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American maverick and Modernist Robert Erickson was among the first U.S. composers to write in the 12-tone system and to experiment with tape manipulation. As a teacher at a number of universities and co-founder of the UCSD Music Dept. in the mid-'60s, he influenced countless musicians and composers including Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, and Paul Dresher. He also wrote two books: The Structure of Music: A Listener's Guide (he claimed that writing this 1950s book helped him overcome a "contrapuntal obsession") and Sound Structures in Music (1975).
Born in Marquette, MI, Erickson played music from a young age and later studied under Ernst Krenek. After receiving his master's degree, he began his long and successful teaching career at a number of institutions. He went on to co-found the UCSD Music Dept. and help start the San Francisco Tape Music Center. As a composer, Erickson wrote for a variety of lineups including string quartet, orchestra, chorus, and voice, tape, and solo instruments. He was commissioned by a number of cities, by the NEA (1976), by Kronos Quartet, SONOR, and other ensembles. During his career, Erickson was the recipient of many honors and awards including Yaddo Fellowships in the '50s and '60s, the Guggenheim Fellowship (1966), and the 1985 Friedham Award for Chamber Music for his string quartet "Solstice."
In addition to sometimes working with tape, Erickson also wrote pieces that incorporated another unusual element: resonating metal rods, which can be heard in "Taffy Time" (1983) and a few other works. His final work was "Music for Trumpet, Strings, and Tympani" (1990). Sadly, Erickson spent his last 15 years bedridden with polymyositis. He is the subject of two biographies and a retrospective disc by CRI.