The Beginnings of SEAMUS

In 1982 the International Confederation of Electroacoustic Music (ICEM) was formed in Bourges, France, to serve as a companion organization to the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) under UNESCO.  Jon Appleton was the U.S. representative to the ICEM, and in 1983, Jon wrote to me about starting a new organization to be the U.S. chapter of the ICEM and asked me if I were interested in undertaking the founding of such an organization.  Over the next year I wrote many letters to and had numerous telephone conversations with American composers who were active in the medium, trying to generate interest in such an organization.  (How I wish e-mail had existed in those days!)    The response was mixed, and many composers saw no reason to create a new group, especially since the International Computer Music Association (ICMA) had been in existence since 1974.   In fact, several composers suggested that the ICMA simply be considered the U.S. section of the ICEM since so many American composers were members.  However, the ICMA was an international organization, and I believed that there should be a group devoted to representing U.S. composers.  I organized a meeting to form such an organization on November 9, 1984 at CalArts.

At the founding conference,  I suggested the name for the group, and announced the acronym, pronouncing it “seemus”.  Almost immediately, Jon Appleton said “shamus”, and the duality of how to pronounce SEAMUS was established, a confusion that I rather like and one that continues to this day.

The next twelve months were a time of  basic building for SEAMUS.  Several of the original officers lived in the Los Angeles area, and Bebe Barron (Secretary), Frederick Lesemann (Treasurer), Rodney Oakes (Editor, Journal SEAMUS), and I met on a regular basis, usually at The Cloisters, a restaurant adjoining the USC campus and owned by Leon Alexander, a Los Angeles attorney who agreed to work with us on a pro bono basis.  Starting a national society which had little or no precedent with regards to most aspects of its functional reality, by a group of sincere but, in the area of organizational creation, largely inexperienced composers was a real adventure.  We felt our way step by step, and, having set out some rather lofty goals, kept our spirits positive through a great deal of trial and error and a lot of hard work.  One of our biggest problems was that we literally had no financial resources, just ideas.  I believe that SEAMUS would not have survived this difficult early period were it not for financial support from ASCAP and the Alexander Family Foundation (through Leon), and the fact that CalArts was willing to pick up the costs of the founding meeting and first national conference (in 1985) as well as the costs of producing and mailing early promotional materials.  I think if we had truly realized the actual scope of what we were undertaking, and the problems that would ensue, we would have become discouraged.   Fortunately, this was not the case.  

In the more-than- twenty years since SEAMUS began, it has grown into one of the premiere national societies for electro-acoustic music and it boasts an increasingly growing membership and participation.  Of the original ten goals that I established for SEAMUS, several have been realized on an ongoing basis, some have been modified and/or expanded, and at least one has become irrelevant, that of working with the now-defunct USIS.  The attempt to start regional chapters was an additional goal of mine, but this was not successful, and the one chapter that was formed, SEAMUS-LA, was short-lived.  Another disappointment was a national radio program that I had organized, the sponsorship of which collapsed at the last minute.  But while there were some failures, there were many successes, and these can be seen in the programs and productions of SEAMUS today.

All in all, I am more than pleased with how SEAMUS has grown and developed, and I enjoy seeing its continuing evolution, although now from a distance.   I shall always feel close to the organization and its members.  I regard having started SEAMUS as one of my main achievements, but I also recognize that without the help of many others, SEAMUS would not have become a realty.  And so I would like to thank the founding members, ASCAP, The Alexander Family Foundation, and CalArts for helping to make the creation of SEAMUS possible, as well as the many newer members, officers, and other institutions who have continued to contribute to the development and success of SEAMUS.  SEAMUS simply wouldn’t exist without all of you.

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