Otto Muller, PhD

Core Faculty

Otto Muller is a composer, educator and performer interested in complex histories and awkward ambiguities that inhabit the ordinary, unfastening the associations that make sound intelligible and constructing fragile new structures from the empty husks. His chamber music and interdisciplinary work has been performed in North America, Israel and Europe. As a pianist and accordionist, Muller also plays in jazz combos, experimental rock bands, and vaudeville acts. Muller received his PhD in Composition at the University at Buffalo and has studied at Northwestern University, and L’Accademia Musicale Chigiana. He is a faculty advisor at Goddard College, where his interests include semiotics, the intersection of experimental music and critical pedagogy, and collaborative process.


PhD in Music Composition, University at Buffalo (SUNY)
BMus in Music Composition, Northwestern University
BA in Philosophy, Northwestern University

Areas of Expertise

  • Music Composition
  • Music Semiotics
  • Experimentalism
  • Collaborative Process
  • Interdisciplinary Art
  • Aesthetics

Personal Statement

I believe that artwork is work and the art-worker a laborer who gives value to substance. The work that the artist does in the world to expand the vocabulary of human expression, to offer access to the unfamiliar and ambiguous is necessary and requires diligence and courage as well as passion. In my own work as a composer and collaborative artist, I am preoccupied with two aspects of music: its capacity to reconstruct meaning by placing sounds of social and emotive significance into the abstract order of acoustics and harmonic logic; and the unique social activity that is music-making.

I am transfixed by the metamorphosis that occurs when an assortment of airwaves transforms through some alchemy of physics, logic, and social conditioning into a conduit of expressive meaning. Understanding the intricacies behind expressive force is like understanding the precise chemical processes that give an organism life. The key difference, however, lies in the fact that art is human; its life-force is our experience, and its evolution our responsibility.

My understanding of music as collective interaction comes from performing jazz, experimental rock, political bluegrass, and avant-garde chamber music. The idea that composition is organized activity, not merely organized sound, has led me to study the relationships between musical content and political intent, and to pursue collaborative work and performance art, organizing action in other media and learning from other artists. In making music, I set out to immerse a listener in something unfamiliar while suggesting some possible relationships and posing questions that I really don’t know the answers to. This is also my approach to teaching.

I don’t think that aesthetic judgment can be dictated (though aesthetic dictatorships seem to abound). Instead, I find that it develops every time one encounters something new with interest and curiosity. I therefore hope to engage students in a dialogue where I can point them toward ideas that are unfamiliar to them, observe and ask questions, and be there to discuss their concerns and challenge their assumptions as we pursue this important labor together.

Along with all aspects of music, from Renaissance counterpoint to gender in hip-hop, my academic interests include Aesthetic Theory, Moral Philosophy, Political Art, Film and Media Art, Theatre and Performance Art, and 20th Century Russian Literature. I am also secretary of the Open Music Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports graphic and experimental approaches to musical notation and communication.

Affiliation BFA Socially Engaged Art
Individualized Bachelor of Arts
Undergraduate Studies Program

Location Plainfield, Vermont