On May 20,
1961, he received his first world premiere on New York's WQXR: they aired
No. 8 along with Varèse’s Poème èlectronique.
This was a sufficiently unusual and important event in those days to
prompt Varèse afterwards to call Dockstader to warmly discuss the
significance of the event.
Dockstader’s last piece at Gotham was Four Telemetry
1965. He left Gotham to work as an audio-visual designer on the Air Canada
Pavilion at Montreal’s Expo '67, making dozens of soundtracks
and shooting thousands of slides and a film.
In the mid 1960s Owl Records
released three albums of Dockstader's
music, which led to favorable reviews in such publications as Saturday
Review, Audio and High Fidelity.
Around this time
of his new national recognition, Dockstader, being an outsider without
academic credentials, was denied grants and access to the major electronic
music centers. (The Columbia-Princeton Center turned him away.)
early 1980s, interest in Dockstader was further stimulated by some highly
enthusiastic reviews of the Owl recordings in alternative publications
like OP, Recordings of Experimental Music, and Surface
Released in the early 1990s, Starkland's two Dockstader CDs brought steadily increasing recognition to this pioneering composer. These CDs elicited further acclaim, from international alternative music publications like the UK's The Wire (which praised both the music and the "obsessive care" used to produce these CDs) to mainstream US publications like The Washington Post and Stereophile (which places Dockstader alongside Varèse, Stockhausen, and Subotnick in the area of electronic music). Reinvigorated, Dockstader returned to music at the start of the 21st century, adopting computer composition in favor of tapes. New CDs appeared from Sub Rosa and ReR Megacorp.
In the mid 2000s, Tod’s health diminished, but he continued composing until dementia stopped him. He died peacefully on February 27, 2015, listening to his music.
Tom Steenland wrote about his 40-year friendship with Tod in article posted at New Music Box.
Visit a fine unofficial Dockstader website.