American composer Lucia Dlugoszewski enjoyed a long career as a non-traditional composer of music for the dance, "underground" films and for theater productions utilizing instruments of her own make, or finding unique and new ways to compose for established instruments. In this respect Dlugoszewski has sometimes been "lumped in" with California microtonalist Harry Partch, but her music is very different, with an emphasis on dramatic effect and instrumental color for its own sake, rather than making conspicuous use of unusual scales or systems of tonal organization (though hidden use of mathematical concepts did play a significant part in her work.)
Born in Detroit in 1934 (some biographies place the date at 1931), Dlugoszewski attended Wayne State University with the intention of entering into pre-med school, but instead settled in New York in 1953, studying analysis with Felix Salzer, piano with Grete Sultan and composition with Edgar Varèse. Even before her departure to New York, Dlugoszewski was composing in an experimental idiom in such works as the early 50 Transparencies for everyday sounds (1951). Dlugoszewski was fascinated with the sounds of ordinary household objects, and once performed concert near to a kitchen, using the pots and pans and other items typically found there as instruments. Another early discovery was the "timbre piano", in which Dlugoszewski performed inside a grand piano with ivory, wood, metal, mallets, wire pulled through the piano strings, dust mops and other objects. By the late 1950s Dlugoszewski had designed a percussion orchestra consisting of a hundred instruments, built by sculptor Ralph Dorazio, and composed many scores for this ensemble, including Suchness Concert (1958).
In 1957 Dlugoszewski was named the musical director of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company. Dlugoszewski married Hawkins in 1962 and was his closest musical collaborator for the next 32 years, an association which ended only with Hawkins' death in 1994. Hawkins believed strongly in the power of live musical performance and his company never performed to pre-recorded music of any kind, and in this respect (among others) Dlugoszewski's creativity and productivity proved invaluable. In addition to her theater work, Dlugoszewski also composed original music for experimental New York film-makers such as Marie Menken (Visual Variations on Noguchi) and Jonas Mekas (Guns in the Trees).
Though Dlugoszewski became a Guggenheim Fellow, received a grant from the Rockefeller Fund (the first woman so-honored) and responded to commissions from the New York Philharmonic, Louisville Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony, she was regarded largely as an "outsider" during her lifetime among her peers. Her works were seldom recorded, and Dlugoszewski remained little-known outside of New York. The first full-length disc of her music, Disparate Stairway Radical Other, wasn't released until 2000, and sadly not until some months after Lucia Dlugoszewski died.