John Supko

Associate Professor of Music

External Address: 
059 Mary Duke Biddle Building, Box 90665, Durham, NC 27708
Internal Office Address: 
Box 90665, Durham, NC 27708-0665
Phone: 
(919) 660-3361

Overview

Called “spellbindingly beautiful” (Steve Smith, Time Out New York), "hypnotic...eerily beautiful" (Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times), and "fascinating" (Philip Clark, The Guardian), the work of composer John Supko (b. 1980, NY) explores intersections: chance and intention; traditional music notation and real-time score generation; sound and spoken text; installation and performance; human and computer creativity. In recent years, Supko has been developing generative software to navigate his vast archives of field recordings, sampled acoustic and digital instruments, noise, and voice recordings. He uses this software to find unexpected compositional possibilities as well as to create dynamic sonic environments that are integrated into live performance with human musicians. Supko has also been experimenting with new forms of documentation for his music. Works such as A Free Invention for George Pitcher exist solely as software that ‘performs’ a new version of itself each time it is activated. He is a recipient of the Fulbright (2002) and Georges Lurcy (2007) fellowships, both for Paris, France, where he studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique. He has won numerous prizes and grants, among them the BMI Student Composer Award, two ASCAP/Morton Gould Young Composers Awards (including the 2008 Leo Kaplan Award), the Grand Prize of the National Young Composers Competition, the Perkins Prize of the Princeton University Music Department and a Commissioning Music/USA Meet the Composer commission. His work has been published in collaborative editions with the poet Philippe Denis by Collection Mémoires (Paris) and by Harpo & (Marseille), and has been released on the New Amsterdam and Cotton Goods labels. His 2014 collaborative album s_traits (with Bill Seaman) was named in "Best of 2014" recording lists in The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Currently the Hunt Family Assistant Professor of Music at Duke University, where he co-directs The Emergence Lab with Bill Seaman, Supko holds degrees from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (BM) and Princeton University (PhD).

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Princeton University 2009

  • M.F.A., Princeton University 2005

  • B.Mus., Indiana University at Bloomington 2002

Supko, JP. "How I Taught My Computer to Write Its Own Music." Nautilus 21 (February 12, 2015). (Essay)

Supko, JP. "divine the rest." (December 2013).

Supko, JP. "FLESH." (March 2013).

Supko, JP, and Seaman, B. "s_traits." (2013).

Supko, JP. "VEXED." (September 2012).

Supko, JP. "R!." (August 2012).

Supko, JP. "HIMALAJA." (July 2012).

Supko, JP. "I asked for names of all that is." (July 2012).

Pages

divine the rest. Composer. (2015)

Abstract

Over the last five years or so, I've been trying to realize a dream: I want to engineer musical serendipity and make it the basis of my work as a composer. Rather than writing a score in which every detail of a piece is clearly indicated (and temporally fixed) in notation, I have been collecting materials I like-melodies, harmonies, texts, sound files-and exploring various ways of bringing them together spontaneously at the moment of performance, ensuring that no two realizations will be the same. This sort of process is typically called "generative," and it has a long, if slightly obscure, history in 20th century experimental art.

In "divine the rest" I try to generate serendipity through the interweaving of human expression and computer operations. NOW Ensemble plays minimally notated pitch material-single notes, dyads, chords, but no rhythms-according to a variety of strategies I describe in prose instructions. Their playing responds to the ever-changing sonic environments the computer creates through the manipulation of field recording samples, drones, fleeting sine-tone melodies, and fragments of spoken text. The texts themselves are generative: I recorded hundreds of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs (most culled from an essay by Miguel de Unamuno) that the computer assembles into extemporaneous utterances according to certain grammatical rules. The multivalent title "divine the rest" was itself derived from this vocabulary.

The strange, ambiguous texts combine with the electronic material and NOW's sensitive performance to construct a soundworld seemingly governed by the peculiar logic of dreams. With its indifference to motivic development and narrative arc, one moment in "divine the rest" melts into another like so many episodes during REM sleep. The experience of listening to this music will be, I hope, something like remembering music heard in a dream.

s_traits. Composer, Designer, Producer, Programmer. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html (2014)

Abstract

"s_traits" is an album of generative electronic music written by composer John Supko and media artist Bill Seaman on the Manchester, UK label Cotton Goods. s_traits is the product of three minds: two human, one artificial. With a discarded electronic track to the early version of Supko’s percussion duo Straits as a starting point, Supko and Seaman compiled more than 110 hours of audio source material over a three-year period, including field recordings, analog and digital noise, acoustic and electronic instruments, cassette recordings of Supko’s juvenilia, recordings of Seaman and Supko playing the piano (inside and out), and soundtracks from documentaries made in the 1960’s and 70‘s.

During that time, Supko developed – in part in conversations with Seaman – the intelligent bearings_traits software to “navigate” this vast ocean of sound. The program selects samples from the database – ranging from barely a second to a few minutes in length – and juxtaposes them to create spontaneous, multitrack compositions. Twenty-six of these “first drafts” have been developed by the two collaborators into the 77-minute album that is s_traits. Thirteen tracks were shaped by Supko, thirteen by Seaman, alternating odd- and even-numbered tracks (though they don’t disclose who worked on which.)

