This Sunday at 2pm, the Blanton is excited to present the eighth installment of SoundSpace, an immersive visual and sonic experience with musical performances throughout the museum. In a recent article in the Austin American-Statesman, writer Jeanne Claire van Ryzin states,”The Blanton Museum of Art’s SoundSpace easily claims must-see status.” 

SoundSpace: Sound Construction will explore facets of tonal color and texture through the use of unconventional, newly constructed instruments and techniques. Artistic Director Steve Parker interviewed some of SoundSpace’s composers and performers in anticipation of this weekend’s event.

Sam Cusumano

Sam Cusumano

Sam Cusumano, Artist and Engineer

What will you be presenting during the next SoundSpace show?

Electricity for Progress – Modification presents a series of interactive exhibits featuring modified consumer electronics. Guests will be invited to push buttons and turn knobs to create soundscapes and to learn and explore the functionality of simple children’s toys using sound.  I will be onsite to discuss the exhibits and answer questions.

How do you explore timbre (the character or quality of a musical sound or voice) in your work?

An amazing variety of textures are available through the modification (or circuit bending) of sonic devices. I analyze the functionality of small samplers and musical toys in order to provide an environment of free play for guests to explore and question. The sounds produced can be musically beautiful, or are at times, quite alarming and grating; these modifications are meant to excite and inspire the interactive audience, as well as expand the expectations and understanding for guests of the possibilities hidden with common electronics.

applesDo you have any expectations about how audiences will experience your work in the Blanton versus in a conventional performance space?

At the Blanton, audiences will find a series of devices distributed throughout the space, each offering a unique experience framed in the context of the museum collection.  By challenging the “don’t touch – be quiet” rules assumed in a gallery setting, Electricity for Progress – Modification invites guests to touch and interrogate installations, producing a variety of strange sounds, and changing visitor’s perspectives on interactive installation and performance art.

What other projects do you have coming up?

I am an Engineer for the Arts, working with Artists, Musicians, Curators, and Business Owners to solve technological challenges and present solutions.  My latest project MIDIsprout.org, working with the amazing organization Data Garden, will fulfill orders from a successful Kickstarter in November.  After that, I am looking forward to working on a variety of educational and custom projects.  I really want to help people understand how their tools work.

Dan Lippel

Dan Lippel

Dan Lippel, Guitar

What will you be presenting during the next SoundSpace show?

I’ll be performing my friend and colleague Reiko Fueting’s solo guitar piece Red Wall. Reiko is a German composer based in New York and this piece was inspired by a hike he took in the Austrian alps, and the contrast between the majestic and dramatic heights and the pristine silence that one hears as you near the summit.

How do you explore timbre in your work?

In this particular piece, Reiko explores the subtle timbral and pitch discrepancies between different locations of playing the same note on the guitar. On the guitar, there are sometimes six different ways to play the same pitch, fretted on different strings and with harmonics. The delicate timbral differences between these different fingerings are the basis for Red Wall’s exploration of the resonance of the instrument. Generally, timbral contrast is a central parameter of many new works for the guitar, and composers have really exploited this strength of the instrument either to paint a sonic picture or to create a sort of implied counterpoint between different timbres.

Do you have any expectations about how audiences will experience your work in the Blanton versus in a conventional performance space?

My experience is that playing in a gallery often facilitates a kind of openness to unfamiliar sounds that is harder to come by in a concert hall. An art gallery is a familiar context for experimentation, and that translates to a musical performance in the same space.

What other projects do you have coming up?

On September 29, I’ll be playing a solo recital of contemporary classical guitar music at UTSA (The University of Texas at San Antonio) as part of a residency I’m giving there. After that, I’m preparing for a solo recital of electric guitar and electronics music for the Sinus Ton Festival in Magdeburg, Germany at the end of the October. We’ve put together a really great program including new pieces written for me by Dai Fujikura, Sidney Corbett, and Morris Rosenzweig along with a really wild piece for guitar and loop pedal called Trash TV Trance by Italian composer Fausto Romitelli. Rounding out the program is my performance of Steve Reich’s iconic Electric Counterpoint in which I am trying to emphasize the connections between Reich’s work and the music of West and Central Africa that inspired him.

