Peter Price*

Peter Price, Fellow at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Peter Price (b. 1966) is a critical media theorist as well as a composer, electronic musician, and digital artist. Price is co-director of thefidget space, a platform for his collaborative work with choreographer and wife Megan Bridge. The project is based in Philadelphia as a research laboratory for new forms of art, performance, and media. Peter Price completed his doctorate at The European Graduate School / EGS in Switzerland.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, into a family of musicians and political activists, Peter Price was exposed to a great variety of music as a child, listening to his mother practice Bach, Bartok, and Prokoviev on the piano every day and often staying up late to listen to the newest Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, or Led Zepplin album releases. Literally a child of the sixties, his earliest formative years were spent in a commune in Minnesota. His parents’ concern for social justice, and his own engagement with Henry David Thoreau as an adolescent, left him with a life-long anarchist sensibility. Peter Price’s own activism centered around the revolutionary struggles in Central America in the 1980s, leading him to spend time in Nicaragua in 1986 and 1987 in support of the Sandinista mobilization against the CIA-organized counter-insurgency. Price was present in Revolution Square in Managua for the signing of the Nicaraguan constitution in January 1987.

Peter Price composes sonic digital and visual environments for live audiences. His compositions for ensembles of acoustic and electronic instruments have been performed by the Relâche and Network for New Music ensembles; he has performed both as a laptop soloist in performances of works by John Cage and Pierre Boulez with Orchestra 2001 and as a duo with violinist Gloria Justen. As a composer and video artist, Price has collaborated extensively with Group Motion and other dance companies and performance artists in Philadelphia. Price’s work has toured in many cities and countries, including Tokyo, Poland, Lithuania, New York, Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, and South Africa.

Throughout his childhood, Peter Price trained in dance, music, and theater, finally focusing more exclusively on music with hundreds of professional engagements as a treble singer by the age of fourteen. Later, as a baritone, Price continued to study voice, ultimately at Oberlin Conservatory. In the meantime, he had developed an interest in composition, which he began to study formally at age 15, eventually earning a BMus in Music Composition from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he studied with composer Andrew Rudin, a student of American contemporary classical music composer George Rochberg and the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Peter Price chose Rudin as a teacher because of Rudin’s experience with composing music for contemporary dance, his early involvement with American electronic music pioneer Bob Moog, and his modular synthesizers.

Peter Price had developed an interest in electronic music, and in the Moog synthesizer specifically, as a young child. He began recording his own electronic music in 1983, heavily influenced at that time by American composers Philip Glass and Robert Ashley as well as by West African drumming, Tibetan chant, and German experimental krautrock. At the same time, he remained deeply engaged with the classical music world throughout the 1980s, while simultaneously becoming involved with the hardcore punk, Industrial, EBM, and Acid House scenes. In 1987, Price began to present his music publicly in live performances and wrote his first scores for contemporary dance.

Over the course of the 1990s, Peter Price became more and more involved with dance and theater communities, and increasingly alienated from music communities on both sides of the art/entertainment or high/low divide, which he saw as locked in conservatism on one side and subsumed by the culture industry on the other. A desire to understand the broader context of what seemed to him a crisis of musical meaning and what this meant for his own artistic production, combined with the political malaise brought on by the implosion of socialism and the resurgence of capitalist globalization, drove Price to begin engaging more deeply with critical theory and continental philosophy. At that time, Peter Price also started spending more time as a computer programmer and developer of multimedia productions. Price designed games for both CD-ROM and web delivery for large and well-known corporate entities, informational kiosks for museums, and eventually even financial database transactions for commodity futures trading, while redirecting his developing programming skills to his art projects, which were becoming more involved with intermodal transcoding and interactivity.

Peter Price met the dancer Megan Bridge in 1996 while she was working with a dance company that he was involved with as a composer. They began collaborating on multimedia dance theater works a few years later, and in 2003 they were married on stage in front of a sold out audience as part of the Philadelphia Live Arts festival in a ritual performance event that garnered international press attention. Price and Bridge have collaborated on nearly two dozen works and hundreds of performances since then. In 2009, they opened the doors of thefidget space, a grassroots experimental transdisciplinary arts research laboratory housed in a nineteenth-century factory building. The space presents music, dance, and theater performances, along with rehearsals and workshops, film screenings, lectures, discussions, and seminars. Visitors and participants have included choreographers Xavier Le Roy, Willi Dorner, Lucinda Childs, and Deborah Hay; composers and musicians Rob Haskins, Gloria Justen, Tim Brady, and King Britt; philosophers and theorists Brian Massumi and Erin Manning; filmmaker Andrew Repasky McElhinney; and media ecologist Christian Hänggi.

Beginning around 2000, Peter Price began incorporating live digital video in his work. Price’s approach to video is a synesthetic one, deeply resonant with the tradition of visual music and other historical forms of audio-visual experimentation, and overlapping significantly with contemporary VJ practices. As of 2012, over thirty of Price’s dance films and multimedia productions involving digital video have been shown internationally, including in Philadelphia, New York, Tokyo, Berlin, Vienna, Zurich, and Johannesburg.

Peter Price’s deepening engagement with digital media technologies and critical theory led him, in 2004, to study at The European Graduate School / EGS, where he earned an MA (with distinction) and a PhD (summa cum laude). Additionally, he was artist in residence at The EGS in 2009, scholar in residence in 2010, and was named the John Cage Fellow in 2012. Peter Price has published two books of music philosophy with the EGS's Atropos Press, Becoming Music: Between Boredom and Ecstasy with Tyler Burba in 2010, and Resonance: Philosophy for Sonic Art in 2011. Both books are finding an eclectic readership from DJs to experimental musicians and theorists.

As a philosopher, Peter Price’s project is to reassess the nature of musical meaning in light of two epochal shifts in the twentieth century: firstly, the technological events of electricity and digital computation, and, secondly, the openings to thought initiated by Heidegger and unfolding today in continental philosophy. Price examines the history of Western music as an epiphenomenon of the unfolding of Western metaphysics. For today, that means music needs to be thought in the context of the event of technology as Gestell. Peter Price follows Adorno in diagnosing a serious crisis in musical forms of music making and hears this as linked to the ruptures and fault lines of technological modernity. Rejecting the dominant thinking of music through the filters of style and genre, Price asserts that locating musical meaning today means staying attentive to the entirety of sonic phenomena, from avant-garde experimentalism to DJ culture, from ring tone downloads to what remains of the classical music tradition, and from the disappearing musics of indigenous peoples to the persistent roar of capitalist globalization.

The year 2012 marked twenty-five years of professional engagement as a composer, and to acknowledge this landmark Peter Price has been working on a remix retrospective, sampling and manipulating material from that entire time frame into new and generally more experimental versions. In addition to his work as a composer, musician, media artist, and philosopher, Peter Price continues to curate at thefidget space, where he remains co-director, and is an archivist for the estate of electronic music pioneer Bruce Haack.