Treasury of Claremont Music

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MICHAEL BREWSTER (1946 – 2016)

Michael Brewster is a sound artist specializing in acoustic sculpture. His installations explore 3-dimensional spaces created by sound when resonated or sustained through sonic fields and artifacts. Early on, Brewster realized that hearing, which we do 3-dimensionally in the round, is more sculpturally capable than seeing, which is only frontal. Through his sonic installations, we wander inside volumes of sound, listening to the very spaces we inhabit. Usually we listen from afar, like we see, always at a distance. Our attention expands outward from here to over there. In his acoustic spaces, our experience happens here instead of there. One of the differences between sound art and music is that there is no one performing it, as it is “free-standing” with no beginning or end. The experience is controlled by the viewer/visitor.


Brewster is associated with artists involved with California’s Light and Space Movement of the 1960’s. He started making sculpture with sound waves in 1971, working with clicking sounds prior to that.


Although not a musician, Brewster handles sonic phenomenon in psycho-acoustic ways that offers an alternative to those projected by music. He claims his issues are sculptural and not musical but he employs some of the basic sound elements shared by music such as volume, texture, duration, rhythm, patterns, pitch, physical energy, etc. If his work had to be compared with a type or genre of music, it would come closest to ambient music.


Brewster’s sound works were never intended to be listened to on commercial playback systems such as CDs or headphones. Instead, his sounds are intended to be heard in actual space. These selections will hopefully encourage listeners to explore the subtleties of sound perception throughout our daily lives, in actual space, while creating a heightened sense of hearing.


Michael Brewster was born in Eugene, Oregon and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He attended Pomona College from 1964-68 and Claremont Graduate University from 1968-70. Brewster retired in 2015 as a Professor of Art at the Claremont Graduate University where he had taught since 1973. On Claremont, Brewster states, “I came to Claremont in the mid-sixties. It was an exciting time. Due to the colleges, Claremont went from a tea-toddling provincial village to a place where great stuff was ‘happening’. All sorts of performers, artists, and radical films came to Claremont. I met geniuses there: faculty, fellow students, and townies alike. Claremont was my incubator.”


In addition to teaching, Brewster has exhibited his acoustic sculpture and sound installations throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Brewster has received numerous grants and awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988 and four National Endowment for the Arts Artist Fellowships.


Michael Brewster passed away on June 19, 2016 in Los Angeles, amongst family and friends gathered for Father’s Day. He was 69.


Photography by Althea Sachs