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White Elephant at the Manchester Expo 2006

Manchester Expo Sonic Arts Network and MANTIS at the University of Manchester present an ultra-rare appearance of Joseph Byrd - Fluxus founder and leading member of legendary US psych band "The United States of America". Byrd presents White Elephant; his first graphic score for almost 40 years, performed by all-girl Norwegian electro-improv group SPUNK and sound art activists Dreams of Tall Buildings.

White Elephant draws from the full history of experimental music and sound over the past 75 years, incorporating elements of synthesized music, musique concr_te, tape music, amplified sound, found objects, noise, sampling, free improvisation, and non-linear notations, with multiple creative personalities blending their skills into a single work.

A composer with roots in avant-garde and performance art, who has also long experience in film and television scoring, Byrd has imagined a "space opera" in the form of an extra-galactic journey by a vast exploratory vessel in the year 9050, in which present-day photographs from the Hubble/NASA telescope form the basis for a score of notated, sampled, and improvised sound, occurring simultaneous with the Dreams of Tall Buildings score.

Joseph Byrd

Joseph Byrd was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1937, but grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where he played in local pop, country, and jazz groups. Following his M.A. at Stanford in 1960, he went to New York, where he studied (Morton Feldman, John Cage), performed (NY Pro Musica Motet Choir), and worked (secretary to Virgil Thomson, later staff arranger for Capitol Records).

Joseph Byrd was a founding member of the Fluxus group in New York in 1961-64 (which included Terry Riley and Yoko Ono), The New Music Workshop in Los Angeles in 1964-66 (which included Don Ellis), and the electronic rock band The United States of America (two LPs on Columbia Records, 1967-68). During this time and in the early 1970's, he was active in the pioneering of electronic instruments, working with Donald Buchla in Berkeley and Tom Oberheim in Los Angeles. Groups such as Portishead, Broadcast, and Radiohead have cited him as a major source.

Byrd's work over the following two decades included film scores and electronic sound and he won 11 CLIO Awards for innovative radio and television commercials. He also produced several albums, including the critically acclaimed "Yankee Transcendoodle" ("The most ambitious electronic synthesis of 'live' music ever attempted" - PLAYBOY, 1976), and "JAZZ" ("Byrd has provided Ry Cooder's guitar and voice with settings that are impeccably realized and never less than clever. An elegant recreation" - ROLLING STONE, 1978; "Best Record of 1978" - TIME)

Retiring to Humboldt County, California, in the 1990's, he now teaches at College of the Redwoods. White Elephant; his first graphic score for almost 40 years will be performed at this year's Sonic Arts Network Expo Festival, Manchester.


SPUNK surfaced on the Norwegian music scene in 1999. This quartet of young female improvisers approach free improv with freshness, adding to their basic instrumentation of cello, trumpet, French horn, vocals, toys, small percussion, and electronics. By 2001, they were performing in Continental Europe and their second album came out in April 2002.

SPUNK was formed in 1995 by four music students with very different backgrounds. Singer Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, Lene Grenager, Kristin Andersen, and Hild Sofie Tafjord, when taken collectively, touch on classical, jazz, rock, techno, and country music. They created Spunk in order to explore fields outside their own studies and music engagements and free improvisation was the chosen form from the start.

SPUNK has played in many different settings: Theatre, dance performances, classical concerts, jazz clubs, techno clubs, churces, malls, art museums and festivals abroad and in Norway, collaborations with musicians and composers from various music genres, improvisation seminars, school concerts, concerts with participants, film music and music for art installations.

Dreams of tall buildings

Dreams of tall buildings formed at the end of 1999, they began recording sound textures from their environments and surroundings, drinking 13 coffees in an hour to short wave radio oscillations in brain storming sessions. They wish to remain anonymous and stress that they are not restricted to the red tape of the conformed and structured norms of being an x piece. Instead they state that by the end of the next year there could be 1000 people in DOTB or none. They have visions of collaborating with people in Spain and Australia simultaneously, unaware of each other's existence.

"White Elephant" was premiered June 24 2006 at the Manchester Expo in The Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall.

orion This is the Orion Nebula, which has inspired Joseph Byrd. Pictures can be viewed and downloaded here.

latest news

SPUNK's website March 13. 2010

SPUNK's website is being redesigned and will soon be updated with our current plans and activites.

SPUNK with Joelle Leandre June 15. 2008

March 3 2008 SPUNK played together with double bass player Joelle Leandre at Belleville, Oslo. We are hoping to play together again soon!

SPUNK reviewed by John Kelman May 22. 2008

...But the best music, as in the best lives, is all about confluence and contrast; pain and pleasure; harsh and beautiful. Spunk manages to bring together all these elements, making their performance one of the highlights of FIMAV 2008 and, quite possibly, the best show of the festival. Read the whole article. at

Reviews from FIMAV! May 20. 2008

"...on ne pouvait que se laisser bercer par les sentiments inspires par cette suite musicale etrange, intuitive et audacieuse." "Norway's all-female Spunk breaks the gender barrier when it comes to free improv with their combination of boldness and sensitivity and non-competitive spirit." (Montreal Gazette.

SPUNK to FIMAV, Canada May 13. 2008

On Norway's national day, May 17, SPUNK will be playing in Victoriaville, Canada, in the programme of the wonderful festival Festival International de Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV). Hurra!

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