Language, Message, Drummage
Wayfaring Sounds
Mutatis Mutandis

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Photo by Yehuda Yannay

Herbert Brun (1918 – 2000) was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1918. He left Germany in 1936 for Palestine, where he studied piano and composition at the Jerusalem Conservatory and then with Stefan Wolpe, Eli Friedman, and Frank Pelleg. He furthered his studies at Tanglewood and Columbia University from 1948 through 1950. He began his work as an electronic music composer in the late 1950s, in Paris, at the WDR (Cologne), and at the Siemens studio (Munich). During this period, he also worked as composer and conductor of music for the theater, gave lectures and seminars emphasizing the function of music in society, and did a series of broadcasts on contemporary music.

After a lecture tour of the U.S. in 1962, Brun was invited by Lejaren Hiller to join the faculty of the University of Illinois. There he continued his work in the electronic studio and began research on composition with computers, which resulted in pieces for tape and instruments, tape alone, and graphics (some to be performed by interpreters). He composed with Hiller’s MUSICOMP algorithmic software for their mainframe computer. Among his compositions from this period are ‘Futility’ (1964) and ‘Non Sequitur VI’ (1966). In the late 1960s, Brun created his own programs in FORTRAN. These reflected an interest in the design of processes, rather than in specifying particular musical outcomes. His new works included ‘Infraudibles’ (1968) and ‘Mutatis Mutandis’ (1968), which created computer generated graphics that could be read as musical scores.

Brun took a new direction in 1972, leading to his ‘Sawdust’ compositions. He generated new sounds by linking and merging tiny portions of waveforms. The goal was to create sounds that were unfamiliar and new. Many of his electronic compositions were created with this new synthesis technique.

Brun collaborated with Heinz von Foerster on several interdisciplinary courses in heuristics and cybernetics at the Biological Computer Laboratory (1968-74). Throughout the 1970s – mid-1990s, while remaining on the University of Illinois faculty (Professor Emeritus, 1987), Brun held residencies and guest professorships around the world most notably at Ohio State University (1969 – 1970), the Hochschule der Kunst and Technische Universtat, Berlin (Summer 1978), and Gesamthochschule Kassel, 1989).From 1980 on, he toured and taught with the Performers’ Workshop Ensemble, a group he founded.

Herbert Brun’s awards and honors include an honorary doctorate from the University of Frankfurt, a prize from the International Society of Bassists, (1977), and the Norbert Wiener medal from the American Society for Cybernetics 1993. He helped found the School for Designing Society in 1993 and taught there through the year 2000. Brun wrote and spoke incisively on the social and political significance of composition and on the tendencies of language to preempt thought.