2017 SEAMUS Award Acceptance Speech

Each year, the board of directors of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States presents the SEAMUS Award for “important contributions of its recipients to the field of electroacoustic music.” This is a transcript of my speech thanking the society for this award (which was presented at the banquet by SEAMUS president, Scott L. Miller on April 21, 2017):

Thank you Scott. And thank you to everyone on the SEAMUS board of directors.

For me, this is the best honor in the world because it comes from fellow practitioners!

I feel honored, and touched, and inspired. It gives me an extra jolt of encouragement to continue working even harder to support this community of artists, all of you engaged in inventing the future of music.

I’d like to acknowledge Kurt Hebel, my partner at Symbolic Sound. Alan Kay says that anyone who’s really serious about software should build their own hardware, and Kurt designs beautiful hardware architectures that are fine-tuned to the Kyma software. And for some reason, leaping into the unknown with Kurt always turns into an exciting adventure, instead of the terrifying risk it maybe ought to feel like.

Thanks also to the Kyma Community — some of you here tonight— thank you for being so much more than just our customers — many of you have become more like partners, collaborators and friends. Kyma is shaped by a kind of ongoing musical conversation back and forth with all of you.

And thanks to all of you in the SEAMUS community. It seems like every time I look at Google news, there’s something unethical or outrageous going on in the world, and I keep asking myself, what can we do to try to steer things in a more positive direction? I know that lots of people are desperately looking for an answer to that question. And I think I’m looking at the answer right now.

You are the answer, because you are the creators, the experimenters, and the educators.

You’re the ones gently shepherding your students out of their comfort zones, opening their minds to new ways of thinking, and problem-solving, and music-making. And you are the students who do the same for your professors.

You’re the ones who know that the university is more than just job-training or rote learning of specialized skills that’ll be obsolete in 10 years. You’re the ones who demonstrate that you can find joy and satisfaction in learning for its own sake. And that inquiry and creativity and artistic-practice are an essential part of what makes us human.

You’re the ones who continue to create new music and even to reinvent what it is to make music.

My favorite philosopher, Mark Johnson at University of Oregon says, “We all want to be entertained, but more than that, we are looking for meaning in art.” Sound and music have the capacity to pierce directly and deeply into the brain of the listener in a way that no other form of communication can quite match. Music has meaning. Music does change minds.

Even though composing music, like writing software, is among the most humbling of the professions we could’ve chosen. Because it doesn’t matter how many pieces of music you’ve composed or how many lines of code you’ve written; each time you face that blank screen, there are no guarantees. You never really know for certain whether you’ll be able to do it again this next time. And any time you strike out into the unknown there are no assurances that you’re on the right path toward a solution, or even that a solution exists at all.

So it’s a constant exercise in persistence and humility.

But now, more then ever, the world needs your art, your passion, and your ideas.

So thank you! Thank you all so much for daring to create music that’s both meaningful and entertaining!

Now, enjoy your dessert and enjoy the rest of the conference that Scott and Kristian have organized for us, because on Monday, it’s back to the blank screens for all of us!