Travis Weller, Composer

What will you be presenting during the next SoundSpace show?

23-skiff-prototype1I’ll be presenting my new program-length piece Symmetrographia for an ensemble of 10 musicians playing traditional string instruments alongside instruments that I built. This piece is really important to me in that it ties together a lot of the sounds and ideas I’ve been working with for the past few years. The custom instruments involved were all created for past projects, but it has been really satisfying hearing them all in the same context. And since I’ve had a good deal of time to develop their sounds and techniques, I feel like they have really come into their own. This is a big piece for me and I’m thrilled it is being premiered at the Blanton.

How do you explore timbre in your work?

The character of sound coming from an instrument is something I’m really fascinated by. Historically, a major goal of traditional instrument design and playing technique has been to produce an even and consistent tone across the entire range. That way, composers have a stable reference point to work with harmony and melody in a predictable way. But I’m more interested in an interesting palette of sounds than making sure they all sounds uniform. So I stretch string players into different sonic territories using the naturally idiosyncratic behavior of strings, and build new instruments that make new sounds to add into the mix. At each point in the piece performers are given specific instructions about the tone quality I’m looking for. There are fewer notes than you might expect from an hour- long piece, but the individual textures and timbres and how they work together are the focal point.

Travis Weller

Do you have any expectations about how audiences will experience your work in the Blanton versus in a conventional performance space?

I really want the audience to feel free to move around the space and experience the piece from a variety of perspectives. The atrium at the Blanton has so much going for it: audience members will have a 360-degree view of the musicians. Walk up the stairs and look down from the mezzanine, listen nearby the ensemble, walk around behind the columns, or just grab a chair and stay put. The most important thing to me is that you be comfortable enough to really experience the sounds to their fullest.

Do you have a favorite work or gallery in the museum?

Well, it isn’t in the museum currently, but the first thing I thought of was Bremen Towne by Keith Edmier which stopped through the Blanton a year or so ago. The artist recreated his childhood kitchen from 1971. It was great.

What other projects do you have coming up?

I’m writing a piece for New York-based Ensemble Pamplemousse. It will be performed in the spring of 2015.

Natalie Zeldin

Natalie Zeldin

Natalie Zeldin, Flute

What will you be presenting during the next SoundSpace show?

I will be playing Density 21.5 by Edgard Varèse, and then inviting visitors to explore and improvise the piece with me.

How do you explore timbre in your work?

Well, the timbre of the flute comes in large part from the material of the instrument. Basically, the denser the metal of the flute, the more power and energy the flute can deliver. Most flutists today play on either silver or even denser gold instruments, depending on what sound quality they prefer.

Density 21.5 was written as a premiere performance on a platinum flute. (The density of platinum is 21.5) Even denser than gold or silver, playing on platinum is heavy, deep, and powerful. Playing on platinum is the flute equivalent of driving a Hummer. To play this piece well, you have to let out your inner monster and go a bit wild. It gets pretty loud.

Varèse writes the piece to explore the full tonal spectrum, pushing the limits of the instrument and the performer. Whenever I practice it, I learn a new lesson about what sounds the flute is capable of producing.

Do you have any expectations about how audiences will experience your work in the Blanton versus in a conventional performance space?

Even though the piece was written in 1936, it is fresh and powerful. I want to give the audience a chance to really grapple with the piece because I have learned so much each time I dig deeper into the work. So, Steve and I thought it would be fun to introduce a component for audience interaction. After I play the piece, I will invite visitors to perform a reflection/improvisation on the piece with me on electronic instruments made by Sam Cusumano. There may or may not be a yodeling pickle.

Do you have a favorite work or gallery in the museum? 

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve always loved the Portrait of a Man by Sebastiano Luciani (c.1516). He just looks like such a nice guy.

What other projects do you have coming up? 

My flute and guitar duo (Duo Epsilon) has some upcoming projects–stay tuned!

 

SoundSpace: Sound Construction takes place on Sunday, September 28 from 2pm to 4pm and is included with museum admission. For more information, visit our website.

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