Remarks on Accepting the American Composers Orchestra Award

November 14, 2001 by Ray Kurzweil

The Second Annual American Composers Orchestra Award for the Advancement of New Music in America was presented on November 13 to Ray Kurzweil by American Composers Orchestra. Kurzweil reflects on creativity and the jump from the blackboard to changing peoples’ lives.

Originally presented November 13, 2001. Published on on November 14, 2001. See related news item on

Music is the most universal form of expression

known to human civilization,

more so than other art forms

such as dance, painting, and literature.

Every known culture that has been discovered

has expressed itself through music.

What we express in music represents our most universal ideas,

themes of life and death,

of our connection to each other

and to our spiritual origins.

While music has its roots in our primal history,

it is also the case

that music has always used the most advanced technologies available,

from the cabinet making crafts of the eighteenth century,

the metalworking industries of the nineteenth century,

the analog electronics of the 1960s

to the digital signal processing chips of the 1990s and early twenty-first


Music is both ancient and modern,

and embraces both our folk traditions

and our cutting-edge science.

Music looks both backward

and forward,

and thereby embodies Winston Churchill’s maxim

that, “the further backward you look,

the further forward you can see.”

Churchill’s insight

is a fitting citation

for the American Composers Orchestra.

The ACO has dedicated itself to giving voice to innovative composers

who are pioneering modern ways

to apply all of our musical traditions and methods.

Coming from a musical family

and an upbringing that valued diverse musical idioms,

it is a special honor for me

to accept this unique and wonderful award.

The exciting thing for me

as an inventor

is that magical leap

from dry formulas on a blackboard

to actual transformations in people’s lives.

That’s the delight of inventing.

What my colleagues and I had tried to accomplish

in the area of musical technology

was to provide a technological bridge

between the old world of acoustic instruments,

and the new world of artistic control

provided by synthesizers, sequencers, sound processors, and controllers.

Today we’ve broken the link

between the physics of creating signals

and the playing techniques required to generate sound.

A musician today can apply any form of playing skill

to produce any timbres,

can create music in non-real-time,

and can jam along with the focused intelligence of cybernetic musicians.

The pace of change is growing exponentially,

and we can be sure that the means of creating music

will accelerate as well.

Of course, it takes more than technology to create music.

Music will remain the expression of human ideas and emotions

through the medium of sound.

And we can be confident that the American Composers Orchestra

will remain a inspiring center of innovation and excellence

for musical creativity.