Fred Frith Mills College

Education | Courses Taught | Biography | Compositions | Recordings | Broadcasts | Grants and Commissions | Residencies | Lectures | Interviews | Awards | Fred Frith Website

  • MA, English Literature, Christ's College, Cambridge University, England, 1974
  • BA, English Literature, Christ's College, Cambridge University, England, 1970
Courses Taught
  • MUS 026/126/226: Music Improvisation Ensemble I
  • MUS 121: Film Music: Mood and Meaning
  • MUS 160/260: Practicum
  • MUS 210: Selected Issues in Contemporary Performance and Improvisation
  • MUS 242: Music Improvisation Ensemble II
  • MUS 250: Thesis
  • MUS 291: Composition Seminar


Born in 1949 and raised in Yorkshire, England, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser Fred Frith has been active across a broad spectrum of music-making since the late 1960s, starting with the iconic rock collective Henry Cow. In a career spanning more than 40 years, Frith is internationally renowned as electric guitarist and improviser, songwriter, and composer for film, dance and theater. Through bands like Art Bears, Massacre, Skeleton Crew, the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, and Cosa Brava, Frith has managed to keep one foot in the rock world while continuing to branch out into almost every area of contemporary musical endeavor.

His compositions have been performed by groups ranging from Arditti Quartet and the Ensemble Modern to the Baroque ensembles Concerto Köln and Galax Quartet, from the Dutch Radio Chamber Orchestra to ROVA and Arte Sax Quartets, from rock bands Hieronymus Firebrain and Ground Zero to the Glasgow Improvisers’ Orchestra. Film music credits include Thomas Riedelsheimer's acclaimed documentary Rivers and Tides, The Tango Lesson and Yes by Sally Potter, Peter Mettler’s Gods, Gambling and LSD, and Jennifer Baichwal's Act of God. His vast catalogue of recordings is available on Tzadik, Winter and Winter, ReR, and his own label Fred Records, among many others.

Fred has performed or recorded with a who’s who of modern music including Lotte Anker, Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton, Gavin Bryars, Sylvie Courvoisier, Alvin Curran, Brian Eno, Evelyn Glennie, Carla Kihlstedt, Katia Labeque, Bill Laswell, Ikue Mori, Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris, Bob Ostertag, Zeena Parkins, The Residents, Christian Wolff, Robert Wyatt, Otomo Yoshihide, and John Zorn among many others. Current projects include the improvising trio Maybe Monday, his band Cosa Brava, and Eye to Ear, an ensemble dedicated to the performance of his film music. Fred is the subject of Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzels’ award-winning documentary film Step Across the Border.

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Recent Compositions

2012, Rocket Science for electro-acoustic ensemble

2009, Small Time for percussion quartet

2008, For Nothing for contralto and Baroque string quartet (text by Gary Snyder)

2007, Episodes for Baroque ensemble
Water Stories for clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, cello

2006, Snakes and Ladders for clarinet, piano, percussion, electric guitar, cello, and bass

2005, Álftanes for guitar quartet
Save As for cello and percussion

2004, Still/Urban for saxophone quartet and electric guitar

2003, The Right Angel for orchestra and electric guitar
shading my face it shall be you for clarinet, bassoon, percussion piano, violin, double bass

2002, SEtaccio for string quartet, alto saxophone, and samples
Fell & Allegory for string quartet and electric guitar

2001, Light at the End of the Tunnel for flute, clarinet, alto sax, piano, harp, violin, 2 cellos, double bass
Landing for choir, Flamenco singer, cello, saxophone and samples

2000, The Big Picture for saxophone quartet with two soloists

1999, Weatherwise or Otherwise for large ensemble
Centre Moving Out for voice, clarinet, cello, piano, samples, and percussion

1998, Traffic Continues: Gusto for large ensemble with improvising soloists

Recent Compositions for Dance

2011, Field Days: commissioned by Nederlands Dans Theater, with choreography by Amanda Miller

2008, Thin Air: commissioned by Donna Uchizono

2007, Episodes: commissioned by Amanda Miller for Pretty Ugly Dance Company, Cologne, Germany and performed by Concerto Köln (Baroque ensemble)
Debates for Ganden: installation based on Tibetan field recordings, commissioned by Amanda Miller for Pretty Ugly Dance Company, Cologne, Germany

2006, Waypoint: commissioned by Axis Dance Company, Oakland with choreography by Margaret Jenkins

2004, Imitation: commissioned by Amanda Miller for Pretty Ugly Dance Company, Freiburg, Germany

2003, The Happy End Problem: commissioned by Amanda Miller for Pretty Ugly Dance Company, Freiburg, Germany

2002, For Whom Am I: commissioned by Peggy Piacenza, Seattle
SEtaccio: commissioned by Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris with choreography by François Chat

2001, Sideshow: commissioned by Peggy Piacenza, Seattle
K/nowhere: commissioned by Korzo, Den Haag, Netherlands with choreography by Paul Selwyn Norton, additional performances in Moscow, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam

