NYU Alumni 


What’s on Composer Julia Wolfe’s iPod?

by Eileen Reynolds / GSAS ’11

For Julia Wolfe, co-founder of the genre-busting, experimental-music organization Bang On a Can, no instrument or musical style is off-limits. She’s written for everything from drum sets to bagpipes to string orchestras, and her chamber work Steel Hammer—based on the Appalachian folk legend of John Henry—was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

But where does Wolfe, an assistant professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, turn for inspiration? To James Brown, for one (“an amazingly expressive musician,” she says), and to minimalist composer Steve Reich, whose Music for 18 Musicians anchors her list of “music that has rocked my world.” John Adams’ Shaker Loops also makes the cut, along with works by contemporary composers Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, and—of course—Wolfe’s husband, Michael Gordon.

She’s also a “huge fan” of Led Zeppelin and has been known to rock out to Aretha Franklin while doing the dishes. As part of her research for Steel Hammer and other folk-influenced compositions, Wolfe devoured the old-time music of fiddler Bruce Molsky. And lately, as inspiration for a percussion concerto she’s writing, she’s been scouring YouTube for videos of people using their bodies as instruments.

Wolfe occasionally breaks out a well-worn recording of Glenn Gould playing Bach, though she says the classics aren’t usually part of her “daily meal.” Rounding out her omnivorous musical diet are a few top-40 selections from her 16-year-old daughter’s iPod. Mom’s favorite? Adele, though she also concedes that Rihanna is a “great performer.”

photo © Peter Serling