is one of the pioneers in the field of microtonal composition. He invented a system of notation which was adopted by many microtonal composers after him, including Joseph Maneri.
His professional debut (12 note ET music) occurred on a Composers Forum program in New York, 1959. In 1960, compelled by his ear, he began writing microtonal music, and has continued to do so ever since, with the occasional exception being taped music for dancers. His last composition in quarter tone
A quarter tone , is a pitch halfway between the usual notes of a chromatic scale, an interval about half as wide as a semitone, which is half a whole tone....
s (his sixth microtonal one) was his Third Quartet
(1962). Since 1971, whatever music he has composed that is not purely electronic has employed a system of asymmetrical modes of 18 pitches per octave, drawn from a 72-note division of the octave.
"I seem finally to have identified and made transcribable what my ear was after all along: a set of pitches ordered in an asymmetrical scale of 18 (or 19) notes, some of them acoustically more important than others, transposable through a chromatic of 72 pitches in the octave." (1978)
He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowships are American grants that have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." Each year, the foundation makes...
, a Koussevitsky commission, and an American Academy of Arts & Letters Award, as well as numerous commissions from organizations like the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music and private individuals. He was a co-founder of the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble
Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble is a contemporary chamber music ensemble based in Boston, Massachusetts. The group was founded in 1975 by composers Scott Wheeler, Rodney Lister, and Ezra Sims as the concert giving “annex” of New England Dinosaur Dance Theater...
, for which he served as President from 1977–1981 and as a member of the Board of Directors from 1981 to 2003.
He has lectured on his music in the US and abroad, most notably at the Hambürger Musikgespräch, 1994; the second Naturton Symposium in Heidelberg, 1992; and the 3rd and 4th Symposium, Mikrotöne und Ekmelische Musik, at the Hochschüle für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Mozarteum, Salzburg, in 1989 & 1991. In 1992-93, he was guest lecturer in the Richter Herf Institut für Musikalische Grundlagenforschung in the Mozarteum.
He has published articles on his technique in Computer Music Journal, Mikrotöne III, Mikrotöne IV, Perspectives of New Music, and Ex Tem pore. With the American cellist Ted Mook, he designed a font, now widely adopted, for use with computer printing programs, based on his set of accidentals, which are sufficient for 72-note music. His music is published by Frog Peak Music and Diapason Press (Corpus Microtonale).
As his award citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters attests:
"Ezra Sims has already contributed an outstanding body of works, many of which have explored with singular imagination, conviction and success the beautiful but elusive world of
- Ezra Sims (1998). CRI American Masters CD 784. Originally released on CRIS SD 223 and CRI SD 377.
- String Quartet No. 2 (1962) Boston Musica Viva
Boston Musica Viva is a Boston, Massachusetts-based music ensemble founded by its Music Director, Richard Pittman, in 1969 and dedicated to contemporary music.-Composers and compositions:...
- Elegie - nach Rilke (1976) Elsa Charlston & Boston Musica Viva
- Third Quartet (1962) The Lenox Quartet
- CRI 643
- Concert Piece (1990)
- Night Piece: In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni (1987)
- Flight (1989)
- Solo in four movements (1987)
- Quintet (1987)
- Northeastern NR 224
- Sextet (1981)
- Two for One (1980)
- All Done From Memory (1980)
- -- and, as I was saying... (1979)
- CRI 578