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Alvin Curran

Alvin Curran

Alvin Curran's music-making embraces all the contradictions (composed/improvised, tonal/atonal, maximal/minimal...) in a serene dialectical encounter. His nearly 100 works feature taped/sampled natural sounds, piano, synthesizers, computers, violin, percussion, shofar, ship horns, accordion and chorus. Whether in the intimate form of his well-known solo performances, or pure chamber music, experimental radio works or large-scale site-specific sound environments and installations, all forge a very personal language through recombinant invention.

Synagogue chants

Curran was born December 13, 1938, in Providence, Rhode Island. From age five he was involved in piano lessons, trombone, marching bands, Synagogue chants, Jazz, and his father's dance bands. He studied composition with Ron Nelson (B.A. Brown University 1960) and with Elliott Carter and Mel Powell (M.Mus., Yale School of Music l963).

Artistic encounters

In the MUSICA ELETTRONICA VIVA years (1966 -1971 in Rome), Curran performed in over 200 concerts in Europe and the USA with Teitelbaum and Rzewski, Carol Plantamura, Ivan Vandor, Alan Bryant and Jon Phetteplace; and makes significant artistic encounters with: Giuseppe Chiari, Edith Schloss, AMM, Cardew, Steve Lacy, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Steve ben Israel, Anthony Braxton, Simone Forti, Steve Reich, Joan LaBarbara, Michael Nyman, La Monte Young, Trisha Brown, Ashley, Behrman, Gordon Mumma, Alvin Lucier, Larry Austin, Bill Smith, Ketoff, Robert Moog, Nuova Consonanza, MEV2, Meme Perlini, Mario Ricci, Maria Monti, Prima Materia, Ron Bunzl, Phil Glass, Charlemagne Palestine, Terry Riley, George Lewis, Evan Parker, Gregory Reeves, Serge Tcherepnin, Kosugi, Pulsa, Maryanne Amacher, John Cage, David Tudor, and Morton Feldman.

Vocal improvisation

From 1975-80, Curran taught vocal improvisation at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica (Rome) and since 1991 has been the Milhaud Professor of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California.

String quartets

Alvin Curran makes music, with all means, anywhere and for any occasion. From rarefied string quartets to blaring ship horn concerts to Holocaust memorial installations; from Midi-Grands to computerized ram's horns - these are his natural laboratories. The sounds of places and things, real and imagined are Curran's alphabet. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1938, he studied the piano, trombone and all forms of popular music. He began composing at Brown University under Ron Nelson and completed his studies (M.Music) at Yale with Elliott Carter in 1963. Following a year with Carter in Berlin he moved to Rome - his adopted home. With Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum in 1966 Curran co-founded the radical collective Musica Elettronica Viva - a group renowned for inciting free music as well as musical uprisings. In the 70s he created a series of solo performances; "Songs and Views of the Magnetic Garden", "Light Flowers/Dark Flowers", and "Canti Illuminati" for natural sounds, voice, keyboards and found objects in a lyrical post minimalist style. The 80s involved large-scale environmental works on lakes, rivers, in ports, quarries, caverns and public buildings: "Maritime Rites", "Waterworks", "Monumenti", "Tufo Muto", "Notes From Underground" (in collaboration with the artist Melissa Gould). Using the radio as a geographical music instrument Curran created concerts with musicians spread all over Europe in "1985 - A Piece for Peace" and in the Holocaust commemoration "Crystal Psalms" in 1988. "Erat Verbum", a WDR commission took this concept even further.

Works commissioned

Instrumental works have been commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hessischer Rundfunk, Kronos Quartet, Relache, Group 180 (Budapest), Aki Takahashi ("Hyper Beatles"), Ursula Oppens, the Rova Saxophone Quartet, and the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio. Since 1991 Curran has created three new scores for the Trisha Brown Dance Company that were presented in the City Center season in 1993. A new work for the performance artist Joan Jonas debuted in July of 1993 in Berlin.


Awards include NEA, DAAD, NPR and Ars Acoustica International. Curran taught briefly at the Academia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica in Rome and is presently the Milhaud Professor of Music Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California.