Digital Arts and New Media: MFA: Collaboration, Innovation, Social Impact

You are here

Ben Leeds Carson

Associate Professor

Ben Leeds Carson's work as a composer and improviser is supported by a variety of research, including empirical studies in perception, theory of mind, and theory of musical form. Dr. Carson offers courses in theory and analysis, perception studies, and popular culture.


Born in North Carolina, Ben spent a good part of his first 8 years in the trailer parks, highway rest areas, and rural campgrounds of 47 different US states, following parents who worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, bird-watching and fossil-hunting their way through America's wilderness. Later, in Walla Walla Washington, he studied with Argentine composer José Rambaldi (d. 1989) and comedian-singer Bradley Hunt (d. 1988), whose lives were cut short by AIDS while Ben was still a teen. Ben went on to study music and theater at Willamette University, and then composition at the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego; fortunate to have the mentorship of John Peel, John Rahn, Roger Reynolds, Jann Pasler, Brian Ferneyhough, Harvey Sollberger, Jerry Balzano, George Lewis, and many others. His dissertation under Reynolds' mentorship at UCSD—a large collection of works for orchestra and for solo piano—explored "the establishment and erosion of musical boundaries, the evolution/devolution of melody, and the use of silence as a structural component" (Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine July/August 2012); in the same music, the critic Christopher Williams has described tonal tension between small-scale and large-scale harmonic progressions, producing a paradox, in which "each element in a false dichotomy defines and becomes the other", allowing us "the opportunity and responsibility to navigate our [own] uniquely useful paths" ("On the Piano Music of Ben Carson", in The Open Space Magazine, Issue 5, December 2005, p. 246-247).


Carson's music is available on Centaur Records, Albany Records, and on San Diego's "Soundcheck" series, and has been performed throughout the US and at international festivals, including Aspen, "June in Buffalo," Gerngesehen (Köln), and New England Conservatory's Summer Institute for the Contemporary Piano. Concerts have been dedicated to Carson's work at Sydney Conservatory's 2005 "Music and Social Justice" conference, at the Music Performance Program at Columbia University (2009), and for the International Society for Improvised Music (2010). 


Carson has been an Artist/Researcher-in-Residence for the Perception Laboratory at IRCAM (Institute de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique), and at Paris University VI; his collaborations there, at UCSD, and at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, have led to innovative approaches in the study of rhythm perception and the composition of complex rhythm, including Carson's own scholarship in the American Journal of Psychology, and the Journal of New Music Research. His writing also appears in The Open Space MagazineECHO, the Institute for Advanced Feminist Studies' Shock and Awe: War on Words, and in other publications. He joined the University of California, Santa Cruz faculty in Music in 2003, and is affiliated with the Digital Arts / New Media faculty. At UCSC, he has been a recipient of the Chancellor's Excellence in Teaching Award (2011), and the Arts Division's Excellence in Mentorship Award (2014). He currently serves as Provost of UCSC's Kresge College. 

Research Interests: 

Rhythm perception, improvisation, Schoenberg, tonal harmony, popular culture, social production.

Education and Training: 
B.A. in Music, Willamette University
M.M. in Composition, University of Washington
Ph.D. in Music (Composition), University of California at San Diego
Selected Publications: 

Articles in Professional Journals and Other Periodicals

2009           “Schoenberg’s ambivalent thought: subjectivity in ‘Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide…’” In The Second Century of New Music: Search Yearbook Volume I (forthcoming from Edwin Mellen Press, 2010)

2007           “Perceiving and distinguishing simple timespan ratios without metric reinforcement.” Journal of New Music Research36/4 (December 2007), 313-336.

2006           “What are Musical Paradox and Illusion?” Review Essay, in American Journal of Psychology 120/1 (Spring 2007), 123-139.

2003           “John Adams and a Certain Counterpoint of Contemporary Reasoning: The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s El Niño, March 2003,” Echo V/1 (

2003           [With Christopher Williams] “On the Piano Music of Benjamin Carson: A Correspondence of Essays.” Open Space Magazine 5 (Fall 2003), 231-250.


Discography: On established labels

2011           [Centaur Records CRC 3105] Pieces, Threaded, 1999-2009:  Piano Music of Ben Leeds Carson

2010           [Albany Records TROY 1225] A is for Azimuth and ArnicaMusic for Percussion by Ben Leeds Carson

Discography: Independent Productions

2012   CD [SHH 884501678889]: Interstice: New Music for Saxophone. Rhonda Taylor, saxophones; with Ron Stabinsky. 

2009          CD: Anahistoric: Music of Ben Leeds Carson. Complete recording of a concert of the same name. A 2009 Special Event at the Columbia University Music Performance Program. Engineered by Eric Parson and Josephson Studios.

2008          DVD: Takes to the Stage: An experiment in form and memory, for solo cello in concert. Video with animation, featuring cellist Franklin Cox at April in Santa Cruz Festival of Contemporary Music. 62’00”.

