Dave Soldier

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Dave Soldier
with Jojo of the Thai Elephant Orchestra, courtesy Mulatta Records
Background information
Also known as David Sulzer[a]
Born (1956-11-06) November 6, 1956 (age 59)
Origin Carbondale, Illinois
Genres Experimental music
Classical music
Alternative rock
Occupation(s) Musician, Composer,
Instruments violin, keyboards, guitar, banjo, electronics
Years active 1988 to Present
Labels Mulatta, Newport Classic
Associated acts Soldier String Quartet
The Kropotkins
Thai Elephant Orchestra
Website [1][2]

Dave Soldier (born David Sulzer; November 6, 1956)[a] is an American neuroscientist at Columbia University who is better known as a composer and musician in a variety of genres including avant-garde, classical, and jazz.[2]

Music by animals[edit]

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, based on the observation that elephants are said to enjoy listening to music; however, it had not been known if they would perform on musical instruments. 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).[3] He built giant musical instruments on which he trained the elephants to improvise: they eventually played on 22 instruments. The orchestra has released three CDs and play an abbreviated concert daily at the Conservation Center.

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.[4]

Music by children[edit]

Soldier has made multiple recordings in which he coached child composers in different cultures. He and flutist Katie Down coached free improvisation with The Tangerine Awkestra featuring 2-10 year old Brooklyn schoolchildren. Da HipHop Raskalz featured rap and dub tracks performed (including the instrumental tracks) by 5-10 year old East Harlem children,[5] who had no previous experience playing instruments. Soldier and the santur player Alan Kushan produced Yol K'u with Mayan Indian children from the Seeds of Knowledge School in the high mountains of San Mateo Ixtatan, Guatemala, a collaboration using giant marimbas. He produced a CD, Les Enfants des Tyabala, by the jazz musician Sylvian Leroux who coached children in Conakry, Guinea to form an ensemble of the traditional Fula flute.

The Soldier String Quartet[edit]

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.

Experimental music[edit]

With Komar & Melamid, and 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.

Soldier collaborates with the computer musician Brad Garton for the Brainwave Music Project, creating music played by performer's brainwaves using electroencephalograms. He has a body of compositions using math derivations including fractal manipulations, including a notorious 20 minute version of Chopin's Minute Waltz.

Concert music[edit]

Soldier's compositions with classical musicians include a socialist-realist opera, "Naked Revolution", based on paintings by Russian conceptual artists, commissioned for the 25th anniversary of "The Kitchen".

Soldier wrote two chamber operas in collaboration with author Kurt Vonnegut, "The Soldier's Story" and "Ice-9 Ballads", both recorded with Vonnegut playing characters in the operas.

Many of his chamber and orchestra 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". The orchestra fanfare, "Samul Nori Overture", was commissioned by Kristjan Järvi and the Absolute Ensemble for their Korean tours.

Chamber works by Soldier have been recorded by violinist Regina Carter, cellist Erik Friedlander, pianists Steven Beck and Christopher O'Riley, accordionist William Schimmel, the PubliQuartet, and flutist Robert Dick.

Rock music[edit]

In the early 1980s Soldier played guitar with Bo Diddley and various rock groups. He later worked as an arranger, violinist, or guitarist with John Cale, Guided by Voices, David Byrne, Ric Ocasek, Lee Ranaldo, Maureen Tucker, and Bob Neuwirth.

Soldier now 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 a duo with Jonathan Kane known as SoldierKane and an Andalusian/Middle Eastern rock group, The Spinozas, featuring lyrics from Arabic and Hebrew poetry from medieval Andalusia.


Soldier performs as a multi-instrumentalist with the William Hooker Trio, and has performed and recorded with Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgill, Sabir Mateen, Roy Campbell, Butch Morris, Jason Hwang, Billy Bang, and Amina Claudine Myers.


Soldier formed the Mulatta Records label in 2000, and since has produced a wide variety of recordings including contemporary flamenco music by Pedro Cortes, the 30 piece jazz string orchestra Spontaneous River by Jason Hwang, music from the group Wofa from Guninea with American R&B musicians; and released music by David First, an album of Fula flute music by Sylvain Leroux with children in Guinea, Alex Greene, Ursel Schlicht, and Twink.

Personal life[edit]

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.


Studio albums[edit]

  • 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
  • 2015 In Black & White: solo piano works, performed by Steven Beck
  • 2015 In Four Color: music for string quartet, performed by the Soldier String Quartet and the PUBLIQuartet
  • 2015 Smash Hits by the Thai Elephant Orchestra: with Richard Lair and Thai Elephant Orchestra

Collaborations and film scores[edit]

Recordings with the Soldier String Quartet[edit]

  • 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

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "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.)"[1]


  1. ^ Flores, Graciela (June 1, 2007). "When I see an elephant...paint?". The Scientist Magazine. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "David Sulzer, Ph.D.". Columbia Neuroscience. Columbia CNI. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  3. ^ "Largest animal orchestra - most members". Guinness World Records. 1 Jan 2000. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  4. ^ "Gordon Shaw Dies at 72; Tied I.Q. to Hearing Mozart". The New York Times. Associated Press. May 3, 2005. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  5. ^ 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.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]