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Roger Reynolds


About this Artist

ROGER REYNOLDS was educated in music and science at the University of Michigan. Reynolds has responded to the variety of the contemporary world with a uniquely diversified output, music that ranges from the purely instrumental and vocal to engagements with computers, video, dance, and theater. His music is nourished by the Western tradition, also by those of Asia (where he lived in Japan for extended periods of time, supported by the Institute of Current World Affairs, an organization dedicated to the growth of international understanding), and by literature and the visual arts as well.

Particularly identified with the writing of Beckett, Borges, Ashbery, and Kundera, Reynolds has sometimes responded with songs, as in the cycle last things, I think, to think about (1994), written collaboratively with poet John Ashbery. But there have also been instrumental glosses, including Focus a beam, emptied of thinking, outward… (1989) for solo cello, and a distinctive series of multichannel electroacoustic compositions collectively entitled VOICESPACE. About the fourth of this series, Nicholas Kenyon wrote in The New Yorker that "The Palace is a powerfully atmospheric piece whose form is perfectly suited to the extraordinary visionary quality of Borges' poetry…"

Visual art has provoked works as diverse as the 1991-92 Symphony[The Stages of Life] (inspired by self-portraits of Rembrandt and Picasso and commissioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic by The Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in The Library of Congress), Visions for string quartet, which responds to the startling range of Bruegel's imagination, and, more recently, another quartet, Ariadne's Thread, which is concerned with the character of line itself, both drawn and sounding. The Strad of London wrote that, "An incessant, insistent darkness throbs through the heart of [this quartet] capturing the neurotic and sublimated sexuality of the Ariadne myth in a strikingly original way. The result was a truly astonishing musical voyage."

Myth has emerged as central to another major undertaking, The Red Act Arias, premièred at the 1997 Proms Festival. Here, a text drawn from Aeschylus probes the deadly conflict between Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, using a narrator, choir, and orchestra augmented by a uniquely conceived 8-channel computer spatialization concept. Writing in The Sunday Times, Paul Driver called it "a kind of anthropological brooding; a secular oratorio in which the theme is the dark forces at the foundation of civilized society." Work on the planned opera, The Red Act, proceeded then, in JUSTICE, for soprano, actress, percussionist, and computer spatialization, commissioned by and staged for the Library of Congress' Bicentennial, in The Great Hall of the Jefferson Building.

In the early 60's, Reynolds was a co-founder of the ONCE Festivals. Late in the same decade, he began to incorporate electronic elements into some of his works. Then, in the late 70's, his engagement with computers at Stanford University's CCRMA facility began. He completed The Palace there in 1978-80. Technology continues to represent for him a natural means of augmenting formal and coloristic resources (as in three major works written in Paris for Ircam: Archipelago (1982-83) for chamber orchestra and computer processed sound, Odyssey (1989-93), an opera in the mind on a bilingual text by Beckett, and The Angel of Death (2000-2001), for solo piano, chamber orchestra, and 6-channel computer processed sound).

A signature feature of the composer's involvement with technology has been the gradual fulfillment of an early desire to confer an expressive reach upon the spatial aspects of musical sound (perhaps even one day to discover the roots of the empathic exclamation "I was moved"). Beginning with the notorious theater piece The Emperor of Ice Cream (1961-62), he introduced spatialization through antiphonies of live musicians, whereas, more recently, his work has involved the simulation of auditory illusions with computers, as in Two Voices - an allegory (1996), commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra. WATERSHED, a pathbreaking exploration of the new Dolby Digital 5.1 DVD medium featuring his music, was released by Mode Records in 1998.

In many of the spatial projects, architecture has also played a role, for Reynolds has written works expressly intended for buildings such as Kenzo Tange's Olympic Gymnasium, Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum, Arata Isozaki's Gran Ship, The Royal Albert Hall, and The Great Hall of the Library of Congress. Writing, in part, about the spatial dimensionality of the 1984 Transfigured Wind II, Andrew Porter observed in The New Yorker, that "Reynolds is at once an explorer and a visionary composer, whose works can lead listeners to follow him into new regions of emotion and imagination."

Reynolds' aesthetic outlook was jointly shaped by the American Experimental tradition (Ives, Varèse and Cage) and - through his teachers Ross Lee Finney and Roberto Gerhard - also by the Second Viennese School. His multicontinental career, in Europe, South America, Asia, and the Nordic countries, as well as in the United States, centers on composing, but includes writing, lecturing, organizing musical events, and teaching. In addition to writing articles for periodicals including Perspectives of New Music, the Contemporary Music Review, Polyphone, Inharmoniques, and The Musical Quarterly, Reynolds has published four books; Mind Models: New Forms of Musical Experience (1975) is the earliest, while the most recent, Form and Method: Composing Music, is a detailed treatment of his compositional approach published by Routledge, New York.

Reynolds is Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego, where, in 1972, he became founding director of the Center for Music Experiment (now the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts). He has also been Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois, Yale, Amherst, and the City University of New York. Master classes in settings such as Buenos Aires, Thessaloniki, Porto Alegre, Ircam, Warsaw, and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki complement numerous American residencies. Reynolds has also been featured composer at such international festivals as Music Today and the Suntory International Program in Japan, the Edinburgh and Proms festivals, the Helsinki and Zagreb biennales, the Darmstadt Courses, New Music Concerts (Toronto), Warsaw Autumn, Why Note? (Dijon), Musica Viva (Munich), the Agora Festival (Paris), various ISCM festivals, and the New York Philharmonic's Horizons '84.

Recipient, in 1989, of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize (which he won for the string orchestra composition Whispers Out of Time), Reynolds has also been honored by the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has received commissions from, among others, Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress, the Koussevitzky, Fromm (3), Ford, and Suntory Hall foundations, the BBC, the Los Angeles and Philadelphia orchestras, the British Arts Council, Radio France, and Ircam (3). His works are recorded on New World, Disques Montaigne, Neuma, Mode, Gramavision, Wergo, Lovely, CRI, GM, and Bridge compact discs. Reynolds is represented by Broadcast Music, Incorporated, and his compositions are published in printed editions exclusively by C.F. Peters Corporation. In 1998, the Library of Congress established the Roger Reynolds Special Collection.

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Photo Credit: Karen Reynolds