Sound Design & Artist Collaboration

In recent years I have been lucky to collaborate on projects with several artists and filmmakers.  All of this work falls somewhere in the space between music and sound design, sometimes approaching musique concrète.  The list below chronicles recent works that exist somewhat separate from the rest of my compositional activity.

Hisham Bizri's Passione,  (La Passione di Pasolini) 2014. (15 minutes)   

Perhaps my favorite collaboration with Hisham Bizri, this film engages a complex web of imagery and meaning bringing the life and work of Pier Paolo Pasolini in contact with various notions and senses of 'passion'. According to Bizri,  [Passione]is a psalm for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cinema, for his poetry, his Marxist politics, and for his shifting Catholicism. The psalm is ultimately a meditation on the Shakespeare’s idea that “All the world’s a stage”. We see the director Pasolini filming children enacting an old play, two actresses auditioning in a garden, the staging of the passion, and the funeral of Palmiro Togliatti, the long-time leader of the Italian Communist Party, among other changing faces of the world in relation to the reality behind it: the one-thing-next-another (juxtaposition) and the one-thing-after-another (succession)."  It is, in my opinion, a masterpiece.  My challenge as sound designer was to meld the film's disparate source materials to evoke a dreamlike, meditative state in which the viewer might be open to connecting the sometimes disparate layering of imagery into a cohesive sense of the film's meaning. 


Link to video coming soon...


Hisham Bizri's Sirrocco, (Shluq), 2011. (15 minutes)   <<Watch full film at this link>>

This work is an extension of my collaboration with Bizri.  A creative re-cutting of a classic 1969 Arabic film known in English as The Mummy, my challenge in this studio work was to blend new elements with fragments of the existing soundtrack of the rough cut.  Limiting myself only to found sounds and a studio full of scrap metal, the soundtrack was constructed through the layering of disparate elements.


Hisham Bizri's A Film2010. (8 minutes) 

I met Hisham Bizri through James Dillon who had rented Bizri's house during Bizri's sabbatical in 2008-09.  After taking his course on the films of Roberto Rossellini in Spring 2010, I invited Hisham to serve on my PhD preliminary committee.  Soon after, I found myself working on audio enhancements for various of his projects.  A Film was an interesting project for me because it thrust me into a different kind of listening that placed emphasis on sound as a semiotic medium employed to achieve a kind of manufactured ultra-realism.  Beyond that, however, its score consists almost entirely of Debussy excerpts that have been recombined into an entirely new composition in which the image participates to form a convincing whole.  I'm very proud of this project for the emotion it manages to convey and I recognize my work on this film as an important and formative experience that has changed my approach to listening and has impacted my approach to composition.


Distance Chromatic Translation, interactive electronics & painter / gallery installation, 2007.
(Approx. 5 hours).  Neil Johnston, painter / collaborator.  
Nina Bliese Gallery, Minneapolis, MN, September 1 - 30, 2007. 

This collaboration took place over a period of one month during which time the artist Neil Johnston painted 30 works during daily sessions at his home studio in Shoreview, MN.  During these sessions his brushstrokes and movements were captured on camera, processed by motion capture software, then sent over network to the gallery in downtown Minneapolis where they were rendered into a musical score in real-time.  This music was transmitted back to the artist over the 10 minute duration of each painting "event."  As such the artist could respond in real time with his brush-strokes to affect the outcome of the musical "score".  In time, he learned to exert a measure of control over the system, thereby recasting the painter as musician over a vast mediating distance.  The intent was to bring attention to the specificity and importance of place in the creative act while redefining notions of musical performance.  

At the time, this was a considerable challenge given the slow connection speeds existing between the two locations and the instability of the custom software.  However, it was an important project for me as it amplified and illustrated the severe physical limitations inherent in computational-technological approaches to music making.  After completing this work, I shifted my focus, returning almost entirely to acoustic music composition.  Even still, I respect the project for some of the surprising sonic results that it generated.  The following is a video of Distance Chromatic Translation #6.



Flowers of Learning: Sonic Structures on the Works of Roman Verostko,
artist collaboration / gallery installation, 2007. (65 minutes).
Nina Bliese Gallery, Minneapolis, MN, April 13 - May 25, 2007.

I was introduced to Roman Verostko through gallery owner Nina Bliese in the Fall of 2006 in anticipation of his first-ever exhibition in his hometown of Minneapolis, MN.  Roman is an algorist painter who uses software approaches that employ modified pen-plotters to generate recursive works of stark complexity.  When we met in 2006, his series of paintings titled Flowers of Learning: Hortus Conclusus Nazarenus was already installed at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, but he saw it as a font of potential.  This set of seven paintings, each based on a quotation from a different historical figure, seemed to imply a subtle form and rhythm in their arrangement as a set.  Working with Verostko, I was able to access the very essence of these works by diving into their generating algorithms.  My task as composer was to forge these data into works of music that would accompany their display in a gallery installation.  Using cues from the accompanying texts I re-purposed the algorithmic data to control custom programmed software granular synthesizers to transform microscopic sounds into expansive soundscapes.  The resulting album-length composition is composed of seven distinctive movements corresponding to the individual paintings.


Madame Curie from Flowers of Learning

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Humanity certainly needs practical men . . . But humanity also needs dreamers, for 
whom development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for 
them to devote care to their own material profit – M Curie 1867-1934

For more about the Flowers of Learning installation, please see the artist's website here.
One can also download a brochure with images of the paintings here.