Copyright © jwb 1997-2003.
Photos: Bob Paz, Caltech.

James Boyk
Pianist in Residence, 1974-2004
Lecturer in Music, in the Dept. of Electrical Engineering, 1979-2005
Director of the Music Lab, 1979-2004
California Institute of Technology

 
Email: boyk@caltech.edu

Curriculum Vitae

Participants' comments on my Caltech activities:

 

My 30th anniversary as Caltech's Pianist in Residence, March 31, 2004. With cake before Alive! with Music session.


 

Please Note! Jan. 30, 2006
I'm still teaching pianists and coaching all instruments in private lessons in Pasadena and West Los Angeles. If interested, please read this (updated November, 2005 with much new material), then email. To learn about my albums, including the recent "Tonalities of Emotion," and about my concerts and master-classes, see Performance Recordings.

 



December, 2005: What follows went out of date in Summer, 2004, when my position was cut by Caltech after 30+ years. I leave the material here to give the flavor of the activities for interested visitors.

I've always been in love with sound, and the piano is at the center of my work and my professional identity. I perform, teach private students, and conduct informal weekly music & talk sessions (open to the public) at Caltech. (Miv Schaaf wrote in the Los Angeles Times about her visits to these sessions.)
      In 1977, I began producing albums of my concerts. They've received warm reviews and some unusual "endorsements": for instance, being included in a massive theft from the U.S. distributor, and targeted by bootleggers pretending to be potential foreign distributors. I spent over a decade developing a master recorder called MagnesaurusTM, which was the subject of a feature interview with me in REP (Recording Engineer/Producer) magazine.

25th anniversary concert as Caltech Pianist in Residence.
Am now in 31st year.
Schumann's Träumerei from those concerts (2'11"; 5.2MB).


      I've engineered and produced albums for Sheffield Lab, working with the Los Angeles Philharmonic & Maestro Erich Leinsdorf, the Kodo Drummers of Japan, and the Chicago Symphony Winds. I find that involvement in engineering & production fosters my growth as a pianist.
      Few musicians get involved "on both sides of the microphone," more's the pity; but all students and teachers can use tape recording as a powerful tool in practicing and teaching. Taping lets us hear ourselves more objectively, work more efficiently, and play more expressively. Read all about it in my book, To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us. I moderate a Web forum for readers of the book. Some musicians say that the hassle of choosing & using audio gear prevents them from recording themselves; so for them, I've designed a hassle-free stereo microphone.
      Over the years, I've written articles about finding a piano teacher, choosing your stereo system, the critical lack of fine concert piano technicians, philosophy of testing audio equipment, and other subjects. The full texts of many of these are now available, including scientific papers on musical-instrument sound and, with Prof. Gerald J. Sussman of MIT, on "Small-signal distortion in feedback amplifiers for audio." Sometimes I lose control and post to the Usenet, where Nonsense Expands To Fill The Bandwidth Allotted To It; usually I have better sense, though. A fun assignment was to answer three questions in the fewest words for the Mars Millennium Project. I've also enjoyed writing ultra-short essays for two little books; one about what pianists should know about the piano; the other in the form of an "abecedarian" (a-b-c-darian), which I call "A Musician's ABC's" because no one knows the word "abecedarian."
      I always wanted to write a big book called Music Praxis ("Exercise or practice of an art, science, or skill -Webster), and recently realized that I have been writing it--in sections.  Part I: Albums and program notes (linked from the same page).  Part II: Book, To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us.  Part III: Know Thy Piano and A Musician's ABC's.  Part IV: Essays In Love with Sound and The Endangered Piano Technician.  Part V: Articles Keys to Success and 10 Feet, 1 1/4 Inches.  Part VI: (In progress.) Novel centered on music and musicians.  Part VII: (In progress.) Lesson notes.  Part VIII: (In progress.) Ten Thousand Days: A Pianist at Caltech.  Part IX: (In progress.) Steinway & Me.
      Since 1978, I've consulted on high-quality recording & playback with record companies, audio equipment manufacturers and music lovers. I also consult on piano care; and I've advised on acoustics, too. If you're building a new auditorium or renovating an old one, these memos on acoustics may be useful.
      When a Hungarian publication did a feature review of some of my albums, they commissioned the artwork below to reflect my involvement in both performing and recording. Boyk the Magician
      In my Caltech course, "Projects in Music & Science" (EE/Mu 107), I get to integrate all of the above; but mostly I get to learn a lot from the students as they choose their projects & and carry out their work with tenacity, intelligence & verve.
      As artist in residence at Caltech (since Spring, 1974), I perform in the beautiful Craftsman-style Dabney Lounge, which has the best acoustics in Los Angeles. If you're in the area, join us for my next concert. (Dabney will be closed for a year or more starting Fall, 2003 for renovation.)
      My book, To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us, is a practical guide to using tape recording as a tool in practicing and teaching. It's been warmly welcomed by such famous performers as Yehudi Menuhin and André Watts. This book is a very practical manual, but at the beginning, I show the motivation for the work in these words:

From Deep Inside
     Trapped in the cage of my own personality, I feel an urgent and personal need to communicate through music, which liberates me and stops the inner dialogue. In music I find the self of which I can be conscious only in performance, when consciousness expands. I work out my destiny onstage.
     The destiny is mediated by notes. I must perform so they are transparent to the music. And the music must be transparent to the emotion. In performance, I have been conscious at times of neither notes nor music, but only of being a locus of activity, a streambed for a torrent of feeling.
     I am greedy to spend all possible time like this. Everything of which I can normally be conscious must be mastered to clear the way for the magic which appears only in performance. From the hidden source of musical ideas, deepest feelings, magic visions beyond words, comes the call to voyage; and I must be ready.