MSU composer receives prize for ‘Cyclotron’

Music composer David Biedenbender from the MSU Music Department won the 138th annual American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Foundation Rudolf Nissim Prize for his work titled “Cyclotron.” The 10-minute work is for wind and percussion instruments, and Biedenbender’s piece was selected from 140 entries by a panel of conductors.

“Cyclotron” was commissioned by the Michigan State University Wind Symphony and Kevin Sedatole, the director of bands, and professor of music and chair of the conducting area at Michigan State University, and premiered at the College Band Directors National Association Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, in March 2017.

“In this piece I use the cyclotron as a launching point for my creative process,” said Biedenbender. “I imagined a fictional and playful sonification of the cyclotron and of what happens to particles when they are smashed together at nearly half the speed of light. These violent nuclear collisions tend to cause strange things to happen, and, among other things, at MSU’s cyclotron, the experimental observations of these collisions have led to the discovery of completely new types of nuclei (isotopes). In fact, the infinitesimally small particles that make up atoms generally behave in bizarre—though not totally unexpected—ways (thanks to quantum physics) when compared to our understanding of the visible world. Among many peculiar subatomic phenomena, light particles called photons can behave both like particles and waves and particles can simultaneously be in two different places at once!”

In “Cyclotron,” the music develops out of a small collection of motifs and gestures, which are layered and transformed over time to try to portray things like time dilation (accelerated particles experience slower time) through acceleration/deceleration and expansion/contraction, particle versus wave-like motion, cyclical and spiraling motion, the Doppler effect to convey speed and direction, and mechanical, machine-like sounds.

“It is my hope that, in some small way, this music captures the strange and mysterious beauty of the sub-atomic world and that it honors the work and research of the scientists at MSU and their extraordinary machine,” said Biedenbender.

The Rudolf Nissim Prize is “presented annual to an ASCAP concert composer for a work requiring a conductor that has not been performed professionally,” according to the ASCAP Foundation website.

The ASCAP Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to supporting American music creators and encouraging their development through music education and talent development programs. Such programs include songwriting workshops, grants, scholarships, awards, recognition and community outreach programs, and public service projects.

“Cyclotron” can be found online in the following locations:

For more information, read the article on the ASCAP Foundation website.