Faculty & Staff Profiles

Erik Santos

Chair of Composition, Director Electronic Music Studio, Associate Professor of Composition and Performing Arts & Technology

Erik Santos is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer, and teacher, who is active in many musical genres, from rock and jazz, to classical, to electronic, world music, and music for theater and dance.

As the first-born in a family of musicians – father Rosendo Ejercito Santos, Jr., mother Harriet, brothers Nathan and Jason – music has always been at the core of his life practice, both as profession and hobby.

Santos has received commissions, prizes, fellowships, and other recognition for his concert music, including the Charles Ives Scholarship and the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as awards from Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), the MacDowell Colony, the Bozeman Symphony, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Rackham Graduate School of U-M, and the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA).

In recent years, Santos has become increasingly preoccupied with presenting music in venues other than the classical concert hall  – dance clubs, street corners, radio, theaters, churches, museums, cafes, car stereos, movies, internet, iPods, etc. – where there is more emphasis given to the interaction of music with other spontaneous sensory elements, involving listeners at the hub of a transdimensional experience. This interest flourished in 2002 when he was invited to join the pioneering and internationally celebrated Japanese butoh company Dairakudakan: Temputenshiki (avant-garde dance/theater) as a resident composer – a potent collaboration which continues to this day.

Another long-standing collaboration is the band Man from Ham.  This musical partnership with friend Brent Lewis (since high school) has always been about making music and laughter. When combined, their great duo is bolder than both of them, and mighty forces come to their aid, from many angles.

In 2005, Santos and artist/singer Toko Shiiki formed an upbeat band called October Babies, which has performed a large variety of original multi-cultural and multi-lingual dance songs in America and Japan. They are affiliated with the local Ann Arbor music label/collective Oddfellow Music. Having completed 4 albums, along with music videos and documentaries with October Babies, Santos and Shiiki became interested in filmmaking, and this led to the full-length movie Threshold: Whispers of Fukushima. This project focuses on the lives of several musicians who have continued to live in their homeland of Fukushima, Japan, despite the devastation of earthquake and tsunami, the threat of the failing nuclear reactor, and even persecution by fellow human beings.

The creative relationships formed in the making of Threshold have continued to grow. For example, in 2016, Santos and Shiiki co-organized a partnership with The University of Michigan Center for World Performance Studies, The Center for Japanese Studies, and The School of Music, Theatre & Dance, to invite the fiery Japanese youth drum ensemble Yamakiya Taiko to perform the University of Michigan for The Fukushima Tribute Concert/Residency. This week-long event began with a thunderous concert at Power Center, and continued with a bunch of rousing Taiko workshops around campus and around town. The ensemble premiered a new work Santos wrote for them and a cadre of U-M student drummers, called “Armadillo Flow.”

Santos has been an active member of Michigan local original music scene for many years, with bands October Babies, The Crossed Lines, 16 More Miles, and Citygoat, and he’s been the host of several long-running Open Mic stages in the area. These days, he’s possessed by a fresh passion for practicing – learning  unlearning, all day every day – memorizing poetry, investigating inventions of Bach, Bruce Lee, and Vince Gilligan, and enjoying sound.

Bio last updated December 2018


BM (voice), Indiana University of Pennsylvania
MM, DMA (composition), University of Michigan

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