by Damian Catera
for MOOVFEST International Cultural Exchange
deCOMPOSITION NYC is an improvised, site specific electroacoustic performance for radio, and live
electronics. For this piece, live radio is sampled and, spatially/ algorithmically manipulated with
performance software that I wrote in the MAX/ MSP programming environment. The results are a constantly
changing soundscape where the sampled sounds are cut up , randomly rearranged and altered.
This is a music of the moment which is generated and experienced in real time. I do not bring any sounds with me, only processes. Space, time and location are integral elements to this piece.
deCOMPOSITION NYC, the latest of my site specific pieces, represents a coming together of my interests in installation and improvisation.
My first work for live sampled sound was an installation entitled THE WALLS HAVE EARS which was presented at the ICMC '96 exhibit in Hong Kong. This piece, which I collaborated on with Chris Dobrian, was a six channel diffusion installation where sounds occuring in the space, were sampled and processed with random and probability based algorithms. The sampled sounds were also "moved" in geometrical and chaotic patterns among the six speakers. One program that I wrote "smeared" the phases of a sound's envelope from speaker to speaker. The continually evolving soundscape reflected the altered sum total of a random group of sounds which occurred in the space during the implementation. One year later, I presented GHOSTS OF THE UNDEAD, at the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum which applied many of the approaches developed during the creation of "Walls". For this piece, the sampled sounds, from performances occurring throughout the space, were moved from room to room.
During the years following these two installations, I concentrated almost exclusively, on live improvisational performances and recording. Most of the software that I designed for the installations was retrofitted as tools to improvise with. For this group of performances, I explored the concept of "machine improvisation" where my improvised guitar was sampled on-the -fly and randomly altered, yielding unpredictable results. This is when I began to fall in love with and embrace uncertainty as a creative practice. Gradually, I came to characterize these performances as "decompositions" where my compositional intent, expressed through my guitar playing, was being disrupted by my unpredictable sound altering programs. I started to view this as a process of attrition, where the sounds that I generated with the guitar were worn away. New sounds emerge, however, which in turn inspires newer sounds.
It was during my December 2001 tour through Eastern Europe that I decided to add another element of chance to my work through the use of live radio as an additional sound source. Inspired by John Cage's use of live radio in his 1951 piece IMAGINARY LANDSCAPES No.4, I first used this element during a performance in Prague. Although, the role of chance certainly made the radio an attractive resource, I was also interested in its ability to add an element of site specificity to my pieces. deCOMPOSITION WROCLAW, recorded in Wroclaw, Poland, was probably the most successful in this regard.
Aside from the obvious influence of the work and theories of Cage, there are other artists who have also influenced this group of pieces. Dan Graham's installation in the Pompidou PRESENT CONTINUOUS PASTS, where viewers are recorded and continually shown delayed images of themselves, reflects a conception of time and space that is nonlinear, yet recurrent. These principles are easily adapted to work with sound. My interest in probability and chaos goes back to my 1995 studies at Les Atelier UPIC, an institute founded by the late 20th century composer Iannis Xenakis. Xenakis was one of the first composers to recognize and use probabilistic patterns found within larger random number groups. Kaffe Matthews work with live sampling and electronics in her improvisational violin works has also been quite inspiring as has Hildegard Westerkamp's compositions with transformed environmental sounds.