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Music memories Festival brings honor to work of Foss, Bode

This weekend's RendezBlue Festival has quickly blossomed from a respectable celebration of Buffalo's avant-garde history into a timely memorial for the legendary conductor, composer and former Buffalo Philharmonic Music Director Lukas Foss.

Foss, who died Sunday, was already the focus of the festival's final day, when former BPO concertmaster Charles Haupt and a group of musicians are slated to perform several pieces by Foss and others, including his well-known work "Time Cycle." The periodic festival, launched by the Burchfield Penney Art Center last year to honor and celebrate Buffalo's extensive contributions to the experimental arts, is now in its third iteration.

The whole affair kicked off on Thursday with lectures by Burchfield Penney Curator Nancy Weekly and George Eastman House Director Anthony Bannon and a presentation of Paul Sharits' film "Axiomatic Granularity." It continues tonight with a performance by Buffalo band The Skiffle Minstrels and a family painting workshop with local artist Kristin Brandt.

But on Saturday, tucked into the middle of the four-day festival, is a tribute to a man few Western New Yorkers would recognize by name but whose contributions still resound throughout the worlds of experimental and rock music. That man was Harald Bode (pronounced BODAH), a German-born electronic music pioneer whose engineering work was instrumental in developing the Moog synthesizer and other seminal electronic music instruments. Bode died in 1987, and the tribute marks what would have been his 100th birthday.

In the mid-'50s Bode moved to the Buffalo area, where he worked for the Wurlitzer organ company in North Tonawanda and later for Bell Aerospace. In his free time and sometimes on contract for the Moog company -- Bode developed devices that came to be used by hundreds of musicians, both popular and avant-garde.

Tom Rhea, an expert in the history of electronic music and instructor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, will be on hand to give a lecture about Bode's contributions to the electronic music scene slated for 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The lecture will come after a five-hour performance by Bode's son Peer Bode and Andrew Deutsch in the new museum's project space, which will use some of Bode's instruments and include video and textual elements.

Rhea, who worked with Bode as well as Robert Moog (who designed the famed synthesizer using some of Bode's research), called Bode an incredibly important figure in the development of electronic instruments that have since become vital tools of musical creation in the United States. Bode's vocoder, a device conceived in the '30s by the engineer Homer Dudley and later improved upon by Bode and others, was widely used in the music world.

"That's why Harald Bode is such an important man," Rhea said. "People from the avant-garde used vocoders built by Harald . . . and people in pop music used vocoders. It had a huge influence and is still being heard today. In my lecture I intend to show some of the sounds, some of the music, and to reprise a bit of Harald's career."

Saturday will also feature a performance, at 8 p.m., of the constantly evolving piece "Violent Power for Violin and Computer" by violinist and composer Steina Vasulka.

For Burchfield Penney Associate Director Don Metz, the opportunity to honor an underrecognized figure like Bode is an affirmation of the Burchfield Penney's mandate.

"There's so many things in Buffalo that slip by, and that's why we're here," Metz said. "Seriously, that's why we exist."

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW

WHAT: "RendezBlue: Time Cycle"

WHEN: Through Sunday

WHERE: Burchfield Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave.

TICKETS: Free

INFO: 878-6011 or rendezblue.org

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