The Planetary Society
Visions Artists Engineers & Astronauts Scientists Systems
Morton Subotnick  –  composer
Click for larger image " I like to think that when you are creating music you become three different people."
How were you motivated to become a composer?
  As for why I started.... when I was 6 or 7 I had some sort of bronchial problem. The doctor informed my parents that a wind instrument might help my breathing. I wanted to play the trombone, but didn't know what it was called. I asked for the 'clarinet' thinking that it was the trombone, and then was too proud to tell them that I made a mistake!

I became quite good at the clarinet and was fortunate to play most of the fine musical literature for the instrument by the time I was in my teens. The music I played inspired me to write my own music. I then began to study music and write music, and finally decided that composing music was one of the most important things in my life.

(You can visit my home page at

  Click for larger image
What can you share about your creative process?
    There are three different ways that a person can interact with a musical composition: creating the composition (the composer), playing or 'realizing' the composition (the performer), and listening and evaluating the music (the audience and the critic). I like to think that when you are creating music you become three different people. The first person is artist or composer who has an idea. As you realize or write down that idea you become the second person, the performer. As you listen and evaluate what you have written, you become the third person,the audience member and/or critic, and begin to re–write and edit.

My creative process is simple. I have a general idea about what I am going to create. I then 'play' with the idea by setting up various studies and models for the music. I 'play' with the sound and the ordering of the music. After the play period, I re–think the whole thing and, finally, compose without stop until it is done. Then, after letting the work sit for a bit, I listen and evaluate it. And, finally, edit and refine the composition. You can try composing music yourself by using the composition sketch pad at

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?
  Playing Music on Mars could be done with virtual instruments created on the computer. Taking advantage of what a computer can do for us, we can have the computer play the notes of the work while we interpret and conduct. (You can do some of this by accessing the section called "playing (with) music" at We could also link several computers and perform as musical ensembles of conductor/performers. In addition, we can create music which is special to the Martian environment. One such musical composition might be a piece of music (even with images!) created on the computer and performed by body movements rather than a keyboard or computer mouse. We would create the 'interactive' music and image composition by building sensors that detect motion. Then, since the Martian gravity is less than Earth's gravity, we could control the computer–generated music and images by jumping and twirling like a dancer through the sensor space.

(To get a sense of how that might work, access the "cartoon conductor" at and imagine that you, rather than the computer mouse, are moving around a space and controlling the sound and the image).

You can download a soundfile excerpt from The Key to Songs by Morton Subotnick for 6 instruments and computer.
Recorded on New Albion Records (NA012).
PC WAV sound file (975K)
Mac/Sun AIF sound file (975K)

You can also download a soundfile excerpt from And the Butterflies Begin to Sing by Morton Subotnick for string quintet, piano and computer. As the piano plays, the computer modifies the sound and adds new sounds to the the live performance.
Recorded on New World Records (NWR-80514-2)
PC WAV sound file (1.6M)
Mac/Sun AIF sound file (1.6M)

Art/Sci/Astro Entrance | Imagine Mars | Visions | Artists | Engineers & Astronauts | Scientists | Systems