Joel Durand’s approach to tonearm making was at first modeled after the traditional workmanship characteristic of instrument builders, where each piece is meticulously realized by hand and brought to its perfect shape after numerous experiments. This approach was soon complemented by the use of the high tech resources available in a modern American university, including material analysis, finite element analysis (FEA), stress analysis. During the development of the Talea, Durand learned machining so he could make all the prototypes himself and gain further insight into the materials he was using.
As a composer, Joel Durand is used to paying attention to the smallest detail, making sure that every part fits perfectly its function in the whole. He assembles each tonearm individually by hand, devoting the same attention to detail that is necessary when composing a musical work.
His background is unique: after having spent three years in Paris studying mechanical and electrical engineering (at the ESME), he abandoned the field to return to his first passion: music composition. He studied music first in Paris, at the Paris VIII University and piano at the École Normale de Musique de Paris. During those early years in Paris, he absorbed as much as possible of the artistic and intellectual culture that the city had to offer. This was the time of major musical shocks, such as live performances by Charles Munch, Pierre Boulez (whose many premieres with his Ensemble Intercontemporain were to have a profound influence on him as a composer), Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Colin Davis, Maurizio Pollini, Claudio Arrau, Alfred Brendel, Isaac Stern, Mstislav Rostropovich and numerous other stars of the classical music world. in 1980, he discovered the music of English composer Brian Ferneyhough and soon afterwards moved to Germany to study composition with him at the MusikHoschule in Freiburg im Breisgau. While in Germany he also came in contact with a number of other major composers, including Klaus Huber, György Ligeti, Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono. He left Europe in 1984 to pursue a Ph.D. in Composition (obtained in 1988) at Stony Brook University (NY, USA).
Durand has been teaching at the School of Music, University of Washington (Seattle) since 1991, where he is Professor of Composition. He has been Associate Director of the School of Music since 2002. He was awarded the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Professorship in 2003-06, and received the first University of Washington Entrepreneurial Faculty Fellowship in 2010 in recognition for his work to develop the Talea™ and bring it to production. His music has been commissioned and performed by many leading soloists, ensembles and orchestras throughout Europe, the US, Brazil and Asia, including the Ensemble Intercontemporain, London Sinfonietta, Contrechamps, Arditti Quartet, Quatuor Diotima, Jack Quartet, ASKO, Nieuw Ensemble, Ensemble Köln, Recherche, musikFabrik, New York Philomusica, EarPlay, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philarmonique de Radio France, Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin. He has lectured extensively on his music in Europe and the US.
A book on his music, Joël-François Durand In the Mirror Land, edited by Jonathan W. Bernard, was released in 2006 by the University of Washington Press, in collaboration with Perspectives of New Music. Recordings of his music are available under the Auvidis/Montaigne, Mode Records, Albany Records and Wergo labels (discography here). Durand is listed in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.