Joseph Waters

Joseph Waters: Composer

Genre: Classical, Noise | Xprmntl

RIYL: Harry Partch, Real Quiet, Lou Harrison

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Influences: Igor Stravinsky, Henry Mancini, Harry Partch


Since 2001, experimental composer Joseph Waters has been a professor of music and director of electro-acoustic and media composition at San Diego State University, as well as serving as resident composer. The 50-something musician has degrees from the University of Minnesota, the University of Oregon, and Yale.

At SDSU, Waters instituted a new major, Electro-Acoustic Composition, with courses geared toward creative experiments within so-called popular genres such as rock, metal, hip-hop, and electronica. Waters once turned the 25th Street overpass in Golden Hill into a giant xylophone and once filled his recording studio with live wasps. He also used a submersible violin, designed to play underwater, to compose “Raccoons in the Pool,” a fanciful piece that shapeshifts, builds on maddening waves of tension, then resolves in a crest of sonic textures. “It’s user-friendly, but it has depth.”

Waters says that his signature works such as Orpheus Is a Tiptoed Steam Horse, Amphibious Dub, and Vampire Drumriders of the Vernal Equinox are inspired and informed by Henry Mancini or Harry Partch as much as they are by Igor Stravinsky. He also plays with the five-piece ensemble Swarmius, which mixes European classical music with more tribal-sounding African tones. They performed for the first time in early 2008 at the Neurosciences Institute.

Waters founded the NWEAMO (New West Electro-Acoustic Music Organization), which says it promotes “connections between the composers, performers, and lovers of avant-garde classical music and the DJs, MCs, guitar-gods, troubadours, and gourmets of experimental popular music.”

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