About me

Most people come to this site because of my writings about the music of John Cage. In 1988, I completed my doctoral dissertation The development of chance techniques in the music of John Cage, 1951-1956. I was, I believe, the first person to methodically study Cage's manuscripts and working notes to document in detail the processes he used in his seminal chance compositions. In 1992 I completed my critical survey of all of Cage's work, The music of John Cage, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 1993. To my knowledge (and to my surprise), this remains the only survey of all of Cage's music. Both of these works are readily available through online ordering; just follow the links above.

My involvement with Cage's music dates to 1978, when I first read his book Silence. I spent the next several years on a quest to find out absolutely everything I could about Cage, his music, and the manifold personalities and subjects that he drew upon (Zen Buddhism, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Morton Feldman, David Tudor, Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, Meister Eckhart, ...). I changed my direction from piano performance (I have a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Maryland–College Park) to musicology (I have an MA and Ph.D. from New York University). Living in New York City, I was able to meet Cage and study his papers at his home there. He was totally open, generous, and marvelous. I was able to repay the favor, at least slightly, when I helped him to complete his Freeman Etudes for solo violin.

Since I completed the book for Cambridge, I more or less dropped out of musicology. I was never at home there, and today I find the field pretty baffling. Based on my reputation with Cage, I wound up being asked to write articles and liner notes for CDs. For a period in the 1990s, I devoted myself to exploring CD liner notes as a medium, looking for new ways to work that are native to that form. In a way, liner notes are the ideal way to write about music. In articles or books, one has to supply some kind of description of the music, since one is not certain whether the reader has ever heard it or even has access to it. With a CD liner note, this obligation is totally removed: one is certain that the person either has listened to the work, is doing so at the moment of reading, or will do so shortly. Given that, one has both the freedom and necessity of doing something altogether different. I tried a variety of approaches, and was fortunate in having people like Joseph Celli who allowed me considerable leeway to explore. Most of these notes are posted here on the website. Although I am less energized about exploring the medium in itself, I still greatly enjoy the challenge of writing something in a relatively small space that will go well with the music and be helpful and enjoyable for the listener/reader. Any more, I just try to tell a good story about the music.

In 1999 I was asked by the Getty Research Institute to spend time there studying the manuscripts of David Tudor. This was a most enjoyable assignment, and resulted in a paper that is posted both here and on the Getty site. At the time, I had grand plans to do further research and writing on Tudor, but he is a subject that strongly resists examination, and while I have a sheaf of notes, I have not written anything else on him. Since then I have done really no research at all, and have drifted further away from the academic study of new music. At some point I realized that I enjoy music so much more now that I no longer study it.

Today my involvement in new music is almost wholly with regard to the work of my wife, Frances White. We met on our first week as freshmen at the University of Maryland and have shared just about everything in our lives ever since. Frances studied with Charles Dodge at Brooklyn College, and quickly mastered the medium of computer-synthesized sound. She brings to it her own distinctly musical point of view (I call her the only "romantic" computer music composer) and stays firmly disengaged from technology: it is purely a means to an end for her. While waiting patiently and endlessly for her to finish "just one more job" at the Brooklyn College Center for Computer Music, I started reading manuals, playing with programming tools, and became a self-taught programmer. I began helping out composers there with various programming and technical tasks. When Frances went on to Princeton University, I followed and did the same for Paul Lansky and the other composers working at the Winham Lab there.

Frances and I have collaborated on various projects over the years. In 1989 she wrote a piano piece for me to play: Still life with piano. In 1990 we made Resonant Landscape, an interactive computer music installation. I designed and built all the software; Frances made all the music. In 1996 we worked in a unique way on Birdwing. She wrote a piece and I wrote a poem based on the same pair of experiences that we had had together out in the woods and fields of central New Jersey. We did this simultaneously (neither of us knew what the other was doing), then used the poem as the "program note" for the piece. They go together beautifully. Our most recent collaboration has been The old rose reader. You can read more about this on my website here.

But now I've gotten a piano and am playing again, and that journey is the subject of my blog: The piano in my life.

Currently I work as the Manager of Technology Development at the National Headquarters of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), where I have been employed since 1999. I live in Griggstown, New Jersey, a village about ten miles north of Princeton. Griggstown dates from the Colonial period, although our particular house was a summer cottage that was part of a community built by Scandinavian immigrants in the early 20th century. If one is interested, I maintain a photo site at Flickr, and a thinly-populated video site at YouTube.