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Ben Leeds Carson's work as a composer and improviser is supported by a variety of research, including empirical studies in perception, theory of mind, and theory of musical form. Dr. Carson offers courses in theory and analysis, perception studies, and popular culture.
Born in North Carolina, Ben spent a good part of his first 8 years in the trailer parks, highway rest areas, and rural campgrounds of 47 different US states, following parents who worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, while bird-watching and fossil-hunting their way back and forth across the country. Later, in Walla Walla Washington, he was led to music by Argentine composer José Rambaldi (d. 1989) and comedian-singer Bradley Hunt (d. 1988), whose lives were cut short by AIDS while Ben was still a teen. Ben went on to study music and theater at Willamette University, and then composition at the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego; fortunate for the mentorship of John Peel, John Rahn, Roger Reynolds, Jann Pasler, Brian Ferneyhough, Harvey Sollberger, Jerry Balzano, George Lewis, and many others. His dissertation under Reynolds' mentorship at UCSD—a large collection of works for orchestra and for solo piano—explored "the establishment and erosion of musical boundaries, the evolution/devolution of melody, and the use of silence as a structural component" (Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine July/August 2012); in the same music, the critic Christopher Williams has described tonal tension between small-scale and large-scale harmonic progressions, producing a paradox, in which "each element in a false dichotomy defines and becomes the other", allowing us "the opportunity and responsibility to navigate our [own] uniquely useful paths" ("On the Piano Music of Ben Carson", in The Open Space Magazine, Issue 5, December 2005, pp. 246-247).
Carson's music is available on Centaur Records, Albany Records, and on San Diego's "Soundcheck" series, and has been performed throughout the U.S. and at international festivals, including Aspen, "June in Buffalo," Gerngesehen (Köln), and New England Conservatory's Summer Institute for the Contemporary Piano. Concerts have been dedicated to Carson's work at Sydney Conservatory's 2005 "Music and Social Justice" conference, at Columbia University's Music Performance Program (2009), and for the International Society for Improvised Music (2010). Carson's recent work has moved in the direction of music drama, and includes an opera based on a Star Trek teleplay by Gene Roddenberry, partially premiered in a workshop performance directed in June 2016 by John de Lancie (acclaimed guest director of Atlanta Opera and San Antonio opera, earlier of Star Trek: Next Generation, and Breaking Bad) with acclaimed baritones Aleksey Bogdanov and David Cushing.
Carson has been an Artist/Researcher-in-Residence for the Perception Laboratory at IRCAM (Institute de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique), and at Paris University VI; his collaborations there, at UCSD, and at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, have led to innovative approaches in the study of rhythm perception and the composition of complex rhythm, including Carson's own scholarship in the American Journal of Psychology, and the Journal of New Music Research. His writing also appears in The Open Space Magazine, ECHO, the Institute for Advanced Feminist Studies' Shock and Awe: War on Words, and in other publications. He joined the University of California, Santa Cruz faculty in Music in 2003, and is affiliated with the Digital Arts / New Media faculty. At UCSC, he has been a recipient of the Chancellor's Excellence in Teaching Award (2011), and the Arts Division's Excellence in Mentorship Award (2014). He currently serves as Provost of UCSC's Kresge College.