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  • DecompartmentalConversing with Clarence Barlow
  • Christopher Jette

Clarence Barlow (see Figure 1) is a prominent composer of electroacoustic and instrumental music. He studied composition under Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1968–1970) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (1971–1973) and became a pioneer in the field of computer music. He has made advancements in interdisciplinary composition that unite mathematics, computer science, visual arts, and literature. Nevertheless, his music is firmly grounded in tradition and incorporates much from the past. Between 1961 and 2009, Mr. Barlow produced over 60 works of various types, including electroacoustic (see Table 1 and Table 4), orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, piano, and organ works. The many performances of his music include 28 concerts in Germany and elsewhere from 1976–2009 that were devoted entirely to his compositions. Mr. Barlow has also attained distinction as an interdisciplinary researcher, author, and software developer. One of his many publications (see Table 2) is an extensive study on tonality and "metricism," Bus Journey to Parametron (1980, 1984). His software (see Table 3) notably includes Autobusk, a modal and metric pitch and rhythm generator (2001), and the notation program ЖSC (1984).

Clarence Barlow currently serves as the endowed Corwin Chair of Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His past teaching posts include twelve years as professor of composition and computer music at the biennial summer courses of the International Music Institute at Darmstadt (1982–1994); over twenty years as lecturer in computer music at the Cologne Musikhochschule (1984–2005); four years as artistic director of the Institute of Sonology at The Hague's Royal Conservatory (1990–1994); and twelve years as professor of composition and sonology at the Royal Conservatory (1994–2006). Since 1994, he has been associated with the International Academy of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges, France.

This interview was conducted in May 2008 at Clarence Barlow's home in Noleta, located between Santa Barbara and Goleta, California. Our conversation continued at a local Mexican restaurant where he often dines with me and other students following a concert or lesson.


How do you define yourself?


I don't, but if I had to, I would have a problem with that very act of definition. I could point out the various things that I do, so that might be a way of defining, in the common sense of the term. Most of my time in academia is spent on teaching and administration. The reason I got the job in academia is that I am supposed to be a composer, though ironically I now have much less time to compose than before. I also write software, which I started to do because I needed that for my composition. And I did a lot of theoretical work, research that I continue to do, which is also necessary for my composition. And since I did the theoretical work, I also published that work. So you might say teaching, administrating, composing, theoretical research, software development, and writing.


That's a large array. The phrase "I am supposed to be a composer" instantly piques my curiosity. It appears that the core of your work is indeed composition, while these other things are an outgrowth or a manner in which to fuel your composition. But, you started off with academia. If I had asked you this question ten years ago, would it have been in the same order? Is this a shift because of Santa Barbara?


Santa Barbara has certainly made the matter more acute. But if you had asked me this question before 1984, I would not have put academia at the beginning, because even though I did give lectures here and there, I didn't have a really fixed position. And even between 1984 and 1990 I would not have put academia in the front, because I was merely a lecturer in Cologne. But when I became professor of composition and artistic director of sonology in The Hague, that was 1990. That's where it all started with the academia. [End Page 10]

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Figure 1.

Clarence Barlow. (Photograph courtesy Birgit Faustman.)

Compositional Beginnings


Why is music central to your life? I will assert that music...


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