Howard Stelzer

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Howard Stelzer
Birth nameHoward Stelzer
Belle Harbor, New York, Long Island, New York, United States
GenresMusique concrète, Electroacoustic music, Experimental music
Occupation(s)Composer, record producer, teacher
InstrumentsTape recorder
Years active1992 to present
LabelsIntransitive Recordings, RRRecords, Monotype, Bocian, Chocolate Monk, NNA Tapes, Phage Tapes, Audiobot, Troniks, Chondritic Sound, Students of Decay, Crippled Intellect Productions, Korm Plastics, American Tapes, Port, Banned Productions, Middle James Co., Cardinal, Razors and Medicine, Banned Productions, 905 Tapes
Associated actsFrans de Waard, David Payne, Campbell Kneale, AMK, Seht

Howard Stelzer is a composer of electronic music, whose work is made primarily from sounds generated by cassette tapes and tape players. From 1997 until 2012, he ran the independent record label Intransitive Recordings.

Early years[edit]

Stelzer grew up on Long Island, NY and moved to Boca Raton, FL when he was 12 years old. He began making music using cassette tapes and metal percussion while he was a teenager in high school.[1] After attempting unsuccessfully to learn how to play convention instruments, he decided instead to focus almost exclusively on cassette tapes as the source of his music:

Over the years Stelzer put a glut of instruments (tuba, trombone, trumpet, bass guitar, drums) in the backseat, opting for tapes in the deck. "I think tapes are simply the language that I speak. When I think about music ideas, I only and always think of them in terms of how they’d be articulated via cassette tapes.”[2] – 2016 interview with Tabs Out Podcast

Stelzer's first widely-available album, "Stone Blind", was a CD on his own Intransitive Recordings label in 1997.[3] The album consisted of three related pieces, each roughly 20 minutes long and made out of crudely spliced cassette tapes assembled with a two-cassette stereo component. Each track was recorded in a single take to one side of a 40-minute tape; a piece ended when the tape ran out.

First performances and recordings[edit]

In 1998, Stelzer moved to Boston, Massachusetts. His performances over the next several years were mainly improvised, either solo or with duos or groups. His most frequent collaborator from 1999 until 2003 was Jason Talbot,[4] who played a turntable in a manner similar to that in which Stelzer played cassette tapes.

For Stelzer and Talbot, on the other hand, pause is a weapon, and subversion is the norm, not a change from it. The goal of Songs is disorientation; play it while you're doing something else, and you might think the volume's too low, until an eardrum-bursting noise comes out of nowhere. Listening to it loud in headphones can almost be painful.[5]Dusted Magazine review of Songs by Stelzer and Talbot


From 2004 onwards, Stelzer performed live less often and began to move away from improvisation, opting instead for studio-based composition.

At first, my published works were simply unvarnished recordings of live improvisations using tape players, but I was never 100% happy with those. As I listened to them, I'd notice that I was mentally filling in the gaps of what should have been fuller sound, more stereo separation, clearer dynamic range, tighter construction... By the time I made the "Mincing Perfect Words" 3"CDR for Chondritic Sound, I felt like I finally produced music that worked as a home listening experience, and not a performance document. Thus emboldened, I diced up my failed earlier recordings and transformed them into “Bond Inlets”, which I consider my first artistically successful proper album after numerous false starts.[6]

Bond Inlets was released by Intransitive Recordings as a CD in 2008, and was the first to receive notice from critics.[7]

"It would be unforgivable to overlook 1998's Bond Inlets, Stelzer’s crowning achievement; an album where he was able to pick the inherent limitations of consumer-grade tapes apart, laying out a foreboding work of rare emotional power." – Tiny Mix Tapes[8]

Subsequent albums included Brayton Point,[9] released in 2014 by Dokuro, which was built out of recordings of the Brayton Point Power Station, the largest coal-fired power generation plant in Massachusetts. The album received the unusual distinction of being recognized in the Boston Globe business section as one of Massachusetts' "Most Offbeat Business Stories of 2014":[10]

Strangest Use for a Giant Power Plant: When you think power plant, the first thing that comes to mind is a musical melody, right? Oh, wait... electronic music composer Howard Stelzer turned the still-operational Brayton Point coal plant into a giant musical instrument by recording ambient sounds at the site and turning it into a 49-minute album – Boston Globe[full citation needed]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Stelzer received his MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2004.

Stelzer was selected for a Brombron artist residency in Nijmegen through the Dutch funded project Extrapool.[11]

In 2015, Stelzer was awarded the Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in Music Composition Grant.[12]

He has performed at the AvanTronics Festival (Columbus, OH), Autumn Uprising Festival (Boston, MA), Intransitive Festival of Electronic Music (Boston, MA), Rotterdam International Film Festival (Rotterdam, NL), Cable# Festival (Nantes, FR), Summer Institute of Contemporary Piano Performance at New England Conservatory (Boston, MA), MUTEK (Montreal, QC), and Ende Tymes Festival (New York, NY).

Partial discography[edit]


  1. ^ "Musique Machine / Multi-Genre Music Magazine". Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  2. ^ "Tabs Out | Five Artists Making Cassettes Their Instrument". Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  3. ^ "Howard Stelzer – Stone Blind". Discogs. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  4. ^ Howard Stelzer – Topic (2015-03-21), Hands Down, retrieved 2017-04-16
  5. ^ "Dusted Reviews: Howard Stelzer and Jason Talbot – Songs". Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  6. ^ "Musique Machine / Multi-Genre Music Magazine". Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  7. ^ "Bond Inlets, by Howard Stelzer". Howard Stelzer. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  8. ^ "Howard Stelzer announces new album How To on Phage Tapes". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  9. ^ "dokuropage". Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  10. ^ "Massachusetts' most offbeat business stories of 2014 – The Boston Globe". Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  11. ^ "Extrapool". (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  12. ^ "Mass Cultural Council | Gallery@MCC | Artist Detail". Retrieved 2017-03-18.

External links[edit]