Amsterdam Phonology with MICA Sound Project Studio

MICA Sound Project Studio returned for our third residency at STEIM this past month, 13-21 March. My colleague Jason Sloan and I led a small but outstanding group of undergraduate students from our Sound Art program at MICA- Keaton Johnson, Braden League, Jake Lazovick, and Andrew Boudreau. Building on our past projects taking the soundscape of Amsterdam as a source for samples to be manipulated in live performance, we also incorporated sounds created with vintage synthesizers in STEIM’s sound bunker, alongside samples from a choral composition by the Dutch Renaissance composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, as a meditation on layers of musical history in the city. We prepared a half-hour collaborative piece as a group, underpinned by live video processing of historical maps of Amsterdam and videos taken by the students from around the city. We preceded this with three duo sets on our concert, which took place on 21 March in STEIM’s Studio 3, our home base during our residency. Over the course of the week we worked with the students on structured improvisation, developing a vocabulary of sound transformation techniques for shaping our collected audio in the live moment. A presentation by Kristina Anderson on the history of STEIM, along with an excellent hands-on workshop on visualizing sound, provided a great framework for our students as we approached our project. We also had an inspiring workshop and discussion with program director Tijs Ham, on improvising in dialogue with a machine’s sonic uncertainty, in this case with Tijs’ modified no-input mixer. This was particularly interesting to me as I developed my own performance techniques with Eurorack modular system that I have been working with for live sampling and microsound textures using audio as a control source (with a frequency-to-voltage module for pitch and envelope following. I’m very much looking forward to developing some of the approaches that I developed through this collaborative project with the students and applying it to some other solo projects.

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About Erik Spangler

Erik Spangler (Ph.D. Harvard University, 2004) is a composer and electronic musician working within a wide range of listening environments. His compositions have been performed across the United States and internationally from Canada to China, by ensembles including the Atlantic Brass Quintet, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and International Contemporary Ensemble. Expanding upon turntablist performance practice, Spangler performs “fizzy, angular susurrations” (Ann Arbor Observer) and patterns on diverse electronics, creating music ranging from “a skillful merger of recorded Arabic phrases flecked with DJ turntable effects” (Washington Post) to “rigorous … improvisatory” (Gramophone) compositions with a range of chamber ensembles. His music may be heard on Innova Recordings, indie hip-hop label Nonsense Records, and live in spaces ranging from academic concert halls to art galleries, from clubs to sidewalks. Performances include collaborations with duYun, Rare Degree, Oxter, S.K.I.P., VJ Art Jones, Cornell Symphony Orchestra, and Ithaca College Percussion Ensemble. Spangler works regularly with saxophonist Brian Sacawa as the genre-bending duo Hybrid Groove Project. Along with Sacawa, Spangler is also co-founder of the Contemporary Museum's Mobtown Modern music series in Baltimore.

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