Michael Gordon (composer)

Michael Gordon (composer)

Michael Gordon is an American composer and co-founder of the Bang on a Can festival and ensemble. His music is associated with the genres of totalism and post-minimalism.


Early life

Michael Gordon was born in Florida in 1956 (July, 20) and grew up in Nicaragua and an Eastern European Jewish community on the outskirts of Managua until moving to Miami Beach at age 8.

His music is an outgrowth of his experience with underground rock bands in New York City and his formal training in composition at Yale where he studied with Martin Bresnick. Tuneful, rhythmic and raw, Gordon has embraced elements of dissonance, minimalism, modality and popular culture in what has been considered by some people as a bold and direct sound.

Bang on a Can

Gordon is one of the founders and artistic directors of New York's Bang on a Can Festival, alongside fellow composers Julia Wolfe, his wife, and David Lang. He has collaborated with them on several projects. The opera The Carbon Copy Building,[1] a collaboration with comic book artist Ben Katchor, received the 2000 Village Voice OBIE Award for Best New American Work, a projected comic strip accompanies the singers, interacting with each other so that the frames fall away in the telling of this story. Gordon, Wolfe and Lang have subsequently collaborated on the 'oratorio' Lost Objects, the recording of which was released in summer 2001 (Teldec New Line).

A further project is Shelter,[2] a multi-media work that was commissioned by the ensemble musikFabrik and features the Scandinavian vocalists Trio Mediaeval in a staged spectacle that, in the words of librettist Deborah Artman, "evokes the power and threat of nature, the soaring frontier promise contained in the framing of a new house, the pure aesthetic beauty of blueprints, the sweet architecture of sound and the uneasy vulnerability that underlies even the safety of our sleep."[cite this quote] Shelter was premiered in Köln in Germany in spring 2005, and received its US premiere in November 2005.

Both Shelter and Carbon Copy Building were staged by New York's Ridge Theater, in collaboration with Laurie Olinder (visual graphics), Bill Morrison (film-maker) and Bob McGrath (director), with whom Gordon has often worked. The opera Chaos, with libretto by Matthew Maguire premiered at The Kitchen in New York in autumn 1998 with stage direction by Bob McGrath. The work, which opened to rave reviews and packed houses, is a fast paced science fiction spectacle in 25 short scenes.

Other work

Since 1991 he has worked extensively with video. His work Van Gogh Video Opera, a collaboration with video-artist Elliott Caplan, was premiered to critical acclaim in New York in 1991 and received its European premiere in Vienna in 1992. Other works with Caplan include Grand Dairy, based on a diner on New York's Lower East Side, which was produced in Vienna in 1996 and Weather (German Tour 1997), in which the 16 string players of Ensemble Resonanz perform on a vertical stage surrounded by video panels. The recording of Weather is available on Arthrob/Nonesuch.

Decasia, a large-scale symphony with projections, commissioned by the Europäischer Musikmonat 2001 for the Basel Sinfonietta, was also staged by the Ridge Theater. The orchestra sits on a triangular pyramid structure that surrounds the audience, whilst Bill Morrison's film of black and white 'found' footage in various states of deterioration is projected onto scrim draping the structure. The ensuing Bill Morrison film, Decasia, cut to Michael Gordon's complete score, was shown at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and has been screened at film festivals worldwide. Also in 2002, he was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.

A further collaboration with Ridge Theater, Gotham, a commission from the American Composers Orchestra, incorporates film, projections, lighting and an orchestra of 35 musicians to explore the 'other' New York City. Again directed by Bob McGrath, the work premiered at Carnegie's Zankel Hall in February 2004 with the American Composers Orchestra and combines Bill Morrison's stunning archival and original footage of New York with Laurie Olinder's photographic projections of the urban landscape.

He has worked extensively with London's Icebreaker. His work Yo Shakespeare was recorded by Icebreaker on their debut Argo/Decca recording Terminal Velocity, recently re-released by Cantaloupe Music. Gordon's work Trance was written for Icebreaker with the additional component of eight brass players. The 52-minute work was also originally recorded for Argo and was released in the autumn of 1996; a new re-mixed version is subsequently on Cantaloupe. Link was written for the group in 1998, in collaboration with David Lang, as a complementary piece to Yo Shakespeare and Lang's Cheating, Lying, Stealing for a new ballet by Ashley Page for The Royal Ballet in London, subsequently revived by Page at Scottish Ballet.

