There is a unique and endearing duality to the music of Paul Lansky. On the one hand, he employs highly sophisticated technological innovations and esoteric algorithms. On the other, Lansky employs these complex methods and media to create works that transcend their own technology and convey a highly personal, accessible, and even sentimental aesthetic. While his ingenious technical developments surely reinforce his prominence within the field of computer music, his influence owes in arguably larger part to the uninhibited curiosity and humanity that inhabit his works.
Lansky played horn during his adolescence and his undergraduate years at Queens College in the early 1960s before beginning graduate studies at Princeton; Under Milton Babbitt's tutelage, Lansky turned his attention to computer music composition. He took a particular interest in "twelve tone tonality," an idea he explored in collaboration with his former mentor from Queens College, George Perle; Lansky's mild and leise (1973), an electronic piece borne of this collaboration, comprised a serial and synthesized musing on Wagnerian harmony. (This piece enjoyed an unlikely resurrection decades later when Lansky allowed the band Radiohead to use a sample from it in their track "Idioteque.") After completing his Ph.D. and joining the Princeton faculty, Lansky became increasingly interested in using technology to examine the relationship between pure sound and its aural associations -- the intersections of noise and music, speech and meaning, melody and memory. In Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion (1979), Lansky took a single text (read by his wife and frequent collaborator, Hannah MacKay) and subjected it to a variety of aural manipulations. In his numerous folk tune settings, such as Barbara Allen and Pretty Polly (both 1981), Lansky demonstrated an uncanny ability to create nostalgia, rather than anachronism, out of synthesized timbres. A number of pieces in the 1980s and 90s, many with the word "chatter" in their titles, explored the sonic contours of speech by blurring consonants, snipping words into phonemes, and filtering the resulting sounds into engaging, quasi-tonal harmonic progressions. Lansky has also used more intimate speech sounds -- recollections of a mentor, conversations with his wife, even the domestic noise of his children clearing the table -- to create dreamlike musical evocations of memory; at his best, Lansky's works are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. "Recordings of real-world sounds," says the composer, "create a nostalgic ache in that they almost capture events which are, in reality, gone forever."