Mikel Rouse (born Michael Rouse in Saint Louis, Missouri, United States, January 26, 1957) is an American composer. He has been associated with a Downtown New York movement known as totalism, and is best known for his operas, including Dennis Cleveland, about a television talk show host, which Rouse wrote and starred in.
Rouse writes music that is idiomatically and stylistically indebted to popular music, yet he uses complex rhythmic techniques derived from world music, the avant-garde and minimalism, including a technique he calls "counterpoetry" in which separate lines of a song sung by separate characters or groups are set to phrases of differing lengths (such as 9 and 10 beats) and often played over a background time signature of 4/4. Metric sleight of hand, simple in concept but often complex in perception, is common. One of the basic rhythms of Rouse's opera Failing Kansas is a five-beat isorhythm (rhythmic ostinato) against which either the harmony or drum pattern often reinforces the four- or eight-beat meter.
The son of a Missouri state trooper, Rouse grew up in Poplar Bluff, in the state's bootheel region. Early in life, he decided to change the spelling of his first name to "Mikel," to more accurately represent the name's pronunciation. He studied painting and film at the Kansas City Art Institute as well as music at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. When the avant-garde rock band Talking Heads played in Kansas City in 1978, Rouse's band Tirez Tirez was the only local band progressive enough to open for them. Tirez Tirez relocated to New York City in 1979 and continued performing until 1987. Meanwhile, Rouse absorbed African rhythmic techniques from A. M. Jones's Studies in African Music, and studied Schillinger technique with Jerome Walman, one of the few "Certified" Schillinger Teachers in America; both influences came to inform his music. In addition to Tirez Tirez he formed a new ensemble, Mikel Rouse Broken Consort, to work out his new rhythmic language in the context of rock-based instrumentation, making him one of the first composers to notate intricate music for rock group. Rouse's association with Ben Neill and Kyle Gann in New York in the early 1990s led to the recognition of a new rhythmic complexity in minimalist-based music that came to be referred to as totalism.
Frustrated by the lack of institutional support for Downtown music, Rouse has made an ambitious bid for composer self-sufficiency. In 1995 he premiered a one-man "opera" Failing Kansas, based on the same story as Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and in 2000 he produced an entire film with music by himself, rather pointedly titled Funding. In an opposite direction, he premiered a technologically innovative opera called Dennis Cleveland at the Kitchen in 1996, based on a talk show format and with some of the singers/actors spread out among the audience, though with a dense libretto drawn from John Ralston Saul's critique of Western society in the latter's book Voltaire's Bastards. In 2002 the opera was presented at Lincoln Center.
In 2001 he was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.
In 2007 he released a CD of music titled International Cloud Atlas, for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.