Petrovich, Debra

Debra Petrovich
Australian sound artist

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biography
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Interview:10 questions

1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?

I started making music/sound art when I came across my father’s reel-to-reel tape recorder…I was approximately 10 yrs of age. I later won a coloring in competition at the age of 12. The prize was a fantastic radio, but I swapped it for a very small reel-to-reel recording machine because it was more fun. The recorder had two speeds and a great little crystal microphone plus built in speakers. I was a secret agent, pop star, movie star, opera singer, voice prankster, Official Interviewer plus the dog sounded good, as did the cicadas and crickets. I also found how the atmosphere changed when I reversed the reels and it played backwards I then moved into multiple machines when I managed to sneak my father’s larger player from his room. I think that is what did it for me from the very beginning. As years rolled on and many years of tape, guitars and various percussion my sound art just naturally evolved. I have been involved in various Goth/Grunge/Industrial/electro acoustic type bands where I played samplers, percussion, and guitar with effect pedals, vocals and organ. With the advent of samplers I found a technique where I could bring together the range of my instruments in an innovative way.

I started making electronic soundtracks to illustrate an interior landscape, one without words, but spoke nevertheless. The Soundtracks have been used in successful films, and Theatre projects such as Tracey Moffetts ‘Nightcries’, Tess Dequincey’s ‘Nerve Nine’ and recently John A Douglas’s ‘Strangeland’. I am used to working alone and creating all of the loops and samples. I have an idea usually to create a symphony of sorts, it is a mixture of visions and sensations that I can immerse myself in because then the work becomes an emotional journey and I want to ride with all of its intensity and moods. Sound Art has become the stimulus to making new work. My sound is usually made as a catalyst, which opens my psyche so I can perform a set of durational task based exercises in which I do not have to think. It could be said that this type of performance is, or becomes ‘ritualistic’ and to some degree the sound becomes ceremonial music. Recently I have been enjoying the process of creating the soundtrack for John Douglas’s project, drawing on my years of piano tuition, which is something that does not leave you. As a very early student of the piano, I was very fortunate to have a teacher who specialised in the more interesting composers such as Bartok. All finger exercises were based around another way of playing music, and this set me up for life. Bartok also gave me a way of listening and playing sound which has definitely grounded me for future sonic experiments. I have also been fortunate enough to be able to transfer my early piano tuition to the pedal organ and this is where I could make the most powerful drones on a bodily level. I am pleased to say that I have played the Sydney Town Hall Organ (1886) which has the largest pipes in the southern hemisphere, and University of Sydney Organ, boasting of 3,947 pipes. Sydney University organ was manually built by Forster and Andrews of Hull, England and was inaugurated in 1882. The organ was rebuilt between 1928 and 1933.Besides my keyboard skills I took up drumming and electric guitar at a very early age, which carried over into my 70’s 80’s various band experiments, but did not really culminate till I met John Murphy (famous and AKA – SPK, Nurse with Wound, Our Father of Serpents, Death in June, Knifeladder and the list goes on). John joined my solo project ‘Subcutaneous Theatre’ which melded his solo project ‘shining vrill’ and away we went. John is a noted percussionist/vocalist/sampler/guitarist – ultimately into the arcane world of ritual and taboo (to a certain extent). With John’s ritualist/primitivist drumming and my keyboards drumming. Body pulses and voice – all going through 80’s effect foot pedals – we created quite a sonic, dark spectacle – hoping to transform ourselves, and the audience, There was a space for that kind of psycho physical sound theatre in those days, and I think to some degree it re-emerges to replace the tinsy top notes of codified dance music.

2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.

My living environment at the moment is that of a cluttered tiny old two – storey house in Sydney Australia. The lounge room is the studio. I have an old pedal organ, lots of percussion instruments, (Balinese Gongs etc.) my daughter plays the drums and there are a few types of guitars and effect pedals hanging around. If I can’t record it, sample, create it then I look at heavier plug ins for the new sounds.

I have been Lecturing in ‘Electronic Art’ and ‘Time based art’ for nearly fifteen years, at University level. It is very challenging work.

I studied classical piano for six years and studied electronic music at Sydney College of the Arts (Sydney University) as part of my BA.

In 1986, as part of my self – funded research regarding Artaud and his various writings especially ‘The Theatre of Cruelty’, I lived in Bali – studying Dance/Theatre and music. I made quite a few recordings, which I am in the process of digitizing and perhaps releasing back out into the world.

3. Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?
Making music or sound art has become part of my repertoire of expression, which has been a great expressive tool for me, but also has led me into more professional areas, such as Lecturing in Creative Sound Art and the occasional Commissions such as the soundtracks
For film, Theatre and Video Art.

These days I am going back to the electric guitar and my old foot pedals.

I am also reworking some of my sound samples – loops I have made in various programs such as ‘Rebirth’ and ‘Ableton Live’. I am also going back to straight keyboards and revisiting my ‘Bartok’ days – practicing ‘clusters’ and variations on very simple themes.

I enjoying playing live and letting one theme dictate for extended periods of time – but modified by various f/X boxes and pedals – I do this to find a kind of essence – this is recorded out to DAT – and brought back into Pro tools where I layer it up with sonics that move in and around what I have created – I try not resolve too much during these processes – just let it have its own life.

I am still doing a number of ‘field’ recordings – and still like to specialize in various kinds of ‘atmos’ – usually with birds in it. – Large black crows surround me, and huge water birds – so it gets a bit primal and certainly very Gothic at times and I enjoy these moments.

I have just spent the major part of two years working on a variation of Artaud’s ‘To Have Done with the Judgment of God’ – which is part of my Research project, but it would take a long time to explain where and how that piece started to ‘rupture’.

4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?

I think I have answered this to a major degree.

5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?

I also think I have answered this.

6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general and you personally?

New Media is a big part of my Art Practice – that is – if you can define ‘What is New Media?’ For me I am always trying to find a way of pushing Artaud’s unrealized theatre into my framework. I don’t think anyone can do it – but I try and that means I have to make a kind of Theatrical Space, which is interactive to some extent. I have spent a major part of the last 10 years working through forms of ‘New Media’ i.e., Interactive CD Roms through to Installations which are triggered by the audience via sensors. It is at this stage that the installation becomes a bodily experience. I have to emphasize ‘bodily’ as the audience usually starts up the installation by stepping into a black space – where the audiovisual experience takes over. I am into text which breaks with the original meaning to create a new hybrid experience – so I work with programmers in MAX – to create interesting ‘cut ups’ of language. (Too much to talk about here – wait till my Thesis is published).

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

I did when I was in bands and especially with the work I was doing with John Murphy – although we did release a CD – ‘Shining Vrill’. I also produced and released a small run of Cds, which I funded (‘Bare’ – Experimental Sound Artists – Sydney 1999). Other than these projects I have been funded by the Australia Council for the Arts to create mainly New Media work, which has a huge audio component. Also from memory there are other recordings floating around – some of it good – others a little embarrassing.

8. Do you work individually as a musician/sound artist or in a group or collaborative? If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

I work on my own – and very rarely work with other people, unless it is for a specific project

9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement, which has a lasting influence on making music?

Bartok
Shostakovich
Early experimental audio – using analogue tape
Japanese Court Music (Gagaku).
Stockhausen, Cage – including electronics with orchestra and other.
Morriconi Soundtracks

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a sound artist or musician?
Keep on keeping ‘on’. (No plans – just do it when I am not writing up my Thesis).