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with Jojo of the Thai Elephant Orchestra, courtesy Mulatta Records
|Also known as||David Sulzer[a]|
|Born||November 6, 1956|
|Instruments||violin, keyboards, guitar, banjo, electronics|
|Years active||1988 to Present|
|Labels||Mulatta, Newport Classic|
|Associated acts||Soldier String Quartet
Thai Elephant Orchestra
Dave Soldier (born David Sulzer; November 6, 1956)[a] is an American composer and performer residing in New York. When not composing, performing, recording or collaborating on music projects, he is known as David Sulzer, Ph.D., neuroscientist and professor at Columbia University.
Many of Dave Soldier's works are collaborative. This includes collaborating with animals such as with the Thai Elephant Orchestra which he co-founded with conservationist Richard Lair. This ensemble consists of up to 14 elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center near Lampang, and is listed by Guinness as the world's largest animal orchestra, with a combined weight of approximately 23 tonnes (50,706 lb). He built giant musical instruments on which he trained the elephants to improvise. He also created specially designed instruments for music played by zebra finches and pygmy chimpanzees, the latter in collaborations with physicist Gordon Shaw, who researched classical music's effect on the brain.
Additional collaborations include working with child composers. He coached free improvisation with The Tangerine Awkestra featuring 2-10 year old Brooklyn schoolchildren, Da HipHop Raskalz featuring rap and dub tracks by 5-10 year old East Harlem children, and Yol K'u with Mayan Indian children in San Mateo Ixtatan, Guatemala, a collaboration using giant marimbas.
In 1985 he founded the Soldier String Quartet, a punk chamber group that plays with amplification and a percussionist. As a leader, composer and violinist for the group, Soldier wrote and performed traditional pieces influenced by music styles ranging from serialism to Delta blues. With inspiration from Haydn and Beethoven quartets, he explored anachronisms stemming from a classical ensemble playing in contemporary popular idioms, particularly rhythm and blues and punk rock. With a drummer incorporated into the quartet, Soldier found that string instruments could play the blues in the hands of players who understood the contrasting styles, including violinists Regina Carter and Todd Reynolds. The Soldier String Quartet also premiered and recorded works by other composers such as Elliott Sharp, Iannis Xenakis, and Phill Niblock, as well as with jazz musicians including Tony Williams. They were the touring and recording group for the Velvet Underground's John Cale from 1992-1998.
Soldier's compositions with classical musicians include a socialist-realist opera, "Naked Revolution", based on paintings by Russian conceptual artists, Komar & Melamid. Inspired by their art project, "The People's Choice", Soldier wrote "The People's Choice: Music", with lyrics by Nina Mankin. It was written according to answers from a survey of over 500 Americans, resulting in "The Most Wanted Song" and "The Most Unwanted Song". The latter is over 22 minutes in length and features an operatic soprano rapping cowboy songs, holiday songs with a children's choir screaming advertisements, and political rants backed by bagpipe, banjo, tuba, piccolo, and church organ.
Chamber works by Soldier include collaboration with Kurt Vonnegut on two chamber operas, "The Soldier's Story" and "Ice-9 Ballads". Many of his premiere chamber works were recorded by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra under conductor Richard Auldon Clark. These include a collection of early Latin homoerotic lyrics in "Smut", and settings of Frederick Douglass in "The Apotheosis of John Brown" and Mark Twain in "War Prayer". Other chamber works by Soldier have been recorded by violinist Regina Carter, cellist Erik Friedlander, pianist Christopher O'Riley, accordionist William Schimmel, and flutist Robert Dick.
Soldier also performs with the Kropotkins, a punk/country blues band with the Memphis singer Lorette Velvette and the drummers drummer, Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground, Charles Burnham of the Odyssey Band, and Jonathan Kane of Swans ; as well as performing with an Andalusian/Middle Eastern rock group, The Spinozas, featuring lyrics from Arabic and Hebrew poetry from medieval Andalusia.
