MICHAEL CENTURY is a Professor in the Arts Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which he joined in August, 2002. Long associated with The Banff Centre for the Arts, Century founded the Centre's Media Arts Division in 1988. From 1993-1996, Century was a program manager at the Canadian Centre for Information Technology Innovation (CITI), a federal research laboratory located in Montreal, with responsibility for new media arts funding. From 1996-98, he served as policy advisor to the federal department of Canadian Heritage. Since September 1997, he has been the principal of Next Century Consultants, focusing on new media and cultural policy for various public and university sector clients. For the Rockefeller Foundation in 1999, he researched and wrote a report entitled Pathways to Innovation in Digital Culture. He served as panelist and co-author for the National Research Council (Beyond Productivity: Information Technology, Innovation, and Creative Practices ) and the Social Sciences Research Council in New York.
Century founded the Centre's Media Arts Division in 1988. This pioneering program was one of the first to focus on the artistic potential of interactive computer technologies. Notable projects produced during Century's headship include The Glenn Gould Hypermedia Profile (1989, English language text by B.W. Powe; the Artist's Television Workshop; and The Art and Virtual Environments project (1991-94). This project was the first large-scale and sustained investigation of virtual reality technologies as a new medium for artists; the completed installations have been displayed in exhibitions and festivals worldwide, and the entire project is documented in a book-length collection Immersed in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments (MIT Press, 1996). Century was co-responsible for designing, staffing and operating new studios for sound, video and interactive media at the Banff Centre's complex for electronic media, the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Building, and for developing funding and research relationships with corporate, academic and government agency partners. Between 1991-93 he also was the Centre's Director of Program Development, responsible for program review and planning for Media, Visual, and Literary Arts, Theatre and Music.
Century taught cultural studies at Trent University, and Canadian Studies at the University of Baroda, India. In 1997 he became a Research Fellow at the McGill University Centre for Research on Canadian Cultural Industries and Institutions, and began teaching graduate seminars in music and communications at the same university.
From 1993-96 Century worked for the Canadian Centre for Information Technology Innovation (CITI), a federal research laboratory located in Montréal. He initiated a new research group focused on content design for hypermedia networks. Also at CITI, Century managed the Pan-Canadian network of research centres, a national multimedia consortium. Century served as Senior Policy Advisor on New Technologies in the Department of Canadian Heritage (the federal department responsible for cultural affairs) from 1996-98. In this role he worked as an expert advising the federal Information Highway Advisory Council, the Federal Task Force on Digitization, and has represented Canada at international congresses and specialized working groups on these topics.
Century has lectured and consulted extensively on topics related to art and new media technologies at conferences and symposia in North America, Europe, Japan, Korea and India. As invited keynote speaker, Century has addressed international congresses including Digital World (Los Angeles), International Mécanat Congress (Tokyo), Image and Sound Festival (The Hague), Computer Art Festival in Seoul, the European network for research on Intelligent Information Interfaces, and numerous national conferences and festivals in Canada. One of the instigators of the 1995 International Symposium on Electronic Art, held in Montreal, he was responsible for the selection of and production of Special Projects including the Tunnel under the Atlantic, by Maurice Benayoun, a world-première virtual reality exhibition linking the Musée d’art contemporaine de Montréal with the Pompidou Centre in Paris. As well Century has served as a Canada Council juror and advisor, and on the selection panel of the Strategic Research grant program of the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council.
At the Banff Centre for the Arts, Century headed the Inter-Arts program which produced the acclaimed 1985 Festival production of R. Murray Schafer's Princess of the Stars, an opera performed at dawn on a wilderness lake. He organized workshops in jazz, music improvisation, dance for television, acoustic ecology, electro-acoustic music, harmonic singing, multimedia theatre, and African music. In 1980 he coordinated an Advanced Workshop in Improvisational Composition under the artistic direction of Karl Berger. (See vimeo for ½ hour documentary.) As coordinator of the Banff Jazz Workshop, Century collaborated with David Holland throughout the 1980s in building the reputation of this program as the leading creative jazz summer program. In his duties as program planner, Century helped launch new successful training programs including the Banff Publishing Workshop, the Arts Journalism Program, and the Leighton Artist Colony. As manager of the Artist Colony, Century established exchanges with similar artist-residency programs around the world. He researched and wrote the Banff Centre's 1982 Task Force on Communications Technology, which laid out the blueprint for subsequent program design.
Century has composed a series of works for piano and computer-processed voice which have been performed at music festivals in Canada and broadcast nationally on the CBC. Musical direction credits include R. Murray Schafer's Princess of the Stars, and John Cage's Songbooks, both in collaboration with the composer. In addition to performing as a pianist and conductor, he has composed for voice, chamber music combinations, and jazz and rock groups. He began playing the accordion in 2008 and has composed new works for the instrument, including Within and Without (2012) with live electronic processing.
With Shawn Lawson, he performs in the audio visual duo Liveware. Lawson creates on the fly computer graphics while live coding. A selection of documentation follows: Latent Cartographies (2021), PBS profile, concert recording from the Experimental Media and Performing Art Center (2017). Also with Lawson, he created an interactive application in 2012 based on Bach’s Goldberg Variations (free download from the iTunes store); documentation of the same work arranged for Disklavier player piano and Nintendo game controller can be found on vimeo)
At Rensselaer, he has directed a variety of new music performing projects through the Rensselaer Contemporary Music Ensemble, showcasing since 2008 performances of works by Eastman, Rzewski, Tenney, Oliveros, Vivier, Leach, Cage, Feldman, Monk, Mazzolli, Glass, Riley, Reich, Klucevsek, Adams, Nyman, Crumb, Kennedy, Lindemann, and Ibarra as well as Bach, Mozart, Bartok, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Weill. He was a co-organizer of the 2013 Earth Week Festival, Sensing Environments. For this festival, he commissioned and produced the première of Susie Ibarra’s Circadian Rhythms, for 77 percussionists and surround soundtrack.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Century is dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada. He earned an Honours B.A. degree from the University of Toronto, and an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, both in music history and theory. His principal piano teacher in Toronto was Reginald Godden. At Berkeley he also studied and performed Javanese gamelan and West African drumming. He earned his licentiate (A.R.C.T.) in Piano Performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto, in 1973. As well he studied privately with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, French at the Sorbonne, electronic music, sound engineering and orchestral conducting at the University of Iowa, and computer music at the Eastman School of Music. He has been married since 1984 to visual artist Barbara Todd, and they have two sons, Louis and Adam.