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Recent Recordings

MASSACRE Love Me Tender (2013)
COSA BRAVA The Letter (2012)
COSA BRAVA Ragged Atlas (2010)
MAYBE MONDAY Unsquare (2007)
DEATH AMBIENT Drunken Forest (2006)

Solo Projects
Prints (2002)

For Dance and Theatre
Nowhere/Sideshow/Thin Air (2009)
The Happy End Problem (2006)
Accidental (2002)

For film
Eye to Ear III (2010)
Yes (2005)
Touch the Sound (2005)
Eye to Ear II (2004)
Rivers and Tides (2003)

As improvisor
Live at Swissnex(with Michel Doneda) (2014)
Long as in short, walk as in run (with Annie Lewandowski) (2011)
Contretemps, etc (with Louis Sclavis and Jean-Pierre Drouet) (2011)
Late Works (with John Zorn) (2010)
To Sail, To Sail (solo acoustic guitar) (2008)
Cutter Heads (with Chris Brown) (2007)
Fred Frith and Anthony Braxton (2006)
The Compass, Log and Lead (with Carla Kihlstedt and Stevie Wishart) (2005)

As composer
On Cold Mountain: songs on poems of Gary Snyder (with Galax Quartet and Karen Clark, contralto) (2011)
Clearing Customs (with Wu Fei, Patrice Scanlon, Anantha Krishnan, Daniela Cattivelli, et al.) (2011)
Impur II (l’Ecole Nationale de Musique de Villeurbanne) (2009)
Still Urban (Arte Sax Quartett) (2009)
The Big Picture (Arte Sax Quartetet, Katharina Weber, Lucas Niggli) (2009)
Back to Life (Callithumpian Ensemble, Joan Jeanrenaud, William Winant, Daan Vandewalle) (2008)
Impur (with l’Ecole Nationale de Musique de Villeurbanne) (2006)
Eleventh Hour (with Arditti Quartet) (2005)
Freedom in Fragments (Rova Sax Quartet) (2002)
Traffic Continues (with Ensemble Modern, Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori) (2000)

As guest artist
Aaron Novik: Secret of Secrets (2012)
ROVA: Ascension (with Rova, Nels Kline, Ikue Mori, et al.) (2005)
Alvin Curran: Lost Marbles (2004)
John Zorn: Xu Feng (2001)
Christian Wolff: Burdocks (2001)

Fred Frith has appeared on more than 500 LPs and CDs over the last 35 years, on labels ranging from CBS-Sony and Virgin to Tzadik, ReR, and Winter and Winter.

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Recent Broadcasts

Concert with Gravity Band at Moers Festival, Germany broadcast live by WDR Television

Concert with Evelyn Glennie at Moers Festival, Germany broadcast live on WDR Television

Concert with John Edwards and Mark Sanders at Cafe Oto, London, broadcast on BBC Radio 3

France Culture: interview and broadcast of solo concert at Carré Bleu, Tours. Interview on Estonian television

Four hour special on KJFC dedicated to his work

Clearing Customs New Jazz Meeting for SWR, Germany (with Marque Gilmore, Wu Fei, Patrice Scanlon, Daniela Cattiveli, Tilman Müller, Anantha Krishnon) (a week of recording and performances, two hour-long programs)

Concert with Arditti Quartet at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, BBC 3

RAI (Italian National Radio), Rome (live broadcast with Peter Mettler)

BBC 3: interview on film music

France Culture: broadcast of concert with Camel Zekri from Festival Musique Action, Vandoeuvre

Interview on Icelandic National Radio, Reykjavik

Performance by Nouvel Ensemble Moderne at Victoriaville, broadcast by CBC, Canada

Premiere of The Right Angel with Dutch Radio Chamber Orchestra directed by Peter Eotvös broadcast by NPR, Netherlands

Walking in Circles with Arditti Quartet broadcast live on NPR, Netherlands

Concert in Oxford with Chris Cutler broadcast on BBC Radio 3, UK

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Grants and Commissions

Over the course of the last 35 years, Fred Frith’s work has been supported by grants, awards or commissions from:
Arts Council of Great Britain
Asko Ensemble, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Bang on a Can All Stars, New York
British Council
British-Israeli Arts Initiative (BI-Arts)
Brooklyn Academy of Music
City of Marseille, France
Direction Régional d’Arts et Culture, France
East Midlands Arts Board, UK
Ensemble Aleph, Paris, France
Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt, Germany
Ensemble Relâche, Philadelphia, USA
Festival Angelica, Bologna, Italy
Festival Banlieues Bleues, Paris, France
Festival Musique Action, Vandoeuvre, France
NDR Chamber Orchestra, Hilversum, Netherlands
Galax Quartet, San Francisco
Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, UK
Klangspüren Festival, Schwaz, Austria
Konservatorium Bern, Switzerland
Korzo Theater, Den Haag, Netherlands
London Contemporary Dance Theatre
Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust
Maison de Culture André Malraux, Reims, France
Massachussetts State Council for the Arts
Meet the Composer
Meet the Composer/ Readers Digest Commissioning Fund
Ministry of Culture and Communications, France
NewMusicWorks, Santa Cruz, CA
Radio Bremen, Germany
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players
San Francisco Electronic Music Festival
Scottish Arts Board
Sound Festival, Aberdeen, Scotland
Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris, France
Time Festival, Gent

