Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Brian Baumbusch: Bio

Brian Baumbusch

- Composer, performer, translator

Brian Baumbusch is a composer and multi-instrumentalist based in Oakland, California, whose "harmonically vivid... intense... simmering" (NY Times) compositions push the boundaries of new music. He has spearheaded projects of both western and non-western music which are considered a “cultural treat” (Maryland Gazette). His 2015 composition, "Hydrogen(2)Oxygen" for the JACK Quartet and Lightbulb Ensemble is described by the Washington Post as being "exuberantly complex, maddeningly beautiful, and as intoxicating as a drug." He has given major performances at such venues as the Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar, The Smithsonian Instituion in Washington, The Clarice Smith Center of Maryland, Kresge Hall at MIT, Cambridge, and The Yerba Buena Center of San Francisco, among others. He has collaborated with musicians such as The JACK Quartet, I Made Subandi, Pauline Oliveros, David Behrman, Wayne Vitale, and Larry Polansky.

Baumbusch has conducted extensive research and collaborated with a variety of musicians from around the globe. In 2009, he founded the Cacho Ensemble in Madrid, dedicated to reviving traditional Argentinean folk music, which has performed throughout Europe and the United States. In 2010, Baumbusch completed the first full English translation of Atahualpa Yupanqui's epic poem "El payador perseguido.” The translation was presented at the Embassy of Argentina in Washington D.C., sponsored by the cultural attaché of the embassy, Francisco Achaval, who describes Baumbusch’s playing as embodying “supurb technique which, while listening, took me back to the deep heartland of my country; he has found a way to sing zambas from the bottom of his soul.” 

Baumbusch has also performed with many Balinese gamelan groups across the U.S., including Sekar Jaya of the Bay Area, Dharma Swara of New York, and Galak Tikka of Boston, among others. Dr. I Made Bandem describes Baumbusch as “a serious musician and composer whose profound understanding of Balinese music, dance, and culture has contributed a lot to the development of Balinese music.” He is currently the director of the U.C. Santa Cruz Balinese Gamelan ensemble.

In 2012, Baumbusch produced a large scale collaboration with the JACK Quartet and Balinese choreographers Dr. I Made Bandem and Dr. Suasthi Bandem, together with Dr. Bandem's performing group Makaradhwaja. They premiered their collaboration at the Bali Arts Festival in June, 2012. The Jakarta Post described the premiere saying "Baumbusch's overture was a grand and rich musical epic and instantly drew the crowd’s amazement. Its patterns were intricate, a testament of Baumbusch’s virtuosity and his ability to push the musicians to reveal the astounding ability of their instruments." Additionally, Baumbusch’s arrangements of traditional gamelan pieces for string quartet caught the attention of David Harrington (violinist and director of the Kronos Quatet) who describes Baumbusch’s work as  “one of the finest attempts to bring the string quartet into the world of Gamelan music. For a composer so youthful to possess this expertise is a very hopeful sign.” 

In 2013, Baumbusch founded The Lightbulb Ensemble, an new-music composer’s collective performing on steel instruments built and designed by Baumbusch. The group was highlighted in November of 2013 at the Performing Indonesia Festival at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, where they represented the advent of American experimental performing ensembles drawing heavy influence from gamelan music. In 2014, The Lightbulb Ensemble was awarded a major grant from the Gerbode Foundation, commissioning Baumbusch and his collaborator, Wayne Vitale, to compose an evening length work for The Lightbulb Ensemble which premiered alongside Gamelan Sekar Jaya at the Yerba Buena Center of San Francisco, in May, 2015. In November of the same year, The Lightbulb Ensemble premiered a 30-minute work by Baumbusch together with the JACK Quartet at the Smithsonian in Washington to great critical acclaim.

Baumbusch received his undergraduate degree from Bard College, where he studied microtonal composition with Kyle Gann, and received his M.A. in composition from Mills College, where he studied under various established composers including Chris Brown, Fred Frith, Roscoe Mitchell, and Zeena Parkins, among others. He is currently pursuing his doctoral degree at U.C. Santa Cruz. Baumbusch has lectured on composition and world music at the University of Maryland, The Smithsonian Institution, CalArts, Union College, Holy Cross, Bard College, Mills College, U.N. Reno, and the Escuela TAI of Madrid. He has additionally presented electronic music performances at UCSD, UCSB, CalArts, UNR and Mills College. He is based in the Bay Area.