Three of My Great Teachers

While visual media has dominated the digital multimedia landscape, it is not the unique, defining aspect of the field. What defines digital multimedia is its integration of visual, verbal, interactive, and sonic domains. The ‘sonic’ part is the area in which I have received formal academic training, under the tutelage of such visionary artists as William Hibbard, Donald Jenni and Kenneth Gaburo. I would argue that they provided valuable starting-points to me—via their composition lessons, seminars, and performances— in a number of related disciplines: electronic music, linguistics, Latin, poetic structure, number theory, performance art, and theatre among them.

I have indeed been lucky in my teachers—sorta like winning the lottery in this arena. I apologize in advance to my own students, for pathetically falling short of these three . . .

William Hibbard gave me an appreciation for the discipline of number sequences, as applied to music construction. I have since applied these principles to images, theatre, visual events, video, and interactivity, and created a large database of number sequences I have been using in my work since its creation ( “Hexagrams of Trichords“, 1985).

Donald Martin Jenni was a polymath and fluent in several languages (contemporary and medieval French, German, Italian, ecclesiastical and classical latin, Arabic, Czech, and Polish among them;  during my third year as a grad student, he added Farsi to the list—these are languages I heard him use; he was modest about revealing how many he actually knew). The wonderful reminiscence linked above was written by fellow student of Jenni at Iowa—and later, Pulitzer prize winner—David Lang.

Kenneth Gaburo had an international reputation as an explorer in both theatre and music, and complained to me that a notable critic found one of his major works  “too theatrical to be music, and too musical to be theatre”. The electronic studio he ran was my introduction to digital sound production, along with an immersion in analog sound production and modeling, which remains today the foundation upon which digital production is based (i.e., three digital sound models I teach in my advanced classes—the synthesizer, the sequencer, and the sampler—are based on analog models I learned in Gaburo’s studio).

Beyond his technical expertise, Gaburo modeled a rare and perceptive intelligence toward the materials of culture at his command. The quote from the above linked article is particularly inspiring to me: “I am a composer . . . in light of video work, film work, ensembles, performance, and so on.”.

* * * * * *

There is so much more to say about these three, and further posts to be devoted to other great teachers I have had (such as Richard Hervig, Lowell Cross, and James Dixon; and also Peter Todd Lewis, although I never had him as a private teacher, he was a constant and unassailable presence in the department, and his seminars were often laced with little ‘idea-bombs’ that went off in my head a few hours or weeks after the lecture . . . ).

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