Composer/theorist Michael Gardiner joined the Department of Music this spring as part of the first cohort of Arts and Sciences Postdoctoral Fellows. With research interests in spectral analysis, Japanese Noh drama, early music, and laptop-based improvisation, Gardiner’s work integrates composition and theory, ethnomusicology, and musicology—three of the Department’s four subdisciplines! His work with the Department includes teaching graduate seminars in musical analysis, an area to which he brings an already extensive record of publication.
As a student at New England Conservatory (where he earned his PhD), Gardiner came to favor a theoretical approach generally associated with Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot— one that examines the formal aspects of music from the standpoint of tone color and acoustics and draws heavily on linguistic theory as well. Describing this analytical approach he says,
“It takes a lot from linguistics and looking at oppositions that exist in language sounds and applying that technique in the realm of sound. Musical objects become very different when you consider them from oppositions rather than always from unifications.”
Like many emerging composers and scholars, Gardiner comes to music with a background in rock and electronic music. Through his experience as a music theorist and laptop composer/improviser he sees creative and analytical work as very much intertwined.
“There’s a very strong connection say between theory and how one sets up the software one’s working with. Are you working between different pieces of software? How you are working between different pieces of software is itself a kind of — something similar that happens, I think, in analysis. What kind of conceptual tools are you interfacing with other conceptual tools?
Gardiner attributes his interest in both Japanese culture and early music to what he describes as “sample culture.”
“It’s common in sample culture,” says Gardiner, “to touch a lot of different things, and maybe it’s a form of living—that type of sampling.
Gardiner is currently working on a Noh analysis that explores how all the instruments and voices are introduced and he’s is drawing on Mihkail Bahktin’s concept of chronotope, or time structure of a novel.
“I’m altering his idea of chronotope to chromotope, the idea of the time structure of how all the colors are introduced.”
Gardiner has been busy recording his music as well. Earlier this year he released course of the symptom, and he is presently at work on a new project he describes as a “pop CD” focusing on “noise structures interfacing on popular structures.”
In many ways Michael Gardiner is both a product and purveyor of “sample culture.” His musical theory and practice touch on many types of music and musical cultures past and present, and without a doubt, future. We look forward to sampling his musical ideas during this time as a postdoc with the music department. You can sample some of those ideas here.