David Aaron Jaffe is an American composer, performer, computer music innovator, software developer and author. He has composed over ninety works for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, and electronics, and is renowned for his personal "maximalist" approach and use of technology in works such as "Silicon Valley Breakdown," regarded as a landmark of computer music. His seminal technical achievements include the physical modeling of plucked strings and the development of the NeXT Music Kit for Steve Jobs. He has taught at Princeton, Stanford, and Melbourne Universities, and at U.C. San Diego. His writings on technical and aesthetic issues have been widely published.
David A. Jaffe's music first attracted international attention in 1982 when his "Silicon Valley Breakdown ," for synthesized plucked strings, was featured at the Venice Biennale and acclaimed by Le Monde and Newsweek as a landmark of computer music. This piece has since been performed in over twenty-five countries and has contributed to his reputation as one of the leading composers working with technology. In addition, his acoustic music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments has been widely performed and commissioned.
He has pioneered the musical use of the Mathews/Boie Radio Drum, a 3D electronic performance sensor designed at Bell Labs, in collaboration with Andrew Schloss. His latest work for this instrument is "The Space Between Us," which was premiered at the 2011 Other Minds Festival in San Francisco. In the 1990s he composed "The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World," a seventy-minute concerto for Radio Drum-driven acoustic "robot piano" and an ensemble of eight instruments. Jaffe is also well-known for his technical research and software design.
Jaffe's musical language is at once personal and audacious, with aesthetic roots in the music of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, and Henry Brant (a mentor and close personal friend.) His music embraces heterogeneity and draws on a vast range of musical resources, from folk music to jazz to popular music, to create complex systems of juxtaposition and hybridization, in which several highly-contrasting aspects of experience mix to produce something that is at once startlingly new and hauntingly familiar. This "maximalist" approach extends to extra-musical material as well; with elements ranging from birdsong to politics and social justice. Examples include "Impossible Animals," for chorus and bird-derived synthesized voices, in which a computer creates a hybrid between a wren and a human vocalist; "Songs of California," for vocal ensemble, based on texts from American labor activists Cesar Chavez, Joe Hill, and others; and "No Trumpets, No Drums—spatial negotiations for an Israeli/Palestinian peace settlement," for pipe organ, trombone and percussion.
Born in 1955 in northern New Jersey, Jaffe began studying violin, mandolin and composition at an early age. After playing in improvising ensembles of various genres in high school, he attended Ithaca College School of Music and Bennington College, and received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from Stanford University in 1983. He has lectured extensively in Europe, Japan, the Americas and Australia, and has taught at Princeton University, the University of California at San Diego, Melbourne University and Stanford University. His music has been recognized repeatedly by the National Endowment for the Arts (United States), with Composer Fellowships in both 1984 and 1989, and a Collaborative Fellowship in 1993. He served as the NEA Composer-in-Residence with the GRAMMY-winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer in 1991, as well as traveling to Buenos Aires on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, where he presented workshops at the LIPM electronic music studio and concerts featuring the String Quartet of Argentina and the String Quartet of Buenos Aires. In 1995, he was the featured composer at the Bratislava Festival of Electro-acoustic Music in Slovakia. The same year, he served as MacGeorge Fellow in Music Composition at Melbourne University in Australia, and was Keynote Speaker at the Conference of the Australian Computer Music Association. In 1997, he presented a concert in Havana, Cuba, that was featured on national TV, radio and short-wave.
Recent commissions have been awarded from the Russian National Orchestra, the Canada Council, the Irvine Foundation, the Lafayette String Quartet, the Galax Quartet and Jack Van Geem. In 2010, he travelled to Arnhem, the Netherlands for the premier of "Congregations" for eight cellos, commissioned by Cello Octet Amsterdam. His "The Space Between Us," for two string quartets and Trimpin-designed robotic percussion and Radio Drum-driven piano, was premiered at the 2011 Other Minds Festival. This work was commissioned by the Irvine Foundation, the Canada Council and Other Minds. In 2013, the University of Victoria invited him as the Orion Fellow and presented eleven of his works on three concerts.
Jaffe's technical innovations date back to the early 1980's, when he developed a breakthrough technique for plucked string synthesis, in collaboration with Alex Strong, Kevin Karplus and Julius Smith (called "Extended Karplus/Strong", and an example of "Physical Modeling with Digital Waveguides".) During the same period, he developed the "Time Map", a theoretical approach to expressive synthetic performance timing. From 1986-91, he and Julius Smith were hired personally by Steve Jobs to create the ground-braking NeXT Music Kit software. Since the 1990s he has pioneered the musical use of the Radio-Drum and Radio-Baton, in collaboration with Andrew Schloss. He consulted for the Stanford Sondius project on the creation of SynthBuilder, which won first prize at the Bourges software competition. In the late 1990s, he co-founded Staccato Systems Inc. and created SynthCore. The company was acquired by Analog Devices in 2001, where he created SoundMAX, which shipped on 80 million PCs worldwide. He is currently developing analog modeling software and firmware for Universal Audio, Inc.
As conductor, mandolinist and violinist, he has performed his music at international forums including the Berlin, Bergen, ISCM Warsaw Autumn, Cabrillo and Bourges Festivals, the American Festival in London and at International Computer Music Conferences in the US, Denmark, Scotland, Canada and Italy. Ensembles that have commissioned works include the Kronos Quartet, the American Guild of Organists, David Starobin's Purchase Guitar Ensemble and the Mostly Modern Orchestra. His music has been performed by such ensembles as the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Modern Mandolin Quartet and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. CD recordings of his music have been released on Elektra/Asylum, Wergo, CDCM/Centaur, Vienna Modern Masters and Well-Tempered. His music is published by Schott and Plucked String Editions. His writings on music have been published in Computer Music Journal, Perspectives of New Music, Interface Journal for New Music Research and Leonardo Music Journal; and in the books The Music Machine and The Well-Tempered Object.