State of the Art
Music & Research from Cuthbert, Makan, and Tang

There are laurels galore for the School's renowned Music program,
but, naturally, no one is resting on them. Instead the Music faculty
is energetically increasing the already formidable range and depth
of the section—not least with a trio of three younger members who
are creating new tools and sounds influenced by computer science,
classical scholarship, and global culture.

While their musical approaches are distinctly individual, they share a
common ability to 
create new works from layered cultural influences,
identities, and traditions. We opened our ears recently to listen to
Patricia Tang, Keeril Makan, and Michael Cuthbert. Here are their stories:





Michael Cuthbert, Assistant Professor, is engaged with the future and the past: using leading-edge informatics to devise new tools for unprecedented forms of musical analysis in his music21 lab; and steeping himself in Medieval scores and manuscripts to illuminate the music and the musicians of Europe’s Plague Years. We caught up with him from Florence, where he is spending a year at Villa I Tatti.  



Starting with Silence





Composer Keeril Makan, Associate Professor, uses classical and non-Western instruments—and silence itself as an instrument—to compose critically acclaimed music. In his classes, Makan teaches both skilled and novice musicians how to hear sound anew. 



Global Drumbeat


Ethnomusicologist Patricia Tang, Associate Professor, draws on her extensive research on Senegalese sabar drummers to bring world music—and more expansive global perspectives—alive in her classes and in the Rambax drumming group.



About | Innovators 

Ellen Harris, head of Music and Theater Arts, and a distinguished Handel scholar and soprano soloist, commented on the significance of these three scholars and musicians for the MIT community. "They have wonderfully diverse strengths," she noted, "and each of these young innovators is, in a particular, unique way, a terrific match for MIT’s gifted, diverse, and musically ambitious undergraduates."

Harris also shared a fact that speaks to the extraordinary role of the Music section at MIT: each year, some 
seventy percent of freshmen arrive at the Institute with substantial musical background. Indeed, many of these students have chosen MIT because they know that here, they can achieve at the highest levels in music as well as in science or engineering.  

"Here at MIT," Harris points out, "it is not at all unusual for a student who is composing a baroque minuet to also be working on a Mars robot. We offer a conservatory-level music experience that connects with the Institute’s unique engagement with the creation of new forms and technologies."  • 



Cuthbert Continuum                                  

Makan | Starting with Silence

Tang Global Drumbeat




Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand
Writers: Sarah Wright, Emily Hiestand
Photographs of Patricia Tang, Keeril Makan, and Michael Cuthbert by Jon Sachs
Photographs of Villa I Tatti by Giovanni Trambusti (courtesy of
the photographer)
Published May 5, 2010



Soundings, Spring 2010