Drawn Only Once. Creator. Due East – drawn only once (2011)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, Drawn Only Once (November, 2011), New Amsterdam Records, Brooklyn, NY. "Drawn Only Once" received a 5-star review by critic Steve Smith in Time Out New York. "Drawn Only Once" is a CD + 5.1 surround-sound DVD set of two multimedia works, "Lit

divine the rest. Composer. (2015)

Abstract

Over the last five years or so, I've been trying to realize a dream: I want to engineer musical serendipity and make it the basis of my work as a composer. Rather than writing a score in which every detail of a piece is clearly indicated (and temporally fixed) in notation, I have been collecting materials I like-melodies, harmonies, texts, sound files-and exploring various ways of bringing them together spontaneously at the moment of performance, ensuring that no two realizations will be the same. This sort of process is typically called "generative," and it has a long, if slightly obscure, history in 20th century experimental art.

In "divine the rest" I try to generate serendipity through the interweaving of human expression and computer operations. NOW Ensemble plays minimally notated pitch material-single notes, dyads, chords, but no rhythms-according to a variety of strategies I describe in prose instructions. Their playing responds to the ever-changing sonic environments the computer creates through the manipulation of field recording samples, drones, fleeting sine-tone melodies, and fragments of spoken text. The texts themselves are generative: I recorded hundreds of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs (most culled from an essay by Miguel de Unamuno) that the computer assembles into extemporaneous utterances according to certain grammatical rules. The multivalent title "divine the rest" was itself derived from this vocabulary.

The strange, ambiguous texts combine with the electronic material and NOW's sensitive performance to construct a soundworld seemingly governed by the peculiar logic of dreams. With its indifference to motivic development and narrative arc, one moment in "divine the rest" melts into another like so many episodes during REM sleep. The experience of listening to this music will be, I hope, something like remembering music heard in a dream.

s_traits. Composer, Designer, Producer, Programmer. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html (2014)

Abstract

"s_traits" is an album of generative electronic music written by composer John Supko and media artist Bill Seaman on the Manchester, UK label Cotton Goods. s_traits is the product of three minds: two human, one artificial. With a discarded electronic track to the early version of Supko’s percussion duo Straits as a starting point, Supko and Seaman compiled more than 110 hours of audio source material over a three-year period, including field recordings, analog and digital noise, acoustic and electronic instruments, cassette recordings of Supko’s juvenilia, recordings of Seaman and Supko playing the piano (inside and out), and soundtracks from documentaries made in the 1960’s and 70‘s.

During that time, Supko developed – in part in conversations with Seaman – the intelligent bearings_traits software to “navigate” this vast ocean of sound. The program selects samples from the database – ranging from barely a second to a few minutes in length – and juxtaposes them to create spontaneous, multitrack compositions. Twenty-six of these “first drafts” have been developed by the two collaborators into the 77-minute album that is s_traits. Thirteen tracks were shaped by Supko, thirteen by Seaman, alternating odd- and even-numbered tracks (though they don’t disclose who worked on which.)

VEXED. Composer. (2012)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, VEXED (September, 2012). My contribution to the Generous Ensemble's Vexations Project. Flute & Magnus chord organ.

R!. Composer. (2012)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, R! (August, 2012). My contribution to Third Coast Percussion's Cage centenary Renga project.

HIMALAJA. Composer. (2012)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, HIMALAJA (July, 2012). Chamber orchestra, 10 minutes.

I asked for names of all that is. Composer. (2012)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, I asked for names of all that is (July, 2012) Soprano, electric guitar, 2 electric basses & percussion; 5 minutes.

ALL SOULS. Composer. (2012)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, ALL SOULS (2012). A 65-minute work for soprano, recorded speaking voices & chamber orchestra with sampler; based on the novel "All Souls Day" by the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom.

FLESH (for 2013). Composer. (2012)

Abstract

I have accepted a commission from the pianist Jack Dettling to compose FLESH, a work for singing/speaking pianist & generative electronics.

VANISHING POINT (for 2013). Composer. (2012)

Abstract

I have accepted a commission from Swiss saxophonist Laurent Estoppey to compose VANISHING POINT, a generative electroacoustic concerto for saxophone & chamber ensemble with spoken text.

Allerzielen (provisional title). Composer. (2011)

Abstract

I have accepted a commission to compose a work for the soprano Ashleigh Semkiw & an ensemble identical to that of Louis Andriessen's "Dances" (soprano, string quintet, harp, piano, percussion) for a recording project that will pair both works. The duratio

Pages

This City. Composer. (2011)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, This City (October, 2011) "This City" is a work for piano & generative electronics written for pianist Mabel Kwan & based on a text by Robert Fitterman. Duration 17 mins. ca.

USINE. Composer. (2011)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, USINE (September, 2011). "USINE" is a 24-hour work for bass clarinet, melodica, saxophones, electric guitar, double bass, drum set & generative electronics.

Inland Ocean. Composer. (2010)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, Inland Ocean (December, 2010) A new string electroacoustic quartet, commissioned for the Ciompi Quartet. This work explores existential questions in the context of texts generated from recombinations of writings by Thomas Browne, Joseph Conrad

Without Stopping. Composer. (2010)

This Window Makes Me Feel. Composer. (2010)

Abstract

J.P. Supko, "This Window Makes Me Feel", new version for alto flute (February, 2010) This is a new version of my 2005 multimedia work, "This Window Makes Me Feel", prepared for the upcoming September 2011 commercial release on New Amsterdam Records.

Straits. Composer. (2009)

Abstract

Straits (November, 2009) (percussion duo & electronics; commissioned by the Meehan/Perkins Duo & Meet The Composer; 16 minutes.)

Littoral. Composer. (2007)

Abstract

Littoral (2007) (flute, percussion & 5.1 surround-sound electronics; on texts of Cees Nooteboom & Richard Hakluyt; commissioned by Due East; 35 minutes.)