Rice University
Rice Magazine| The Magazine of Rice University | No. 1 | 2008

Shepherd School’s Stallmann Earns Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

If there is a way for a composer to write music for walking on cloud nine, Kurt Stallmann will probably find it. And for good reason. Stallmann, the Lynette S. Autrey Assistant Professor of Composition and Theory at The Shepherd School of Music, recently was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which placed him among an elite group of professionals who have demonstrated stellar achievement and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.

StallmanA piece for cloud nine might have to wait a while, however. Stallmann hopes to spend 2009 producing creative works that use electronic and computer-generated sounds in concert with live instruments and in live performances. He’s also considering forming a new ensemble to explore musical dialogue using computers and acoustic instruments. “One thing that will remain very important to me,” Stallmann said, “is interdisciplinary work involving other mediums — video, dance, light, movement.”


‘Breaking Earth’

Stallmann’s multidisciplinary work incorporating performance, fixed and interactive electronics, and visual elements has earned him the attention of a number of national organizations and foundations. Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program commissioned his latest exhibition, “Breaking Earth.” For that innovative work, Stallmann collaborated with filmmaker Alfred Guzzetti to create a palette of images, spaces and sounds.

The installation, which ran last spring at Houston’s DiverseWorks Art Space, featured five screens of projected high-definition video and multiple channels of audio. At first, sounds and images were recognizable items from the natural world, like woods, sea, wind, streams and stone. Elements then slowly shifted into one another and transformed into an abstracted landscape of consciousness.

“We set out to blur the lines of reality around the things we hear and see every day,” Stallmann said. “We really hope this work has the effect of motivating people to become more aware of the world around them — experiencing the familiar, everyday world as something vivid and fresh — and consequently re-engaging and reconnecting them with their surroundings.”

“Breaking Earth” built on Stallmann’s history of pioneering works. He devotes his energy to the synthesis and connection of the many mediums available to composers today and creates works for acoustic groupings, acoustic/electronics groupings with interactive elements, environmental sounds and purely synthetic sounds.

Passing It On

Another of Stallmann’s passions — perhaps his greatest — is teaching.

“I urge my students to look inside themselves to find out what it is they want to contribute to the artistic landscape as it exists in the world today,” Stallmann said. “That requires a knowledge of what is out there to begin with and an understanding of how the past has led to the present.”
Stallmann hopes to be able to pass on to students his knowledge of that landscape — the very landscape his work is significantly impacting. He said that while connections and talent are important, they can take a person only so far.

“Hard work completes talent,” Stallmann said. “This is something that most people don’t understand. It takes a lot of courage and determination to commit oneself to very personal ideas.”
Stallmann’s ideas earned him the honor of presenting his piece “SONA — Sounds of Houston: Wind, Rain, Trains” as the closing work of the 2008 Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) National Conference. The organization is devoted to music that involves electronic and digital generation of sound materials for performance. This year, he was also presented with a SEAMUS President’s Award for his contributions to the organization.

The Shepherd School Influence

Given Stallmann’s incredible talent and cutting-edge vision, it’s likely that he will be remembered as a hero and mentor to many. He already is helping artists and musicians of the next generation leave their marks on the world.

“One thing we try to encourage at The Shepherd School is the development of the creative imagination and a sense of artistic responsibility — learning to commit oneself to seeing ideas through to completion,” Stallmann said. “Students have to become convinced that their ideas and the quality of their ideas are important. Without that conviction, it is hard to invest the many hours of work necessary to bring those ideas into the world.”

Stallmann credited The Shepherd School and its administration for fostering an environment so conducive to artistic development and collaboration.

“Our students are wonderful and the environment is very stimulating. Dean Robert Yekovich is an accomplished creative artist himself, so the support offered by the administration is outstanding,” Stallmann said. “Rarely have I seen a school where colleagues are more supportive of one another and where there is such a genuine sense of teamwork.”