Born January 19, 1945, in Fresno, California, composer, percussionist, sound poet and radio producer Charles Amirkhanian is a leading practitioner of electroacoustic music and text-sound composition and has been instrumental in the dissemination of contemporary music through his work as Music Director of KPFA/Berkeley from 1969 to 1993. He also directed the Speaking of Music series at the Exploratorium in San Francisco (1983-1992) and was the founding Co-Director of the Composer-to-Composer Festival in Telluride, Colorado (1988-1991). Since 1993 Amirkhanian has been Executive Director of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, California, and Program Director of Other Minds.
In 1990 Amirkhanian completed an extended spoken word portrait of the late American composer Morton Feldman, incorporating his extant recorded speeches and conversations, on commission from Meet the Composer/Reader's Digest (Loudspeakers, 1990). This 35-minute composition was premiered at the Electronic Music Plus Festival at Mills College in Oakland, California, on April 3, 1991, and was aired nationally over the NPR Satellite in January 1992. In 1991 he composed A Berkelium Canon (with Henry Kaiser), a digital pianistic tribute to Nicolas Slonimsky, on the occasion of the latter's 97th birthday.
In his recent works, produced with the Synclavier digital synthesizer, Amirkhanian incorporates sampled acoustic environmental sounds (which he calls "representational sounds") and traditional musical pitched sounds ("abstract sounds") to develop dreamscapes which act as disjunct narratives, evoking a world of memory-triggers which induce a trance like listening state. Sounds are chosen both for purposes of reference to a subject and for their sculptural and gestural beauty. His Walking Tune (A Room-Music for Percy Grainger), is perhaps the most important example of this genre, combining natural sounds recorded in Grainger's native Australia with haunting violin melodies and fragments of a J. C. Bach aria.
Other works have been commissioned by the West German Radio (Cologne), the National Endowment for the Arts, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio VPRO (Netherlands), Swedish Radio/Fylkingen, the 1984 Summer Olympics, Radio Luxembourg, the Arch Ensemble, and choreographers Anna Halprin, Bill T. Jones, Margaret Fisher, Nancy Karp and Richard Alston of Ballet Rambert (London).
His music has been recorded on 1750 Arch Records, Composers Recordings, Inc., Giorno Poetry Systems, Fylkingen Records (Sweden), S Press (Germany), OU Records (England), Perspectives of New Music, and Diffusion i M_dia (Canada).
In 1984 the American Music Center honored him with its annual Letter of Distinction for service to American composers through his work at KPFA Radio, and in 1989 ASCAP conferred on him its Deems Taylor Award "in recognition of his special contribution to innovative programming and imaginative radio broadcasts."
The Program Director for Other Minds is Charles Amirkhanian.
Some Thoughts on Other Minds by Charles Amirkhanian
When American composer John Cage died in the summer of 1992, the New Yorker ran an unattributed obituary: "His epitaph might read that he composed music in other peoples' minds." Reading this, Jim Newman suggested "Other Minds" as the name of the major international music festival that he was about to launch in San Francisco, with myself as Program Director.
This moniker fit aptly with my typical roster, as my lifelong specialty has been the showcasing, via radio, concert, and commercial recording production, the careers of originals and outsiders in avant-garde music. As an electroacoustic composer and sound poet myself, I served as Music Director of KPFA Radio in Berkeley from 1969 to 1992 and I'm presently Executive Director of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, California. I have been interested in John Cage's music since the early Fifties when my father presented me an album of Cage and Alan Hovhaness' music, because the album cover featured a line drawing of an Armenian rug and the name of pianist Maro Ajemian.
Through Cage's influence, I began to notice that many of the most remarkable voices in late 20th Century music were those with atypical training and aesthetics. In turn, many of these composers felt beholden to Cage for opening up compositional vistas which rejuvenated and reinvigorated the field.
The names of some of those "other minds" were selected by me for my first festival directorship, which was the Composer-to-Composer Festival in Telluride Colorado between 1988 and 1991. The festival hosted four consecutive summer sessions which included appearances by John Cage, Lou Harrison, Brian Eno, Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick, Laurie Anderson, Henry Brant, Leo Smith, Louis Andriessen, Conlon Nancarrow, Jin Hi Kim, Joan La Barbara, I Wayan Sadra, Eleanor Alberga, Peter Sculthorpe, Alan Hovhaness, Tom Ze, Terry Riley, and Sarah Hopkins.
The modus operandum of the Composer-to-Composer Festival was based on a model from the Telluride Institute's Ideas Festival, in which major participants and speakers meet privately for four days and then speak to a larger group of conference registrants. The Ideas Festival has included such diverse participants as Tom Hayden, Newt Gingrich, Shirley Williams, Lee Atwater, and Edward Abbey, speaking on such heady conference themes as "Reinventing Politics: Beyond Left and Right." The organizers' theory was that if each participant had a chance to engage socially with others of differing viewpoints before public panel presentations, posturing would be left aside in favor of interpersonal understanding. To a great degree this was successful, and the model has served well the integration of composers from diverse stylistic and cultural backgrounds in the context of Other Minds, now held annually in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most significantly, the private sessions are held in locations of great natural beauty and isolation, casting a hue of receptivity on the participants which takes them by surprise and opens their senses to new ideas.
In San Francisco, the backdrop became a 600-acre ranch which houses one of the United States' most prominent artists' communities, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Begun in 1979, the Djerassi Program hosts 65 artists annually for one month each on forested land located in the Santa Cruz mountains within eight miles' view of the Pacific Ocean. Since its founding, the Program has provided over 800 residencies to visual artists, writers, composers, choreographers, and intermedia artists of all persuasions. Applications for residency are received from 500 individuals from around the world each year, and artist panels in each genre award cost-free residencies to pursue creative work on an annual basis.
The first Other Minds Festival took place in November 1993, beginning at the Djerassi Program's site and continuing for the public sessions at the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. Participating composers were Robert Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Barbara Monk Feldman, Philip Glass, Jon Jang, Meredith Monk, Conlon Nancarrow, Foday Musa Suso, Trimpin, Jai Uttal, and Julia Wolfe. The second Other Minds Festival was held in March 1995 in the same venue. Participants were Muhal Richard Abrams, Don Byron, Lou Harrison, Mari Kimura, Rex Lawson, Ingram Marshall, Terry Riley, Alvin Singleton, Tan Dun, Calliope Tsoupaki, Frances White, and Ashot Zograbyan. Featured performers were The Kronos Quartet, The Abel/Steinberg/Winant Trio, baritone Paul Hillier, guitarist David Tanenbaum, and pipa virtuoso Wu Man. The third event in this series is scheduled for November 21-24, 1996, in San Francisco and in Berkeley. Featured performers will include once again the Kronos Quartet. Composers who have accepted invitations so far include Laurie Anderson, Henry Kaiser, Kui Dong, Lukas Ligeti, Miya Masaoka, David Raksin, Frederic Rzewski, Charles Shere, Olly Wilson, and La Monte Young.