Howard Sandroff, Director of the Computer Music Studio, retires

Howard Sandroff, who served as Senior Lecturer in Music and Director of the Computer Music Studio for more than three decades, has retired from the University. Howard has long been an international presence as a composer of computer and electronic music, as well as a highly regarded teacher and colleague at Chicago.

Among Howard’s many compositions, his Chant de femme received special acclaim, not least by the late Andrew Patner (formerly of WFMT radio): “No one makes such combinations [of live performance with electronics in real time] more lyrical than Sandroff.” Reviewing a concert given in honor of Sandroff’s 25th year on the faculty, Patner similarly wrote, “each piece is highly polished, each piece has been put through really the intellectual and artistic equivalent of what coal is put through to produce a diamond.” Other notices of Howard’s music over the years appeared in Fanfare Magazine, the American Record Guide, The Musical Times, The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times. Sandroff himself compares his compositions to mobiles, a collection of fixed elements that are continually changing their association with other fixed elements which are not born of evolutionary development but by his interest in arresting time and space. 

Throughout his career, Howard worked with prominent composers and musicians. His Tephillah for clarinet and computer (1996) was performed at I.R.C.A.M. at the invitation of Pierre Boulez and took on a new life in its arrangement for alto saxophone. CSO clarinetist John Bruce Yeh, repeatedly sought out Sandroff as a partner in performing electronic works.

In recent years, Sandroff’s works garnered high-profile performances by the Chicago Pro Musica, the Ultima Festival in Oslo (1999), and the m-cluster festival at the Berlin Academy of Art (2004); in the two latter venues, he was the featured composer. In 2005 Sandroff was guest of the Week of Contemporary Music in Bucharest; in 2009 his music was performed by the New York City New Music Ensemble and at an all-Sandroff concert (Soundly Sandroff) mounted by CUBE; and in 2010 the Sonic Peripheries Festival in Bremen, Germany played his music. The following year saw Howard in Beijing for the Musicacoustica Festival, where he performed his unnamed piece for laptop. His acoustic works have likewise been heard around the world: his second string quartet was premiered in Budapest in 2012, his third quartet last year in Kyoto.

A native Chicagoan, Howard studied at the Musical College of Roosevelt University and at MIT. He is veteran of the U. S. Air Force, having served from 1967 until 1971. During his years at the University, the Computer Music Studio steadily expanded and updated its equipment, in part owing to Howard’s ingenuity in securing grants from the Yamaha Corporation of America, for which he also served as consultant; the Women’s Board and Arts Council of the University; and the Illinois Arts Council.

In the early 2000s, Sandroff took up sculpting in welded steel. He has recently expanded this interest to include computer-controlled interactive sound installations and robotics. His sculptures bear an uncanny aesthetic consistency with his compositions in their extreme economy of material and complexity. In 2005, a concert of Sandroff’s music that was held in Fulton Recital Hall was accompanied by a display of his sculptures in the Fulton lobby. Regenstein Library likewise featured his sculptures alongside his scores in its 2012 exhibit, The Music of Howard Sandroff and the Computer Music Studio at UChicago. To celebrate the opening of the exhibit, Sandroff (computer) and Ben Sutherland (percussionist, PhD ‘01) gave the world premier performance of Howard’s Interactive Improvisation for Computer and Sound Sculpture.

Sandroff’s classes at Chicago over the years, which included the staple “Introduction to Computer Music” and electives such as “Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Music,” were perennial favorites. His studio door was always open, and he was willing to help all students, whether beginners or seasoned studio users. As one graduate composer noted, “He knows his stuff: he has lived through the history of computer music.”

In honor of Howard’s retirement, a concert of electronic and electro-acoustic works composed by his former students will be presented on Monday, April 25 in the University’s David and Amy Fulton Hall. A reception beginning at 4PM in the lobby of Fulton will precede the concert, which starts at 5PM.

For event details, see UChicago Events and Facebook.