Charles Cohen

2011 PEW FELLOW
Updated
30 Nov 2016

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Charles Cohen, 2011 Pew Fellow. Photo by Colin Lenton.

"In improvisation I try to think less and experience more. The primary experience for me is listening. Then, I want to respond quickly, honestly, playfully, and intuitively."

Charles Cohen (b. 1945) has been characterized as a "special and singular musician" with a highly developed and refined voice. His music is entirely improvisational, produced solely on a vintage Buchla Music Easel synthesizer, a rare analog instrument designed in the early 1970s. Cohen has been playing his self-described "beeps and boops" since he first acquired a Buchla Music Easel in 1976, one of only 25 ever produced, and remains committed to exploring its unique qualities. He has studied with musical mavericks such as accordionist and electronic composer Pauline Oliveros and jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, and is dedicated to the art of abstract improvisation, seeking out collaborations with fellow musicians who share his love of spontaneous creation during live performance. "In improvisation I try to think less and experience more," says Cohen. "I consider each performance as an instance of my collaborative improvisation practice, which has spanned over 30 years."

Cohen has performed regularly in Philadelphia for nearly four decades. For most of his career he has eschewed distributing recordings of his music in order to focus deeply on live performance. However, after receiving the Pew Fellowship, Cohen was invited by Morphine Records in Berlin to work on a complete retrospective of his recordings from the 1970s through the '90s, in vinyl and CD formats, with biographical information, pictures, and liner notes. This retrospective was released in late 2013.