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Vladimir Ussachevsky

A leading catalyst behind the rise of American electronic music, composer Vladimir Ussachevsky was born November 3, 1911 in Hailar, Manchuria; he emigrated to the U.S. in 1930, and after graduating from Pomona College went on to study at the Eastman School of Music. There he composed his first major works, among them 1935's Theme and Variations and 1938's Jubilee Cantata, as well as various other pieces for piano, vocal, choral and orchestral performance. Upon earning his Ph.D. in 1939, Ussachevsky joined the faculty at Columbia University in 1947; around this time he began making his first forays into electronic music, culminating a few years later with his acquisition of an Ampex tape recorder. In 1952, he and colleague Otto Luening presented the first tape music performance ever given in the U.S., where among the pieces premiered was Ussachevsky's musique concrète landmark Sonic Contours; key works including 1954's Poem of Cycles and Bells and 1956's Piece for Tape Recorder followed, and in 1958 Ussachevsky and Luening received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to open the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, the first such electro-acoustic facility in America. Complete with four analog tape studios for electronic composition as well as the room-sized RCA Mark II Synthesizer, the CPEMC was the launching pad for countless experimental works, not the least of which were those written by Ussachevsky himself. He died January 4, 1990. ~ Jason Ankeny
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