Barry Schrader

Barry Schrader (born Barry Walter Schrader, June 26, 1945, Johnstown, Pennsylvania) is an American composer specializing in electro-acoustic (primarily electronic) music. His compositions for electronics, dance, film, video, mixed media, live/electro-acoustic music combinations, and real-time computer performance have been presented throughout the world. Schrader has been acclaimed by the Los Angeles Times as "a composer born to the electronic medium", named "a seminal composer of electro-acoustic music" by Journal SEAMUS, and described by Gramophone as a composer of  "approachable electronic music with a distinctive individual voice to reward the adventurous".  "There's a great sweep to Schrader's work that puts it more in line with ambitious large-scale electronic works by the likes of Stockhausen (Hymnen), Eloy (Shanti) and Henry (take your pick), a line that can be traced backwards to Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven." writes Dan Warburton of the Paris Transatlantic MagazineComputer Music Journal states that Schrader’s “music withstands the test of time and stands uniquely in the American electronic music genre.” 

Schrader began composing electronic music in 1969 while a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was also organist for Sunday high mass at Heinz Chapel.  He graduated with an MA degree in musicology and then went to the newly formed California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, where he received an MFA in composition in 1971.  He was appointed to the School of Music faculty of CalArts in 1971, and has been on the composition faculty ever since.  He has also taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the California State University at Los Angeles, The University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and Beijing Central Conservatory.

Active in the promotion of electro-acoustic music, Schrader is the founder and the first president of SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States).  He has been involved with the inauguration and operation of several performance series such as SCREAM (Southern California Resource for Electro-Acoustic Music), the Currents concert series at Theatre Vanguard (the first ongoing series of electro-acoustic music concerts in the U.S.), and the CalArts Electro-Acoustic Music Marathon.  He has written for several publications including The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Grolier’s Encyclopedia, Contemporary Music Review, Journal SEAMUS, and Computer Music Journal, and he is the author of the book Introduction to Electro-Acoustic Music.  In 2014, Schrader was presented with the SEAMUS Lifetime Achievement Award.

Musical Style and Compositional Theory


Schrader’s compositional style reveals a number of major concerns.  One of the most important is his concern for timbre.  As most of his music uses only electronically generated material (as opposed to the use of recorded concrete material), Schrader creates unique timbres for all of his works, and these are often designed specifically for use in a particular composition.  His early music was created on Buchla modular analog control voltage systems (both the 100 and 200 (Electric Music Box) series), and the best known of these works are Trinity (1976) and Lost Atlantis (1977).  In 1985, Schrader made the transition from analog to digital and his work since then has been computer-based.  The timbres that he creates are all time-variant structures, as Schrader believes that periodic electronic timbres are essentially boring in human perception.  This is based on the analysis of acoustic timbres where the spectrum (particular combinations of frequencies (partials)) and what he calls the event-envelope (combinations of envelopes of partials (description of amplitude interpolations in time) are both constantly in flux.  In addition, Schrader often creates what he termed in the 1970s as “linear timbral transformations”, what might more contemporaneously be referred to as “timbral morphs”.  In this process, timbres change in a linear fashion creating a progression from one point to another.  In doing this, Schrader is attempting to focus the listener’s attention on timbre as a primary musical dimension, something that he believes is possible only in electro-acoustic music.  Examples of linear timbral transformations can be found in Trinity (1976), Triptych (1987, rev.2000), Death (2004), and Wu-Xing - Cycle of Destruction (2005).  Writing in Gramophone about Schrader’s  EAM CD, Ken Smith says “...he has managed to implement timbre fully as a structural tool - a point that many composers have discussed without true success.”


Both Schrader’s analytical and compositional theory are predicated on the nature of human perception, which includes both its possibilities and limitations.  He regards things perceived in time as “linear-kinetic events”, and creates his music to be heard in an intentionally linear fashion.  This sets his work apart from much of the music of late 20th and early 21st centuries.  His ideas are often based on compositional forms and procedures of the past, but he takes these into new, expanded, and often abstracted territory.  He is particularly fond of developmental music, and much of his work uses a very small amount of material to generate the entire piece.  This approach is evident in such works as Ground (1998), Duke’s Tune (2002), and Ravel (2003).


