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Susman was discovered by seminal composer Earle Brown at the BMI awards in 1985. Brown later hand-picked him to receive Harvard’s coveted Fromm Music Foundation Commission, which is awarded to America’s maverick classical composers. A further distinction comes from the fact that at age 25, Susman was the youngest composer so honored. Susman’s Fromm Commission, Trailing Vortices for chamber orchestra, has since had festival performances in the US and Europe including the Aspen, Gaudeamus, and Alicante Music Festivals.
His music in the 80’s was centered around the study of Fluid Mechanics. In works such as Trailing Vortices, Streams, Turbulence, Nnyl and Streamlines he discovered that the properties of fluid: space, time, intensity, and viscosity, could be translated to similar properties in acoustics through means of pitch, time, velocity, and extended techniques. Other works from this period such as Floating Falling, Twisted Figures, Exposé, Up to the Sky, and Uprising had unusual modal qualities derived from scales and rhythms built on the Fibonacci series.
In the 90’s his influence from Afro-Cuban rhythms led to a unique use of montuño (or ostinato) in works such as Moving into an Empty Space, Six Minutes Thirty Seconds, The Starry Dynamo, Motions of Return, Patterns of Change and, The Heavens Above.
In addition to his concert work, he has scored films for the Discovery Channel including Deep Under the Ice, NASA Explores Under the Ice, and Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife. Other documentaries for television include Indonesia, The Philippines; Southern African Safari, Discovering the Amazon and the Andes, Discovering Tropical Australia, and The Elephant Seals of Año Nuevo for Rand McNally.
In 2004, he scored the documentary "Oil On Ice" featuring cello soloist Joan Jeanrenaud. This film won the 20th Annual IDA / Pare Lornetz award from the International Documentary Association. Oil On Ice has screened at film festivals worldwide and was broadcast on PBS throughout the US. In addition, "Oil on Ice" won best film score at the 2005 Moondance International Film Festival.
A native of Chicago, Susman was raised on both classical and jazz piano, and began leading his own jazz combos at age 13, and performed with his piano quintet at the renowned Ravinia Festival when he was 15. He studied with some of Chicago’s leading pianists including Pauline Lindsey (student of Artur Schnabel), Alan Swain, Willie Pickens (pianist with Dexter Gordon and Max Roach) and Steve Behr (pianist with Louis Armstrong), as well as counterpoint and theory with Ralph Dodds at Roosevelt University.
He studied composition at the University of Illinois with Herbert Brun, Ben Johnston, and Sal Martirano, and subsequently accepted a graduate fellowship at Stanford University at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) with John Chowning. Further studies in computer-generated sound led to an invitation by Pierre Boulez to work in Paris at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM).
He has received numerous awards and commissions for his orchestral works including ASCAP Grants to Composers, ASCAP Raymond Hubbell Award, BMI Young Composers Award, Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard, Gaudeamus International Musicweek, Percussive Arts Society, and KUCYNA/ALEA III International Composers Competition.