October 8, 2014

Professors Remember Cornell Graduate Student Who Died Wednesday

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Taylan Cihan grad, a music student in the College of Arts and Sciences, died Wednesday morning. He was 36.

Cihan, a doctoral student, studied composition and was a founding member of the Cornell Avant Garde Ensemble — a campus music group focused on improvisation — according to a statement from Gretchen Ritter ’83, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Information about the cause of his death was unavailable Wednesday night.

Cihan was a “singular artist and person” who was extremely dedicated to his work, according to Prof. Kevin Ernste, music, who acted as Cihan’s mentor.

“He was self-driven and forged his own path, providing an example of artistic courage admired by his students, colleagues, collaborators, friends and teachers,” Ernste said.

Cihan and his work had a significant impact on his colleagues, faculty and students in the University’s music department, Ernste added.

“[He was] utterly dedicated to his own work and ideas, a musician at heart who put thousands of hours into making sound and developing unique, do-it-yourself electronic instruments for live performance,” Ernste said. “He had diligently acquired a profound expertise with these tools and loved to share his knowledge skillfully and openly with others.”

Ernste described Cihan’s music and performances in the Cornell Avant Garde Ensemble as both “edgy” and “beautifully refinoed.”

“[His] musical sensibilities helped give life to a rich, mutually serendipitous musical language that none of us who shared in it with him, Taylan included, could have expected or set out to create,” he said.

Chris Miller grad, a founding member of the Cornell Avant Garde Ensemble, said it was a “delight” playing with Cihan.

“His music was incredibly inventive and energetic — he was a major force in the group,” Miller said. “He was always making new instruments.”

As a result of his inventive spirit, Cihan frequently created his own musical technology, according to Prof. Steven Pond, music, who taught a class where Cihan served as a teaching assistant.

“He was most in his element in what he called ‘do it together’ — collaborative invention, collaborative music-making,” he said. “He was a fantastically inventive person, who had an exciting way of connecting musical composition with experimental sound technologies.”

Cihan helped to teach monthly do-it-yourself music workshops at the History Center in Tompkins County for members of the Ithaca community, Pond added.

“Taylan would teach all comers to understand the synthesizer by making a simple version of their own — no prior knowledge necessary, parts provided,” he said. “The workshop setting, always accompanied by a congenial buzzing punctuated by triumphant cries of discovery, led to a palpable sense of community.”

Prof. Steven Stucky, music, said Cihan’s peers and colleagues in the music department will miss his “unfailingly kind” presence and artistic vision.

“His vision of the intersection of technology with sound art promised to enlarge the musical world for all of us, and thus his loss is both a personal blow and an artistic one,” Stucky said.

Details about a commemorative gathering in Cihan’s memory will be announced in the next few days, according to Ritter.

“On behalf of the College of Arts and Sciences, I want to extend my deepest condolences to Taylan’s family, friends, faculty advisors, artistic collaborators, fellow graduate students, as well as those students that he taught,” Ritter said.