Johannes Goebel joined Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as founding director of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) in July 2002 and retired in November, 2022. He holds a tenured position as professor in the Arts Department and in the School of Architecture. He came to Rensselaer at the beginning of the design process for EMPAC to ensure architects and consultants would meet the vision of the building as an optimal bridge between the physical world of human experience and interaction and the potential of the digital domain. Parallel to the design and construction of the building, he developed the program of EMPAC by building the technical, curatorial, and operational teams, and initializing the artistic and research productions, residencies, and events.
Between 1990 and 2002, Goebel served as founding director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany. With its studios, artist-in-residence program, productions, commissions, and festivals, ZKM is one of the leading production environments worldwide for music and technology. For ZKM’s new building, which opened in 1996 and comprises two museums, two research and production institutes, studios, and performance venues, Goebel coordinated the overall demands and specified the requirements and infrastructure of its performance spaces and the Institute for Music and Acoustics. Under his directorship, more than 90 international artists produced roughly 200 works, ranging from compositions with live and interactive electronics to pure sound synthesis, interactive operas, and radio plays, sound installations, ballet music, and music films with live orchestras. A continuous performance program and co-productions with other festivals established ZKM as a center for new practices in music.
During his tenure at ZKM, Goebel lectured and published internationally on aesthetics, technology, and music, co-directed 1996 Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), taught a summer course at the Catholic University Porto, Portugal in 2000, and was a guest professor at the Music Academy Graz, Austria in 1992. His lectures, essays, and radio broadcasts from 1979 to 2001 on aesthetics, music, and technology were published in a collection as part of the edition ZKM with Schott publishers.
One of the two key research projects at ZKM during Goebel's leadership is the establishment of the International Digital Electro-Acoustic Music Archive (IDEAMA). This endeavor was also led by Max Mathews, the "father of music compilers," and Patte Wood from Stanford University. After an extended collaboration between Stanford and ZKM, the first digital archive of electronic music up to the 1970s was complete and became a major resource of early electronic music. The archive holds nearly 550 works and is currently available in 23 libraries and music institutes around the world. The next key project Goebel conducted, as principal investigator with a team of experts, was development and application of hardware and software to record and transcribe the music for the Balinese shadow play Gender Wayang. The final publication with transcriptions, data, and research reports is forthcoming.
As consultant to Schott Musik International, one of the largest music publishing houses worldwide, Goebel conducted the overall changeover from traditional music engraving to electronic music printing in 1988 through 1990.
In cooperation with the German avant-garde record label Wergo, Goebel initialized the first audio CD series utilizing this new digital medium for Digital Music Digital in 1986. As producer, coordinator, digital audio editor, and editor-in-chief, he published in collaboration with Max Mathews and CCRMA Computer Music Currents, a 13-volume CD series focused mainly on computer music of the 1980s. The final volume, The Historical CD of Digital Sound Synthesis, is a collection of the very first computer-synthesized pieces from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Between 1977 and 1990, Goebel's activities stretched between the United States and Europe. In 1977, he started in the field of computer music at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) with a two-year grant from the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD. As a visiting composer, he was a regular guest at CCRMA until 1990 and he initiated several major projects. In Europe, he worked as composer, teacher, instrument designer, curator, and musician. He was instrumental in furthering a basis for computer music in Germany, including at the Technical University in Berlin.
In the 1970s, Germany was the only country of the Western industrialized nations that did not have a center or studio for music with computers. This slowly changed in the 1980s. Goebel was at that time the only composer moving continuously between Silicon Valley and Germany trying to create a bridge between technical advances and the German contemporary music attitudes. In 1983, he conducted the first workshop for German composers at Stanford. His lectures on the topic of computer music were slowly accepted and he continuously strived to establish a German artistically-based approach to computer and music application. ZKM provided the basis for establishing a studio with international relevance.
While composing music with computers in the US, Goebel designed and constructed wood and metal instruments in Europe, including mallets with non-traditional tuning systems, a large walk-in organ pipe, etc. Between 1970 and 1990, he was active in the field of free improvisation with non-traditional instruments. As member of a group including his mentor Gunter Lege, Goebel conducted more than 450 workshops with free improvisation for students ranging from kindergarten to university age.
Goebel began teaching music at public schools and colleges at the age of 21 in very diverse environments. This included teaching computer music to professionals, free improvisation to children starting at the age of 3, adults up to 60+, and conservatory students. He also taught music theory, conducting, and interdisciplinary artistic production as professor at the University Hildesheim and worked intensively with children with disabilities.
In 1975, he began his work as a curator by establishing the Hohe-Ufer-Konzerte in Hannover, Germany. At that time, it was a major initiative to establish a platform for a program that integrated composition, improvisation, literature, theater, dance, and visual arts. He collaborated with Gunter Lege and Guenther Christmann. Goebel has since been active in programming and collaborating with festivals and institutions. In 1989, he was founding curator of ZKM's media-festival MultiMediale, initiating its artistic activities.
Having previously been a composer, Goebel wrote pieces for traditional instruments, his own instruments, computer synthesis, and the live and electronic environment of the experimental studio at the Strobel-Stiftung Freiburg. He collaborated in numerous intermedia projects and interdisciplinary performances with dancers, actors, architects, performance, and visual artists.
He continues to be involved worldwide in the intellectual exchange on art, science, and technology, pursuing the questions of political, cultural, educational, and aesthetic relevance of the field.