The titles of the papers link to PDFs; abstracts are on the lower part of this page.

Was He Right? A Look Back at Frank Zappa's 1984 Keynote Address to the American Society of University Composers

  • This paper examines a controversial address made by Mr. Zappa at a conference of academic composers
  • Presented: Pacific Northwest Chapter Meeting of the College Music Society; Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA (10 April 2009)

The Orchestra and Electroacoustic Music: A Challenging Mix
  • This paper discusses the difficulties inherent in combining electroacoustic materials with the orchestra. This was the subject of my PhD dissertation, and this paper is a distilled version of that document.
  • Presented: National Conference of the College Music Society; Salt Lake City, UT (16 Nov 2007)
  • Presented: Pacific Northwest Chapter Meeting of the College Music Society; Boise State University, Boise, ID (16 Feb 2007)

Sensor Selection in Design of Alternative Interfaces and Controllers (pp. 1-5 only; contact me for more information)
  • This paper provides an introductory examination of the different types of sensors that can be used in designing new control devices in electroacoustic music.
  • Presented: Society of Composers, Inc., Region IV Conference, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC (13 Nov 2004)

Computers and Live Performance: Interactive, or Interference?
  • This paper discusses some of the fundamental issues, concerns, and practices in the performance of interactive computer music.
  • Presented: Society of Composers, Inc., Region IV Conference, Stetson University, DeLand, FL (8 Nov 2003)


Was He Right? A Look Back at Frank Zappa's 1984 Keynote Address to the American Society of University Composers

Frank Zappa (1940-1993) remains a controversial figure in American music. A self-taught composer, his works defied simple stylistic categorization and exhibited musical features from both concert and popular traditions. As a result, Zappa developed a devoted base of fans from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and interests. His detractors were equally distributed. For many listeners of popular music, his music was excessively complicated and experimental. At the same time, Zappa was not taken seriously by many in the world of concert music due to his work in the world of popular music. Much of the controversy surrounding Zappa, however, came not from his music, but from his words. Whether in song lyrics, interviews, essays, or speeches, Zappa’s words rarely failed to elicit extreme responses. One of the most famous, or perhaps infamous, examples is his 1984 keynote address to the national conference of the American Society of University Composers, held at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. In his comments Zappa lambasted the very notion of composers in academe, ridiculed the assembled audience, and disparaged the overall state of contemporary music. A quarter-century has now passed since those remarks, and time provides perspective to evaluate the question, “Was he right?”

The Orchestra and Electroacoustic Music: A Challenging Mix

Since its origins in the aristocratic European courts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the orchestra has held an eminent position in Western art music. Due to its sheer magnitude and its unparalleled sonic flexibility, skill in writing original and ambitious music for the orchestra is a common, if myopic, measure of the quality and relevance of a composer’s output. The orchestra has maintained its esteem as the twenty-first century opens. Eighteen of the past twenty-five Pulitzer Prizes in Music have been awarded to orchestral compositions. But all is not well: cultural shifts and financial constraints are reducing both the size of audiences for orchestral art music and the number of viable ensembles. It is a complicated problem with many differing opinions as to its origins and solutions. By the end of the twentieth century, technological advancements provided new means of producing music. Developments in electronic instruments, recording technology, and computers have each been hailed as an impetus for future music. New genres of art music have emerged from these sources, known by varying terms: electroacoustic music, electronic music, computer music. In addition, technology has built new bridges between art music and popular music, leading to exchanges of ideas, techniques, and instrumentation. Interchange and interplay between the orchestral “old style” and the electroacoustic “new style” were inevitable during the twentieth century. New problems and questions emerged that were philosophical,
aesthetic, and practical. What is the artistic validity of music that combines such different traditions and concepts? Is the ability to make an artistic statement enhanced or compromised? What logistical issues exist in arranging and producing performances of these works? There are many more questions, and they all remain pertinent in the present.

Sensor Selection in Design of Alternative Interfaces and Controllers

Technological advancement has always been a vehicle for musical innovation. New materials, new inventions, and new archetypes lead to new ideas for musical and artistic expression. Computers and microprocessor technology are allowing the development of an entire new breed of musical interfaces that transcend the traditional function and role of musical instruments. It is now possible to create interfaces that can be used not only in music performance and composition, but also to integrate performer or user control of music and sound in other artistic genres, such as dance or the visual arts. It is a field of remarkable opportunity, but the opportunity comes at the price of a steep learning curve. Designing a system for an alternative interface is a challenging and multi-faceted task with several layers and functions of technology to consider. Many interface systems include the following components: a host computer, communications between the host computer and the interface, a separate microprocessor dedicated to the operation of the interface, and a sensor array that gathers data from the performer or user of the interface. This paper focuses specifically upon the selection of sensors for alternative interfaces. The sensor is the point of contact between the interface and the user/performer, and can
operate in a variety of ways fulfilling a myriad of roles. Since the sensor is the origin of the control data generated by the interface, the selection of sensors immediately and simultaneously opens options for and places limitations upon the ultimate use, function, and potential for expression of any alternative interface.

Computers and Live Performance: Interactive, or Interference?

Computers are becoming increasingly common in live musical performance, bringing a new set of considerations and challenges to the forefront. Nonetheless, computers also allow for a new kind of interactivity between performer and technology in the blossoming field of electroacoustic music. In this struggle between the compromises and the rewards of interactive composition, composers new to the genre are often left to repeat the struggles of others. Scholarship on this subject tends to be very specialized, focusing upon a particular type of interaction, or upon a certain technical approach or software application, and is therefore of little use in dealing with the large-scale issues of composing interactive electroacoustic music. This article is intended to serve as a starting point for discussion and consideration of some of the fundamental concepts and problems in interactive electroacoustic music, and to initiate a dialogue on methods and means of achieving interactive musical expression. Although a number of the ideas, methods, and practices described herein may appear simple and fundamental, I have discovered through experience in composing interactive music that it is useful to maintain these fundamental guides.