Gary Lee Nelson - Career Narrative

I began my musical studies somewhat late at the age of 14 with an interest in both composition and performance.  At 17, I accepted a position as tuba player in the Youngstown Philharmonic Orchestra and began undergraduate work at Youngstown State University. During that time I also played as a substitute in the Akron Symphony. During my undergraduate years I taught music theory and tuba at the Allegheny Music Festival with faculty members from the Cleveland, Minnesota, and Philadelphia Orchestras among others

After graduation from Youngstown in 1963 with degrees in composition and performance, I attended the University of Michigan where I played tuba in the orchestra and served as first chair in the symphonic band under William Revelli.  At the same time I was a member of the Toledo Orchestra and the instrumental ensembles of the Composers Forum and the ONCE Festival where I worked with Roger Reynolds, Alvin Lucier,  Eric Dolphy, and Morton Feldman.  My composition energies were recharged in Ann Arbor as a result of exposure to a wide range of new music, particularly the electronic works of Stockhausen, Berio, and Davidovsky.

Beginning in the summer of 1964, I taught composition and tuba at the New England Music Camp. I also conducted the “junior” choir and played in the faculty brass quintet.

My first full-time professional position in 1964 was as tubaist with Het Kunstmaandorkest of Amsterdam (since renamed the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra).  During that time I played as substitute in many Dutch orchestras including the Concertgebouw under Pierre Boulez and Willem Haitink.  The new music scene in Holland was rich and I immersed myself in performances of experimental music under conductors such as Maderna, De Waart, and Boulez.  In 1965, I enrolled part-time at the Institute of Sonology of the University of Utrecht and began my study of electronic and computer music.

In 1966, I resigned my position with the Amsterdam orchestra and returned to the United States to begin graduate studies in composition with Paul Pisk and Robert Wykes at Washington University in St. Louis.  During my tenure in St. Louis I developed interests in research and a love for teaching that led me to my present career as a composer in academia.  My “Three Motets on Poens of Daniel Brodsky” won several national competitions and were recorded by the Madrigal Singers of Washington University

My first university position was at Purdue in 1969 where I was the only teacher of music theory and composition in a very small department.  I organized and conducted a chamber orchestra and the "Experimental Music Ensemble."  I also established a curriculum in electronic and computer music and began the work in this medium that has occupied me to the present day.  During my tenure I also established a town/gown chamber music program.  The highlight of that program was a series of concerts of all of the Bach harpsichord concertos on instruments built and played by local musicians.

In the summer of 1973 I was invited to compose in the Electronic Music Studio of the Swedish Radio in Stockholm and to lecture at the Institute of Sonology in the Netherlands.  Upon my return to the USA in September 1973, I took up a position at Bowling Green State University where I established a computer music program with a grant from that university.  The following year I accepted  Oberlin College's offer to become director of the Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA) Program.  Oberlin had already established a firm base in electronic and computer music and this move enabled me to take a giant step forward in my research, teaching and creative activities.

Since coming to Oberlin in 1974, I have become active in professional organizations concerned with computer music.  I deliver papers regularly at meetings of the Society of Composers, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) and at the International Computer Music Conferences (ICMC).  At ICMC 78 at Northwestern University, I delivered one of six invited papers and was identified, along with Lejaren Hiller and Iannis Xenakis, as a "pioneer" in computer music composition.  In 1986, I was elected to the board of the Computer Music Association.

I have been a guest researcher and/or consultant in computer music at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University, Bell Laboratories, the Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music (IRCAM) in Paris, the Center for Music Research at Florida State University, and the Computer Music Project at Melbourne University in Australia.

In the summer of 1985 I joined the music theory and composition faculty at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan.  During that first summer I developed a class in computer music for high school students.  The class was added to the NMC curriculum in 1986.  In 1989, I was named chair of composition and theory and expanded the offerings to include a synthesizer ensemble.  

During the 85-86 academic year I was on sabbatical leave from Oberlin to undertake research in the Computer Music Studio at the University of Melbourne.  I was a visiting professor in the Faculty of Music and a guest researcher in the Computer Science Department.  During that time I worked with graduate students on research in both music and computer science.  Since that time I have been called upon regularly by Australian universities as an external evaluator of dissertations.

Since returning from Australia, I have concentrated on techniques for using computers in live performance.  Along with Oberlin music engineer John Talbert, I designed a "MIDI Horn."  This device allows me to control an array of computers and synthesizers using breath and articulation that is similar to that of a woodwind or brass instrument.  With programs of my own design and the MIDI Horn I am able to merge the roles of composer, conductor, and performer in music that has been well-received in more than 200 concerts since 1986.  One of my pieces, "Fractal Mountains," won first prize in an international competition for microtonal music at the Third Coast New Music Festival in San Antonio.  The same work was chosen by Wergo Recordings of West Germany for inclusion in a compact disk anthology of computer music.  In 1988, my “Amber Waves” was awarded first prize in music at “Contours of the Mind,”an international competition for computer-based art held at the Australian National University. “Morso” for solo flute and “Refractions” for MIDI Horn and synthesizers is recorded on Opus One.

In September 1990 I taught in the Oberlin-in-London Program.  During my stay in Great Britain I lectured and performed concerts at many universities and delivered papers at the International Computer Music Conference in Glasgow and the Second International Symposium on Electronic Art in Holland.

In the spring and summer of 1991, I undertook a four month residency at the National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan.  During that period I consulted on computer music curricula, taught intensive courses for Taiwanese composers, performed concerts, composed several new works, and continued the research in mathematical models for musical composition.  In January 1994, I returned to Taiwan for a series of lectures at Soo Chow University in Taipei and consulted with their music faculty on the development of a new undergraduate curriculum in electronic and computer music. 

In May 1995, I performed at the Alternativa Festival in Moscow and during May and June of 1996, I undertook an Asian tour with concerts in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Peoples Republic of China.

In 1999, I was featured in the online version of Discovery Magazine in a piece about fractal music.  During the same year, I was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new course called "Algorithmic Approaches to Interactive Composition."  In 2001, my work on fractal music was featured on NPR's "Pulse of the Planet."

I have served as a reviewer  for the Fulbright Scholars program, the Electronic Music Plus Festivals, International Computer Music Conferences and the Florida Artificial Intelligence Conferences. I have received grants from the Ohio Arts Council, the National Science Foundation, the Sloane Foundation and the Shansi Foundation.  As an expert witness on “original art,” I have testified in lawsuits involving Adobe vs. MacroMedia and Lucent vs. Apple Computer.

Currently, my research is focused on "algorithmic composition", the design of computer programs that model the human composition process.  Most of my music during the past twenty five years has been aimed at defining and refining this exciting means of making music. Recently, I have been applying these techniques to the generation and control of video images.

In 2000, I began collaborating with photographer and painter Christine Gorbach on short digital films.  Three of our films were in the New York Film Festival in 2002.  These films have been screened throughout the USA, Canada, Asia and Europe.  The have also been featured in the on-line digital magazine at  In 2004, I was commissioned by the Boston Museum of Science to create an interactive piece of software that demonstrates principles of genetics and evolution through musical sound and graphic animations.