Born 25 February, 1942, Schenectady, NY. The family moved to Syracuse, New York when he was 6 months old. His parents were very musical, and his father was well-known as a tenor soloist in the choir of Assumption Church. Archer got started in music by studying piano with first with Miss Richards and then with Mrs. Price; he began composing while in high school at Christian Brothers Academy.
Studies in philosophy (BA Summa cum Laude 1965, St. Hyacinth College, Mass.), with the emphasis on existential themes and an interest in creativity. During this time, his attention became increasingly focused on music composition.
He attended summer schools at Peabody Conservatory studying music history, theory and composition with Louis Cheslock and counterpoint with Stefan Grové.
At Union College, Schenectady, New York, he studied composition with composer/conductor Edgar Curtis, earning a Masters degree in Teaching (MAT). During this period he had a special opportunity to work closely with Edgar and his composition students. Edgar's profound humanity, passionate understanding of musical form and love of composition have remained life-long inspirations. At Union College, he also presented courses on American music and on 20th-century music.
He then went to the University of York, England, where he studied electronic music with Richard Orton, composition with Bernard Rands, and was constantly inspired by the books, methods and lectures of Professor Wilfrid Mellors. While studying at York, he developed an individual style rooted in the study of melody, finding particular inspiration in Indian music and Arabic maqam.
He received the orchestral commission for 1974, for which he wrote Amoeba, a study in the pursuit of personal identity, with 2 conductors, one of whom has an acting/speaking role, soprano soloist, and an orchestra which speaks and sings as well as plays.
He was active as a composer/performer in the experimental music theatre group formed at the University by Bernard Rands, working with composers Roger Marsh, Steve Stanton, Jonty Harrison and vocalist Melody Lovelace. He wrote the music theatre piece Savari II for this group, and performed in it as the 'overseer', a vocal role.
He graduated in 1975 with a Ph.D. in composition.
Commissions / Teaching
His main focus for the next 10 years was on composition, receiving commissions from Yorkshire Arts (Lift-Off ), Merseyside Arts (Sonata a Due) and Midlands Arts (Corona Quintet). He is self-employed, worked for a time as music editor and copyist for Edition Eulenburg and Edition Kunzelmann via Heinz Herschmann, and has taught part time at Bingley College of Further Education (composition), The University of York (English Department: music & text), Sheffield Polytechnic, and the Open University (practical project in composition).
During 1976 and 1977 he formed his own music theatre group and presented concerts at the Edinburgh Fringe during the summers of both those years, featuring his compositions Visitation, Savari II, The Panther and The Burial of the Moon.
He was active in the local composer/performer organisation SOUNDPOOL for which he wrote several compositions, including Cartoon for instrumental ensemble. He then joined with colleagues in York to form INTERFACE, which was concerned with discussing and performing electroacoustic music. With the advent of the first personal computers in 1981, the members of this group became rapidly and increasingly involved with computer programming for music.
Composers' Desktop Project
The latter led to the formation of The Composers' Desktop Project ('CDP') in 1986, an independent organisation which developed one of the world's first systems for direct-to-disk computer recording with particular emphasis on sound transformations for music composition. This system moved over the years from the Atari ST (with specialist hardware designed by Dave Malham) to the Atari TT030 & Falcon030, and to Silicon Graphics machines, and then to PC in the mid '90's (Win 95 thru Windows 7), and finally also to the Apple Mac through the efforts of Richard Dobson.
CDP has been set up as an international cooperative effort among composers. Archer has served as its Adminstrator and Coordinator since 1987 and as author/editor of its extensive reference documentation. With several outstanding colleagues working at the cutting edge of musical development, the functionality of CDP software expanded steadily over the next 12 years and now comprises one of the most comprehensive sets of software for sound design in the world. In 2014 CDP was reformed as a Social Enterprise. Its main body of software hundreds of processes primarily written by Trevor Wishart is now a free download. After three decades of developing software, it now aims to build an international community of users & developers and to play a greater role in education. CDP's website address is: http://www.composersdesktop.com.
CDP at PACT, Bristol
In 1996 he and his wife moved to Chippenham, Wiltshire in order to work more closely with colleague Richard Dobson and to take advantage of an offer of premises for CDP at PACT in Bristol (The Partnership for Advanced Computer Technology). While there, with technical help from Trevor Wishart and Richard Dobson, he re-wrote all the CDP reference documentation and put it into HTML format, a project which took 4 years to complete. During the same period he designed and wrote the pages for the CDP website and continued to handle CDP sales and admin.
Wiltshire College, Chippenham
With CDP continuing to develop, Archer taught for a year at Wiltshire Community College, Chippenham (sound design). He also held a position as Research Fellow at the University of Bath, where he focused on studying the potential of musical 'deep structure' and pattern language as a creative tool, something with which he has been concerned since his days in York. He also turned his attention more directly to composition and to preparing tutorial and workshop materials on advanced sound design. His soundscape composition Crossing the Dark Rift (32 min.), was created entirely with the CDP software. It was written to accompany the 'Mystery of the Maya' exhibition of amazing sculptural textiles by Pat Warrington, which had its first public presentation in the Harding Gallery in Lincoln.
Millennium Sound Design
Between 2002 and 2004 Archer worked in the Community as 'Millennium Sound Design', having received a government Millennium Award. These workshops began with recording some sounds. The participants then used a selection of computer software (drawn from the Composers Desktop Project package) to explore transforming the sounds they recorded, thereby learning how sound can be altered to create specific effects for use in films etc.
Between 2006 and 2013 Archer worked closely with musician and programmer, Richard Orton (d. Feb.2013), on developing ProcessPack. This is designed as a companion to the CDP software and is guided by his research on musical micro-forms. The software aims to work on a higher compositional level than individual sound processes.
While in Chippenham, Archer worked with Richard Dobson on data sonification. Thanks to Lily Asquith at UCL, they had access to simulated data from the Large Hadron Collider. Lily set up the LHCsound Project with funding from the Science and Technology Research Council (STRC). This work is available on the Project's website http://lhcsound.hep.ucl.ac.uk, which sonified mostly simulated data from the Large Hadron Collider. Richard and Archer led an all-day workshop in sonification for A-level students at UCL on 27 July 2011.
After this project they joined Computing at School (CAS) and worked together to develop computer scripts with audio output as teaching models for learning how to write computer programs in schools. Some of this work was presented at BETT 2014 thanks to sponsorship from OCR (The Oxford & Cambridge Exam Board). They also gave a workshop under the auspices of CAS at the Royal High School, Bath.
In 2015 he and his wife moved to Plymouth, Devon where he is continuing with his musical activities and as a Director of the Composers Desktop Project. Algorithmic scripting is increasingly an important component in his compositions.
Last updated: 11 March 2017