GORDON MUMMAComposer and Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Cruz

Gordon Mumma was born in 1935 in Framingham, Massachusetts. He studied horn and piano in Chicago and Detroit and was an active performer in orchestra and chamber music. His diverse instrumental performances have also included the musical saw, cornet, percussion, bandoneon, and his uniquely designed live-electronic instruments.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mumma collaborated with Robert Ashley on Milton Cohen's SPACE THEATRE projects (1957-64) with their development of live-electronic music, and co-founded with Ashley the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music (1958-66). The SPACE THEATRE project also included connections with uniquely creative individuals in film, visual arts, architecture, and innovative theatre productions.

From that milieu developed the now historic Ann Arbor ONCE Festival (1961-66), involving the contributions of composers Ashley, George Cacioppo, Roger Reynolds, Donald Scavarda and others.  The ONCE Festival included many other composers and theatre artists, many then only beginning to establish their international reputations. These included such as David Behrman, Luciano Berio, John Cage, Alvin Lucier, George Manupelli, Pauline Oliveros, Robert Rauschenberg (with the Judson Dance Theatre), David Tudor, and La Monte Young.

From 1966 to the mid 1970s Mumma was involved with two important international touring performance ensembles: the Sonic Arts Union with Ashley, Behrman, and Lucier, and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, as a composer-musician with John Cage and David Tudor. 

Within the energetic cultural milieu of those years, the Cunningham Dance Company was a wellspring for all the musical, theatrical and visual arts. Among those people several were exceptional for their innovations in a multiplicity of the arts, e.g., John Cage, Remy Charlip, and Robert Rauschenberg. For example, in Rauschenberg's theatrical activities he produced innovative decor and costumes, designed lightning, composed music, created choreography, employed live animals, and made advertising posters. Creative roles for others in that milieu were nourished and expanded in spite of classic ego conflicts and old boundary definitions.

As a cultural historian Mumma has published many published articles, often concerning the contemporary arts and technology, including his work with the Cunningham Dance Company and the various creative artists and their collaborations. His music is recorded by Lovely Music, New World Records, Tzadik and others. A 2-CD set of his solo piano music, performed by Daan Vandewalle, is a co-production by New World Records and HR2-Kultur in Frankfurt.

Mumma has had academic residencies at various universities and participated in international arts festivals in Europe, Japan and the Americas. From 1975 to 1994, he was Professor of Music at the University of California.  In 2000 he received the Biennial Award of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, New York. Now a Canadian resident living in British Columbia, he is at work with University of Victoria musicologist Michelle Fillion on 50 years of his writings for a book publication scheduled in 2015.

Gordon Mumma
Gordon Mumma
From the archives of Gordon Mumma