Date of Submission
Project Advisor 1
For me, the greatest attraction to electronic music is the expressive freedom it provides. Because any sound that can be heard with the ears can be recorded and amplified electronically, the variety of sounds available when composing electronic music is far greater than, say, what someone can play on a piano or with an orchestra. In addition to the sounds of acoustic instruments, I can also play field recordings, purely electronic sounds, and even samples of other people’s music. However, with so much freedom comes the challenge of how to select and organize all these possible sounds into music. I cannot rely solely on the traditional systems of tonality and rhythm, because I am not constrained to pitched or rhythmic sounds. My palette includes atonal noise that lacks a regular pulse, so I have to find new methods and systems for arranging noise. I cannot simply try to master compositional practices created by others, as is done in other styles of music, so my focus is not just what the audience hears but the conceptual processes of how the music is created.
This shift from a purely sonic focus to a conceptual one is critical because it opens up the possibility of utilizing methods of expression beyond those normally associated with music. I am also involved in visual art, primarily painting, and this has had a profound effect on the way I compose and improvise. The process works both ways, as I let my musical experience influence my abstract paintings. By taking ideas from music, developing them in painting, and taking the reworked ideas back to music, my compositions evolve in a unique way. The pieces in my concerts are the result of this process of bouncing concepts back and forth between my two artistic practices.
Over the course of days, weeks, or months creating a piece, I layer sounds on top of each other, building up complex, modulating textures. Like solid colors or repeating patterns, these planes of ambient noise fill large spaces of the work and are broken up by shorter gestural sounds. Like detailed marks on a canvas outlining and defining areas of negative space, sudden abrasive noises interrupt and shape the relatively static drones. Sometimes I begin with a single long track in which I sketch out ideas with sparse arrangements of noises to create an outline for the piece. This may be performed on guitar or electronics, or a field recording may also serve as this “sketch” for the piece. Then I go back and add other sounds on top of this track, augmenting sections with similar sounds, juxtaposing parts with contrasting noises, stretching out certain areas, eliminating or condensing others. It is a very open-ended process, and I never know exactly how the finished piece will sound until it is completed.
One of the critical differences between the visual and aural realms is the role of time in each. Any sound necessarily takes place over a length of time, so the experience of music unfolds as time progresses. It always flows from the past to the future along the strict progression of time. A painting is also experienced over time as the viewer’s eye moves around the image, but here the sense of duration is much freer than when listening to music. While it is the musician who dictates how long the audience hears certain sounds, the art viewer decides how their experience progresses. In my music, I often do away with strict time structures in order to suggest a visual-like sense of temporal flexibility. Although I am still in control of the sequence and durations of the listener’s experience, my actions are not always locked into a static tempo or time signature. Sounds come and go in different orders and for different lengths of time between different performances of the same piece. This is because I am less concerned with recreating preconceived rhythms and melodies as I am with conveying the immediacy and spontaneity of improvisation. Instead of time progressing like a hand on a clock counting “one, two, three, four...” I want it to feel like “now, now, now, now....”
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Smallwood, Nathan, "Alternating Current" (2012). Senior Projects Spring 2012. 92.
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