example 1 of soundart
Interview: 10 questions
1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?
I was involved in visual art in extracurricular study very young (by age 5) and knew that it would be my future direction, but I started making music anyway by the age of 12 (circa 1975). In time, I acquired BFA and MFA degrees in sculpture. Sculpture, though, was and is a very open field in which to work. By the time I had my MFA in 1994, I was building odd acoustic and electronic instruments, working with electronic audio sampling and synthesis, and recording interesting noise that was included in synaesthetic whole room installations of sound and computer animated light.
Today, my motivation to make sonic art is still related to sculpture. To me, sound is a tangible material which I can build up gradually, carefully, and yet it is a medium which manages to leave me feeling surprise at each stage of production. It is always fresh—I am unsure of the result that will ultimately come from my efforts yet I am often pleasantly surprised by what does emerge in the end.
2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.
My living environment has varied a lot in 42 years—I’ve lived all over the U.S., spent plenty of time in Canada and the UK, and I lived in Hawaii and Turkey for several years. For the past several years, I’ve lived on an east coast island in Florida and I commute to work in the center of the state four days per week (I’m a University art professor). During these hour drives back and forth, I listen to a lot of sound—my own sounds and those of others. My most recent CD release, Scultura Sana 3, includes a great deal of this listening work in the form of unaltered and also heavily modified samples.
Regarding my musical education: in my early teens, I learned to read music and play several classical instruments—flute, horn, trombone, baritone. I kept this up in symphonic bands, marching bands, and jazz bands until I was about 21. From about 15 to 25, I was strongly into rock music as an electric bass player obsessed with chords, complicated technique, and later, with analog and digital electronic audio devices.
3.Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?
My job as University art professor is certainly key to my being able to produce my creative work in sound because undertaking research is a major component of my workload. In academia, to make and exhibit art is to do research (although some tend to think what I do is really “play”). Also, it is worth noting that right now the contemporary, international art world is quite interested in sound as a medium for the production of art to be shown in the context of galleries and museums.
4. How do you compose or create music or sound?
I create sound in a very layered, linear manner—it has always been this way for me. In the mid 1980s, it dawned on me to do simple ping-ping multitrack recording with a couple of stereo tapedecks. With that clunky analog rig, I would make really dense, noisy tracks in which my electric guitar and percussion playing would build up into these odd yet harmonious loops that were definitely indebted to an early 1970s work called “The Fish” which was created by Chris Squire in the rock band Yes.
My work moved away from “normal” harmonies and rhythms within a few years: I started to do track layering with absolutely no registration by the time I was in graduate school in the early 1990s. I would simply record instruments and digital samples directly to a literal loop of audio tape. Each time the loop would complete a circuit around the tape mechanism, yet another series of sounds would be layered straight onto it but without any attempt by me to synchronize them. In this way, pitches and beats would build up randomly and make very dense, noisy, weird pieces. I was also working “pitch free”: I’d build instruments that were totally pitch-variable—essentially, I was playing around with very minute microtones and often, very close, pulsing harmonies.
In my recent “Scultura Sana” (sound sculpture) work, I’ve come back around to using organized beats and western harmonies that tend to sound more pleasant to the ear. I record only digitally now in separate multitracks—I primarily use Sony Acid and Soundforge on a Pentium 4 PC to do all my recording, mastering, and actual production of product from CD burns to graphic design to printing. For graphics, I tend to use Adobe Photoshop, digital cameras, Epson printers, and actually a bit of freehand work with ink, stamps, and pens making every CD a unique and handmade original.
5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?
My main instruments now are: three electric basses—all standard fretted types with four roundwound strings; an old Casio SK-1 sampling mini keyboard; a Yamaha PSS-11 mini keyboard which is particularly effective for percussion but contains within it a lot of good instrument sounds; a four-string electric mandolin; a didgeridoo; some homemade percussion instruments; and a Peavey Spectrum Bass synthesizer module mated to a Fatar MIDI pedal controller—a bass pedal synth for the feet. I have an assortment of 12 or so effects pedals that come in handy for abstracting sounds and I also use the effects that are available within Acid and Soundforge. All of these instruments are recorded directly through the soundcard of the PC. The electric basses are always preamped on the way to the board with a Tech 21 NYC SansAmp Bass Driver DI—a fantastic piece of equipment that is essentially like having all the power and sound of an old Ampeg SVT 8 x 10 inch bass rig contained neatly within a little black box on the floor.
Lately, I have also made heavy use of an M-AUDIO 24/96 Microtrack stereo digital recorder. I recently took that cell phone-sized device to Holland to pick up local sounds—these sounds comprise eight and a half minutes of my most recent CD release, Scultura Sana 3. So in addition to instruments, I do use directly recorded samples—sometimes left plain and sometimes very heavily abstracted.
6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general and you personally?
I’m a little confused by the wording of this question, but I am strongly convinced that new media is creating a true international “golden age” for sonic art at this time—and for visual art, too, for that matter. Processes are very immediate, affordable, and it is so much easier to distribute work internationally now due to advances in new media. I’m pleased to see that new media is breaking down all the traditional barriers—these days, art can be concocted in all sorts of forms and with all sorts of materials (much of it, totally digital and electronic).
7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?
I produce and finance all of my own work, but as stated above, my day job as a University art professor is very supportive of what I do.
8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or
I work primarily as a solo sonic artist, but I have worked in performing groups that are collaborations. I do maintain one very important collaboration on the side with a close friend who I have played music with for over 25 years. Of course, I work rather constantly on my own solo pieces while the collaborative stuff gets attention only for a few days total each month.
9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting
influence on making music?
Yes, there is a real plethora of important music, musicians, sonic art, and sonic artists who have gone before or are still working—we all stand on the shoulders of giants, in my opinion. I have personally been heavily influenced by rock musicians. Groups like Rush, Yes, and extremely creative individuals like Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel have done so much to expand music, to be honest, even though they tend not to be taken very seriously in academic circles.
10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?
My future plans as a sonic artist include continuing to produce work on CD for worldwide distribution. I’d really like both my sound work and my sculpture (which I think will soon start to blend together more into one entity) to be promoted through the vehicle of a major contemporary, international visual art gallery: someplace like The White Cube or Saatchi in London would be just excellent.