Copland Summer: Notes from the Road, Seeing Sound

In which I go away, come back, explain little, and we all go off on a merry little tangent.

When I wasn't riding roller coasters, visiting museums, and otherwise touristing in Cleveland last week, I did get to enjoy some quality time reading about Copland. I even took notes:

notes on hotel paper

I had plenty of good intentions of doing something more with these notes, and perhaps I will now that I’ve almost recovered from vacation, but today instead I present you with a Copland-inspired diversion into the world of cinema!


Here’s the passage that caught my eye today in the book.

Rodeo remains widely misunderstood and underrated, not only because it is often heard piecemeal (especially “Hoe-Down,” which among other things became the basis for a 1952 animated short, Abstronic, by the early master of abstract animation, Mary Ellen Bute [1906-1983])...” (p. 374)

The internet, sadly, does not seem to have a video of Bute’s film for us. Here’s an image from it, via the Anthology Film Archives

Abstract image

Searching for “Abstronics” turns up a lot of rather gross exercise equipment ads. Bute was not, I'm happy to report, after your abs or any other muscle groups. She came up with the term by combining “abstraction” and “electronics.” Something about Copland’s music appealed to her as a starting point:

 “The two abstronic films I have made are based on the music of “Hoe Down” by Aaron Copeland and “Ranch House Party” by Don Gillis. Because this music is simple rhythmically, clear and sharp, I thought it suitable for my first experiment in this new art medium. I could not, as yet, have dealt with the problems posed by, say, Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” even though I based one of my abstract films on a recording of it Leopold Stokowski made for me of his own arrangement. It music is too intricate for a first exploratory venture into an electronic visual interpretation."

- "Abstronics: An Experimental Filmmaker Photographs the Esthetics of the Oscillograph" by Mary Ellen Bute


Because this music is simple rhythmically, clear and sharp…” – perhaps there’s something useful from this tangent after all. 


For now, check out two of her other films:




You can also read more about her in a few articles and sites that kept me distracted this morning:

"Mary Ellen Bute: Seeing Sound" by William Moritz 

Center for Visual Music: Mary Ellen Bute

"The Films of Mary Ellen Bute" by Cullen Gallagher


I’ll try to have a playlist of my favorite recent Copland listening for you this weekend!


Previous adventures: 

* Copland Summer
* Simplicity and Objectivity