Soldier grew up in Carbondale in southern Illinois where he was exposed to vernacular music common to the area, particularly country and R&B. His earliest influences included James Brown and Isaac Hayes. Soldier also listened to classical music. He learned to play viola, violin, piano, and eventually guitar. He moved with his family to Storrs, CT, at the age of 16, where he became enamoured with salsa music. He attended Michigan State University as an undergraduate and attempted a study of classical composition. He found that stultifying, however, and instead studied privately with the avant-garde jazz saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell.
He lived in Florida briefly, where he played guitar in Bo Diddley's band. He relocated to New York in 1981, and played in various salsa, classical, and rock-oriented bands in the early '80s. He studied composition with Otto Luening and formed his quartet in 1985. He co-founded Mulatta Records in 2000 to document his projects, including the elephant piece and the child improvisers. Soldier performed, recorded, composed, and arranged for television and film (Sesame Street, I Shot Andy Warhol), and pop and jazz acts ranging from Pete Seeger to David Byrne and Guided by Voices.
- 1988 Sequence Girls: Soldier String Quartet
- 1990 Romances From the Second Line
- 1991 Sojourner Truth: Soldier String Quartet
- 1993 The Apotheosis of John Brown
- 1994 War Prayer; with the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra
- 1994 Smut
- 1996 She's Lightning When She Smiles: Soldier String Quartet
- 1997 The People's Choice: Music with Komar & Melamid
- 1997 Jazz Standards on Mars: Soldier String Quartet with Robert Dick
- 2000 The Tangerine Awkestra: with Katie Down and children from Fort Greene, Brooklyn
- 2001 Thai Elephant Orchestra
- 2001 Ice-9 Ballads: with Kurt Vonnegut
- 2004 Elephonic Rhapsodies: with the Thai Elephant Orchestra
- 2004 Inspect for Damaged Gods: Soldier String Quartet
- 2005 Soldier Stories: with Kurt Vonnegut
- 2006 Da Hiphop Raskalz: with children from East Harlem
- 2006 Chamber Music
- 2008 Yol K'u (Inside the Sun): Mayan Mountain Music with children from San Mateo Ixtatan, Guatemala
- 2011 Water Music: with the Thai Elephant Orchestra
- 2011 The Complete Victrola Sessions: with Rebecca Cherry
- 2012 Organum: solo organ works inspired by patterns in nature, performed by Walter Hilse
Collaborations and Film Scores
- 1996 The Kropotkins; performer, composer
- 1997 Robert Dick, Jazz Standards on Mars: performer, arranger
- 2000 the Kropotkins, Five Points Crawl; performer, composer
- 2009 the Kropotkins, Paradise Square; performer, composer
- 2010 William Hooker TrioYearn For Certainty: trio with Sabir Mateen
- 2013 William Hooker Heart of the Sun: trio with Roy Campbell, Jr.
