"Composing from the Inside-out" with John and Maureen Chowning (Graduate Composition Forum)

Tue, 10/08/2013 - 5:15pm - 7:05pm
Event Type: 
In this article (on my CCRMA website) I write of structured spectra and tuning and a solid link to perception.  Fifty Years of Computer Music: Ideas of the Past Speak to the Future
Stria (1977) is an example of structured spectra and complementary tuning.  Voices for soprano (2011) uses the same system but has a very different surface sound.  In my talk I will explain/demonstrate (with sound synchronous slide animations) the common theoretical underpinnings of the two works.   Maureen and I will demonstrate through performance, how Voices works—score following, synthesis and processing—using MaxMSP.

John Chowning was born in Salem, New Jersey in 1934. Following military service and four years at Wittenberg University, he studied composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger.  He received the doctorate in composition (DMA) from Stanford University in 1966, where he studied with Leland Smith.  In 1964, with the help of Max Mathews of Bell Telephone Laboratories and David Poole of Stanford University, he set up a computer music program using the computer system of Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Beginning the same year he began the research that led to the first generalized surround sound localization algorithm.  Chowning discovered the frequency modulation synthesis (FM) algorithm in 1967. This breakthrough in the synthesis of timbres allowed a very simple yet elegant way of creating and controlling time-varying spectra. Inspired by the perceptual research of Jean-Claude Risset, he worked toward turning this discovery into a system of musical importance, using it extensively in his compositions.  In 1973 Stanford University licensed the FM synthesis patent to Yamaha in Japan, leading to the most successful synthesis engine in the history of electronic musical instruments. Chowning was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1988. He was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Music by Wittenberg University in 1990.  The French Ministre de la Culture awarded him the Diplôme d’Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1995 and he was awarded the Doctorat Honoris Causa in 2002 by the Université de la Méditerranée and in 2010 by Queen's University, Belfast. He taught computer-sound synthesis and composition at Stanford University's Department of Music.  In 1975, with James (Andy) Moorer, John Grey and Loren Rush he founded the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), which remains one of the leading centers for computer music and related research.

Coloratura soprano Maureen Chowning studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music before moving to the San Francisco area.  She has since appeared on the Public Broadcasting System’s NOVA series and Smithsonian World with Max Mathews, demonstrating his Radio Baton and conductor program.  She has also performed at concerts in Canada, Poland, and Japan and at the International Electronic Music Festival at Bourges, France, where in 1990 she gave the world premiere of Solemn Songs for Evening by Richard Boulanger and in 1997 the premiere of Sea Songs by Dexter Morrill. She was invited to perform Sea Songs in celebration of Max Mathews and the 50th anniversary of Computer Music at the Computer History Museum in April 2007.  She sang the premiere of Joanne Carey’s Three Spanish Songs, and with the composer presented the work in Poland, Hong Kong, Vancouver and Mexico.
In 2005 she gave the world premiere of Voices (v.1) for interactive computer and solo soprano at the Salle Messiaen, Maison de Radio in Paris , commissioned by GRM and composed for her by John Chowning.  In March 2006 she performed the US premiere of  Voices (v.2) the as part of the Berkeley Symphony Concert series. Then in September 2006 she performed Voices and Jean-Claude Risset’s Oscura for soprano and computer in Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  She presented Voices (v.3) at the U. of Washington in 2011 and at MusicAcoustica in Beijing.  
She is noted for her ability to sing comfortably in alternative tunings, such as the Pierce/Bohlen scale. Her repertoire ranges from Handel oratorios, operatic roles such as the "Queen of the Night" from Mozart's The Magic Flute, to contemporary music including works of Schoenberg, Babbitt, Dong Qui, Servio Marin, and Atau Tanaka.
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