Serving the San Francisco Bay Area New Music Community

Chris Brown
electronics and piano
CHRIS BROWN, composer, pianist, and electronic musician, creates music for acoustic instruments with interactive electronics, for computer networks, and for improvising ensembles. Collaboration and improvisation are consistent themes in his work, along with the invention and performance of new electronic instruments and software. He is a founding member of The HUB, the pioneering network music ensemble, and has composed many interactive works for the percussionist William Winant (Iconicities, New World Records.) His trio with Winant and saxophonist Frank Gratkowski were featured on the 2009 Donaueschingen Musiktage. His most recent music explores microtonal tunings, including 6Primes, for piano in 13-limit just intonation, Arcade for string quartet, and Ragamala Chiaroscuro, for wind trio. Recordings are available on New World, Tzadik, Pogus, Intakt, Rastascan, Ecstatic Peace, Red Toucan, SIRR, Leo, and Artifact labels. He is currently a Professor of Music at Mills College and Co-Director of the Center for Contemporary Music (CCM).

Chris Brown’s music evolved within the intersections of many different traditions and styles. Following early training as a classical pianist, he was influenced by studies of Indonesian, Indian, Afro-American, and Cuban musics, and then took off on branches provided by the American Experimentalists in inventing and building a personal electronic instrumentation. At first these were amplified acoustic devices; then he went on to build analog circuits that modified their sounds, and custom-made computer systems that interactively transformed them. More recently, he has extended this fascination with instrument building to the design of computer network systems that interact with acoustic musicians and with other computers and musicians connected over the internet.

Collaboration and improvisation have been primary in the development of his music for various traditional instruments and interactive electronics. He has had commissions for such pieces from the Rova Saxophone Quartet, the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, among others. He was a member with percussionist William Winant, saxophonist Larry Ochs, and electronic musician Scot Gresham-Lancaster of the pioneering group “Room”, (1984-94) which explored the intersection of composition, improvisation, and electronics. His 1992 composition “Lava”, for eight instruments and interactive electronics, is an hour-long, quadraphonic sound environment that virtuosically employs live-sampling to create spatially flowing counterpoints of timbre and rhythm.

As pianist with the Glenn Spearman Double Trio he has performed and recorded music in the free-jazz tradition at venues including the San Francisco and Monterey Jazz Festivals, the DuMaurier and Victoriaville Festivals in Canada, and in Europe. He has performed and recorded with such prominent and varied improvisors as Butch Morris, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Marilyn Crispell, Barry Guy, Ikue Mori, Dave Douglas, and John Zorn. He has also been active as a pianist in performing the music of composers such as James Tenney, Henry Cowell, Christian Wolff, William Brooks, David Rosenboom, John Coltrane, Luc Ferrari, and Terry Riley.

Since 1986 he has been a member of “The HUB”, an ensemble of computer musicians who developed the “Computer Network Music” genre whose sound arises from the interdependency of multiple computer-music systems. The Hub toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe, released three different CDs, and collaborated with such composers as Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Curran, and Ramon Sender. The Hub also participated in several media projects, including remote-site concerts (distance-musics), a live, video-generated realization of of John Cage’s chance-operations score “Variations II”, and an interactive poetry/music piece for radio (supported by a grant from the InterArts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)).

He collaborated between 2002 and 2008 with composer/sound artist/Guillermo Galindo in their “TRANSMISSIONS” series, using four low-power FM radio transmitters to interact with an audience carrying portable radios; The series was premiered in May 2002 at the Bienal de Radio in Mexico City, and completed in 2008 at the Sound Symposium in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. An installation involving networked rhythm-machines spread throughout a large space called “Talking Drum” was produced in Montreal, San Francisco, and Holland. A series of concert pieces called “Inventions” sprouted from the polyrhythm generating software for that piece, including “Invention #7″, for piano, percussion, DJ, and interactive computer, which was premiered at the 2001 Other Minds Festival in San Francisco. He also worked with programmer Phil Burk’s TransJam/JSyn software to produce on-line interactive music websites (, and with programmer/composer Mike Berry in supporting the development of the “Grainwave” live synthesis software for the Macintosh. A project called “Eternal Network Music” used Grainwave instruments to produce simultaneous, collaborative concerts between California, Germany, and the East Coast.

He is a featured composer, performer, and/or producer on over 30 recordings of new music. These include CDs of his own compositions on labels including Tzadik, Centaur, Sonore, Ecstatic Peace, Sparkling Beatnik, and Artifact Recordings. He has published articles on his innovative approach to live electronic music in Computer Music Journal and the Leonardo Music Journal. He also authored the article “Pidgin Musics”, on hybrid musical cultures, in the compilation volume “Arcana: Musicians on Music”, published by Granary Books. He has been an Artist-in-Residence at such institutions as STEIM in Amsterdam, Institute for Studies in the Arts (ISA) at Arizona State University, Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, and Montalvo Arts Centerin Saratoga, California.

Since 1990 he has also taught electronic music, composition, world music, and contemporary performance practice at Mills College, in Oakland, where he is a Professor of Music and Co-Director of the Center for Contemporary Music.

New works to be composed will pursue these future musical trends: 1) musicians with computers will play music in ensembles, and their software will interact with both other humans and other computers in performance; 2) electronic media will integrate ever more seamlessly with acoustic instruments by becoming more responsive to their musical signals and languages, creating extensions of human intelligence within networked sonic and visual environments.
Contact information:
Email: cbmuse (AT) gmail (DOT) com
Photo Albums (click to view photos):
CDs on which Chris Brown appears:
The Chromelodia Project Chris Brown: Some Center
Artist: The Chromelodia Project
Title: Chris Brown: Some Center
Label: New World Records 80822
Label page on this site: New World Records
New World Records 80822
Fuzzybunny Fuzzybunny
Artist: Fuzzybunny
Title: Fuzzybunny
Label: Sonore SON-14
Label page on this site: Sonore
Sonore SON-14
Philip Gelb between/waves
Artist: Philip Gelb
Title: between/waves
Label: Sparkling Beatnik Records SBR0006
Label page on this site: Sparkling Beatnik Records
Sparkling Beatnik Records SBR0006
Chris Brown Duets
Artist: Chris Brown
Title: Duets
Label: Artifact 1016
Label page on this site: Artifact
Artifact 1016
Room Room
Artist: Room
Title: Room
Label: Sound Aspects SAS CD 028
Label page on this site: Sound Aspects
Sound Aspects SAS CD 028
Room Hall of Mirrors
Artist: Room
Title: Hall of Mirrors
Label: Music and Arts CD-4700(1)
Label page on this site: Music and Arts
Music and Arts CD-4700(1)
T.D. Skatchit & Company T.D. Skatchit & Company
Artist: T.D. Skatchit & Company
Title: T.D. Skatchit & Company
Label: Edgetone Records EDT4096
Label page on this site: Edgetone Records
Edgetone Records EDT4096
Now available to play online: Chris Brown & John Bischoff "Eternal Network Music" two real-time sound pieces for quartets of networked players at either of these locations: Crossfade or Walker Art These pieces run in your browser on both PC and Mac, and require a one-time installation of Phil Burk's "JSyn" java plugin, which is easily installed through links at the site. Collaborate online with other players, or make an appointment through the online calendar. See also Brown and Bischoff's article at the same Crossfade site "Indigenous to the Net: Early Network Music in the San Francisco Bay Area" for some historical background on the network music genre.
Audio Samples: