Last Updated 20 March 2017
Roger Reynolds: composer, writer, producer and mentor. A pioneer in sound spatialization, intermedia and also algorithmic concepts. Critical commentary describes him as having an uncommonly broad and visionary profile, as a synthesizer of diverse capacities and perspectives. He is a noted writer on the music of his own and others, on compositional methods and ideals, and has for decades been a guiding force in the evolution of UCSD’s innovative graduate program in music. He has been an organizer of events such as ONCE (Ann Arbor), A Colloquium on Form and Time (Ircam), CROSS TALK (Tokyo), Horizons ’84 (New York), The Pacific Ring, and Xenakis @ UCSD festivals (San Diego), John Cage Centennial Festival Washington, DC, Festival of American Music (National Gallery of Art.)
Perhaps Reynolds’s most notorious composition is “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” (1961). It uses graphic notation to depict performer location on a stage, and became an often-imitated model. In it, eight singers and a jazz trio gloss, while manifesting, a Wallace Stevens poem. In fact, Reynolds’s music often responds to significant texts, for example, Beckett’s: from the intermedial “PING” (1968) through quadraphonic VOICESPACE creations, and culminating in one of his three large-scale Ircam commissions, “Odyssey” (1989-93). Reynolds’s Pulitzer prize-winning composition, “Whispers Out of Time”, for string orchestra reflects on an Ashbery poem. His most recent text-based works include "george WASHINGTON," based on Washington's letters and diaries. This body of work – in effect, they are virtual collaborations – demonstrates how seamlessly text, electroacoustic resources, and novel presentation strategies can be melded with live instrumental and vocal performance.
Projects with individual performers and ensembles, theater directors, choreographers, and scientists provoked more direct and challenging collaboration. Notable instances include “Sanctuary” (2003-2007) for percussion quartet and real-time computer processing (intended for non-traditional architectural spaces). About this composition, Gramophone writes: “Reynolds goes right inside sound. … Here’s the most outstandingly original view of percussion since Varèse’s ‘Ionisation’.” And also a recent cycle of three duos for solo instrumentalist and real-time computer musician: “Dream Mirror” (guitar), “MARKed MUSIC” (contrabass), and “Shifting/Drifting” (violin). About the 2015 2-disc set of Reynolds’s complete cello music (mode) featuring Alexis Descharmes: “fresh-minted but also thrillingly open-ended … What other composer could have arrived at a score like ‘Thoughts, Places, Dreams’ for cello and chamber orchestra (2013) ? … Reynolds plants seeds in our memory, challenging us to apply our memories of what we think we heard earlier, or might have heard…” (Gramophone).
Reynolds's music is published, exclusively by C.F. Peters Corporation, and his manuscripts are housed in a Special Collection at the Library of Congress, and at the Sacher Foundation in Basel. He has received commissions from the Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, BBC, and National Symphony Orchestras, as well as from the British Arts Council, the French Ministry of Culture, Ircam, the Fromm, Rockefeller, and Kousevitzky foundations. He has a decades-long alliance with Irvine Arditti, resulting in four string quartets as well as violin solos and a concerto. Reynolds has been featured on numerous international festivals including Edinburgh and Proms (UK), Agora and Why Note? (France), Musica Viva and Darmstadt (Germany), Music Today and Orchestral Space (Tokyo), Warsaw Autumn, ISCM (Austria, Taiwan, Poland), and ONCE (Ann Arbor), Fromm Concerts (Harvard), Monterrey (Mexico), and New Music Concerts (Toronto).
Current projects include FLiGHT, an evening-long intermedia collaboration with the JACK Quartet (who commissioned it). It portrays humankind’s aspirations for and attainment of the ability to fly. He has also completed a collaborative book exploring the process that Xenakis followed while designing a Desert House for the Reynolds.
Reynolds envisions his own path as entailing the principled weaving together of threads from tradition with novel provocations originating outside music. Paul Fraisse’s "The Psychology of Time," in combination with extensive reading about and research in psychoacoustics, have affected his outlook. A 10-year collaboration between Ircam and UCSD explored his “The Angel of Death”in dozens of journal articles and publications. Research in the Sacher Foundation’s Collections resulted in publication of a two-part study of Varèse's seminal conceptualization of "space": "The Last Word is Imagination: Parts I and II." Reynolds's long friendships with Cage, Nancarrow, Takemitsu and Xenakis also inform his outlook. He conceives composition as "a process of illumination", a path toward (occasional) clarity in chaotic and turbulent times. He seeks the satisfaction of proposing and experiencing unexpected connections, of bringing the elevating capacity of music into public spaces, of engaging with other arts and artists to discover new amalgamations of sensation and insight that can "improve the human experience".