UW Today

April 20, 2011

Computer music pioneer John Chowning to be celebrated at DXARTS concert

News and Information

The Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) presents a celebration of visiting artist John Chowning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, in Meany Theater.

John Chowning

John Chowning

Chowning is a pioneer of computer music and inventor of FM Digital Synthesis. Works on the program include some of his most notable compositions played over a state-of-the-art surround sound system, as well as his composition Voices (2005) for soprano and live electronics, performed by soprano Maureen Chowning.

Chowning studied music at Wittenberg University, where he concentrated on composition and received his degree in 1959. He then studied composition in Paris for three years with Nadia Boulanger. In 1966 he received the doctorate in composition from Stanford University, where he studied with Leland Smith.

With the help of Max Mathews of Bell Telephone Laboratories and David Poole of Stanford, in 1964 he set up a computer music program using the computer system of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. This was the first implementation of an online computer music system ever.

His invention of FM Digital Synthesis allowed the production of one of the most popular digital synthesizers, the Yamaha DX7, which sold millions of units in the 1980s and was used by virtually every rock band from that era. Revenues from the licensing of this technology to Yamaha Corporation allowed Chowning to create the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University, one of the most important Computer Music research centers in the world.

Chowning’s most important contribution to the world of music, however, can be found in his compositions, all considered masterpieces of computer music: Sabelithe (1971), Turenas (1972), Stria (1977), and Phoné (1981). Several of these pieces will be played during DXARTS’ concert in Meany.

Tickets for the performance are $10 ($5 for students and seniors), and are available at the Arts Ticket Office or online.