Schrader considers music to be based on one of two types of compositional procedures:  relational or translational.  In relational composition procedure, the meaning of the music (teleology) is created by the relationships formed among the various pieces of dimensional information combined together in a way that expresses musical ideas that have evolved through the millennia.  While he does not believe in music as a universal language, and he thinks that all experience exists within a defined context, the extrapolation of what is meaningful in experience is the only way to create effective communication in music.  The teleology of a work is the intentionally imparted ideas and meanings placed there by the composer, and this, in a final sense, is what a particular work of relational music is about.  In translational works, on the other hand, data created in a way that has no relation to evolved musical processes is simply translated into sound.  Translational music cannot relate any teleology since the compositional procedure is foreign to human perception.  (One can, of course, imitate or recreate a particular work through translational means.)  Examples of translational compositional procedures are chance, serial, and algorithmic procedures.  While Schrader sees uses for these and other translational procedures in a secondary role in composition, works that are essentially or entirely translational are, he believes, perceived as uninteresting by the listener.  This comes from a misunderstanding of the nature of information in a linear-kinetic structure.  There is a seesaw relationship between the quality of information and its predictability.  When one is high, the other is low.  Successful works are those that keep this relationship changing throughout the progression of the piece.  Composers who use translational procedures understand that change creates information, but they believe that the unpredictability of the information must remain high throughout the work.  The problem here, Schrader believes, is that the constantly high level of unpredictability of the musical data becomes, itself, predicable, and the result is boredom on the part of the listener.  So the concept of relational procedures and teleology are paramount in Schrader’s music. 

Electro-Acoustic Studio Music

The Barnum Museum (2009 -2012)
    1. The Romanesque and Gothic Entranceways
    2. The Hall of Mermaids
    3. The Caged Griffin
    4. The Subterranean Levels
    5.  The Flying Carpet
    6.  The Homunculus in a Jar
    7.  Chinese Kaleidoscopes
    8.  The Chamber of False Things:
             Porphyry Figurines from Atlantis
             Golden Cups from El Dorado
             Water from the Fountain of Youth

Monkey King  (2005 - 2007)
      Part 1:  The Land of Ao-lai - The Birth of Monkey
      Part 2:  Monkey’s Underwater Journey - The Staff of the Milky Way
      Part 3:  Monkey’s Magic Dance - Jumping Buddha’s Palm
      Part 4:  Procession of the Immortals - Monkey Becomes a Buddha

Wu Xing:  Cycle of Destruction (2005)

Mystic Night (electronic solo version) (2005)

First Spring (2004)

Death (2004)
    Before Death
    Into Death
    After Death

Duke’s Tune (2002)

Still Lives (2000)

     Still Life 1

     Still Life 2

     Still Life 3

     Still Life 4

     Still Life 5

Ground (1998)

816 (1997)

Beyond (1992)

Dance from the Outside (1989)

Triptych (1987 (rev. 2000))

Extreme Variations on a Theme and Variations by Mel Powell (1987 (rev. 1998))

California Dream (1986-1987)

 Bachahama (1986)

Electronic Suite from Moon-Whales and Other Moon-Songs (1983)
     The Moon-Oak
     The Moon-Bull

Lost Atlantis (1977)
    Introduction:  The Pillars of Hercules - The Great Harbor
    The Gardens of Cleito
    The Temple of Poseidon - The Dance of the Gods
    The Gathering of the Kings - The Hunting of the Bulls
    The Mystery Rites of Purification
    The Destruction of Atlantis - Epilogue:  “...and Atlantis Shall Rise.”

Classical Studies (1977)
     1.  Canon
     2.  Chorale
     3.  Perpetuum Mobile

Trinity (1976)

Bestiary (1972-1974)
    1.  Introduction & Assemblage
    2.  Sea Serpents
    3.  The Unicorn
    4.  Baselisks
    5.  Return & Exit

Celebration (1971)

Apparitions (1970)

Incantation (1970)

Serenade (1969)

Live/Electro-Acoustic Music

Wu-Xing:  Cycle of Destruction, electronic music and graphic score (2005)

Fallen Sparrow for violin and electronic music (2005)
     Final Rest 1
     First Spring
     Final Rest 2
     Mystic Night
     Final Rest 3
     Soaring Flight
     Final Rest 4 

Ravel for piano and electronic music (2003)

Five Arabesques for clarinet and electronic music (1999)

Excavations for harpsichord and electronic music( 1992)
    1.  Ptélude non mesuré
    2.  Barroco

