Matthew Burtner, biography

Matthew Burtner (www.matthewburtner.com) is an Alaskan-born composer, sound artist and eco-acoustician whose work explores embodiment, ecology, polytemporality and noise. His music has been performed in concerts around the world and featured by organizations such as NASA, PBS NewsHour, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the BBC, the U.S. State Department under President Obama, and National Geographic. He has published three intermedia climate change works including the IDEA Award-winning telematic opera, Auksalaq.  In 2020 he received an Emmy Award for “Composing Music with Snow and Glaciers” a feature on his Glacier Music by Alaska Public Media. His music has also received international honors and awards from the Musica Nova (Czech Republic), Bourges (France), Gaudeamus (Netherlands), Darmstadt (Germany), and The Russolo (Italy) international music competitions. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Award for The Ceiling Floats Away, a large-scale collaborative work with US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Rita Dove. Burtner holds the position of Eleanor Shea Professor of Music at the University of Virginia (www.virginia.edu) where he Co-Directs the Coastal Future Conservatory (http://www.coastalconservatory.org). He also is founder and director of the Alaska-based environmental music non-profit organization EcoSono (www.ecosono.org). His new album Icefield is out now on Ravello Records.

Burtner’s compositions bring performers and listeners into interactive relationships with the environment through the use of musical ecoacoustics, a field he pioneered in the 1990s to imbed environmental energy within musical forms. Born and raised in Alaska, Burtner experienced the early dire effects of global warming in his home and he dedicated his early musical exploration to the study of snow, ice, ocean and atmosphere, examining the acute impacts of global warming through sound and music. National Public Radio’s Here on Earth’s’ Jean Ferraca described his work as “Fog, Ice, Snow, Cold, Sand, Lava, Wind: These are the elements out of which sound artist Matthew Burtner creates his eerily effective electroacoustic soundscapes, music that draws from both beauty and horror. He calls his music ecoacoustics. I say it’s the world song.” He studied music as a field in close dialog with science and technology, a blend of scientific inquiry, engineering and imaginative aesthetic expression that applies scientific methods as new forms of music theory. New York’s New Music Box wrote that his music is “totally unique, compelling music that is directly influenced by the natural world.” Burtner’s music has been performed in over 600 concerts over the past decade. Reviewers have responded favorably to the intermedia and interactive experience of these performances. For example, Donostilandia in San Sebastian, Spain writes, “The works of Burtner expand music beyond sonic materials… pieces in which the shifting slip of an ice crystal, or tracks in the snow-covered ground, or transforming spheres, or the shakings of leaves extend the mental impressionist landscape of sound …The concert in its totality acts as a parenthesis of perceptive suspension for the listener, an immersion in a sonorous and visual reality of fractals, beautiful, like the color of a thought.” And Sonhors Magazine from France writes about his work, “This audio-visual experience is mesmerizing and subliminal. Burtner plays with beauty, coolness and space; halfway between chamber music and sound sculpture.” His discography includes six solo music albums, starting with Portals of Distortion (1999) up to the most recent releases Avian Telemetry/Six Ecoacoustic Quintets (2020), Glacier Music (2019), and Icefield (2022).  ​ Burtner is the composer of three evening-length intermedia environmental opera/theater works — Ukiuq Tulugaq (Winter Raven), Kuik, and Auksalaq. Auksalaq, created in collaboration with percussionist and media artist Scott Deal, blended intermedia music with politics, science and technology in unprecedented ways. Auksalaq (2010) was the first climate change opera and the first telematic opera, a collaborative work that brought together artists and musicians, scientists, politics and innovative technology. In 2019 the piece was presented by National Geographic who also reviewed the premiere performance in 2012 writing, “Auksalaq is a significant cultural event that marries science as the brain, art as the heart and culture as the soul in our search for awareness and sustainability. Auksalaq can be a political and social driver that will accelerate response to climate disruption. (Michael McBride)” Following a performance in New York at NYU, Joel Chadabe, Director of the Electronic Music Foundation wrote: “Auksalaq is the single best and most important realization of meaningful opera for today’s world that I have heard in decades of producing events in New York and elsewhere. It is a pioneering work that pushes the boundaries of networked, media- enriched performance. It weaves together multiple narratives relating to global climate change into a powerful, evocative, and multi-faceted story, presenting different perspectives in the ways in which we view the world through a variety of media… In its relevance to today’s world, in its theatrical multiple-media presentation, in the ways in which it brings humanity together with technology, it is a remarkable work and an example of how opera may and should evolve today.”  ​ A 2010/2011 Provost Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Studies at UWM, Burtner has also conducted long-term residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada), Phonos Foundation/Pompeu Fabra Universidad (Spain), Musikene (Spain), Cite des Arts (France), IRCAM/Centre Pompidou (France),  the University of Missouri Kansas City (USA), and the Anchorage Museum (USA). He studied composition, computer music, saxophone and philosophy at St. Johns College in Santa Fe, Tulane University (BFA) in New Orleans, Iannis Xenakis’s UPIC-Studios in Paris, the Peabody Institute/Johns Hopkins (MM) in Baltimore, and Stanford University/CCRMA (DMA) in California.

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