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Kevin Volans

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Kevin Volans is a composer associated with the post-minimalist movement in contemporary composition. He was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on July 6, 1949, and even though he has spent most of his life outside his native country, is the best known South African composer active today.

In 1972, he graduated from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg with a Bachelors of Music degree, followed by post-graduate education at the University of Aberdeen. From 1973 to 1981 he lived in Cologne, where he studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Musikhochschule. He later became Stockhausen’s teaching assistant.

During this period of time, along with his contemporaries Walter Zimmermann and Clarence Barlow, he became associated with the musical movement called the “New Simplicity” that would later influence post-minimalist composition. This was a reaction against the complexities and hyperbole of the new music scene in Germany in the mid-1970s, and it proved to be highly influential.

After conducting several field recording trips in 1979, Volans began writing pieces based upon African compositional techniques. This characteristic made him one of the most distinctive composers on the European new music circuit at the time. Some of his works such as Matepe and the first version of White Man Sleeps utilize early music instruments including harpsichord (tuned in African tuning) and viola da gamba.

The first of his compositions to reach a wide audience was a new version of White Man Sleeps, made at the suggestion of the Kronos Quartet in 1985.

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