- Arranger: John Cale film scores: "Paris S'Eveille", "Antarida", "Walking on Locusts", "Dance Music"
- Arranger: films by Andy Warhol composed by John Cale "Eat/Kiss: Music for the Films by Andy Warhol"
- Arranger: Bob Neuwirth & John Cale "Last Day on Earth" CD
- Arranger: Christina Rosenvinge "Foreign Land" CD
- Arranger: Guided by Voices "Isolation Drills", "Hold on Hope", "Do the Collapse" CDs
- Arranger, Conductor: Mary Harron director film score for I Shot Andy Warhol
- Arranger: Julian Schnabel director. film score for Basquiat
- Composer: Vanessa Ly, director, film score for Mekong Interior
- Composer: Nadia Roden, director, cartoon scores for Sesame Street
- Composer: Winsome Brown, director, film score for The Violinist
- Composer: Vicki Bennett, director, film score (partial) for Gesture Piece
- Producer: Jason Kao Hwang and Spontaneous River Orchestra Symphony of Souls CD
- Producer: Pedro Cortes Los Viejos Non Mueren CD
Recordings with the Soldier String Quartet
- Last Day on Earth; Bob Neuwirth, John Cale
- Walking on Locusts, John Cale
- Eat and Kiss, John Cale
- Hammer Anvil Stirrup, Elliott Sharp
- Larynx, Elliott Sharp
- Tessalation Row, Elliott Sharp
- Twistmap, Elliott Sharp
- Abstract Repressionism, Elliott Sharp
- Cryptoid Fragments, Elliott Sharp
- Xeno-Codex, Elliott Sharp
- Rheo/Umbra, Elliott Sharp
- String Quartets 1986-1996, Elliott Sharp
- Early Winter, Phill Niblock
- Themes & Variations on the Blues, Leroy Jenkins
- While the Music Lasts, Jesse Harris
- A Dark & Stormy Night, Nicolas Collins
- The Word, Jonas Hellborg & Tony Williams
- Third Stone from the Sun, Robert Dick
- "When he is not creating an opera, a film score, or playing with the Soldier String Quartet, David Soldier is in his lab at Columbia University (under the name David Sulzer), exploring the role of dopaminergic synapses in memory consolidation, learning, and behavior. (Soldier is the name he uses for his artistic activities.)"
- Flores, Graciela (June 1, 2007). "When I see an elephant...paint?". The Scientist Magazine. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "David Sulzer, Ph.D.". Columbia Neuroscience. Columbia CNI. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
- "Largest animal orchestra - most members". Guinness World Records. 1 Jan 2000. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "Gordon Shaw Dies at 72; Tied I.Q. to Hearing Mozart". The New York Times. Associated Press. May 3, 2005. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
- Rose, Joel (September 2, 2006). "Da HipHop Raskalz, Kickin' It Grade School". NPR. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
- Ratcliff, Carter. Komar and Melamid, New York: Abbeville Press, 1988. ISBN 0-89659-891-8
- Wypijewski, JoAnn, ed. Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid's Scientific Guide to Art, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997. ISBN 9780520218611
- Komar and Melamid. When Elephants Paint: The Quest of Two Russian Artists to Save the Elephants of Thailand, New York: HarperCollins, 2000. ISBN 0-06-095352-7
- Weiss, Evelyn. Komar & Melamid: The Most Wanted and the Most Unwanted Painting, Museum Ludwig Koln, Ostfildern: Cantz, 1997.
- Soldier, Dave. "Eine Kleine Naughtmusik: how nefarious nonartists cleverly imitate music", in Leonardo Journal, 2000. (PDF)
- Soldier, Dave. "Notes From Under the Floorboard", a chapter on creating new opera, Live Movies, George Mason Press, 2006. (PDF)
- Soldier, Dave. "The Thai Elephant Orchestra", in Kinship With Animals, Council Oak Books, 2006. (PDF)
- Kozinn, Allan (July 28, 1999). "One Life To Live? Composer Has More; One Life To Live? Composer Has More". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 March 2013. (also archived PDF format)
- Dave Soldier at Mulatta Records
- Dave Soldier at the Internet Movie Database
- Dave Soldier Music Blog
- David Soldier at AllMusic
- Brainwave Music Project at Columbia University
- 2002 Interview on BBC by Phil Mercer
- 2013 Interview on BBC
-  2013 BBC News Magazine
- 2013 Interview about The Thai Elephant Orchestra, NPR: All Things Considered by Jacki Lyden
- Interview about The People's Choice Music, NPR: This American Life by Ira Glass
- Interview on WNYC Radio by John Schaefer
- "Composer as Scientist", profile at NewMusicBox
- The Thai Elephant Orchestra in The Economist
- National Geographic on the Thai Elephant Orchestra
- Swedish TV episode on the Thai Elephant Orchestra (in Swedish)