John Supko



About John Supko

I write music for humans and computers, often together.

Sometimes I make software tools that help me slip the limits of my musical imagination.

The serendipity of collaboration has long interested me. I think of collaboration as a conversation in which I have to say things differently…[and] say different things.”

I’m curious about the future, but a part of me will always live in the 20th century. I think there’s still more to learn from Surrealism:  dreams, ambiguity, and the subconscious I find inexhaustibly alluring.

Teaching computers to make art and use language with some degree of autonomy has opened up new avenues of investigation, but these pathways can lead back just as easily to André Breton et al.  

Computation is a form of automatic writing–or it can be.  Some of my work exploits this possibility through generative processes. The computer’s memory is filled with huge amounts of raw material, which it fragments and recombines unpredictably according to layers of algorithms I design.

I teach at Duke University, where I am an associate professor in the Department of Music with a secondary appointment in Theater Studies.

I also teach in the Computational Media, Arts & Cultures program. I co-direct CMAC’s Emergence Lab with Bill Seaman.

I hold a BM from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and an MFA and a PhD from Princeton University.


Biloxi Anapanasati︎  
double bass, piano, percussion, & tape

One Hundred Thousand Billion Pieces
for Piano & Computer︎

piano & interactive electronics

Soleil Noir︎  
string quartet

Music from Pig Film︎ 
electroacoustic score & sound design for the film by Josh Gibson

opera for 8 voices, generative electronics, & video

Naples ultra︎

Divine the Rest︎
mixed quintet & generative electronics

L’Imitation du sommeil︎
concerto for guitar, countertenor, chamber orchestra,
& generative electronics

generative electronic album

generative music system used to create s_traits

The Devouring Shore︎
percussion quartet & generative electronics 

A Free Invention for George Pitcher︎
generative electronics 

piano & generative electronics

mixed sextet & generative electronics

Inland Ocean︎
string quartet & generative electronics

This City︎
piano & generative electronics

This Window Makes Me Feel︎
mezzo-soprano, alto flute, percussion, keyboards, 5.1 tape, & video   

flutes, percussion, 5.1 tape, & video

Into the Night︎
oboe, electric guitar, double bass, piano, percussion

Songs of a Landloper︎
song cycle for soprano & chamber ensemble 

string quartet & tape

Dream Cuisine︎
cantata for voices, string quartet, keyboards, & percussion

The Correspondence︎
chamber orchestra & electronics

Mœurs de Césure︎
cello & piano, with seven poems by Philippe Denis

Without Stopping︎
open instrumentation & three Discmans on shuffle

percussion duo

A Song for Sinking︎
live improvisation on Magnus chord organ with electronics

Everybody Says Everything︎
electric guitar quartet & tape

Essays & Other Writings

Anticipation: Some Notes ︎ Appears in “Handbook of Anticipation” (Springer Nature Switzerland AG, 2019), 137-162.

Notes on Christian Marclay’s “Surround Sounds”︎ My contribution to a panel on Christian Marclay’s work at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, September 2019

The Easy Speech of the Land︎Appears on Naxos Musicology International, an online platform for music scholarship and opinion, December 2019

How I Taught My Computer to Write Its Own Music ︎Appears in the 2013 “Information” issue of Nautilus, an online science magazine

Pig Film song lyrics︎
Texts co-written with Josh Gibson

THE OPER&: Complete Texts︎
Libretto co-written with Bill Seaman

Should Composers Read Music Critics?︎ Appears on NewMusicBox; co-written with Jeffrey Edelstein

Appears on NewMusicBox; co-written with Jeffrey Edelstein

Appears on NewMusicBox; co-written with Jeffrey Edelstein

Unbroken Art︎
Appears on NewMusicBox; co-written with Jeffrey Edelstein

Recent ‘Voyages, Navigations, Traffiques, and Discoveries’︎Reflections on my recent music ca. 2012

Inland Ocean: Complete Texts ︎
Texts from the string quartet

Text for s_traits︎
Recombinant poem by Bill Seaman for the album


Reviews & Interviews of the most accessible adventurers in musical exploration today.
Thought Catalog

Praise for divine the rest:

The album's most hypnotic setting is clearly Supko's “divine the rest” in the way it merges the group's playing with spoken fragments (assembled via computer, the text consists of extemporaneous utterances arranged in accordance with grammatical rules), field recording samples, drones, and sine-tone textures. A remarkable exercise in dream-like entrancement, the eleven-minute piece mesmerizes, especially when its words are more whispered than spoken.Textura

Speaking of dreams, John Supko’s “Divine the Rest” is nothing short of a mesmerizing daze. It immerses the listener in an ambient electroacoustic soundscape, with calm narration whispering over sparse instrumentation. Each and every note gently rings over the surrounding static to create a slowly shifting musical landscape.Second Inversion

