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Lejaren Hiller

written by James Bohn

Lejaren Hiller was born in New York City on February 23, 1924. Early on in life Hiller had an interest in music. He first studied composition with Harvey Officer and oboe with Joseph Marx. Despite his interest in music, he initially decided to enter the field of chemistry.

While studying chemistry at Princeton, he studied theory and composition with Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions. Hiller received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton in 1947 at the age of 23, after receiving both a B.A. and a M.A. in chemistry from the same institution. He became a member of the chemistry faculty at the University of Illinois in 1952. While teaching chemistry, Hiller also worked towards a M.M. in composition, studying Hubert Kessler. After receiving his M.M. in 1958, he transferred to the music faculty in order to start the Experimental Music Studio. In 1968 Hiller joined the faculty at the University of Buffalo as a professor of composition. Hiller received two Fulbright lectureships, the first of which was in 1973 to 1974 in Warsaw, Poland. The second of these two lectureships was in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, in 1980.

Hiller married Elizabeth Halsey in 1945. The Hillers adopted their first child, Amanda, in 1964 and adopted their son David a year later. Elizabeth Hiller was active in theatre, and was involved in many productions for which her husband had supplied incidental music. She played the part of the "Middle-Aged Virgin" in the original production of Blue is the Antecedent of It and later directed it in a production done in Buffalo, New York. In Cuthbert Bound she played "Cressida Bound," and she also played roles in The Man with the Oboe and Rage Over The Lost Beethoven. Mrs. Hiller had also been involved on the tech side of the productions for Dream Play and The Birds.

From 1947 to 1952 Hiller worked as a research chemist for DuPont in Waynesboro, Virginia. There his work on cellulose yielded a method for dying acrylic fibers. While in Virginia, Hiller ran a small concert series, and continued to write music despite the fact that none of his music had been performed.

While Hiller started out in pop music, he had written orchestral music by the time he was sixteen. He was first exposed to the music of Charles Ives when he was in high school. He had heard six songs of Ives on the radio station WNYC, who also exposed him to VarE9se's Density 21.5. Hiller became interested in the music of Ives, and later taught a course in Ives at the University of New York at Buffalo.

Like Ives, Hiller was a musically eclectic composer, often combining several different types of techniques in the same piece.

"I just assume that everything and anything can go into a piece if it is appropriate. So, for example , I'll write tonal music if I want to; I'll even insert key signatures if it is useful, something which some people regard as provocative. . . . But I certainly use tonal methods, serial methods, of course, chance methods, charts, mathematical formulas like 46ibonacci series, eye music- - you name it. And all of this with or without computers and electronics. But again I say that I try all of them in what you might call a total matrix of possibilities."

Hiller's musical thinking was greatly influenced by information theory. He wrote a number of articles on information theory, and its relationship to music and computer music. In one article he analyzed four sonata expositions by different composers (Mozart, Beethoven, Berg and Hindemith). In this same Technical Report he also presented an analysis that he did with Ramon Fuller of the first movement of Webern's Symphony, Op. 21. Hiller thought of fluxes in the amount of information related by a piece to be the essential dramatic nature of music.

"When you talk about such things as Leonard Meyer's theories of musical affect, you are really talking about order and disorder in the most broad and general sense: A person becomes more disturbed when the number of possibilities increase; disorder increases and you build tension, and then resolutions come when one arrives at more organized, more static situations. This is what causes the ebb and flow of drama in a piece."

Information theory influenced the way in which Hiller composed. Several of the commands available in the computer composition language MUSICOMP, which was written by Hiller and Robert A. Baker in order to create their Computer Cantata, are designed with ideas of information fluxes in mind. Also the first movement of Hiller's Algorithms I is entitled, "The Decay of Information," as an indication of how it was composed.

Hiller was an experimental composer in the strictest sense. In the mid sixties, Hiller asserted that his, "objective in composing music by means of computer programming is not the immediate realization of an aesthetic unity, but the providing and evaluating of techniques whereby this goal can eventually be realized." In this sense Hiller was a forward looking composer, in that each piece was an experiment that lead towards the next piece.


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