Born to Russian parents in Manchuria (now Inner Mongolia, China), Ussachevsky emigrated to the United States in 1931 and studied music at Pomona College in Claremont, California (B.A., 1935), as well as at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York (M.M., 1936, Ph.D., 1939). His early, neo-Romantic works were composed for traditional instruments, but in 1951 he began composing electronic music. He served as president of the American Composers Alliance from 1968 to 1970 and was an advisory member of the CRI record label, which released recordings of a number of his compositions. Recordings of his music have also been released on the Capstone, d'Note, and New World labels.
In 1947, following a stint with the U.S. Army Intelligence division in World War II, he joined the faculty of Columbia University, teaching there until his retirement in 1980. Together with Otto Luening, Ussachevsky founded, in 1959, the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City. While acting as head of the Electronic Music Center Ussachevsky specified the ADSR envelope in 1965, a basic component of modern synthesizers, samplers and electronic instruments. Ussachevsky also taught and was composer-in-residence at the University of Utah.
His notable students include Charles Wuorinen, Alice Shields, Ilhan Mimaroglu, Faye-Ellen Silverman, Charles L. Bestor, Ingram Marshall, Wendy Carlos, and Richard Einhorn.
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