Paul Dresher

For more than 30 years, world-renowned experimental musician and composer Paul Dresher has been fashioning remarkable instruments that help him push the limits of contemporary composition. Dresher employs his inventions in works that range from musical theater to contemporary opera to electronic chamber music to film and theatrical scores. Spark visits the maestro at work as he prepares for a performance of new music at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

To create his instruments, Dresher often begins by experimenting with found or scrap materials. The quadrachord, one of his recent creations, began with a seven-foot-long plank of wood, onto which Dresher fastened guitar pickups and extended strings. A second version, which is twice as long, functions as a kind of giant electric/acoustic slide guitar that can be prepared, plucked, bowed or hammered.

Another such instrument is a giant metronome that Dresher created for his musical theater piece “Sound Stage.” Rather than merely replicate a metronome on a colossal scale, Dresher built the massive instrument to produce a complex array of sounds. The finished metronome, which became the centerpiece of “Sound Stage,” features two 15-foot swinging pendulums that pluck the strings of a giant harp and strike a series of percussive objects.

With the Electro-Acoustic Band — a high-tech experimental ensemble he founded in 1993 — Dresher performs his own music as well as the work of some of the most innovative composers of the last several decades. For their show at Yerba Buena, the ensemble tackles three new works by three different composers as well as Dresher’s own compositions from his CD “Cage Machine.” It is a difficult task, demanding long rehearsal hours to iron out the bugs in the technology-dependent compositions. In the end the concert is a success. Dresher and his band render the works both sonically complex and emotionally haunting.

Paul Dresher earned his B.A. in music from UC Berkeley and his M.A. in composition from UC San Diego, where he studied with Robert Erickson, Roger Reynolds, Pauline Oliveros and Bernard Rands. He has received commissions from numerous institutions, including the U.S. Library of Congress, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, San Francisco Symphony, Zeitgeist, Walker Arts Center, University of Iowa, Meet the Composer and American Music Theater Festival. Dresher has performed throughout North America, Asia and Europe, including concerts with the Munich State Opera and New York Philharmonic. Dresher has also developed original music for dance performances for many choreographers, including Margaret Jenkins, Brenda Way, Nancy Karp, Wendy Rogers and Allyson Green.

Paul Dresher 5 August,2015Spark


  • Array
  • Array

Related Episodes

Artist as Inventor

Hit the hardware store and machine shop to visit with artists who double as inventors.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor