ListN Up Playlist: Michelle Lou (June 1, 2023)

ListN Up is a series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Michelle Lou is a performer and composer, working primarily with electronics and electro-acoustic music. She is currently on faculty at the University of California, San Diego. For more information, please visit www.michellelou.com.

Michelle and Weston Olecki in performance at the American Academy in Rome (2019) — Photo by Georgio Benni

Hey there, I wanted to thank you for your ears and time, and big thanks to I CARE IF YOU LISTEN for the opportunity to share just a small snapshot of various projects that inspire me. The playlist I created shows my deep interest in technologically mediated music, starting with an example from the earliest synthesizer, to representations of the recording studio and editing for re-presenting metrically difficult music. The studio is also a tool for composing: Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way was pieced together from several studio sessions. His fusion-y Get Up with It embraces modifying his trumpet via signal processing and continues his foray into electrified instruments. Other projects are purely computer-based, from the algorithmic music of Mark Fell, to the unique universe of Richard D. James. My last two picks come from students I’ve worked with who I think are making very exciting things.

“Ensembles for Synthesizer” by Milton Babbitt

Milton Babbitt was a vocal advocate for an artist’s creative integrity, independence, freedom, and, most essentially, experimentation. He was one of the early composers to embrace new and emerging technologies for the expansion of timbre and process in music composition. Ensembles for Synthesizer (from around 1964) was one such early work created at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center on the RCA Mark II.

“Relata II” by Milton Babbitt, performed by Erik Carlson and the Windansea Symphony Orchestra

My colleague Erik Carlson has been painstakingly recording and editing together — sometimes measure by measure — Babbitt’s notoriously difficult music in a valiant effort to allow us to hear what the composer intended. I wish Babbitt were around to hear his music in this way — what would it propose to him?

“Cliffs” by Aphex Twin

Back in the 90s, I was at a used-record store and came upon a “Not for Sale, Promotional Use Only” CD in the bargain bin for $2.99. It was Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. I had no idea what it was and took a chance, which has led to my very long love affair with Richard D. James’ music.

“Ventolin” by Aphex Twin

This track, from the excellent album …I Care Because You Do, is one of my absolute favorites from Aphex Twin. The sustained high pitch and crunchy textures draw me in while it seems to offend others.

“In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis

Miles Davis is another experimentalist who has been an enduring figure in my musical life. Along with Morton Feldman, “In a Silent Way” has also taught me patience and scale.

“Get Up with It” by Miles Davis

Another amazing project by Miles, and one that seems overlooked, is Get Up With It. Here, Miles plays his trumpet through a wah wah pedal and also plays organ and electric piano. His giant eyeglasses on the cover art are so futuristic, yet so 70s…

“Multistability” by Mark Fell

There was a year when I could not stop listening to this album. Mark Fell’s algorithmically generated music guides the listener through permutations of patterns housed in techno-y sounds.

“Other Plastics – almost leisure pt1” by Michelle Lou, Stefan Maier, Michael Flora, Other Plastics

Other Plastics (Hunter Brown and Dominic Coles) started an exciting record label called Party Perfect to showcase some of the most interesting computer music being made today. Their debut album demonstrates their conceptually framed structured improvisation on custom software.

“body of immanence” by ni zheng

Ni Zheng’s music is dark, ritualistic. A recent release by an intensely uncompromising young composer, this work touches on the abject.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, and is made possible thanks to generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.

You can support the work of ICIYL with a tax-deductible gift to ACF. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.