Since 2000 when Thomas A. Langford, former Duke University Provost, Dean and Divinity School faculty member passed away, Duke has continued to remember his legacy through the Thomas Langford Lectureship awards.
Each year, several new or newly promoted Duke faculty are chosen to receive the award, based on the appeal of their research to an interdisciplinary audience and their embodiment of Langford’s dedication to teaching, research and service. The goals of the Langford program—to support and honor intellectual life at Duke, and to offer a platform for faculty to engage in interdisciplinary exchange—remain vibrantly alive with this year’s slate of awardees.
Last Tuesday, Langford honoree John Supko shared his work with colleagues and friends who gathered at the Doris Duke Center to hear Supko’s lecture, interspersed with selections from his compositions. Supko recently received tenure with his promotion to Associate Professor in the Music Department, and was chosen by the Duke Appointments, Promotions and Tenure committee as one of three awardees this year.
Supko’s music engages with the process of discovery through novel computational strategies. He works in a relatively unexplored field of generative music produced by algorithms that suggest unexpected combinations of sounds, rhythms and harmonies. The resulting pieces are by turns mysterious, serene, frightening and poetic.
On this spring-like day, sounds created by Supko and his occasional collaborators filled the high wooden-beamed room of the Doris Duke Center. Supko’s music has been described as spell-bindingly beautiful, hypnotic and eerie, and he offered selections that proved each of those descriptions and that ranged from ethereal to jarring.
Last semester Erich Jarvis, a former Duke neurobiologist now at The Rockefeller University, delivered his Langford lecture “Dissecting the Molecular Mechanisms for Vocal Learning and Spoken Language: A Personal Journey” at a luncheon in his honor. This year’s third honoree is Tsitsi Jaji, who joined Duke’s faculty in 2015 as Associate Professor of English and African & African American Studies. Jaji will give her Langford lecture “Unsettling Scores: Black Revisions of the American Frontier Myth” in April.
Music is one thread that connects all three of this year’s awardees. Jarvis is known as a top researcher in the songbird field, and Jaji’s work bridges music and literature. The Langford Lectureship program continues to celebrate interdisciplinary scholarship in its fullest capacities, in tribute to Thomas Langford.