Paul Lansky

Composer Spotlight: Paul Lansky

Recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Paul Lansky has long been regarded as a revolutionary American composer in the medium of computer-generated sound. Beyond being a widely respected composer, Lansky was also a pioneer in using a technique developed for phone transmission, Linear Predictive Coding, for musical purposes. He also developed a language specifically for creating computer music called Cmix. The bulk of Lansky’s later work has centered more around instrumental music, with a frequent focus on music for percussion and for guitar, and we are proud to include a number of these masterful works in our catalog.

Lansky’s newest commissions include The Long and Short of it (premiered Oct. 24, 2015), a wind quintet co-commissioned by the Library of Congress and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and Springs (premiered September 16th, 2016), a percussion quartet commissioned for Sō Percussion by Chamber Music America.

For Lansky, “Success means creating new ways of listening and hearing.” With his varied and uniquely experimental career, Lansky has reached a wide audience of listeners from all walks of life and has invited us all to pause, and listen intently to the world around us. You can hear performances of his works below.

You can read his full bio and see a list of recordings on his composer page. His personal website also contains some electronic and instrumental samples along with some of the composer’s writing.


    Paul Lansky has written for the two-piano team Quattro Mani who recorded his piece It All Adds Up and premiered his concerto Shapeshifters with the Alabama Symphony in 2008.

    It All Adds Up

    Quattro Mani


    Commissioned for the Meehan/Perkins Duo, Travel Diary is, in the composer’s words, “…a kind of meditation on travel, particularly for those who don’t do it that much.” The piece is mildly programmatic with the third movement, “Lost in Philly,” drawing inspiration from Lansky’s personal experience after a wrong turn on a family road trip from Princeton, NJ to Los Angeles, CA.

    Travel Diary

    Meehan/Perkins Duo


    Featured on “Notes to Self,” Partita, Suite for Guitar and Percussion is further evidence of Lansky’s flair for experimentation. Hannis Brown of Q2 Music for WQXR writes that the piece, “…tours moments of flamenco, minimalism and even Zappa-esque jazz fusion.”

    Partita, Suite for Guitar and Percussion

    Abby Fisher and Koh Kazama


    Lansky’s trio for horn, violin and piano, Etudes and Parodies, written for William Purvis, was the winner of the 2005 International Horn Society Competition.

    Etudes and Parodies

    Brentano String Quartet


    Of Horizons, Lansky has said that along with the other pieces featured on his recorded album, Notes to Self, the music came, “…from a different toolkit in my composer’s workshop.” As he shifted away from electronic music, Lansky explored and upended many techniques he had learned, practiced, developed, and pioneered over the course of his unique career. Horizons, composed for piano, cello and percussion features compositional elements from both electronic music and acoustic traditions.


    Contempo Flux Spring 2015 Concert


    Since the mid-1990s, Lansky has unplugged and focused primarily on instrumental composition for live performers including Nancy Zeltsman, David Starobin, and many others. His percussion quartet, Threads, written for the So Percussion ensemble has been widely performed by that group and others as well as by numerous college and university ensembles.


    Peabody Percussion Group


    Lansky’s recent instrumental music eschews attempts to “break new ground,” relying instead on a fresh approach toward tonality and harmony that references musical traditions of various kinds, from Machaut to Stravinsky. His string quartet, Ricercare Plus, is based on concepts of counterpoint and part-writing from early Baroque and Renaissance music.

    Ricercare Plus

    Brentano String Quartet


    Premiered by the TTU Percussion Studio (Tennessee Technological University), Patterns, features four percussionists, each using 3 metals and 3 woods. The result is an engrossing, shimmering palette of sound.


    TTU Percussion Ensemble


    In Textures, Lansky instructs the players to find metals that have different decays, skins that are not too “boomy” or with a “twang”, wood blocks, and keyboard instruments – creating a world of sound displaying the diverse palette of timbres that these instruments are capable of.


    Svet Stoyanov, Gwendolyn Burgett, Thomas Rosenkranz, Michael Sheppard

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    1944 – Born in New York
    1965 – Graduated from Queens College after studying with George Perle and Hugo Weisgall
    1966 – Played French horn with the Dorian Wind Quintet
    1969 – Joined the faculty at Princeton University after studying with Milton Babbitt, Earl Kim and others to gain his Ph.D. in Composition
    1973 – Composed mild und leise using an IBM 360/91 mainframe computer (this would be the first of many computer compositions for Lansky)
    1979 – Completed Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion marking a career turning point focusing almost exclusively on computer generated compositions until the mid 1990s
    1991 – Theremin lesson with Leon Theremin himself
    2000 – English Rock band Radiohead featured a passage from mild und leise in their song, Idioteque
    2002 – Received a lifetime achievement award from SEAMUS (the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States
    2005 – Won the International Horn Society Competition for his trio for horn, violin and piano, Etudes and Parodies
    2016 – Inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters