Kenneth Gaburo (1926-1993) is renowned as a teacher, pioneer of electronics in music, jazz pianist, writer, ecologist, publisher, and proponent of compositional linguistics. Over the course of a dedicated career, his uncompromising work carved out its own patch in the territory of American experimentalism. But despite being sought after for his radical work in the fields of music composition, teaching, publishing and writing, and having had a profound influence on a generation of musical thinkers, Kenneth Gaburo remains an undersung hero.
Born in 1926 in Somerville, New Jersey, to an immigrant Italian family in the laundry business, Gaburo excelled at musical studies, playing the piano and singing in choirs at an early age. As a child he was familiar with the New York jazz scene, and an underlying jazz feel can be sensed in even the most experimental of his later works. His time at the Eastman School of Music which began in 1943 was interrupted by service in the army. Initially stationed in the Philippines as a strafer bomber his musical skills were soon recognized. He spent the remainder of the war travelling with a jazz band around the Pacific as pianist and arranger.
After returning to complete his M.M. degree at Eastman with Bernard Rogers, Gaburo taught at Kent State University, Ohio, and then McNeese State College, Louisiana. A Fulbright Fellowship in 1954 enabled him to travel to Rome to study composition with Goffredo Petrassi at the Conservatorio de Santa Cecilia. In 1962 he completed his D.M.A. at the University of Illinois, studying composition with Burrill Phillips and Hubert Kessler. He remained there on the faculty until 1968. During this time he was an active organizer of the annual international Festival of Contemporary Arts. In 1955 he began to work with combining concrete sounds on tape with live performers; an interest that was to continue for the rest of his life-the series of ten Antiphonies featuring live instruments and pre-recorded tape were made from 1958 to 1991.
Growing from a concern for music-as-language and language-as-music Gaburo started formal studies in linguistics in 1959, formulating the term Compositional Linguistics.
In 1965 he founded the New Music Choral Ensemble (NMCE) one of the first choirs in the U.S. to perform avant-garde music for voice. This group performed over 100 new works in the decade of its existence, from the choral music of Schoenberg, Nono, Oliveros, Kagel, and Messiaen, to the theater works of Becket and Albee. Improvisation was combined with electronics, body and verbal linguistics, computers, dance, mime, film, slides, and tape. For his work up to this time Gaburo had received awards from the Guggenheim, UNESCO, Thorne, Fromm, and Koussevitsky Foundations.
In 1967 he joined the faculty at the new San Diego campus of the University of California where in 1972 a Rockefeller Foundation grant enabled him to start NMCE IV, this time with one singer, one actor, one speaker, one mime, and one sound-movement-instrumentalist. Until his resignation from UCSD in 1975 he produced a large number of integrated theatrical works, such as the collection Lingua and Privacy.
In 1974 Gaburo founded Lingua Press Publishers, dedicated to putting forth unique artist-produced works in all media having to do with language and music. Many of the publications have been exhibited in book art shows throughout the world. Gaburo lived in the Anzo-Borrego desert writing and teaching from 1980 until 1983. In 1980 he was artistic director for the first "authentic" production of Harry Partch's The Bewitched for the Berlin Festival (recorded on Enclosure Five: Harry Partch, innova 405). His understanding of Partch's concept of corporeality has deep connections with his own concern for physicality and how it informs compositions. His 1982 tape work, RE-RUN, for instance, was generated after a 20-hour sensory deprivation exercise.
He became Director of the Experimental Music Studio at the University of Iowa in 1983. The studio put intensive focus on composition, technology, psycho-acoustic perception, performance, and the affirmation of the uniqueness of the individual to create his/her own language reality. At the studio he founded the Seminar for Cognitive Studies, a forum for discussion of the creative process. His concern for the investigation of music as legitimate research, and composition as the creation of intrinsic appropriate language, led to a series of readings in compositional linguistics for solo performer.
Antiphony VIII: Revolution, for percussion (Steve Schick) and tape, Antiphony IX: A Dot for orchestra, children, and tape, and Antiphony X: Winded, for organ (Gary Verkade) and tape, continued his series of works for live instruments and tape as well as the use of graphic notations and random processes to generate small and large scale events. Gaburo's archive is housed at the University of Illinois Music Library and Lingua Press is represented by Frog Peak Music.