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Encyclopedia > Philip Corner

Philip (Lionel) Corner (April 10, 1933—) is a composer as well as trombonist, vocalist, and pianist. He has been active in events with the name Fluxus since 1961, was a resident composer and musician with the Judson Dance Theatre from 1962-1964 and later with the Experimental Intermedia Foundation founded by Phill Niblock. He co-founded with Malcolm Goldstein and James Tenney the Tone Roads Chamber Ensemble in 1963 (active until 1970), with Julie Winter Sounds Out of Silent Spaces in 1972 (active until 1979) and with Barbara Benary and Daniel Goode Gamelan Son of Lion in 1976 (still active).

He studied at Columbia University with Otto Luening and Henry Cowell, later with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire and privately with Dorothy Taubman in New York. He taught at the New Lincoln School in New York from 1966-1972, the New School for Social Research from 1967-1970 and Rutgers University from 1972-1992, after which point he moved to Reggio Emilia, Italy.

He became interested in calligraphy during military service in Korea in 1960-1961 and studied it with Ki-sung Kim; it is often incorporated into his scores. Many of his scores are open-ended in that some elements are specified, but others are left partially or entirely to the discretion of the performers. Some employ standard notation, whereas others are graphic scores, text scores, etc. His music also frequently explores unintentional sound, chance activities, minimalism, and non-Western instruments and tuning systems. Contact with artists in other media, especially dance and the visual arts, as well as a long-standing interest in Eastern religions such as Buddhism and study of the music of composers from the Baroque and Pre-Baroque eras has likewise impacted his music.

Representative works include the ensemble pieces Passionate Expanse of the Law, Sang-teh/Situations and Through the Mysterious Barricade, among many others. Also in his incredibly large oeuvre are piano pieces ('perfect', Pictures of Pictures from Pictures of Pictures), choral works (Peace, be still), electronic music (the war cantata Oracle), and more than 400 works in the Gamelan series, to mention only some of his catalogue. He divides his output into five periods, each one reflective of his attitudes at the time: (1) Culture, 1950s; (2) The World, 1960s and 1970s; (3) Mind, 1970s and 1980s; (4) Body, 1980s and 1990s; and (5) Spirit; Soul, 1999—.

In addition to his work as a composer and musician, he has created numerous assemblages, calligraphy, collages, drawings, and paintings, many of which have been exhibited internationally. He has also written much poetry, which like some of his music, has occasionally appeared under his Korean pseudonym Gwan Pok, meaning "Contemplating Waterfall".


  • 40 Years and One: Philip Corner Plays the Piano (2000). XI 125. Performed by composer, recorded 1998.

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