Dave Soldier
Da Hip Hop Raskalz
Soldier String Quartet
Thai Elephant Orchestra
Mulatta Records
Film and Video


Prepared 2010 for a biographical reference:

Dave Soldier (born David Sulzer, November 6, 1956) is a composer and performer who leads multiple musical lives. He is a primarily self-taught performer on the violin, banjo, and guitar, and played in country and rhythm and blues bands as a boy in Carbondale, Illinois. In the 1970’s he toured the US as a violinist with a Western swing band, playing repertoire by Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, and played second guitar with Bo Diddley while living in Gainesville, Florida.

At 17, he took private lessons in composition with Roscoe Mitchell of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, while studying botany at Michigan State University (BS 1979). He moved to New York City in 1981 and performed and arranged with experimental, rock, and jazz acts, including the Ordinaires, John Cale, Bob Neuwirth, Van Dyke Parks, Guided by Voices, Amina Claudine Myers, Henry Threadgill, Pete Seeger, David Byrne, William Hooker, Richard Hell, Ric Ocasek, and Elliott Sharp. While attending Columbia University as a graduate student in biology (PhD, 1988), he studied composition privately with Otto Luening, and violin with Anahid Ajemian, founder of the Composer’s Quartet, and for 6 years conducted a radio show on contemporary classical music at WKCR.

In 1984 he founded the Soldier String Quartet. a group that pioneered the intersection of punk rock, James Brown-style rhythm and blues, and classical music, particularly influenced by Haydn, Gil Evans, and Skip James, that was choreographed like a punk rock group with a puckish humor, The group performed a large repertoire of pieces for amplified string quartet by Soldier, often with rock trap set. bass violin and additional percussion and vocalists, and toured widely for 14 years. The quatet also introduced numerous works by composers including microtonal works by Xenakis, Wyshnedgradsky, Teo Macero, Jon Catler, and Phill Niblock, and works by Fred Frith, Leroy Jenkins, Nicolas Collins, Zeena Parkins, Sussan Deyhim, Amina Claudine Myers, and Elliott Sharp, for whom they recorded 6 CDs of material. The quartet worked with John Cale, a member of the Velvet Underground who similarly melded classical and rock music from 1992-1998, including recording 6 albums of works written by Cale and arranged by Soldier, and recorded with other members of the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, jazz drummer Tony Williams, and flutist Robert Dick, as well as groups from Africa and Latin America. Performers in the quartet at times include Regina Carter, Todd Reynolds, Laura Seaton, Ron Lawrence, Martha Mooke, many of whom then founded their own similar new music quartets.

With the quartet, Soldier introduced the practice of transcribing unnotated works for classical players, including Delta blues by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Skip James, and Robert Pete Williams, and popular musicians such as Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Like the electric string quartet, this has since become a widespread phenomenon. His interest in traditional and unnotated music led to field recordings in Mayan Indian mountain villages in northern Guatemala and northern Thailand.

In 1994, Soldier founded the punk Delta blues group, the Kropotkins, members of which include percussionists Jonathan Kane and Maureen Tucker of the Velvet Underground, violinists Charlie Burnham and Mark Feldman, and singer Lorette Velvette. He has since 2004 worked with musicians from the flamenco and Arabic traditions, and has a repertoire of music composed for these players under the name The Spinozas.

Soldier’s compositions encompass a variety of styles, some of which exist only for very particular pieces.

In 2000, Soldier first traveled to northern Thailand and with Thai American conservationist Richard Lair, founded the Thai Elephant Orchestra, consisting of 16 elephants resident at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Thailand. This group uses giant instruments he constructed in a Lampang metal shop, played by trunk or foot, and has recorded three CDs and appears widely in film and television. He has also developed instruments for zebra finches, who trigger synthesizers with their beaks.

Since the mid-nineties, he has coached musically naďve children to compose music, resulting in CDs including Da Hiphop Raskalz by children in East Harlem, an avant garde jazz group, the Tangerine Awkestra, from Brooklyn, and Yol K’u by Mayan Indian children in San Mateo Ixtatan, Guatemala playing hocketed music on indigenous giant marimbas. These efforts, which attempt to enable children to rapidly create music that they like, have promulgated other projects in school systems in Boston, New York, and Montreal (www.kidcompsers.com).

