About Sal Martirano

Salvatore Giovanni Martirano, internationally acclaimed American composer, was born on January 12th, 1927 in Yonkers, NY, a son of Alexander and Mary Mazzullo Martirano. He died at the age of 68 on Friday, November 17th, 1995. Professor Martirano studied composition with Herbert Elwell at Oberlin College (1947-51), Bernard Rodgers at The Eastman School of Music (1952), and with Luigi Dallapiccola at the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, Italy (1952-4). From 1956 to 1959 he was in Rome as a Fellow of the American Academy, and in 1960 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. At this time he had works commissioned by the Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations. He was professor of composition at the University of Illinois from 1963 until his retirement in 1995. During the Illinois years he also accepted residencies at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Sydney in 1979, IRCAM in Paris in 1982, and The California Institute of the Arts in 1993.

Martirano was among the very first composers to use and invent new computer technology for composition. He created two electronic music systems, the first being the Sal-Mar Construction and later the YahaSALmaMac. The Sal-Mar Construction was called “the world’s first composing machine" by the Science Digest. Composer Joel Chadabe noted that “The Sal-Mar Construction is a historically important musical event and a stunning and classical display of individual American invention. It must be seen and heard!” Martirano toured the world with the performing/composing music machines and described his live performances in the following manner: “The composer, in performance, interacts with the machine as it composes, creating spontaneously four melodic lines which move throughout the concert space via a network of 24 overhead speakers.”

Martirano’s best-known composition is “L’s G.A.” (1967) for gassed-masked politico, helium bomb, three 16mm movie projectors and 2 channel tape recorder. The work features a narrator wearing an amplified gas mask who recites a modified version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The narrator inhales a mixture of nitrous oxide and helium to raise the pitch and emotional intensity of the voice to the accompaniment of taped sounds and film projections by Ron Nameth. “L’s G.A” has been referred to as “the quintessential anti-war piece,” and “The Eroika of mixed media.” The Village Voice called the piece “terrifying, clear, and a mixed-media classic” and the LA Times has labeled it “a famous 1960s psychedelic mixed-media collaboration.”

Martirano’s orchestral and choral compositions have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra, and by radio orchestras and choral ensembles throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. His chamber and solo works have been performed world-wide.

Professor Martirano's many awards and grants for composition include: Margaret Crofts Award to Tanglewood, Fulbright Grant to Italy, Prix di Rome, Fellowship to the American Academy in Rome, Guggenheim Fellowship, American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, Ford Foundation Grant, Brandeis Creative Arts Award, Fromm Foundation Award, Illinois Arts Council Award, Associate of the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Illinois (twice awarded), and a National Endowment for the Arts Award.

He received commissions from the Koussevitsky and Fromm Foundations, 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Arts Committee, Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Tone Road Ramblers, Ciosoni Trio, and many individuals and chamber ensembles.

Salvatore Martirano was a master collaborator. He consulted with and brought together the best talents from a variety of disciplines: poets, artists, musicians, writers, computer scientists and electronic engineers. These collaborations produced powerful results evident not only in his compositions and inventions, but also in public events and educational endeavors. Many will remember The Round House Concerts, the Summer Workshops for Contemporary Music, Election Nite Diversion, and Moon Landing.

Martirano toured with numerous bands during the "Big Band" Era and later with improvisation groups including Condition Blue, The Border Guard, and The Champaign Museum of Natural History. His music is available on compact disc. It is published by Schott in London and Smith Publications in Baltimore. He recorded for CRI, Advance, Heliodor, Polydor, New World, Centaur, Einstein, Neuma, and GM Records.

There seems to be a difference between the music that involves reflection, and the music which is 'in the air': performance that's there and then it's gone. I'm fascinated by both activities. -- Salvatore Martirano


Many of the electronic music pioneers of yesterday have turned to today's MIDI system of connecting various sound sources, but few have adapted new ideas for it. The recent music of Salvatore Martirano tiptoes towards the new developments, but is firmly grounded in his techniques and ideas of the past.
--- Gregg Wager, LA Times

Genres crash and burn in his music, with varying levels of success.
--- jive rhapsodist

Salvatore Martirano
--- Article by New World Records 80535

I-80 Avant-Garde
--- A review by Kyle Gann, printed in the November 17, 1987 issue of the Village Voice.

Maze of wires is music to his ears
--- A review by Charles Ward, printed in the September 15, 1976 issue of the Houston Chronicle.

Electronic Concert at Calarts
--- A review by Melody Peterson, printed in the May 8th, 1973 issue of the Los Angeles Times.

First Of Synthesizers, Instrument's Father Ready To Sell 'Son'
--- An article by Jane Karr, printed in the News Gazette.

Several Quotes on the SAL-MAR Construction

Unfulfilled hopes at the Con
--- A review by Fred Blanks, printed in the May 30th, 1979 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Illinois' famous unknown master of electronic music
--- An interview and article by Kyle Gann, printed in the Chicago Reader.

Thoughts on the passing of Sal Martirano: The Sound of Numbers
--- An article by Shelley Masar, printed in the December, 1996 issue of The Octopus.

And Now, The World's First Composing Machine
--- An article by Donal Henahan, printed in the April 19th,1981 issue of the New York Times.

Lincoln Address Distorted in Poem: Electric Ear Offers Antiwar, Mixed-Media Assault
--- A review by Theodore Strongin, printed in the Village Voice.

Avant Garde Entices Oberlin With Mixed-Media 'L'sGA'
--- An article by Wilma Salisbury.

Interview at CalArts
--- An interview with Barry Schrader.

Performing Unmet Hopes: Salvatore Martirano’s L’s GA
--- by Thomas J. Kernan.

List of Awards

List of Residencies

List of Publishers