Robert Morris, born in Cheltenham, England in 1943, received his musical education at the Eastman School of Music (B.M. in composition with distinction) and the University of Michigan (M.M. and D.M.A. in composition and ethnomusicology), where he studied composition with John La Montaigne, Leslie Bassett, Ross Lee Finney, and Eugene Kurtz. At Tanglewood, as a Margret Lee Crofts Fellow, he worked with Gunther Schuller. Morris has taught composition, electronic music, and music theory at the University of Hawaii and at Yale University, where he was Chairman of the Composition Department and Director of the Yale Electronic Music Studio. He was also Director of the Computer and Electronic Studio, Director of Graduate (music) Studies, and Associate Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1980 Morris joined the faculty of the Eastman School of Music where he presently teaches as Professor of Composition with additional affiliation within the theory and musicology departments. (He was chair of the Composition Department from 2008-11 and 1999-2005. Before that he was a member of both the composition and music theory departments.) Other teaching posts have included positions at the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts, the Governor's School for the Arts held at Bucknell University, the University of Pittsburgh Computer Music Workshop, and the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood.
Morris is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the A. Whitney Griswald Foundation, the American Music Center, the Hanson Institute of American Music, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In 1975 he was a MacDowell Colony fellow, and in 2008, a Djerassi artist. He has been guest composer at many festivals and series of new music including: the ISCM Festival of Contemporary Music (Paris, 1975; Boston, 1991); the International Conferences of Computer Music (Rochester, 1984; Urbana, 1987); "Composer to Composer" (Telluride, 1990); Composer's Symposium (Albuquerque, 1991 and 2009); Contemporary Music Festival (Santa Barbara, 1992); The 1993 Kobe International Modern Music Festival in Japan; The Heidelberg Contemporary Music Festival (Heidelberg College, 2005); The New Music Festival 2009 (Western Illinois University); Center for Research in Electronic Art Technology (University of California, Santa Barbara, 2009); New Music Festival, MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music (Bowling Green State University, 2010), New Music on the Point (2015), The University of South Florida at Tampa 2016 New Music Festival. He has received numerous awards and commissions including those from the Pittsburgh Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Yale University, Speculum Musicae, Brave New Works, The Jack String Quartet, The Momenta String Quartet, The Society for New Music, Alienor Harpsichord Society, Hartt College Festival of Contemporary Organ Music, National Flute Association. His many compositions have been performed in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Morris's music is recorded on CRI, New World, Music Gallery Editions, Neuma, Music and Arts, Fanfare, Centaur, Open Space, Innova, Yank Gulch, Albany, and Attacca.
Morris has written music for a wide diversity of musical forms and media. He has composed over 160 works including computer and improvisational music. Much of his output from the 1970s is influenced by non-Western music and uses structural principles from Arabic, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, and early Western musics. While such influences are less noticeable in his more recent works, the temporal and ornamental qualities of Eastern music have permanently affected Morris's style. Moreover, Morris has found much resonance among his musical aesthetics, his experiences in hiking (especially in the Southwestern United States), his study and appreciation of Carnatic Music of South India, and his reading of ancient Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Buddhist texts. Among his present compositional projects is a series of the works to be played outdoors in a natural setting. Six of these works are complete and have been performed throughout the United States: Playing Outside (2000), Coming Down to Earth (2002), Oracle (2005), SOUND/PATH/FIELD (2006), Arboretum (2007-8), and Sun, Moon, Earth (2012).
In addition to his music, Morris has written four books and over 50 articles and reviews which have appeared in the Journal of Music Theory, In Theory Only, Music Theory Specteum, Journal of the American Musicology Society, and Perspectives of New Music contributing to theories of musical analysis and aesthetics, compositional design, and electronic and computer music. Morris has also contributed to the study and analysis of Carnatic music of south India and helped develop a theoretic foundation for Chitravina N. Ravikiran's concept of Melharmony. Morris was the recipient of the "Outstanding Publication Award" of the Society for Music Theory in 1988 for his book, Composition with Pitch-Classes: A Theory of Compositional Design, published by Yale University Press, and in 2001 for his article "Voice Leading Spaces" in Music Theory Spectrum 20/2. His most recent book, The Whistling Blackbird: Essays and Talks on New Music, was published by the University of Rochester Press in December of 2010. In 2017, The Society for Music Theory Executive Board awarded Morris with Lifetime Membership "in recognition of truly outstanding contributions to the field of music theory." Morris is presently Co-editor of Perspectives of New Music and Contributing Editor of The Open Space Magazine.
In 2014, Perspectives of New Music published a special issue (52/2) entitled Perspectives On and Around Robert Morris at 70 with a three CD recording of Compositions and Performances in Celebration (PNM/OS compact disc). A Festival of the music of Robert Morris was held at Spectrum in New York City on September 15-18, 2016 including four nights of concerts of his music including performances by Augustus Arnone and Margaret Kampmieier, pianists, Collide-O-Scope and the JACK quartet, with preconcert interviews (with Joshua Mailman).