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Ned Lagin

Ned Lagin (born March 17, 1948) is an American artist, photographer, scientist, composer, and keyboardist.

Lagin is considered a pioneer in the development and use of minicomputers and personal computers in real-time stage and studio music composition and performance.

Ned Lagin was born in New York City and raised on Long Island in Roslyn Heights, New York. Growing up, Lagin was influenced by classical and jazz music, and the modern music and art cultures of New York City in the 1960s. He started photography with a Kodak Baby Brownie Special at the age of four, and piano lessons and science, natural history, and electronic projects at the age of six.

He attended the Wheatley School in Old Westbury, New York, was awarded two National Science Foundation Scholarships, and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the intention of becoming an astronaut. Lagin holds a degree in molecular biology and humanities from MIT where he studied with John Harbison, Gregory Tucker, David Epstein, Noam Chomsky, and Jerome Lettvin. Chomsky’s generative grammar concepts inspired Lagin’s thinking about creating generative music forms (1968), and Lettvin connected him to the writings of Norbert Wiener and Warren McCulloch, and to cybernetics. Lagin also completed jazz coursework at the Berklee School of Music.

He was deeply influenced by the jazz world in New York City, particularly pianist Bill Evans  who he met in Boston and saw perform many times in New York and Boston in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and who wrote out some of his tunes for Lagin. Piano teachers included Dean Earl, a Charlie Parker sideman, and he studied jazz improvisation with Lee Konitz. He played piano in the MIT Concert Jazz Band and MIT Jazz Quintet  led by Herb Pomeroy, a sideman with Duke Ellington and Stan Getz.

The eclectic nature of his musical skills and interests came as a result of the diversity and depth of his early formative influences, which ranged from Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Gustav Mahler, to Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque keyboard and choral music, to Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand, to Aaron Copland, Charles Ives and George Gershwin, to Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and modal and free jazz.

Musicological studies included the transcription and analysis of Renaissance composers Jacob Obrecht and Johannes Ockeghem, and the philosophical and mystical aspects of music and sound vibration.

In 1971, Lagin began graduate study in composition as an Irving Fine Fellow at Brandeis University, where he studied with Josh Rifkin and Seymour Shifrin. He completed a symphony, a string quartet, jazz big band pieces, and electronic pieces before dropping out and permanently relocating to the Bay Area.

Lagin stopped performing music in public in 1975, and while continuing to compose he has worked in art and photography for over 35 years, first in small, medium, and large (4×5) format film photography, and subsequently in digital media and artist’s books. Subjects include sand drawings, nature, nudes, erotica, and self-portraits. His photography and art influences include Ansel Adams, Elliot Porter, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, Life magazine and The World We Live In, National Geographic, and the rock art of Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, and prehistoric Europeans.

During his professional career in science and engineering R&D (1976-2011) he worked on the earliest home computing technology with an Altair 8800; was a pre-release Apple MacIntosh software seed developer; developed real time digital video and image processing systems; biotechnology and immunology instrumentation; DNA, RNA, and peptide synthesis and sequencing hardware and artificial intelligence software; early wireless network routing systems; and consulted in ecological planning, design and habitat restoration including aerial and ecological photography for environmental studies.


Performing with the Grateful Dead

In early 1970, Lagin initiated a correspondence with Jerry Garcia after seeing the Grateful Dead at the Boston Tea Party in 1969. In May 1970, he helped facilitate a concert and free live outdoor performance featuring the band at MIT that coincided with the Kent State shootings. That summer, Lagin, at Garcia’s invitation, visited San Francisco and contributed piano to “Candyman” during the American Beauty album sessions, played in several jams, and started what would become close friendships with Garcia, bassist Phil Lesh, and David Crosby.

An online annotated database, Annotated Nedbase 1970 – 1975, lists his known performances and recording work from 1970 to 1975.

From 1970 to 1975, Lagin sat in on Hammond B3 organ, electric piano, and clavichord during long instrumental passages at several Grateful Dead concerts. His first performances with the Grateful Dead were on November 5 and November 8, 1970 at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York; his first complete concert was at Boston University‘s Sargent Gym on November 21, 1970.
During many 1974 Grateful Dead concerts over several tours, including Europe, he performed a middle set of electronic music, including parts of his composition “Seastones”, on computer-controlled analog synthesizers with Phil Lesh on electronically processed bass. Some sets included Jerry Garcia playing guitar filtered through effects processors, and sometimes these sets segued into the final Grateful Dead set, with Lagin performing with the Dead, including appearing in The Grateful Dead Movie.

During the 1974 tours, he played through the vocal system of the Wall of Sound PA, in quad, with 9600 watts going through over two hundred speakers. Lagin could play the PA like an instrument, and the PA allowed feeling the sound in one’s body.

The March 17, 1975, Grateful Dead studio session included Ned’s “Birthday Jam” and a “Seastones” session with David Crosby.

Lagin played on some of the most beautiful performances of the Grateful Dead’s song “Dark Star“, including clavichord and Farfisa organ on the “Beautiful Jam” of February 18, 1971 and electric piano on the October 18, 1974 “Dark Star” that appears on the two DVD release of The Grateful Dead Movie. The “Beautiful Jam” is included in the So Many Roads (1965–1995) box set. He contributed synthesizer on the Grateful Dead album From the Mars Hotel.

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