Ann McMillan

Cloud Forest (1994) for woodwind quintet and tape

Ann McMillan was a good friend of the Quintet’s, attending many concerts and connecting us to other composers. She was a fascinating resident of Greenwich Village who was Edgard Varèse’s friend and assistant, collaborating with him on producing some of his compositions, including the tape portions in his works Déserts. Her pieces dealt with human vocal sounds, insect sounds, bird calls, and water sounds, but were often altered almost beyond recognition. She used sounds from The Macaulay Library natural sound archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to create the sound tape for this work Cloud Forest.

Ann McMillan did not record prolifically, but she was at the vanguard of electronic composition in New York in the 1970s. A student of groundbreaking composer Edgard Varèse, McMillan’s primary medium was magnetic tape, which she manipulated to create surreal soundscapes. On Gateway Summer Sounds, her debut album released on Folkways in 1979 and recorded at the legendary Princeton-Columbia Electronic Music Center, she sources sounds from the natural world – frogs, insects, field recordings from the Gateway National Recreation Area in New York Harbor – along with gongs, bells, and a harpsichord to conceive remarkable, hypnagogic compositions. Like the music of Daphne Oram and Pauline Oliveros, her compositions for tape have been overshadowed by those of her male counterparts, but her work is no less revolutionary or vital.

Ann McMillan (192301994) was born in New York City and grew up in New England, England and Wisconsin. She graduated from Bennington College in 1945, having majored in Composition and French Horn. She helped open the LP program for classical music at RCA Victor Records and in the fifties met Edgard Varèse. She became his student and assistant. From 1955 to 1957, she worked with a Fulbright Grant in Paris at the Radiodiffusion Television Francaise Studio d’Essai on “Recording Techniques for Music Composition.” On return to the States, she worked for their overseas studio in New York, composed a film score for Rhino Safari, a Norwegian documentary, and broadcast radio essays written for CBS’s French and English networks.

In 1965 she became Music Director of radio station WBAI-FM in New York City. She left the station staff in 1968 to concentrate on composing. McMillan was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a CAPS grant and resident fellowships at the MacDowell Colony and Ossabaw Island Project. Commissions included an orchestra work for Joel Thome’s orchestra of Our Time of New York City, and a violin and tape piece for Manuel Enriquez of Mexico City, works for Moses Asch, Max Lifchitz, and Quintet of the Americas. She was guest editor of the Contemporary Music Review. April-Episode, for live and tape part harpsichord, was performed by Joseph Payne at Fenton House, London’s Camden Festival, March 30,1979. The tape part of that piece is a complete piece in itself, called Episode.

In 1977 her music was presented at the 13th annual Avant Garde Festival in New York City, commissioned by Charlotte Moorman and the Port Authority of New York.

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