We were happy to sit down and catch up with University at Buffalo alum Otto Muller recently – Otto Muller completed his Ph.D. in music composition in 2008 after studying here as a presidential fellow, and has since gone on to become a member of the faculty at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. He has enjoyed a very active career as a composer and has had pieces premiered all across the globe, including the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy, the Zvuk i Vryska (Sound and Relation) Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Tzlil Meudcan Festival in Tel Aviv, Israel. Otto also keeps busy as a scholar, and has recently presented a paper on semiotics and music composition at the College Music Society Northeast Conference, as well as a paper on the critical pedagogy of John Cage at the Future of Cage Conference in Toronto. We asked Otto to get us up to speed on his life since the University at Buffalo, and fill us in on his recent projects:
“Since graduating from Buffalo, I’ve been teaching at Goddard College, which has been a pretty amazing opportunity, as it allows me to operate from a place of authentic uncertainty rather than any sort of feigned conviction. I work one-on-one with all kinds of different artists: musicians, photographers, printmakers, poets, etc. and in each case it’s about dialogue, designing some sort of inquiry alongside the student, a set of sources, a practice of experimentation and documentation, and then modeling critical thinking in the way that I engage with their work.
“The program at Buffalo has been integral to my understanding of pedagogy and individualized education. I definitely felt like everyone was doing something different – there was no institutional “style” – but the imperative that we operated under was an idea of critical engagement where you were expected to know whatever musical discourse you were engaged in (be it graphic notation, microtonality, interactive media, etc.), but also to resist the orthodoxies within it and carve out some new approach. I think that David Felder does a really amazing job at fostering this ethos and pushing students to grow without dictating the direction of their maturation.
“This imperative has certainly shaped my writing, where I feel I am always in a process of new learning, seeking out ways to explore extramusical ideas within musical syntax and abstraction. For example, a news story about Libyan defectors being buried alive in bunkers at a military base, and being liberated by rebels who heard their muffled voices really stuck in my head. Apparently they dug holes everywhere because they continued to hear imaginary voices. The resulting piece, Inhumati (beautifully performed by Duo Stump Linshalm at the Tzlil Meducan Festival), is an orchestration of difference tone melodies that are created by high microtonal harmonies in the clarinets.”
You can hear Inhumati, as well as several other pieces by Otto Muller, on his soundcloud. We’ll be looking forward to some upcoming premieres from Otto as well – a string quartet to be premiered by the Formosa Quartet in July, and a trio for Cello, Harpsichord, and Percussion to be premiered in Toronto in September. We’ll be sure to check back with Otto periodically to follow his developments as a composer and educator.
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