The last time I was in Amsterdam I was 15 years old, traveling to the premiere of an opera by my first composition teacher, Param Vir. That was in 1992, the year I decided to become a composer. At that point, my teacher had no interest in electronic music and neither did I. Even after taking music technology classes as an undergraduate at Oberlin Conservatory and an electronic music seminar with Mario Davidovsky at Harvard, it was not until I was exposed to sampling and turntablism in underground hip-hop that I became interested in creating any electronic music beyond what my studies required. Now, seven years after I first started sampling from my recorded composition archives and immersing myself in live remixing, it is the turntables that bring me back to Amsterdam, to STEIM.
I moved to Baltimore three years ago to develop a collaborative project that I had begun with saxophonist Brian Sacawa, a duo called Hybrid Groove Project. This project branched out of a piece that I wrote for alto saxophone and electronics, entitled pastlife laptops and attic instruments– combining fully notated music, improvisation on both saxophone and turntables, beats created in Reason software, and turntablist manipulation of pre-recorded samples of Sacawa’s saxophone lines (via a time-code vinyl control system called Final Scratch). Our repertoire expanded through other music that I wrote, as well as remixes of existing pieces for saxophone and electronics by composers such as Jacob ter Velduis and (re-arranged) Philip Glass. Our most recent performance was in January 2010, when we premiered our concert-length, multi-instrumental remix of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (12 melodies of the Zodiac), a project that we titled Zodiacrobatic.
By the time of my work on Zodiacrobatic, I had begun to use Ableton Live as my primary software tool for both electronic composition and performance. This decision was informed by a desire to incorporate more live looping and signal processing into my performances, as well as to have greater flexibility to recombine samples and to be more performative with my various rhythmic layers. Since transitioning over to Live, about a year and a half ago, I have composed several pieces for myself to perform on diverse instruments (melodica, keyboard, violin, Spanish guitar, theremin) with live looping through a foot controller board- Pre-Dawn Artscape/Ghost Town (2009) and Grandpa Dale Songs (2010). The latter piece is built around samples from old cassette recordings of my grandfather playing piano and singing his own compositions (Tin Pan Alley-style songs) along with a recording I made of him reading from his autobiography before he died in 2003. Personal audio history is of particular importance to me in the music I have been composing recently.
My use of Ableton Live in performance has been primarily directed through the medium of the Akai APC40 controller and, since getting Max For Live, the Ms. Pinky M4L patch for turntable control of any referenced audio clips in my set. Recent performances have ranged from DJ sets of my original trip-hop tracks to free improvisation with a pool of field-recorded audio from the local soundscape. My involvement with free improvisation has expanded greatly in the past year, primarily through my involvement with the improvised music series Out Of Your Head, based at the Windup Space in Baltimore. Each week is a different combination of musicians (usually 3 – 5 people) from the collective. I perform on Out Of Your Head every month or two, and have come to greatly enjoy the unpredictability of the ensemble dynamic. I look forward to adapting some new modalities of improvisation and possibilities for live sampling to bring back from my experience here at STEIM.