Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
Soldier's given name is David Sulzer (under which name he is a professor and lab master at Columbia University's Laboratory of Dopamine Neurotransmission in New York City). Soldier's music is largely conceptual: for one recent work -- A Thai Elephant Orchestra -- he trained a group of elephants to improvise on a variety of instruments, another features a group of Brooklyn schoolchildren performing free improvisation. Not all of his work is so totally off-the-wall, however; as violinist and leader of the Soldier String Quartet, Soldier has written and/or performed traditionally notated pieces that draw upon every possible music style, from serialism to Delta blues. Soldier grew up in southern Illinois where he was exposed to vernacular music common to the area, particularly country and R&B. His earliest influences included James Brown and Isaac Hayes. Soldier also listened to classical music. He learned to play viola, violin, piano, and eventually guitar. He moved with his family to Storrs, CT, at the age of 16, where he became enamoured with salsa music. He attended Michigan State University as an undergraduate and attempted a study of classical composition. He found that stultifying, however, and instead studied privately with the avant-garde jazz saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell. He lived in Florida briefly, where he played guitar in Bo Diddley's band. He relocated to New York in 1981, where he attended Columbia University and earned his PhD in neuroanatomy. He supported himself at the time through music; he played in various salsa, classical, and rock-oriented bands in the early '80s. He studied composition with Otto Luening and formed his quartet in 1985. Soldier had an affinity for the polyphony evident in the Haydn and Beethoven quartets. He aimed to highlight the anachronism that stemmed from having a classical ensemble play in contemporary popular idioms. Soldier found that -- in the hands of players who understood the contrasting styles -- string instruments could play the blues. He also incorporated a drummer into the quartet. The Soldier String Quartet also performs works by other composers, for example: John Cale, Elliott Sharp, Iannis Xennakis, and Phill Niblock. Soldier also performs with a country blues band called the Kropotkins. In 2000, Soldier started his own record label, Mulatta, which will document his projects, including the elephant piece and the child improvisers. Thai Elephant Orchestra was released in spring 2001.