Ken Ueno

(b. 11 January 1970)

Ken Ueno is an American composer, performer, and educator. His compositions and unique performing styles have taken him around the world and won him prestigious prizes.

Ken Ueno was born on 11 January 1970 in Bronxville, New York. He studied at the United States Military Academy at West Point until an injury forced him to drop out. It was during his recovery that he first started playing the electric guitar and encountered his first significant influence, Jimi Hendrix. Having previously focused more on his academics and sports, his recuperation time and discovery of the guitar led him to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he finished his bachelor’s degree. Further studies led him to Yale for his master’s and Harvard for his doctorate.

Ueno is currently an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Beyond academia he is an active composer and performer. As a composer he won the Rome Prize in 2006-07 and the Berlin Prize in 2010-11. His works have been performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra, the Lithuanian National Orchestra, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra and many others, as well as by soloists like Kim Kashkashian and Frances-Marie Uitti.

Ueno’s compositions are avant-garde, drawing on inspirations ranging from Bela Bartok to Metallica. He writes in traditional western notation, but also incorporates his own notation. He includes everything from heavy metal to Tuvan throat singing to a megaphone.

Ueno composes his commissions in a way that enhances the strengths and abilities of the members of the ensemble for which they are written, making it seem that almost only that particular ensemble can perform the work. One example of this is his piece Peradam, written for the Del Sol String Quartet in 2011. I  this piece, he makes use of the group’s ability to sing and play simultaneously. Of special note is their violist who performs throat singing. He also calls on the players to extract sounds from their instruments in less-than-traditional means.

What is perhaps as important as his composition is his work as a vocalist or ‘sound artist’. Ueno works with extended vocal techniques like overtones, throat singing, and multiphonics. His performances, which can take place anywhere from concert halls to a small living rooms, have to be seen to be understood. He performs with a primal energy, often improvising. He is a modern artist not quite like any other.

He is a modern artist not quite like any other.

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