Other conceptually oriented projects include The People’s Choice Music: the Most Wanted and Unwanted songs, following poll results of likes and dislikes of the American population, one of several collaborations with the Russian artists Komar & Melamid; and the Brainwave Music Project, using electroencephalograms to trigger and compose music, with Brad Garton of the Columbia University Electronic Music Studio. He cowrote two musical theater works with author Kurt Vonnegut.

Soldier’s compositions for classical musicians tend to feature elements of medieval and baroque counterpoint, rock and blues music, and jazz, often with complex rhythmic syncopation and polyrhythm. Soldier entirely lacks academic musical training and his stands apart from contemporary concert styles, and he has never received any award, grant, or commission in music. He has however had success in writing for virtuosic performers, and his works have been recorded by pianists Steven Beck and Christopher O’Riley, organist Walter Hilse, accordionist William Schimmel, flutist Robert Dick, cellist Erik Friedlander, violinists Mark Feldman and Rebecca Cherry, bass vocalist Wilbur Pauley, and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra.

Since 1995, Soldier has been a professor in the Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neuroscience departments at Columbia University Medical School, where he conducts research devoted to understanding the synaptic basis of habit learning and the cause and treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders (www.Sulzerlab.org).


Solo Piano: Hockets & Inventions (2010, 30 min) Five Little Monsters (7 min, 2010)

Organ: Hockets & Inventions (1990, 30 min)

Violin & Piano: The Complete Victrola Sessions (2010, 1 hour, collection 12 pieces)

String Quartet: Sequence Girls (1985) Quartet #1 The Impossible (1989), Quartet #2, Bambatta Variations (1992) Quartet #3, The Essential: Fourier Transformations (2009), with brainwaves

Solo woodwind: Utah Dances (1990)

Violin and Cello: Duo Sonata (1988, 30 min)

Violin, cello, and keyboard: Clever Hans (ballet) (2005, 20 min)

Piano trio: Ultraviolet Railroad (2010, 25 min) Accordion: Sontag in Sarajevo (1993) To Spike Jones in Heaven (1989, 7 min)

Elephant Orchestra: Symphony #1 (2001)

Double concerto for violin and cello, Ultraviolet Railroad (1991, 25 min)

Song Cycles with chamber group: Chorea Lascicia, aka Smut (1991, 30 min) Ice-9 Ballads (with Kurt Vonnegut) (1995, 30 min)

Electronics: Matarile (1993) East St. Louis, 1968 for viola or synthesizer and electronics (1999, 8 min)

Musical Theater: The Apotheosis of John Brown (text from Frederick Douglass) (1990.35 min) Mark Twain’s War Prayer for gospel choir (1993, 30 min) A Soldier’s Story (with Kurt Vonnegut) (2002, 30 min) Naked Revolution, an opera with Komar & Melamid and Maita di Niscemi, libretto (1997)

Conceptual Works

The People;s Choice The Most Wanted Song, The Most Unwanted Song (with Komar & Melamid) (1997, 5 min and 25 min respectively), lyrics Nina Mankin

The Thai Elephant Orchestra (2000-) with 16 elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, Lampang

Zebra Finch music (2004) with miniature synthesizers played by songbirds

The Tangerine Awkestra (1999) with Brooklyn schoolchildren and Katie Down

Da Hiphop Raskalz (2004) with Harlem schoolchildren

Yol K’u (2007) with Guatemalan schoolchildren

Brainwave Music Project (2008-) for musicians & brainwaves, with Brad Garton

Film & TV Scores The Violinist (2010), Mekong Delta (2004) Arrangements for I Shot Andy Warhol and Basquiat (with John Cale) Various pieces for Sesame Street

Websites: www.davesoldier.com www.mulatta.org www.kidcomposers.com www.Sulzerlab.org

Selected Discography:

As leader / co-leader

The Complete Victrola Sessions (2010, Mulatta) for violin & piano Water Music (2010, Mulatta) for the Thai Elephant Orchestra The Kropotkins Paradise Square (2010, Mulatta) Yol Ku', Inside the Sun: Mayan Mountain Music (2008, Mulatta) Chamber Music (2007, Mulatta) Da Hiphop Raskalz (2006, Mulatta) Soldier Stories (2005, Mulatta) with Kurt Vonnegut Elephonic Rhapsodies (2004, Mulatta) for the Thai Elephant Orchestra Soldier String Quartet Inspect for Damaged Gods (2004, Mulatta) Thai Elephant Orchestra (2001, Mulatta) Ice-9 Ballads (2001, Mulatta, rerelease 2009) with Kurt Vonnegut The Kropotkins Five Points Crawl (2000, Mulatta) The People's Choice: Music (reissued 2000, Mulatta) (1997, Dia) the Tangerine Awkestra Aliens Took My Mom (2000, Mulatta) Jazz Standards on Mars (1997, Enja) Soldier String Quartet with Robert Dick The Kropotkins (1996, Koch) Soldier String Quartet She's Lightning When She Smiles (1996, NewTone) Smut (1994, Avant) War Prayer (1994, Newport Classic) The Apotheosis of John Brown (1993, Newport Classic) Soldier String Quartet Sojourner Truth (1991, Newport Classic) Romances From the Second Line (1990, Newport Classic) Soldier String Quartet Sequence Girls (1988, Rift Records)

Arranger, performer, or composer (selected) Samm Bennett The Big Off (1993, Knitting Factory) violin John Cale and Strings(1992, Risc Disc) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet John Cale Paris S'Eveille (1993, Crepuscule) orchestral arrangements, conductor, violin John Cale and Bob Neuwirth, Last Day on Earth (1994, MCA) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet John Cale Antartida (1995, Disques du Crepuscule) conductor, orchestral arrangements, violin John Cale Walking on Locusts (1996, Rykodisc) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet John Cale Eat and Kiss (1997, Rykodisc) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet John Cale Dance Music (1998, Detour/ Warner Bros.) orchestral arranger Nicolas Collins A Dark & Stormy Night (1992, Trace Elements ) violin with Soldier String Quartet Sussann Deyhim Madman of God (1999, Crammed Disc) violin Robert Dick Third Stone from the Sun (1993, New World) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet Grupo Wara Malombo (1990 South American release) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet Guided by Voices Do the Collapse (1999, TVT) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet Guided by Voices Hold on Hope(2000, EP, TVT) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet Guided by Voices Isolation Drills (2001, TVT) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet Jessie Harris While the Music Lasts, (2004, Virgin) arrangements by Van Dyke Parks, with Soldier String Quartet Jonas Hellborg and Tony Williams The Word (1992, Island/Axiom) violin with Soldier String Quartet William Hooker Trio Yearn for Certainty (2010, ESP records / Engine) violin, guitar, banjo with William Hooker and Sabir Mateen Le Nouvelles Polyponies Corses (Corsican Polyphony) Le Praiduisu (1999, Mercury) violin, arranger Leroy Jenkins Themes & Variations on the Blues (1994, CRI) violin with Soldier String Quartet Mandeng Eletrik (2004, Mulatta) violin Richard Meyer (1994, Shanachie) Letter from the Open Sky violin Jenny Muldaur Angry Elves (2002) piano Bob Neuwirth and John Cale, Last Day on Earth (1994, MCA) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet Phill Niblock / Soldier String Quartet Early Winter (1994, XI Records) violin with Soldier String Quartet The Ordinaires The Ordinaires (1987, Dossier) violin Christina Rosenvinge Foreign Land (2002, Lcd) arranger, violin with Soldier String Quartet Elliott Sharp / Soldier String Quartet Tessalation Row (1987, SST) violin with Soldier String Quartet Elliott Sharp & Carbon Larynx (1987, SST) violin Elliott Sharp / Soldier String Quartet Hammer, Anvil, Stirrup (1989, SST ) violin with Soldier String Quartet Elliott Sharp / Soldier String Quartet Twistmap (1991, EarRational) violin with Soldier String Quartet Elliott Sharp & Carbon Abstract Repressionism, violin(1992, Victo) violin Elliott Sharp / Soldier String Quartet Cryptoid Fragments (1993, Extreme Records) violin with Soldier String Quartet Elliott Sharp / Soldier String Quartet Xeno-Codex (1996, Tzadik) violin with Soldier String Quartet Elliott Sharp / Soldier String Quartet Rheo/Umbra (1998, Zoar) violin with Soldier String Quartet Elliott Sharp & Carbon Syndakit, violin(1999, Zoar) violin Elliott Sharp / Soldier String Quartet String Quartets 1986-1996 (2003, Tzadik) violin with Soldier String Quartet Tango Project White Rabbit (1992, Newport Classic) composition (One Night) Lorette Velvette Lost Part of Me (1998, Veracity) banjo, violin