5431 NE 20th Ave, Portland, OR 97211
Composer, performer, historian, instrument builder, journalist, activist, kayak instructor, Bob Ostertag’s work cannot easily be summarized or pigeon-holed. He has published more than twenty CDs of music, two DVDs, and five books. His writings on contemporary politics have been published on every continent and in many languages. Electronic instruments of his own design are at the cutting edge of both music and video performance technology. He has performed at music, film, and multi-media festivals around the globe. His radically diverse collaborators include the Kronos Quartet, postmodernist John Zorn, heavy metal star Mike Patton, transgender cabaret start Justin Vivian Bond, British guitar innovator Fred Frith, Quebecois film maker Pierre Hébert, EDM star Rrose, and many others. He is rumored to have connections to the shadowy media guerrilla group The Yes Men. He is currently a professor at the University of California at Davis.
Ostertag began his musical career in 1978, touring Europe with jazz great Anthony Braxton, playing a keyboard-less modular analog synthesizer. He was not the first person to take a modular synthesizer on stage, but he was the first person to center his musical practice in a scene of “free improvisors” using a modular synth as his main ax.
In 1979 he settled in New York City and became a key part of the late 1970s “downtown” scene along with John Zorn and Eugene Chadbourne. He left music for most of the 1980s and immersed himself in the Central American revolutionary movements of the time. His goodbye to the Salvadoran revolution, a composition titled “Sooner or Later,” is considered a classic of electronic music.
In March 2006 Ostertag made all of his recordings to which he owns the rights available as free digital downloads under a Creative Commons license.
His 2012 book (co-authored with Jane McAlevey) on labor unions in the US was named by The Nation as “the most important book of 2012.” The Wire called his previous book, Creative Life, “the most lucid philosophical work on music, culture, and politics since Steve Reich’s Writings on Music.”
In 2015-2016 he went on a thirteen-month world tour, playing venues from the Strozzi Palance in Florence to DIY venues in the mountains of El Salvador to the port city of Makassar on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia.
In June 2016, the University of Massachusetts Press published his fifth book, Sex Science Self: A Social History of Estrogen, Testosterone, and Identity.
Bob Ostertag’s improvisations on various non-keyboard synthesizers are about as far removed from the electronic music clichés of the past as can be imagined.
– The New York Times
Sampling technology is used in a significant way for the first time. The music encircles reality, decomposes it into music and recomposes it until reality is no longer able to escape. Great music, that has something to do with life again.
– Die Zeit (Germany)
Perhaps the oddest music I have ever heard, it’s also more the sound of lives lived, and lives lost, than any music I have ever heard.
– Music and Sound Output
Truly powerful political art is rare, but this is some.
As beautiful as the pastoral/celestial meditations of Brian Eno or Kitaro would be — if either one of those musicians chewed glass.
– Guardian (San Francisco)
Part of you will have to be frightened, part of you hopefully will be enlightened, and part of you may be dumbfounded.
– Faster Than Sheep
Astonishingly, the music never seems artificial. The border between live improvisation and computerized manipulation blurs and is finally made irrelevant by the music which results.
– Jazzthetik (Germany)
“[Bob Ostertag’s Creative Life is] The most lucid philosophical work on music, culture and politics since Steve Reich’s Writings on Music.”
– The Wire
Ostertag’s music brings together audience and musicians alike in an almost corporeal bond — music of enormous emotional impact.
– Il Gazzettino (Italy)