composer/intermedia artist/radio host/writer
Schell in 2008
(photo by Kim Menhorn)
Michael Schell was born on September 17, 1961 in Waco, Texas. He grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of Southern California between 1979 and 1983, studying with Robert Moore and Frederick Lesemann. During this time, Schell supported himself by working as a research assistant in experimental psychology. This experience convinced him of the artistic possibilities of new technology, and led to the composition of several biomusic works, including Without Electrodes (1983), for piano and respiration-triggered electronics. Changing (1982), another work from this period, uses an array of wind, percussion and electronic instruments stationed throughout the performance space to weave four separate "musics" into an epic whole. This work won a BMI Award to Young Composers in 1983.
Schell visited the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University in 1983, where he produced two computer-generated works, including karma/FOR RICK, a process piece contrasting feelings of yearning and inevitability. Later, Schell studied music and video with Kenneth Gaburo and Hans Breder at The University of Iowa, earning his Masters degree in 1985. Schell also studied with Charles Dodge and William Albright. In 1985 Schell moved to New York, living there until 1997, when he spent a half-year in Nepal. After dividing his time between West and East coasts for two years, he relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where he currently lives.
Schell has received international attention for his experimental videotapes, which combine synthesized imagery and music, and explore the relationship between sign and object in contemporary society. Mea Culpa, Homage to Stanley Milgram 1933–1984 (1989), addresses human obedience to authority, reflecting Schell's interest in social psychology. Higher Laws (1990) is an essay on the romantic association of science and nature, and Lingering-Epiphany (1990), is described by Schell as "a portrait of deserts: Mojave, the slums, the Cross and the quiet mind..." Several of these works are included in the retrospective Lingering-Epiphany and other videos.
77 Hz in 1995: Michael Schell, Nick Didkovsky, Nancy Meli Walker, Benton Bainbridge
In 1991 Schell co-founded the electronic arts ensemble 77 Hz, which established a unique cinematic genre addressing themes germane to modern information culture. Incorporating elements of theater and electronic music into its live video performances, 77 Hz explored a broad range of personal, social and aesthetic issues, including vanity and rediscovery, control and authority, and the mystical connotations of television itself. The ensemble used extended media techniques, including digital animation and multichannel video, in its original approach to real-time movie-making. Over its six year run 77 Hz developed over a dozen intermedia works, including JOY & other impulses (1993), Multiple Listing Service (1992), Eclectic Company (1991–5), Sequel to an Unfinished Story (1993), Stillscape (1995) and Critical (1992), a 30 minute meditation on innocence and experience which alternates between staged vignettes and stream-of-consciousness video passages. In 1994, 77 Hz presented Telephone Calls to the Dead, a collaboration with late composer Jerry Hunt. The work uses live music, and live captured and animated video imagery to explore the theme of making contact with dead people. Hunt was also the subject of Schell's essay Unlikely Persona, which appeared in Musicworks 65 in 1996, along with Schell's setting of his Song Drape #2, which was recently reissued on an Innova CD as part of the Sonic Circuits festival. In 1999, in cooperation with the Hunt estate and archives, Schell inaugurated the Jerry Hunt Home Page, which remains the definitive guide to Hunt's life and work.
In addition to intermedia projects, Schell also performed frequently during the 1990s as a musician using samplers, processed sounds and homemade electronic instruments. Musicians he has worked with include Fast Forward, Ikue Mori, Zeena Parkins, David Weinstein, Nick Didkovsky, Daniel Goode, Elise Kermani, Peter Zummo, Bonnie Barnett, Pamela Z, Kevin Norton, James Pugliese, Ed Osborn, Lynn Book, Dietmar Diesner, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Ulrich Krieger and David Poyourow. Schell has also collaborated with film/video artists Abigail Child, Benton Bainbridge, Eric Schefter, Mike Taylor and Nancy Meli Walker.
The guiding principle in Schell's work from the 20th century is openness. Dissatisfied with the fixed nature of conventional film and videotape, he work to develop cinema into a performing art, an effort that led others to call him "the godfather of live video". In his music, as in his video, he uses elaborate synthesis techniques to avoid the closure of representational sounds and imagery. In his instrumental music the musical form itself is open-ended: the performer "builds" the piece by moving freely among several composed fragments. In light of the perpetual struggle to open previously closed societies, and to preserve the institutions of historically open socities, Schell feels that a commitment to artistic openness is more important today than ever.
relocating to Seattle in 1999, Schell become an expert cribbage player, earning a Bronze Award
from the American Cribbage Congress after winning five consecutive
Grass Roots club championships. He was Washington State Champion in 2001.
Schell helped to pioneer cribbage on the Web, and was the only player to reach
the highest ranking at MSN Gaming Zone, PlaySite and The Burbs, an
experience that he applied in co-developing
ACC Internet Cribbage. His writings on cribbage strategy and tactics are
Cribbage Forum, which in 2000 received the Grandmaster
Link Award from Mind Sports Worldwide,
becoming the first cribbage site ever to earn that distinction.
More recently, Schell has emphasized music journalism. Beginning in July 2019 he has hosted Radio Eclectus, a weekly program on Seattle's Hollow Earth Radio (KHUH-FM) that presents "radical new music from the Northwest and beyond". Past programs can be streamed on demand at Mixcloud. In February 2021 he became a co-host for Flotation Device, the Pacific Northwest's senior radio program devoted to creative and improvised music (it airs Sunday nights on KBCS-FM). Schell has also contributed articles and reviews on new music to Second Inversion and Sequenza 21. His essays and commentaries for various print and Web publications are gathered here.
In September 2000, on the summit of Mt. St. Helens, Schell married playwright/director Lauren Goldman Marshall. They have two daughters.
Schell has been Artist-in-Residence at Film/Video Arts, Experimental Television Center, STEIM, CICV - Centre Pierre Schaeffer, the Center for Electronic Music (New York), Real Art Ways, the Craft of Choreography Conference, and iEAR Studios at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His work has been presented by The Kitchen, Roulette, Experimental Intermedia Foundation, Alternative Museum, DCTV, Anthology Film Archives, the Knitting Factory, Webo, Generator, Context, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the New York Hall of Science, the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), EZTV, LACE and the Onyx Cafe (Los Angeles), New American Makers and Artists' Television Access (San Francisco), 911 Media Arts Center (Seattle), Nexus Contemporary Arts Center (Atlanta), DiverseWorks (Houston), CAGE (Cincinnati), the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Art (Buffalo), Visual Studies Workshop, AlternaTV (Denver), the Logos Foundation (Ghent), Waschhaus (Potsdam), Hiroshima Mon Amour (Turin), Video Tusculum, the Dallas Video Festival, Sinking Creek Film Festival, Athens International Film and Video Festival, European Media Art Festival, Louisville Film and Video Festival, Bonn Videonale, Three Rivers Arts Festival, Kansas City International Video Festival, International Youth Film Festival (Turin), Australian International Video Festival, Biannual International Video Festival in Medellin, SEAMUS, American Society of University Composers, Image Union (WTTW-TV, Chicago), Deep Dish TV, Cast Iron TV, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the CalArts Contemporary Music Festival, Electronic Music Plus Festival, International Jew's Harp Congress and New Music America.
Schell has received awards from BMI and the Concorso Internazionale «Luigi Russolo», and his work has been supported by Meet the Composer, the American Composers Forum's Performance Incentive Fund, and the Electronic Arts Grants Program of the Experimental Television Center.
For more information, contact Michael Schell.
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