Ruth Anderson

About Ruth Anderson

Composer Ruth Anderson was a pioneer in electronic music and in sound collage techniques in the U.S. Although she founded the influential electronic music studio at Hunter College, her music was mostly forgotten until new explorations just before her death in 2019.
Anderson was born in Kalispell, Montana, on March 21, 1928. Her father, Emil Anderson, worked for Montana's forestry department. Anderson attended the University of Washington, majoring in flute performance and graduating in 1949. Through much of her 20s, she earned a living as a professional flutist; she was principal flutist for the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1957 and 1958. From the beginning, however, Anderson was also interested in composition, and she earned an M.A. in that field at the University of Washington in 1951. She left her Boston Pops post in 1958 to travel to France with the help of Fulbright fellowships, studying composition with Darius Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger, and flute with Jean-Pierre Rampal. Back in the U.S., Anderson studied further at Princeton University, where she was one of the first four women admitted to the university's graduate composition program. She became interested in electronic music after the director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, Vladimir Ussachevsky, showed her how to use electronic editing tools to correct errors that he had made in the performance of one of Anderson's pieces. In 1966, Anderson was hired to teach composition and theory at Hunter College in New York; she remained on the faculty until 1989. In 1968, she founded her own electronic music studio there.
Anderson was an important early figure not only in electronic music but specifically in the technique of sound collage. Two of her works in that genre, DUMP and SUM (State of the Union Message), both from the early 1970s, were among her best known. Likewise innovative was I come out of your sleep (1979), constructed from isolated speech sounds taken from "Little Lobelia," a poem by Louise Bogan. Anderson's works are only sparsely represented on recordings, but the year 2020 saw a new anthology devoted to her work. It was co-curated by composer Annea Lockwood, to whom Anderson was married, and who survived her at her death in the Bronx on November 29, 2019. ~ James Manheim

  • HOMETOWN
    Kalispell, MT
  • BORN
    March 21, 1928