Alvin Curran is a contemporary American composer whose work incorporates multimedia, visual arts, improvisation, and written music. He studied with Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carter in the early '60s, but by 1965 found himself in Rome as co-founder of the pioneering touring electronic performance group Musica Elettronica Viva, with whom he worked until 1971. During this time, Curran also made significant contact with English composer CorneliusRead more Cardew, whom he assisted, and Italian Giacinto Scelsi, whom Curran regarded as a mentor. After MEV parted company, Curran decided to remain in Rome, where he taught at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica until 1980; the bulk of his work with synthesizer and tapes dates from this time. In 1980, Curran was named the Darius Milhaud Professor of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, CA, a position he held until his retirement in 2006; Curran also maintained a residence in Rome during these years. Around 1980, Curran's focus began to shift again toward conventional instruments, and with the availability of MIDI technology beginning in the mid-'80s, Curran brought the electronics and installation elements back into his work. Since then he has been involved an extremely eclectic mix of projects, ranging from extended works for piano solo to works like Pozzulana (2005), scored for 10 laptops, 2 drum kits, electric bass, 4 voices, and 12 live instruments.
Curran's output is so varied that it is impossible to come away from his work with a unified impression. However, there is no disputing the care and skill he invests in each creation, and his works have been widely adopted by performers such as Kronos Quartet, The Bang On a Can All-Stars, Yvar Mishakoff, The EAR Unit, Ursula Oppens, and many others. Among the works that have gained him the most acclaim are the series of piano pieces entitled Inner Cities (begun 1991 and ongoing; by 2008 running to 13 in the cycle) and Crystal Psalms (1988) scored for six choruses and six sextets broadcasting from six different European nations, written in observance of the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Curran cites as his personal favorite the piece Schtyx (1992), written for the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio. Read less