Herbert Brün 1918 - 2000

Trustee of the American Society of Cybernetics

Herbert Brün, born 1918 in Berlin, Germany, was a pioneer in applying computers and electronics to the composition of music. He was recognized within and beyond the field of music as an eloquent and original thinker, a contributor of ideas relating composition and systems theory, language and thought, performance and everyday life. He composed numerous pieces for theater and lectured on the function of music in society. 

Leaving Germany for Palestine in 1936, he studied piano and composition at the Jerusalem Conservatory. Further studies included a scholarship at Tanglewood Music Center and at Columbia University (1948-1950) and research in electroacoustics in Paris, Cologne, and Munich (1955-1961).

In 1963 Brün joined the faculty at the University of Illinois, where he taught and expanded his research with computers, while also composing instrumental music. He collaborated with Heinz von Foerster on interdisciplinary courses in heuristics and cybernetics at the Biological Computer Laboratory (1968-1974). He was an invited presenter for a UNESCO panel in 1970, and was on the editorial board of the Computer Music Journal in the 1980’s. Brün held guest professorships at Ohio State University (1969-1970), the Hochschule der Kunst and the Technische Universität in Berlin (1978), and at the Gesamthochschule Kassel (1989).

His awards include 1st prize from the International Society of Bassists (1977) and the Norbert Wiener medal from the American Society for Cybernetics (1993). In 1999 Herbert Brün was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Department of Classical Philology and Art Studies of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany:

"The department honors the composer, who in composing realizes his critical reflection of social relations, who musically unveils the melody of everyday speech, who worked with computer systems and created musical graphics as traces of composed processes; a thinker who is a composer in thinking in that he brings together what otherwise would not come together: music theory and critique of language, historical consciousness and computer technique, creative introspection and socially provocative communication."

Most recently, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) voted unanimously to bestow upon Herbert Brün their Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Since 1980, Brün toured and taught together with the Performers' Workshop Ensemble, a group he co-founded with composers Susan Parenti and Mark Enslin. In his last years, he continued teaching at the University of Illinois as well as at the School for Designing a Society, an experimental school established by the Ensemble, in Urbana, Illinois.

Dr. Brün occupies a pivotal place in the history of 20th century music. He was known as a ground-breaking artist and unrelenting speaker for the ethical function of composition. He died November 6th, 2000.

adapted from an obituary by Marianne Kortner-Brun, Michael Brün and Jeff Glassman