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Montalvo Arts Center, California (resident artist) (2012)

Village Nomade, La Corbière, Switzerland (artist residency) (2006, 2007, 2008)

Esalen Institute (resident artist) (1997, 1998)

L’Ecole Nationale de Musique, Villeurbanne, France (resident composer) (1995-96)

Théâtre du Point Aveugle, Marseille (resident composer working with “young, unemployed rock musicians from the ghettos”) (1990)

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Lectures, Workshops and Masterclasses

Between 1979 and the present has lectured and led workshops and masterclasses in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Japan, most recently:

Epistrophy Arts Elementary School Project, Austin, Texas
Oberlin College, Ohio
School of Art Institute of Chicago
Musik Akademie, Basel, Switzerland
Edinburgh University, Scotland
Royal Academy of Music, Oslo, Norway
Ecole Nationale de Musique, Nîmes, France
Conservatorium Nijmegen, Netherlands
The Sage, Gateshead, England
Hochschule für Musik, Würzburg, Germany

Royal Academy of Music, Oslo, Norway
Conservatoire de Rennes, France
Conservatoire d'Evreux, France
Musik Akademie, Basel, Switzerland
FHNW (Pedagogical Department), Aarau, Switzerland

Musik Akademie, Basel, Switzerland (co-led Master’s Degree program in improvisation)
Princeton University
Cornell University
McGill University, Montreal

Musik Akademie, Basel, Switzerland (co-led new Master’s Degree program in improvisation), Lecture on film music at School of Sound Symposium, London, UK, Workshop and round table discussion, Tallinn, Estonia, Workshop, Nederlands Dans Theater, Den Haag, NL

University of Minnesota (during Spark Festival, Minneapolis)

Harmolodic Workshop at Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown Festival, London

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
WIM, Bern, Switzerland

Sound Festival, Aberdeen, Scotland
New England Conservatory, Boston, MA
High Schools’ improvisation project, Toronto, Canada
Mexico University, Mexico City
Musikhochschule, Luzern, Switzerland

Music Conservatory, Copenhagen, Denmark
Music Conservatory, Oslo, Norway
McGill University, Montreal
Queen’s University, Belfast, N. Ireland
University of Colorado, Denver

Glasgow Improvisers’ Orchestra, Scotland
Dartington College of Art, England

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Interviews, Articles, Books, Films

Featured in Klangwerker (directed by Erich Busslinger, 2011)–documentary about Swiss percussionist Fritz Hauser

Featured in Act of God (dir. Jennifer Baichwal, 2009) – documentary on the metaphysical effects of being struck by lightning

Featured in Touch the Sound (dir. Thomas Riedelsheimer 2005) -documentary on percussionist Evelyn Glennie

Featured in Letort, Bruno: Musiques Plurielles (Balland, France 1998)

Featured in Jones, Andrew: Plunderphonics, Pataphysics and Pop Mechanics (SAF, Canada 1995)
Simon, Barbara: Fred Frith, ein Grenzganger der zeitgenössischen Musik (Master’s Thesis from the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst, Vienna, 1995)

Featured in Bruyn, Peter and Van Rossen, Lex: Profiel: Contour van de Rockmuziek in 60 Portretten (Netherlands 1992)

The subject (with The Residents, Blue Gene Tyranny and Glenn Branca) of Gagne, Cole: Sonic Transports, (De Falco Books, 1990)

Subject of Le Voyage Immobile (1999) a documentary film about Frith’s trio with Louis Sclavis and Jean-Pierre Drouet, for France 3 (National TV)

Subject of Traffic in Trouble (1997) radio documentary for WDR, Germany

Subject of Streetwise (1991), a documentary film by Charles Castella about Frith’s work in Marseille with ‘unemployed rock musicians.’

Subject of Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzel’s 90 minute documentary film Step Across the Border (1990, winner of the German Camera Prize, 1991). Shown in cinemas in USA, Canada, Europe, Japan and South America and on television in USA (Public TV), Germany (WDR, NDR, SWR), Switzerland (SR3), Austria (ORF) and France (Arte). One of Cahiers du Cinéma’s “100 most important films of the 20th century.”

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2010, Honorary doctorate awarded by University of Huddersfield for life's work in experimental music (UK)

2009, Mary S. Metz Professorship (Mills College) for Excellence and Creativity in Teaching

2008, Demetrio Stratos Prize for lifetime achievement in experimental music (Milan, Italy)

2007, Career award from the Music on Film, Film on Music Festival (Prague, Czech Republic)

2005, Outstanding performance as coach, Montclair Soccer League U14 Boys

2001, Echo Prize in the category ‘Classical Music without Borders’ awarded by the German Phonographic Institute to Traffic Continues

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Last Updated: 6/8/17