Stephan Carlson (b. 1990) is a composer and song-writer from northern Illinois. Stephan's musical interests include popular musics like rock and metal; vocal musics, including classic, contemporary, and experimental choral works, as well as a cappella and barbershop music; experimental electronic musics and technologies; and experimental instrumental techniques exploring the foundational, physical motions idiomatic to any instrument for which he writes.

Stephan earned his B.M. in Music Theory and Composition at Elmhurst College in 2013, where most of his work was in vocal and choral music. Some of the choral music he wrote at this time and since has been published by Alfred Music, and has been performed in the States, Canada, Europe, and the Pacific Islands. In 2017 he continued his studies at Northern Illinois University, where he began to explore contemporary music more deeply-- being particularly stricken by composers like Julia Wolfe, Eriks Esenvalds, Salvatore Sciarrino, and Gerard Grisey. In his own compositional work he sought to explore different methods of organizing and developing sound, and to develop new idioms for himself. 

He completed his MM in 2019, and is currently at the University of Iowa pursuing his Ph.D. Stephan's work at UIowa has involved composing pieces which use the physical motions of "playing" the instruments for which he writes as the fundamental materials of the work, rather than the sounds themselves. He has described these works as "choreographies of motion". In addition to this Stephan has been exploring electronic music techniques, including the development of tools via Max/MSP for the manipulation of sounds' spectra. The electronic pieces he has composed often feature voice as a primary element, and feature spectral manipulations (as well as other forms of synthesis) as foregrounded means of musical expression.

Listen Below

Ubi Caritas, The Search for the Sublime takes the listener on a journey through three aural environments. Threaded through these three environments, serving as both a point of reference as well as reflection, is a Renaissance-styled setting of Ubi Caritas. Each of these three environments seem to emerge from the vocal piece as it undergoes various transformations. Sound is warped in a stretching of the senses, submerging the listener into otherworldly spaces that seem to dwell just beneath the surface of the self.

In Chrysopoeia, the string quartet is joined together in a shimmering whole that is subjected to deconstruction. The divergent cell catalyzes change, and the instruments pass through phases of individuation and coagulation as they move toward change: toward transmutation. The conflict becomes clearer and clearer as the players begin to speak, their dialogues joining and clarifying the fray. In the end, the players find their questions to be much the same, and they join in becoming a newly transformed whole.

Technicolor Turbulence is the fruit of several months' experimentation with digital synthesis and 3D-graphics generation in Max/MSP/Jitter. (Go to the YouTube link for more details).

The final result is something of an assault on the senses. It is experienced as a slow rise of intensity, both visually and sonically, which reaches a peak and then eventually settles again. The image presented to the viewer has been described by others as "the world", or "a star", or even simply "a core". This "core", while somewhat abstract, can at least be defined in space and compared with known objects or shapes (a sphere or circle). But as the pieces unfolds it begins to tremble and experience some kind of turbulence, and collapses on itself before being transmuted into some kind of explosion that is frozen in time. It can no longer be parsed as "a star" or even "a core", but is only experienced as an infinitude of chaotic turbulences of color, texture, and sound.

Eventually this turbulence passes, and the object recovers its initially form. This process-- a process of definition and order moving through chaos and uncertainty, back to a sense of clarity-- is an illustration of the state of one's perception in the midst of struggle. Throughout our lives we face experiences whose particular shapes can be difficult to describe in the moment. We feel disoriented, uncertain, insecure, afraid. We do not understand where we are. Later we may find ourselves better able to put it to words, and can begin to make sense of things. This work is a canvas, a page on which I hope you are able to tell yourself something of your own story.

Prodigal is a folk-ballad, and serves as a space for reflection upon some of the social developments I've witnessed in the American Church at large over the past few years. I've seen things that have... disturbed me. And I've seen things in myself, that have also disturbed me. This song poses a question to the listener-- "what kind of man...?". This question is meant to guide the listener, not to an interrogation of their fellowman, but of themselves. "What kind of man" are you?