Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Music/Sound 2011

Michael Webster

A portrait of Michael Webster in front of a grassy field. He has medium length light brown hair, a thick dark brown beard, and wears a black shirt.
Photo by Monique Prieto.
  • 2011 Grants to Artists
  • Music/Sound
  • Composer, Recording Artist
  • Born Berkeley, CA, 1966
  • Lives in Los Angeles, CA
  • Additional Information

... without this grant, without the moral support, knowing that it flowed from the regard of my peers, I might have lacked the resolve to see this work through.

- Michael Webster, January 2012

Artist Statement

I'm especially interested in music whose tempo changes fluidly, music in which fluidity becomes the ground on which the figure of song can be composed. I found a template for non-metrical rhythm in English speech––and in poetry which proceeds from speech. Joining words, already synesthetic objects, in their syntax, to notes in theirs, all governed by the quick metric modulation of the talking mind.

These interests led me naturally to compose opera, an arena where music and words are projected, amazingly, by human bodies only, as well as to the creation of the Webster word-organ, in which text and notes are projected together mechanically from a keyboard. I'm currently working on an opera in two acts from a radio play by Samuel Beckett, a new collection of recorded art songs, and a book about the unit circle.

- December 2010


Michael Webster is a composer, conductor, performer, and recording artist who has created film scores, albums, art songs, and operas. His body of work grows out of classical training and his study of ancient music forms. Webster's operas, specifically, are rooted in the sensitivity that words and poetry create musically.

Webster's performances include Michael Webster and his Band of Grown Men, which premiered at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1998), and Proposal for The Side of the Mountain, at Santa Monica Museum of Art (2002). In 2004, Webster's opera Hell, based on Dante's Inferno, with a libretto by Eileen Myles, premiered at Performance Space 122. It went on to tour at venues including St. Mark's Church, the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; and Centro Cultural Tijuana, Mexico. With funds from his Grants to Artists, Webster completed the vocal score of a new opera Nice Day for the Races––based on a radio play by Samuel Beckett––the first portion of which was shown in film form in 2013 at 356 Mission, Los Angeles. Webster was also able to resurrect the non-profit Peoples Opera, which he and Eileen Myles formed in 2004.

Webster has recorded a number of solo albums including The Native Shrubs of the Santa Monica Mountains (1994), Lotus Festival (2000), and Report (2008). Additionally, Webster has composed and recorded scores for artists' films shown at the Venice Biennial and the Whitney Biennial.

Prior to his 2011 Grants to Artists, Webster received a grant from the UC Institute for Research in the Arts (2004), a Meet the Composer Grant (2005), and The Puffin Foundation General Grant (2006). Webster received a B.F.A. (1990) and an M.F.A. (1992) from the California Institute of the Arts.

Installation view of an empty coat check rack filled numerous silver hangers with numbered tags on them. The floor is made of slate grey tiles and the walls are white.
Installation view Coat Check Chimes, 2008, Whitney Biennial, by Webster and Mungo Thompson.
Shakey's, 2005, Blackston Gallery, New York, music by Webster, performance by Joe Sola.
Video still of two performers wearing red and white pin-striped shirts. One performer is turned away from the camera, playing an upright piano. The other throws their hands up and looks up towards numerous blurred grey objects which surround them. On the white wall to the left of this performer, there is a thin blue drawing of four arrows pointing towards a circle in the middle. On the white floor, numerous small orange balls are scattered.
Shakey'swith Joe Sola, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 35-minute performance, 2005.
"Blue Day" from Report, 2008, Lovethink Records.
"Lotus Festival" from Lotus Festival, 2000, Lovethink Records.