Kresge Faculty Fellows

Kresge College Fellows are dedicated artists, teachers, and scholars drawn from every field of study at the University.
Ben Leeds Carson
  • Title
    • Provost, Kresge College
    • Associate Professor, Department of Music
  • Division Arts Division
  • Department
    • Music Department
    • Kresge College
  • Affiliations Digital Arts and New Media
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Fax
  • Website
  • Office Location
    • Music Center, 148
    • Kresge College Office
  • Office Hours Kresge College Office: Tuesdays 8:30-9:30 AM (Kresge College); Fridays 12:30-1:30 (Music) [+ check Google Calendar blc for zoom info]
  • Mail Stop Music Center
  • Mailing Address
    • Music Center Faculty Services / UCSC / 1156 High St.
    • Santa Cruz CA 95064-1077
  • Faculty Areas of Expertise Music Composition, Experimental Music, Improvisation, Perception, Contemporary Art, Contemporary Music, Popular Culture, Gender Studies, Feminist Theory, Psychoanalysis
  • Courses Music 80P: Popular Music in the United States; Music 120: Seminar in Composition; Music 150L: Problems in Linear Analysis; Music 150T: Introduction to Counterpoint; Music 150D: Music and Data; Music 201: History of Theory; Music 202: Tonal and Post-tonal Analysis; Music 206D: Perception Studies; Music 253B: Rhythm, Time, and Form; Music 220: Issues in Composition

Summary of Expertise

Composition, popular culture, modernity, philosophy of mind, musical form, 17th-century music, American music, harmony, counterpoint, empirical musicology, music cognition, music perception. 

Hildegaard von Bingen, Giuseppe Zarlino, Renée Calzabigi, Barbara Strozzi, André Campra, Archangelo Corelli, J.S. Bach, C.P.E. (Emmanuel) Bach, Franz Josef Haydn, Louise Reichardt, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg, Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, John Cage, Charles Mingus, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Morton Feldman, Roger Reynolds, Brian Ferneyhough, Chaya Czernowin.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Research Interests

Composition, tonal analysis, rhythm perception, improvisation, Schoenberg, popular culture, music and identity

Biography, Education and Training

Ben Carson is a composer and theorist specializing in improvisation, social production theory, and intersections of rhythm (broadly conceived) with voice (and its metaphorical place in musical practices and music perception). His music is available on Sideband Records, Centaur Records, Albany Records, and on other labels, and has been performed throughout the US and at international festivals, including "June in Buffalo," Gerngesehen (Köln), New England Conservatory's Summer Institute for the Contemporary Piano, at the Smithsonian, Blurred Edges in Hamburg, and at REDCAT in LA, where critic Mark Swed called Carson's approach "a kind of acoustic acupressure". 'Portrait' 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) in Paris. Carson's piano music is the subject of an essay collection with Christopher Williams in the Open Space Journal; his writing also appears in ECHO, the Journal of New Music Research, the Institute for Advanced Feminist Studies' Shock and Awe: War on Words, and in the American Journal of Psychology, and in other publications. Carson is a 2011 recipient of the Center for Teaching Development's Excellence in Teaching Award, the Arts Division Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentorship. In June of 2015, he was appointed Provost of Kresge College.

Honors, Awards and Grants

2014 Excellence in Mentorship Award (Arts Division, UCSC)

2014 (and multiple prior years) Faculty Senate Committee on Research Grantee

2011 Excellence in Teaching Award (Center for Teaching and Learning, UCSC)

2011 Instructional Improvement Grant (Center for Teaching and Learning, UCSC)

2009-10 Faculty Senate Special Research Grant recipient

2008 Excellence in Teaching (Official Nominee); Arts Research Initiative Grantee, UC Santa Cruz 

2007 Arts Research Initiative Major Project Grantee, UC Santa Cruz

2005 Arts Research Initiative Grantee; Faculty Senate COR Research Grantee, UC Santa Cruz

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

2000 Center for the Humanities Dissertation Fellow, UC San Diego

2000 Featured Young Composer, 25th Anniversary Festival of New Music, State University of New York, Buffalo

1999 Visiting Artist Grantee, French Ministry of Culture/Centre Georges Pompidou

1998 Robert Erickson Prize for Excellence in Research (UC San Diego)

1993 Key to the University Outstanding service to Willamette University

Selected Publications

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.

Selected Presentations


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]

Selected Recordings

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 Performances

2015 pianist/actor with Rhonda Taylor (saxophones), Robert Lopez (kit), Jason Hoopes (contrabass) Thom Pain : Based on Nothing. Adaptation of Will Eno's 2005 Play of the same name (April 4, Santa Cruz, CA).

2013 Pieces, Threaded: complete set in (piano) recital, with readings. Academy of Performing Arts (May 9, Prague, Czech Republic).

2012  “Quartet for Strangers” at the New School for Social Research / iLand Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Science and Dance (New York NY, March 23). With Ivan Raykoff.  

2010 pianist with Glenn Whitehead, trumpets, and Rhonda Taylor, saxophones, and the Performance Studies Ensemble in "Snow Bloom—Ochromonas," concerto for Trumpet and 10-20 instruments (December 10, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs).

2009 pianist with Scott Walton, bass; Russell Greenberg, drums; Rhonda Taylor, saxophones; Glenn Whitehead, trumpets. "Anticline/Syncline," opening the annual conference of the International Society for Improvised Music. Kuumbwa Jazz Center (Santa Cruz, CA December 5).

2005 Subjectivity and Collectivity in Music for the Piano. Music of Rick Burkhardt, Fredric Rzewksi, and Ben Carson. Sydney Auditorium, for the Musicological Society of Australia. October 1, 2005.

2004 Anahistoric (see “Compositions” above). Guest conductor with the Empyrean Ensemble, performing April in Santa Cruz, 2005 

2002 Quintet for Piano and Strings Op. 114 in A Major “The Trout,” Franz Schubert. May 2003, with members of the La Jolla Symphony.

2002 HDDKR, Lindsay Vickary. Pianist, with winds and percussion trio.  November 16, 2002. San Diego, California.

2002 Conductor/Artistic Direction: Amahl and the Night Visitors. Claremont Small Opera. December 20, 2002. Claremont, California.

2001 Kaffe Cantata (Schlendrian), J.S. Bach. Baritone soloist, March 2002, with University of California at San Diego’s “La Banda Bastarda.”

2001 Artistic director, harpsichord soloist and other continuo work:  music of Campra, Mondonville, Monteverdi, Biber, Hottetterre, Morita, and Bach, with “La Banda Bastarda.” [David Ryther, Charon Rosner, and Fiona Chatwin, co-directors] November 2001, San Diego, CA.

2000 Cadenza Arioso, Harvey Sollberger. Harpsichord soloist with the La Jolla Symphony. March 2000. Performances of music of Vivaldi, Bach, Walton, Bolles, Schoenberg, Webern, Strauss, with the La Jolla Symphony. October 2000-2002.

Teaching Interests

Empirical musicology, rhythm systems, Schenker, Schoenberg, linear and tonal analysis, set theory, popular culture, race, cultural identity in the U.S., post-psychoanalytic feminist theory, social production theory