A composer, professor and pioneer in electronic and electro-acoustic music, who helped develop the Synclavier, an early digital synthesizer, has died.
Jon Appleton died Jan. 30 in White River Junction, Vt., at the age of 83, his son JJ Appleton said Wednesday.
Appleton, who was born in Los Angeles, became part of the faculty at Dartmouth College in 1967 and developed one of the first programs and studios for electronic music in the country.
“That really was a pioneering vision of his to create a center for electronic music at Dartmouth and it propelled Dartmouth very quickly to the forefront of the work in electronic, electro-acoustic music,” said colleague and friend Theodore Levin, the Arthur R. Virgin Professor of Music at Dartmouth.
While he was a musical visionary and one of the pioneers of electronic and electro-acoustic music, he “wasn’t a geek or a gearhead … whirling knobs and moving slider bars to make weird sounds,” contrary to stereotypes, particularly in the early years, Levin said.
“He couldn’t have been farther from that. He was at heart a kind of musical romantic,” he said.
Appleton’s interest in electronic music was on the side of electro-acoustic, “as a way to extend the expressive possibilities and potential of acoustic musical instruments and the human voice,” Levin said.
“I think he regarded his electronic music as a kind of folk music for our age,” he said.
The Synclavier, developed in 1975 by Appleton, Dartmouth Thayer School of Engineering research professor Sydney Alonso and student Cameron Jones, went on to become the Rolls Royce of the music industry, selling for $75,000 to $500,000, and used by Sting, Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, and many other musicians, according to Dartmouth Engineer Magazine.
At Dartmouth, Appleton was the Arthur R. Virgin Professor of Music Emeritus and the Ted and Helen Geisel Professor in the Humanities Emeritus. He also had been a visiting professor at Keio University in Tokyo, Japan; the University of California, Santa Cruz; the Moscow Conservatory in Russia and the University of Hawaii.
He was beloved by many of his students, said JJ Appleton.
“He was a composer, a very accomplished one, but he was also a very accomplished professor and mentor to a lot of people,” he said.