Kari Watson

Kari Watson
Cohort Year: 2020
Research Interests: Embodiment and Identity within Contemporary Composition, Music and Embodied Cognition
Education: BM, Oberlin Conservatory of Music


Kari Watson (b. 1998, they/them) is a composer, performer, and sound artist working between the mediums of contemporary concert music, electroacoustic music, live performance, and interactive installation work. Motivated by a passion for narrative and musical drama, Watson works to create music that is clear, tactile, and emotionally driven. 

As a performer playing analog synthesizer, they engage a customizable spatialization software built in MaxMSP with spatial speaker arrays to further explore issues of tactility and drama in immersive, sonic environments. With roots in vocal study and performance, their work is informed by the vocal line and often incorporates text. In recent works, Watson has explored different ways of working with text and language, such as text construction/deconstruction with IPA and polytextual settings. Inspired by their burgeoning research on electronic mediation of the voice and its relationship to identity, gender and sexuality from 1960-present, Watson explores the voice as a raw material to be manipulated and processed towards various dramatic ends.

Their work has been performed and recorded in the United States and abroad by several ensembles, most recently, the MIVOS Quartet, the Chicago Philharmonic, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble with Sandbox Percussion, Quatuor Diotima, Axiom Brass, the Constellation Men's Ensemble and the Friction Quartet, among others. Watson’s work has also been featured on a variety of concerts and festivals, such as at the 2023 Darmstädter Ferienkurse, Les Écoles D’art Américaines de Fontainebleau, the Ravinia Festival, Chicago's Frequency Festival, the Ear Taxi Festival, and at the New Music Gathering.

Recently featured by the Washington Post as one of the 23 for ’23: Composers and performers to watch this year, Watson has received several awards and distinctions for their work such as the 2023 Kranichstein Music Prize for Composition from the Darmstädter Ferienkurse, the 2023 Nerenberg, Gerts and Hammond Prize from the Musicians Club of Women, a 2022 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a 2022 Student Composer Award from Broadcast Music Industry. 

Watson holds a BM from Oberlin Conservatory in Composition, with a minor in TIMARA (technology in music and related arts) and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago on a full fellowship from the Division of the Humanities.