Stephen Horenstein ’69

DEGREE: B.A. in music; M.M. in music composition, University of Wisconsin; Ph.D., Hebrew University, Jerusalem
JOB TITLE: Composer; researcher; faculty member, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; founder and director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: The regular Wednesday night (“frat night”) screenings of short experimental fi lms by Stan Brakhage, Bruce Conner, etc. It was for us “independents” who needed a home—it was where we met other members of our “tribe.”

REPORTER: What is the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music?
HORENSTEIN: The institute was founded in 1988 to bring music of our time to a wider audience through performance, research, and education. It was founded with the assistance of the Jerusalem Foundation with the goal to help culturally energize Jerusalem. At present, the institute hosts a chamber ensemble, a small experimental orchestra, regular concerts, and multi-media events. In the past we did a great deal of research and social outreach with underprivileged youth.

REPORTER: How would you defi ne “contemporary music?”
HORENSTEIN: Contemporary music is music of our time that is exploratory and pioneering in its discovery of new vistas of expression and architecture. Though it can embrace many styles (after all, we are in a “post post-modern” era), for me it is music that is, by and large, not necessarily “popular.” This principle is readily understood in the world of modern art museums, but less so in music.

REPORTER: As a composer, how would you describe your own personal style?
HORENSTEIN: My greatest inspiration comes from the modernist composer Charles E. Ives. It’s multi-layered, so while you may hear a lyric melody or strong rhythms, you may be also be surrounded by ethereal webs of sounds and sometimes even cacophony. I use a range of musical techniques and materials (as my mentor Bill Dixon described, “by any means necessary”). I draw much of my inspiration from living in this bizarre but vibrant city (Jerusalem)—a modern city built on ancient soil—where one looks back into centuries through a matrix of electric wires.

REPORTER: You teach a course at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance on electro-acoustic music. What is electro-acoustic music?
HORENSTEIN: The British composer Trevor Wishart, whom I greatly admire, speaks of “audible design” and the breaking with past paradigms of what we think music is. Instead of the more simplistic, two-dimensional matrix of pitch and time, he sees the new world of music as sound objects that can be transformed and codifi ed through digital means. Many of those sounds come directly from our rich acoustic environment (in historic terms, “musique concrète”). All this excites me deeply, and I try to impart my excitement to my students—especially in the realm of real-time interaction between composer/performer and technology.

REPORTER: Was there a course or professor at Trinity that helped shape your career?
HORENSTEIN: After moving from psychology to literature, I affi rmed my passion for music as a profession. It was the late professor Clarence Barber who agreed to spend countless hours invigorating my knowledge of harmony and counterpoint. He also encouraged me to take a broader view of my education, and to let other educational adventures energize my musical creativity. Around 1968 I also took a “Religion and Social Change” course with Dr. Albert Rabil. It was an amazing and wrenching course—an experience that codifi ed my commitment to social responsibility as an artist and later led to 25 years of research and work with youth at risk.

REPORTER: Can you tell us about your recent composition, an evening-length work for soloist and interactive computer-based live electronics?
HORENSTEIN: It is about one player becoming an orchestra. The soloist triggers various layers of material through pedals, switches, sounds, and gestures. With all this, however, the audience simply hears the music. Last year, I did such a performance with an abstract film that I created. At present, I am challenged by doing “pure music” and allowing the audience to imagine the “film” in a darkened room, surrounded by speakers. Electronics enhance; they are a means to an end—the effective translation of what I hear in my inner musical imagination.

REPORTER: What other new projects are you working on?
HORENSTEIN: Right now I am composing using concrete and synthesized sounds manipulated and shaped through the computer, while simultaneously working toward also bringing my ideas into the orchestral medium. I am currently working on composing a large array of miniature pieces; I see them much like the little boxes of Joseph Cornell. I also have an ongoing project with two other composers, where we collaborate on real-time composition to classic silent films. Our latest challenge is the recently reconstructed Metropolis [1927] by Fritz Lang.