Night (with Frank Royon Le Mée) (1990) voice and  live interactive computer and electronics
    I Night Creeps In
    II Night Gate
    III Night Dreams
    IV  Night Prayer
    V  Night Ghosts
    VI Night Chimes
    VII Lonely Night
    VIII Night Walk
    IX La grande nuit du silence

Two : Square Flowers Red : Songs (1990) SATB Choir and electronics,
      poems by Peter Levitt

Remonstrance (1989) voice and tape

Love, In Memoriam (1989) voice and electronics, poems by Michael Glück
    I - L’Oreille coupée
    II - Marmelade d’oranges
   III - Une histoire de portrait

Twilight (1988)
         real-time interactive computer and electronics

Extreme Variations on a Theme and Variations by Mel Powell
         for six computer-controlled Yamaha Clavinovas (1987)

Dance Suite for Harp and Computer (1987)

Electronic Music Box IV (1985) (real-time analog synthesizer automation)

Electronic Music Box III (1984) (real-time analog synthesizer automation)

Electronic Music Box II (1983) (real-time analog synthesizer automation)

Electronic Music Box I (1982) (real-time analog synthesizer automation)

Moon-Whales and Other Moon Songs (1982-1983) soprano, dancers, and 4-channel     tape, poems by Ted Hughes    The Moon-Mare
    The Moon-Oak
    A Moon-Lily
    The Moon-Bull

Elysium (1971) harp, dancers, Buchla 200, projections

Instrumental Music

Remonstrance (1989) voice and piano

Signature for Tempo (1968) soprano and piano 


Film Scores

Gallery 3 (1988) (Jules Engel)

Galaxy of Terror (1982) (Bruce Clark)

Along the Way (1980) (Steve Eagle)

Mobiles (1978) (Jules Engel)

The Glory Road West (1976) (Terry Sanders)

Exploratorium (1975) (Jon Boorstin)

Heavy-Light (1973) (Adam Beckett)

Death of the Red Planet (1973) (Dale Pelton)

How to Make a Woman (1972) (Al Fiering)

Video Scores

1921 > 1989 (1989) (Michael Scroggins)

California Dream (1987-89) (Michael Scroggins) 

Environmental Works

Soundvironments  I & II  (1971)

music for Otto Piene's Sky Ballet (1970)



816, Innova 119

Barroco (from Excavations), SEAMUS EAM 9401

Beyond, includes First Spring, Beyond, Duke’s TuneDeath (Innova 640)

Beyond, Centaur CRC 2490

EAM  (includes Bachahama, Ground, Dance from the Outside, Still Lives,
    Triptych), Innova 575

Fallen Sparrow (includes Love, In Memoriam, Fallen Sparrow, Five Arabesques, Ravel, Innova 654
Lost Atlantis, Innova 629

Lost Atlantis, Laurel Record LR139

Marmelade d’Oranges (to Lewis Carroll) (from Love, In Memoriam), CIRM CD9311

Trinity, Innova 629

Trinity, Opus One Records 93


Selected Writings

“Barry Schrader Presents the Monkey King,"  Tokafi website, 2008

“Conversations with Kevin,” eContact, 2008

“15 Questions”, Tokafi website, 2007

“Bebe Barron," and other articles, Grove Dictionary of Music, 2000

program notes for OHM :  Early Gurus of Electronic Music, Ellipsis Arts, 2000

“Electronic Studio Art and the Internet,” Oregon Law Review, vol 75, no 1 (1996)

“Bebe Barron," Grove Dictionary of Women in Music, 1993.

"Live/Electro-Acoustic Music - A Perspective from History and California," Contemporary Music Review, 1992.

"Electronic Music," The Book of Knowledge (Grollier's Encyclopedia), 1989.

"Life and Music in China:  May, 1988," Journal SEAMUS, vol. IV, no. 2 (1989).

"The Development of Personal Compositional Style," On the Wires of Our Nerves,  Robin Heifetz, ed.  Cranbury, NJ:  Bucknell University Press, 1989.

"On Reviewing:  The Res Musica International Electro-Acoustic Music Festival," Journal SEAMUS, vol. III, no. 2 (1988).

"A Week in Bourges," Journal SEAMUS, vol. II, no. 2 (1987).

"Louis and Bebe Barron," Grove Dictionary of American Music, 1986.

"Electro-Acoustic Music," Grove Dictionary of American Music, 1986

"Alternating Currents:  The Future of Electro-Acoustic Music," American Music Center Newsletter, vol. 27, no. 4 (1985).

Introduction to Electro-Acoustic Music.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall, Inc.,1982.



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