2008          Peleas/Pelé, in compilation CD: Soundcheck 3—New Music from UC San DiegoPublished by UC San Diego's Department of Music.

2001          CD: Piano Music of Benjamin Carson, 1999-2001. Produced at UC San Diego's Studio A, with assistance from the UCSD Center for the Humanities.

Selected Presentations: 


University of California, Santa Cruz: Menagerie, Act I—A workshop production. Music by B. L. Carson; Libretto by Linc & Lee Taiz and B.L. Carson, with Perre DiCarlo and John de Lancie. Directed by John de Lancie. Conducted by William Long. With Aleksey Bogdanov, David Cushing, Sheila Willey, Emily Sinclair, and Adam Caughey, voices. [6/26 Music Center Recital Hall, UCSC.]


April in Santa Cruz Festival of New Music. "Rhonda Taylor and Friends" [as pianist] With Rhonda Taylor, saxophones; Jason Hoopes, bass; Robert Lopez, drums. Music of Anthony Braxton and Ben Carson [5/4 Digital Arts Research Center, UCSC.]


Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler—Series: Lectures in Composition "Toward a Radical Empirical Music" [5/16 Berlin, DE]

AMU (Academy for the Performing Arts)—Series: Faculty Colloquium Lecture-Recital "Writing for the Piano" [5/9 Prague, CZ]

AMU (Academy for the Performing Arts)—Electro-acoustic Seminar "Toward a Radical Empirical Music" [5/6 Prague, CZ]



Northwestern University's Composition Colloquium. "Unpulser: An Environment for Composition with Additive Rhythms" [4/3 Chicago IL]

iLand & the New School for Social Research's Cage Centennary Symposium: Moving Into the Out There: Indeterminacy & Improvisation in Performance & Environmental Practice. "Radical Empirical Music + Premier of 'Four Strangers' " and "Panel Discussion on Cage, Indeterminacy, and Scientific Inquiry" [3/24 New York, NY]

UCSD's "Focus on Composition": "On Voice and Pulse: a Radical-Empirical Technique for Rhythm and Form" [3/13 La Jolla CA]



UCSD's "Focus on Performance" Series: A is for Azimuth and Arnica (with Leah Bowden) [1/21 La Jolla CA]



"Snow Bloom: Ochromonas" for Trumpet, Baritone Saxophone, and Chamber Orchestra. Commissioned by Glen Whitehead. University of Colorado, Colorado Springs Visual And Performance Studies series. With Rhonda Taylor, Jane Rigler, William Malone. [12/10 Colorado Springs CO]



"Syncline/Anticline." Headline event at the International Society of Improvised Music Annual Festival. With Russell Greenberg, Rhonda Taylor, Scott Walton, Glen Whitehead [12/4 Santa Cruz CA]. 

Music of Ben Leeds Carson," a Music Performance Program special event at Columbia University. 11 written works, in 3 threaded collective improvisations by 8 musicians. With YARN/WIRE Quartet, and guests Katie Schlaikjer, Rhonda Taylor,Glen Whitehead, Chris Williams [3/26 New York NY].



Lecture: “Schoenberg’s Compositional Economy.” Columbia University Music Theory Colloquium [2/25 New York NY].

Lecture: “Toward Some Mathematical Determinants of Unpulsedness.” Columbia University Electroacoustic Composition Seminar [3/2 New York NY].

Lecture: “Hearing Time Freely: Explorations of Rhythmic Heterarchy.” Current Issues Colloquium, UCSC Department of Music [5/8 Santa Cruz CA].



“Perceiving and distinguishing simple timespan ratios without metric reinforcement.” Read at the annual national conference of the Society for Music Theory [11/15 Baltimore MD].



Lecture “Compositional Economy and Self-Identical Bodies in New Music.” Oakes College, UC Santa Cruz:Cultural Studies Colloquium [5/26 Santa Cruz CA]


Teaching Interests: 

Tonal analysis, popular culture, history of music theory, empirical methods, perception and cognition.

Honors and Awards: 

2014                 Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentorship (UCSC Arts Division)

2011                "Excellence in Teaching" (UCSC Center for Teaching and Learning) 

2009-10             Faculty Senate Special Research Grant recipient

2007, 2005, 2004        Arts Research Initiative Major Project Grantee, UC Santa Cruz

2001                           First Prize, British and International Bass Festival/International Bass Society, London, England: Detáler (contrabass and chamber orchestra)

(831) 459-5581
Office Location: 
148 Music Center
Office Hours: 
Winter 2017 : Kresge College Office 154 — Wednesdays 1:30 - 2:30 PM; Fridays 11:00 AM - Noon. : Music Department 148 — Thursdays 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Mailing Address: 

Music Center Faculty Services

University of California

1156 High St

Santa Cruz, CA 95064

Image icon Ben with scissors325.7 KB