New Faculty Appointments

new faculty headshots


The Department of Music is excited to announce that we will be welcoming three new faculty members this year.

Hans Thomalla, most recently at Northwestern University, will be joining us as Professor of Composition. Having just been awarded the German Rome Prize, Thomalla will be on leave in 2024-25 and begin his full-time position in the department in the 2025-26 academic year. In addition to teaching composition, Thomalla will create a course sequence on contemporary opera, in which University of Chicago students will develop and produce their own opera projects.

Senem Pirler, most recently at Bennington College, will be joining us as Assistant Professor of Composition in the 2024-25 academic year.

Alexander Cowan, currently a Research Fellow in the Arts at Jesus College, University of Cambridge, will be joining us as Assistant Professor of Musicology. Cowan will take advantage of the second year of his fellowship to complete a book, and will officially start his UChicago position in the 2025-26 academic year.

Learn more about each new faculty member below.

Hans Thomalla

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Hans Thomalla is a German American composer living in Chicago and Berlin. A particular focus of his work lies in music for the stage. He has written four operas, Fremd, Kaspar Hauser, Dark Spring, and Dark Fall.

Thomalla has been Professor of Music Composition at Northwestern University where he co-founded the Institute for New Music. He studied at the Frankfurt Musikhochschule and received his doctoral degree in composition from Stanford University. From 1999-2002 he was Assistant Dramaturge and Musical Advisor at the Stuttgart Opera. He has been associated with the Darmstädter Ferienkurse for a long time, where he has served for many years on the composition faculty.

He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis, the Composer Prize of the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung, the Christoph Delz Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. During the academic year 2014/15 he was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and in 2024/25 he will be a Villa Massimo Fellow in Rome. He has written music for numerous ensembles and soloists, including the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, the Münchener Philharmoniker, SWR- and SR-Radiosinfonieorchester, The Crossing, Talea, ICE, Ensemble Modern, Musikfabrik, Ensemble Recherche, Arditti Quartet, Spektral Quartet, Nicolas Hodges, Irvine Arditti, Sarah Sun, and many others. His operas have been commissioned by the Stuttgart Opera, Freiburg Opera, Augsburg Opera, and the Nationaltheater Mannheim.

Hans Thomalla is the co-founder of the Chicago based record label Sideband Records. He appears as a character in Alexander Kluge’s story collection "Anyone Who Utters a Consoling Word Is a Traitor: 48 Stories for Fritz Bauer."

Senem Pirler

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Senem Pirler (she/her) is an artist, sonic improviser, and educator. Pirler’s interdisciplinary work crosses over into sound engineering, sound art, composition, performance, video art, movement, and installation. Born in Turkey, Pirler studied classical piano at Hacettepe State Conservatory and sound engineering and design at Istanbul Technical University/MIAM. Pirler earned her M.M. in Music Technology the Stephen F. Temmer Tonmeister Honors Track from NYU Steinhardt, and her Ph.D. in Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Pirler’s artistic practice is collaborative: she is interested in the concept of agency in improvisational practices and creating multi-sensory opportunities that hold complex entanglements between human and more-than-human bodies and spaces. Pirler has exhibited and performed work at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center/EMPAC (NY), Roulette Intermedium (NY), The Kitchen (NYC), Carnegie Hall (NYC), Southbank Centre (London), Akademie der Künste (Berlin), Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA), Baryshnikov Arts Center (NY), Montalvo Arts Center (CA), Mount Tremper Arts (NY), and Collar Works (NY). Her work has been recognized by institutions such as the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center, Institute for Electronic Arts, PACT Zollverein, Signal Culture, Hermitage, and Elektronmusikstudion EMS. Pirler has been awarded a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship in the category of Music/Sound in 2022 and the Malcolm Morse Award to honor the work of Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening in 2018. Prior to joining the University of Chicago, Dr. Pirler was a faculty member in Music at Bennington College, overseeing the sound practices and e-music curriculum from 2018 to 2024.

Alexander Cowan

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Alexander W. Cowan is a musicologist specializing in the intellectual and political history of music in the twentieth century, focused on the intersections of music, race, and capitalism.

His book project, Unsound: A Cultural History of Music and Eugenics, reveals how ideas about music and musicality have been weaponized in British and US-American eugenics movements from the 1860s to the mid-twentieth century, and how ideas from this period survive both in modern science and the rhetoric of the contemporary far right. Drawing on original archival research, and interdisciplinary studies of science, race, ability, reproduction, and labor, the book charts how music’s entanglements with eugenics shaped notions of race and whiteness during an historical period in which these categories were in constant flux.

A concern with music’s capacity to take on political meaning is a through-line in his work, from past projects on left-wing folksong revival, and essays published and in progress on the racial politics of the phonograph. His next major project expands the scope of this concern, using unlikely appropriations of the Blues from across the twentieth century—from the left internationalism of Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden, to the amateur blues guitar performances of Reagan strategist Lee Atwater—to explore how musical genre functions as a terrain of political contest. 

Alexander holds a PhD in Music from Harvard University, where he was a Graduate Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, an MMus in Musicology from King’s College, London, and a BA in Music from the University of Oxford. He is currently a Research Fellow in the Arts at Jesus College, Cambridge.