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Archive for February, 2011

Milton Babbitt, the First Synthesist

Saturday saw the passing of controversial composer, music theorist, and educator Milton Babbitt at the age of 94. He was a father of modern electronic music, a founder of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and the primary user of the RCA Mark II synthesizer, a gigantic instrument that was first installed at the Center in 1959. His 1961 composition “Music for Synthesizer� was particularly groundbreaking, and he often combined recorded electronics with more traditional live performers.

Born in Philadelphia in 1916 and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Babbitt joined Princeton University’s mathematics faculty in 1943 and its music faculty five years later. His students included composers Stephen Sondheim, John Eaton, Paul Lansky, and Mario Davidovsky. Among his many awards were a Pulitzer Prize citation for his “life’s work as a distinguished and seminal American composer� in 1982 and a $300,000 McArthur “Genius� Fellowship in 1986. He often took a mathematical approach to composing difficult and complex music, a style he sometimes referred to as “maximalist.� His immeasurable contributions to serial and atonal music, avant-garde, jazz, and even musical theater cannot be overstated.

You can watch a recently completed documentary on Milton Babbitt here.

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The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.

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