Scott Miller Makes Electronic Music

Scott Miller combines classical composition with 21st century technology to make unique music.
Maple Grove music maker Scott Miller.

Sometimes even Scott Miller has a hard time explaining what he does. Miller, a Maple Grove resident, is a musician and composer—but not in the classical sense. He’s classically trained in music, yes, but he combines that knowledge with modern technology to create electronic music.

To describe Miller’s work in the most basic sense, he makes music using electronic instruments. Sometimes that means creating sounds with an iPad or a computer, and sometimes that means playing a keyboard. He also does what’s called live coding, or programming a computer in real time to create different sounds in the moment.

Often his work is used as accompaniment for classical musicians. “I feel really lucky,” Miller says. “My career allows me to work with people from a lot of different backgrounds.”

A perfect example is a recent live performance Miller worked on with a pianist. Miller programmed different prerecorded sounds that the pianist could control with foot pedals during the performance. Most of the music sounded like a standard piano, but the sounds created by Miller added another dimension.

In another recent performance, Miller created an interactive environment for a bass clarinetist. By placing microphones in different locations around the stage, the clarinetist created sounds with his movements. Each step was choreographed with his playing to create a collaborative sound between the electronics and the clarinet.

“Part of what I love about my work is creating a situation where nobody is sure what’s going to happen,” Miller says. “There is a margin of unpredictable behavior, but it is still managed.”

Miller began playing music as a child, starting with the piano. He stuck with it through high school, playing in garage bands with his friends, and “probably not taking performing as seriously as I should have,” he says.

After high school, he enrolled in a music business program as an undergraduate at the State University of New York–Oneonta. He became interested in composition, discovering a whole side of music he had never explored. At the same time, he started playing around with technology and learning about how music and computers could work together.

He went on to get his master’s degree from the University of North Carolina in composition, followed by a PhD in composition theory from the University of Minnesota. After focusing more on classical composition for his masters, it was at the University of Minnesota that he renewed his interest in electronics.

After obtaining his PhD, Miller began teaching at St. Cloud State University in 1993 and has been working in the music department there ever since.

Troy Rogers was a student of Miller’s in the mid-1990s at St. Cloud State. “He was a good teacher and a good mentor,” Rogers says. “A mentor with a capital ‘M.’” Rogers followed a similar path as Miller, incorporating music with technology. He creates robotic instruments, and has collaborated with Miller on several projects.

One of those projects brought Miller to Copenhagen, Denmark. He’s been all over the world as a result of his work, and received numerous awards. A top prize was the McKnight Composer Fellowship, a $25,000 prize given to four Minnesota composers each year. Miller has received the distinguished honor twice. The money allowed Miller to invest in his career by purchasing equipment, recording new works and releasing a CD called Tipping Point last May.

Miller is also a Fulbright Scholar, which allowed him to visit the Estonia Academy of Music and Theater, where he taught electronic music composition for five months.

With all of his accomplishments, Miller has shown what can be done with music technology. His work speaks for itself—which is for the best, because sometimes it can be hard to describe.