Praise for s_traits

This hypnotic disc is derived from more than 110 hours of audio sourced from field recordings, digital noise, documentaries and piano music. A software program developed by the composer John Supko juxtaposed samples from the audio database into multitrack compositions; he and the media artist Bill Seaman then finessed the computer’s handiwork into these often eerily beautiful tracks.–The New York Times

The composer John Supko has collaborated with the media artist Bill Seaman to create this hypnotic disc, derived from more than 110 hours of audio sourced from (among other things) field recordings, digital noise, 1960s documentaries and piano music. A software program developed by Mr. Supko juxtaposed samples from the audio database into multitrack compositions; the duo then finessed the computer’s handiwork into these trancelike, emotive and eerily beautiful tracks.The New York Times

Seaman, Supko, and their circuitry transform more than 100 hours of old tapes and aural detritus into a suite of perky, jittery miniatures, confounding and intoxicating at once.–The Boston Globe

With s_traits, John Supko and Bill Seaman have relied on software to help spin a huge tangle of material into a dense, rich fabric of sound. To be so immersed in material requires the composers to give up a degree of agency, it is true, but this does not preclude originality or invention. The reward is to find the potential for surprise in the material itself. As the last lines of Seaman’s text have it, “the code from beneath drives the lines / mercurial as the light.”–The Brooklyn Rail

John Supko has designed a generative computer programme that can sift through a database of existing sounds and music, the rhythmic pulse of one piece acting as a frame around which the melodic or harmonic contours of another might find a new home. “Out From The Straits” is one of 26 tiny vignettes included on s_traits, his collaboration with sound-artist Bill Seaman. Music is normally created with the intention of projecting a potent and recognisable identity; but this piece, created by a coincidence of computer code, feels fascinating, anonymous and out of focus.The Guardian

Bill Seaman ist der erste echte „digital Native“ in der Musik. Seine Stücke sind niemals fertig, für immer Übergangsstufen zwischen Sample und Komposition, Remix und Original. Auch für diese Kollaboration mit dem Komponisten John Supko steht die Vorstellung von „Musik als Prozess“ zentral: Aus über 100 Stunden Material entstanden 26 zwei- bis dreiminütige Tracks, jeder von einem kurzen Vocal-Sample angekündigt. Mysteriöser Ambient, experimentelle Klangkunst und verfremdete Neoklassik sind Eckpfeiler. Doch werden de Grenzen zwischen den Stilrichtungen zunehmend aufgeweicht. Ein Album, das eine wahrhaft neue Perspektive zur Musik sucht und findet.Beat Magazin (DE)

Un disque beau et intéressant de musique générative... ou presque. Bill Seaman et John Supko ont créé une vaste collection d’échantillons sonores, puis un logiciel capable de la naviguer pour choisir et combiner des sons afin de composer des morceaux multipistes. Ces morceaux, ils les ont ensuite retravaillés chacun de leur côté. On a donc 26 morceaux d’à peu près trois minutes, sans savoir qui a “composé” quoi au final. Et il s’agit de musiques alliant électronique et musique de chambre. C’est délicat, chantant à sa façon, créatif, différent mais accessible. Le projet dans son ensemble (j’ai sauté bien des détails, mais sachez qu’un poème est inscrit dans ses gènes) offre une cohésion remarquable.Monsieur Délire (QC)

Praise for USINE:

On se trouvait emporté, fasciné par la variété des instruments utilisés – qui pensait que l’on pouvait jouer de la pive? …La dernière heure de cet exceptionnel concert s’est terminée en explosion musicale, riche, émouvante aussi. La Liberté (Fribourg,CH)

Praise for drawn only once:

Everything about about Drawn Only Once, an impeccably designed CD/DVD by the duo Due East that feature's Supko's pieces, is spellbindingly beautiful.
TimeOut New York (5 stars)

…the young American composer's music fascinates, like an accumulating weather system. His intricate soundscapes reveal more with each hearing.
San Jose Mercury News (Best of 2011 list)

Birdlike flute sounds range from agitated repetition to dissonant outbursts and a more relaxed seagull-like call, while percussion (often electronic) busily colors Supko's absorbing world.New Jersey Star-Ledger

Praise for Into the Night:

John Supkos „Into the Night“ (2005) für E-Gitarre, Oboe, Klavier, Schlagzeug und Kontrabass avanciert zum Höhepunkt des Abends.
Die Badische Zeitung (Freiburg-im-Breisgau,DE)

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Music for Writers

Inteview with Porter Anderson on Thought Catalog

15 Questions

A long interview touching on my aesthetic philosophy, recent musical work, and teaching at Duke University.

Duke Forward

La Liberté (Fribourg, Switzerland) 

Interview (in French) about USINE at the World Minimal Music Festival in Amsterdam

With Olivier Cuendet after the Amsterdam premiere of USINE:

Spoken [1] x [only]

Liner notes for drawn only once written by Jeffery Edelstein in the form of an interview