May 2004 saw the release of Light Is Calling (Nonesuch), an album of tracks created with producers R. Luke DuBois and Damian le Gassick, and scored for a small ensemble of musicians (most notably Todd Reynolds on violin) with complex electronic arrangements orchestrated by DuBois and le Gassick. He has since collaborated with DuBois extensively on the electronic backing arrangements for subsequent pieces, including All Vows for cellist Maya Beiser (2006, for which DuBois also served as a video artist), Sad Park for the Kronos Quartet (2006), and the opera What to Wear, libretto by Richard Foreman (2006).

Gordon's music has been presented at the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, The Kitchen, the Kölner Philharmonie, the Royal Albert Hall, the Bonn Oper and the Jewish Museum in Vienna; at the Rotterdam, Edinburgh, St. Petersburg, Holland, Adelaide, Huddersfield, Settembre Musica and Dresden music festivals; in the choreography of Eliot Feld, the Royal Ballet, emio greco/pc, Heinz Spoerli and other dance companies; and as a featured artist in the repertoires of Ensemble Modern, Alarm Will Sound, and the Kronos Quartet. The 2003-04 season saw seven concerts of Gordon's music in New York alone including three world premieres and three American premieres, most notably the world premiere of Gotham at Carnegie's Zankel Hall and the American premiere of Weather by Ensemble Resonanz at Columbia University's Miller Theater.

Recent commissions have been supported by the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, the BBC Proms, The Siemens Kulturprogram, BAM's Next Wave Festival and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival. In 1997 he worked with playwright Anna Deavere Smith on House Arrest, First Edition, which premiered at the Arena Stage Theater in Washington, DC.

He is published by Red Poppy, a division of G. Schirmer.

Major works

  • Thou Shalt!/Thou Shalt Not! (1983) clarinets, percussion, keyboard, electric guitar, violin and viola (18')
  • The Low Quartet (1985) for any 4 low instruments (8')
  • Strange Quiet (1985) for clarinets, percussion, keyboard, electric guitar, violin and viola (14')
  • Acid Rain (1986) for flute, clarinet, organ and string quintet (8')
  • Four Kings Fight Five (1988) for oboe, clarinet, percussion, electric guitar, 2 violins and viola
  • Paint It Black (1988) for solo double bass (11')
  • XY (1998) for solo percussion
  • Van Gogh Video Opera (1991) (1h 5') live opera with video
  • Romeo (1992) for chamber orchestra (8')
  • Yo Shakespeare (1992) for large ensemble (Icebreaker) (11')
  • Industry (1992) for solo cello and electronics
  • XVI (1993) for chorus of 16 singers (15')
  • Chaos (1994) opera (1h 20')
  • Trance (1995) for large ensemble (Icebreaker) (50')
  • ac dc (1996) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano (10')
  • I Buried Paul (1996) for clarinet, percussion, keyboard, electric guitar, cello, double bass (Bang on a Can All Stars)
  • Love Bead (1997) for large ensemble (Ensemble Modern) (10')
  • Weather (1997) for 16-piece string orchestra and video
  • vera, chuck, and dave (1998) for large ensemble
  • Link (1998) (with David Lang) for large ensemble (Icebreaker) (11')
  • Sunshine of Your Love (1999) for large orchestra (10')
  • The Carbon Copy Building (with Julia Wolfe and David Lang) (1999) opera with video
  • Lost Objects (with Julia Wolfe and David Lang) (2000) oratorio with video
  • Decasia (2001) for orchestra with film (1h 7')
  • Potassium (2001) for string quartet (15')
  • Gotham (2004) for chamber orchestra (30')
  • Who By Water (2004) for large ensemble (Alarm Will Sound) (18')
  • Light is Calling (2004) studio album, version for band also
  • Grey Pink Yellow (2005) for orchestra (12')
  • Acquanetta (2005) opera (1h 10')
  • Shelter (with Julia Wolfe and David Lang) (2005) oratorio with video
  • The Sad Park (2006) for string quartet and pre-recorded voice (25')


  • Big Noise from Nicaragua (1994)
  • Weather (1999)
  • Decasia (2002)
  • Light is Calling (2004)
  • Trance (2005)
  • Van Gogh (2008)
  • (purgatorio) POPOPERA (2008)


External links

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