Sunday, September 19, 2010

Composers Composing

As I sit here, listening to Mozart and incredibly unmotivated to do much of any kind of compositional work, I feel as I am becoming more and more disenchanted with the whole mess altogether.

Perhaps this is a sign that I should go to bed and try to work again tomorrow. But before I do, I wish to complain briefly about the business of composition. I read a quote earlier today from late composer (and former head of composition at my alma mater, Oklahoma City University) Ray Luke that said "being a composer is easier than composing." I'm not sure in what context this was meant, but reading it as is, I just can't agree. The competition, festival, commission, and grant circuit can be time consuming, expensive, and incredibly frustrating. I'd much rather be fighting an army of musical ideas in my brain than have to deal with that bureaucratic mess at all.

One of the reasons I disliked the business of singing was the constant rejection. Some people get fired up as a result of rejection, become more motivated and dedicated to bettering themselves. I, on the other hand, shrivel up and dry out with each and every "thanks, but no thanks" letter I receive. 'Weak' might be one way to describe it. Alternately, 'sensitive' and 'personal' are more so how I like to think of it.

I apologize for the whining. It's just, the creating, practicing, performing, listening, and interpreting of music is the only process I really care for. When I care for it. Which is mostly ('but not always,' says the guilty voice in my head).

I am just incredibly jealous of those who do play the business side of composition so well. Teach me, oh entrepreneurial ones! Help me see the light!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Aurelia: An Interactive Sound Sculpture!

Hello friends!

This week, with the help of many, I opened a sound/art installation located in the lobby of the University of Louisville School of Music. It is an interactive sound sculpture that I collaborated on with a visual artist, Collin Lloyd. He created these beautiful glass sculptures that act as a kind of projection screen for different short movies we filmed. I created various types of gong and water sounds/beats in ProTools and programmed a MIDI pedal board to trigger not only these sounds, but to change the videos playing on the glass as well.


The piece was originally intended to be a Tesla coil (an electric spark inside a glass dome filled with helium: example) that would dance with the sounds around it. Collin had it all working when it sprung a leak somewhere and died on us. We tried to have one of the UofL chemistry professors help us with it, but it kinda fell through at the last moment. So, here we were, one day before the installations were to open with no visual element to the project. Luckily, Collin had made these sculptures as a Plan B in case the Tesla didn't work out. 

We worked on this thing all Tuesday night (I was at school from 10AM until 12PM the next day)--we filmed the movies, Collin made some shelving, we filmed the movies to be projected, and I taught myself some Max 5 programming in order to trigger the movies. We were able to secure a projector on Wednesday afternoon and get it all up and running after the UofL Student Computer Music concert on Wednesday night. Thursday Collin and I came in and cleaned up our cable mess we had hurriedly thrown together the previous night, and we made the project a bit more interactive between the films and the sound. Today I finished up the programming, so it is at it's very best now!

There is another interactive installation, too, that my friend James Young did the music and programming for located in the second floor connection hallway of the music school. There are about 4000 paper airplanes that his artist, Alexia Serpentini, made and strung up on the ceiling--it is incredibly stunning.


This project was exhausting at the end, but such a fantastic learning experience. I have a much greater command of the programming language of Max 5/MSP than I did before. I also now know that I work pretty well under pressure! The collaborative element was a pretty positive experience, too--first coming up with an idea you are both excited about, and then having someone there at the end who was in the same boat as you, desperately trying to make things work and still be artful at the same time. This was all for a kind of "test run" of a course that one of my composition professors, Dr. Wolek, had proposed to the dean last year. I feel like it was incredibly successful for its first year, and would recommend this type of course to anyone.

The installations run until March 22. We'll take them down after the second Student Computer Music concert of the semester. What will happen to those paper airplanes at that point, I do not know. If you are in or near the Louisville area, please swing by the school of music and check out these interactive sound/art installations!

(Photo credits to Alexia Serpentini)