William Mason

Associate Professor of Music; Chair, Department of Music





Personal Website


William Mason is a composer, performer, and writer. His eclectic scholarly and performance interests encompass electronic music, avant-garde jazz, and modern composition, alongside an abiding interest in the natural world and the wintry landscapes of his native Maine.

His debut album as a composer + bandleader was with the Will Mason Ensemble, a jazz-inflected septet. That album, Beams of the Huge Night, was released on New Amsterdam Records in 2015. The Boston Globe wrote that Mason’s compositions “balance improvisation and composition, and are shot through with asymmetrical melodies and grooves, grinding harmonies, and atmospheric bouts of stillness.”

Mason also leads and writes the music for the group Happy Place, an avant-rock band of two guitars and two drummers. The band recorded their debut album Northfield, which was released in 2016 on Exit Stencil Records. The New York Times wrote that the band “succeeds at fusing experimental rock and chamber music…The cathartic two-guitar attack has the feel of avant-rock, while the astringent harmony recalls experiments by Charles Ives.”

Recent commissions include pieces for Nouveau Classical Project and Michi Wiancko. Musicians Mason has performed with include Ned Rothenberg, Anna Webber, Matt Mitchell, Leila Bordreuil, Elias Stemeseder, Greg Chudzik, Miles Okazaki, Kate Gentile, Marc Hannaford, and Andrew Smiley.

Mason’s scholarly interests focus on the analysis of electronic and electroacoustic music, music and media theory, and embodied cognition. He is especially interested in the intersection of the tools of the recording studio and the mind’s faculties of imagination and mimesis. He is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Spectral Music, and has authored entries for Grove Music Online. He has presented his work internationally, including at annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, and Society for American Music.


Ph.D., Music Theory, Columbia University

MA, Music Theory, Columbia University

B.Mus, Music Performance, Oberlin Conservatory of Music

BA, Politics, Oberlin College

Research + Teaching Interests

•Western music theory

•Music technology (creative/compositional, critical, and historical approaches)

•Media theory

•Embodied music cognition

•Musical timbre

•Modernism and the avant-garde in music and the visual arts in Europe and North America


•Musical representations of landscape and nature


More generally, I’m motivated by the belief that doing and knowing are inseparable; that creating interesting music requires being curious and open to experimenting; that music is fundamentally social, active, and collaborative; that, because music is non-representational (or at least not obviously representational) it provides an exceptionally potent set of texts/practices for students to use to explore ideas that animate the study of the liberal arts more broadly.

Courses Taught:

Music 114 – Music Theory I: Fundamentals of Harmonic Practice

Music 115 – Music Theory II: Tonal Harmony

Music 198 – Creative and Critical Approaches to Music Technology

Music 308 – Analytic Survey of Western Music

Things I like

6 books that changed how I listen to and think about music:

Becker – Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion, and Trancing

Cox – Music and Embodied Cognition

Cumming – The Sonic Self

Emmerson – Living Electronic Music

Lewis – A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music

Tomlinson – A Million Years of Music

6 scholarly books that aren’t about music but inspire my work:

Braidotti – The Posthuman

Clark – Natural Born Cyborgs

Gombrich – Art and Illusion

Krauss – The Optical Unconscious

Schivelbusch – The Railway Journey

Sobchak – The Address of the Eye

12 Desert Island cds:

Ornette Coleman – Complete Science Fiction Sessions

John Coltrane – Sun Ship

Miles Davis – Miles Smiles

Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch

Holly Herndon – Platform

Mahalia Jackson – Live at Newport 1958

Keller Quartet – Complete string quartets of György Kurtág

Lightning Bolt – Wonderful Rainbow

Yvonne Loriod – Olivier Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l’Infant Jesus”

Meshuggah – Catch 33

Björk – Post

Radiohead – Kid A



Will Mason Ensemble – Beams of the Huge Night. New Amsterdam Records. 2015

Happy Place – Northfield. Exit Stencil Records. 2016.


Oxford Handbook of Spectral Music, co-edited with Amy Bauer and Liam Cagney. Forthcoming.