Robert Carl (born July 12, 1954 in Bethesda, Maryland) is an American composer who currently resides in Hartford, Connecticut, where he is chair of the composition department at the Hartt School, University of Hartford.
Carl studied with Jonathan Kramer, George Rochberg, Ralph Shapey, and Iannis Xenakis. From each respectively, the composer has commented that he feels he learned about time, history, counterpoint/phrasing, and form. His music finds its roots in the spirit of eclectic juxtapositions, transcendentalism, and experiment embodied in the output of Charles Ives and other American "ultramodernists", including Carl Ruggles.
Carl’s music until 1997 tends to explore different styles, and to create unusual syntheses thereof. A history major as an undergraduate at Yale University, he has felt that the musical past is a fertile source to be manipulated for new expressive purposes. Duke Meets Mort (1992) is a saxophone quartet that interprets the harmonic changes of Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo in the voice of Morton Feldman. Time/Memory/Shadow (1988) is a double trio (piano quintet and harp) based on a march written in the composer’s adolescence, which is slowly “excavated” in the course of the piece, and only revealed at the end.
From 1998 on, starting with Open for string trio, Carl’s music has become less referential. Since 2001 he has developed a technique of basing his harmonies on the overtone series, with common partials above different fundamentals serving as pivots for progressions and modulations. In American Music in the Twentieth Century, critic Kyle Gann described Carl's more recent style: "(he) has settled into a more serene, mative idiom, but still with a dissonant edge." More recent works that represent this approach include The Wind’s Trace Rests on Leaves and Waves (2005) for string quintet (premiered by the Miami String Quartet and Robert Black), Marfantasie (2004) for electric guitar and large ensemble, Shake the Tree for piano four-hands (2005), A Musical Enquiry Into the Sublime and Beautiful (2006–07) for chamber orchestra, La Ville Engloutie (2007) for wind ensemble, Fourth Symphony (2008), and Piano Quintet "Search" (2012). Carl also frequently collaborates with sculptor Karen McCoy, creating sound components of installation art works, including pieces for the Sculpture Key Festivals of 2009 and 2010, and the 2013 Wintergreen Festival.
Since 1994, Carl has been a critic for Fanfare magazine, where he writes extensively on new music recordings. In addition, he has completed a book on Terry Riley’s In C, published in 2009 by Oxford University Press. His interest in Japanese music (Carl often performs his own music on the shakuhachi) led to a residency in Tokyo in spring 2007, which resulted in interviews with 25 contemporary Japanese composers. In 2013, Carl published "Eight Waves a Composer Will Ride in This Century" on an emerging common practice period that he observes in twenty-first-century compositional practice, based on the universality of music technology, globalism, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and sonic essentialism.