Musical Background

Michael’s musical life began very early singing in church and school choirs and playing trumpet and tuba in school bands. In his early teen years, during the late 60’s and 70’s, he began playing guitar and bass in several local bands. All along he felt a deep love for music but felt that somehow he could do more than what was possible at that time. Fortunately a fortuitous set of circumstances set him on the path that he follows to this day. In his sophomore year, the music department at R.N. Snider High School in Fort Wayne decided to begin two electronic music classes. One focused on analog synthesis and the other on electronic music history. The classes were taught by the wonderful jazz musician Dick Seeger. Michael’s imagination was ignited by the unlimited pallet of sonic possibility afforded the composer using these new methods. A class visit to the electronic music studio at Ball State University further concreted his passion.

However, since these tools were only beginning to become available and then at huge expense there was no way for him to begin working with these new techniques and so he continued to play guitar and bass. Michael tried studying music with a local composer and in college however he found traditional music theory to be a stifling restriction on his creativity so he set about studying everything he could find about music on his own. He was actively playing progressive rock at the time. Bands like Gentle Giant, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd were breaking new compositional ground in that they were blending Rock and Orchestral approaches together and then adding synthesizers. He also listened endlessly to much of the classical repertoire as well as some jazz and new age. All of them offered some interest but still something was lacking.

Also during this time he heard the music of Xenakis, Stockhausen, Schaefer, Cage and others who were working with the electronic sounds and techniques that he had fallen in love with. Yet, their music, while extremely interesting, did not resonate with him on a musical level. He found it devoid of emotion and lifeless except on an intellectual level. At this time he began to realize that music such as that by JS Bach is so great because it is excellent both on the intellectual and the musical level.

In the early 80’s building a home studio became possible and so over several years he put a studio together using a 16 track Fostex machine and a Roland MC-500 sequencer and mixing everything down to stereo cassette tape. At this time he also began using a computer for editing and working with “trackers”, which are a simple form of a sample playback/compositional program. Inspired by people like Michael Oldfield he began making his first 7 album projects playing all of the instruments and singing. These years were important and formative to his creative development even though he did not publish any of the work that came from them. He felt that the work he was doing was quite average and he had not found his voice… but at least he was in a position to search.

All along he was becoming quite frustrated because he was “hearing” music in his mind that he knew of no way of producing… beautiful multi-layered sonic combinations co-existing and interacting within multiple dimensions of time and space… sounds and combinations he had never imagined before… Often he would awake from sleep in tears after having heard/dreamt every subtle nuance of very long and involved pieces of music that he could not fathom ever hearing with his ears. Finally, in the late 90’s a breakthrough occurred on two different levels that would alter the course of his compositional life.

One afternoon Michael decided to put on a CD to listen to. He had failed to notice that he had put a different CD into the player than he had intended to. When Morton Subotnik’s Silver Apples on the Moon came on instead he was quite surprised but decided to listen to it anyway. Suddenly he was overwhelmed by the piece and began hearing the amazing counterpoint that was occurring in it. Complex melodies and harmonies, intricate poly rhythms all came together and made perfect musical sense to him. He had in that moment found his voice. He knew what he wanted to say musically and how to say it.

About the same time he had read an interview of the Aphex Twin in Electronic Musician. In it Richard James had described using a programming language called Csound on his latest project. Captivated by the idea, Michael began to investigate Csound and subsequently to compose with it. He had found the tool to facilitate the new voice he had discovered and so he began to compose the music he had been hearing in his mind for so many years. Later that same year he attended an Intense Csound Class taught by Jon Christopher Nelson in Crested Butte Colorado. This class, along with the friends he made while attending it, forged the focus on Csound as his musical instrument. The first piece he composed using Csound was called Energies @ Work and was presented at SEAMUS Y2K National Conference held at the University of North Texas.

Since then Michael has been focused upon composing in this new way and opening new perspectives on music in general. Long since has he abandoned traditional contemporary perspectives on music. For example he no longer thinks in terns of notes but instead of in terms of events. Instead of pitch he thinks of frequency, which also determines rhythm. Instead of thinking about musical form in a linear fashion he now composes from a completely non-linear perspective. He now programs the computer to create musical material, within the constrains he sets, and then edits the material into finished compositions.

Two close friends and colleagues that have been very instrumental in Michael’s continued development are Dr. Otto Laske and Dr. Sylvia Pengilly. Collaborations with both of these dynamic composers and theorists have fueled his quest for growth and have inspired him to constantly refine and expand his compositional approaches.

Michael continues to elicit musical events from a synthesis of generative algorithms and an ever-expanding Csound sample playback instrument. Numerical representations of aural quanta are mixed and blended into formal elements using varied catalysts such as, parameter mapping sonification, score based sampling, mathematical equations and other paradigms including cellular automata in an unending quest for emergent quanta… ghosts in the machine…. Main compositional tools include Csound, Cmask, Mathematica, Excel, MetaSynth, AbSynth, Sonar and Sound Forge.

Michael is honored to have served as the SEAMUS Webmaster and as member of the board of directors. He also hosted SEAMUS 2009 at Sweetwater and was the curator of the monthly Sweetwater Electroacoustic Music Concert Series along with curating several other concerts, exhibits and installations. His works have been performed world wide in concerts, festivals and symposiums and have been used in pedagogical applications at several universities. He continues to give lectures on his research and theories and has also written extensively on them, and has been published. Michael is currently writing a book called “Bending Space – Transcending Contemporary Approaches to Musical Composition”.

Comments are closed.