The installation is (temporarily) installed!

PACKED is designed to be a portable, table-top sound installation, and I finally have it up and running! Since we live in a studio, it is now the centerpiece of our household (sorry Mike). I'm really excited about the result, though I would love to make a larger, site-specific version in the near future – something that could be a true surround-sound, immersive experience for audiences.

Check out this short video of me improvising on the styrofoam panel. It should give you some idea of the depth of sounds possible with these basic materials. There are so many timbres, rhythmic profiles, and physical performance gestures that are possible. When I play these panels, I find my focus zooming into the tiniest things – like how each ridge of my fingerprints creates friction with the material's surface. While speakers amplify the sounds created in real-time, they will also loop a 6-minute track that will put the audience's performances in a more musical/ harmonic context. I'll post a snippet of that next time!

Putting this together required a LOT of new skills. Although I learn a lot from each piece that I compose, this project provided a totally new context to the term "learning on the job". I suppose I might have learned these things in school were I more interested in electronic music and sound art early in my career. But since I swore off all electronics until the second year of my doctorate... I feel proud that I assembled and soldered together balanced contact microphones, mixed the perfect shade of silver-brownish-white paint, and sprayed rubber and industrial-strength adhesive onto random objects. Each step was chock-full of failures – like soldering all twelve transistors on backwards and the bubble wrap flaking off the panel after I had painstaking glue the pieces on over three days ***. There was also stress over researching and shopping for the right gear since my budget was basically "as little as possible." 

As a recovering perfectionist, this was all emotionally difficult. I think what I secretly love about composing acoustic concert music is that it lets me indulge those tendencies; I can stay hidden and tweak the score until it seems "perfect." There are many fewer steps to executing the idea: notation, formatting, part-making, program notes, rehearsals, done! But as I continue to incorporate more visual and electronic components to my work, I think experiencing all those mini-disasters of this installation will really be valuable.

***tip for future Tonia: bubble wrap is DESIGNED to not respond to glues. That's WHY it's used as packaging. [But thank god for 3MSuper77 Spray Adhesive, it did the trick]

PACKED: my recent work with packaging materials

Later this month, I will be presenting my recent work PACKED in Arizona, twice! First, Mike Compitello and I will speak on January 24th in Tucson as part of Lead Local's Insight 45 series. Then on the 26th, my installation will be in the lobby Gammage Hall in Tempe, as a pre-concert event for the ASU Symphony Orchestra. At 7pm the orchestra, led by Jeffrey Meyer, will perform Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto, Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, and my Strange Sounds and Explosions Worldwide.

As a run-up to these events, I wanted to share the concept and process behind this work. PACKED is essentially an interactive station that consists of topographical maps of four familiar materials: bubble wrap, foam, styrofoam, and corrugated cardboard. I am interested in these objects because of their ubiquity, due to our online-ordering habits (packages = yay). Also, I love how abstract they are -- they don't contain deliberate markings or colors and are just a blank slate of textures on which I can build meaning. 

from this...

from this...

to this...

to this...


Each material is hand-torn/ cut / sliced then painted carefully with acrylics to reveal their textures. I tried to let the materials tear naturally, so that we can see how it wants to be cross-sectioned, rather than imposing a "picture" onto them. The resultant shading helps to place these four very different materials in closer dialogue to one another. 

The topographical maps are interactive by way of three senses; it creates a personal feedback loop between sight, touch, and sound. You can enjoy each one as a small painting and visually take in its sculptural qualities. Touching the surface, though, is what activates the object*** -- its sounds, personality, and your relationship with it all come to life. Then I amplify and lightly process the audio to heighten senses and to make a slightly fantastical sound world of packaging. 

*** Yes, I love bubble wrap, but this concept of object-life-activation is the bigger obsession behind everything. I am teaching myself to make these art objects because I'm actually thinking of them as performative instruments. I'm simultaneously wondering how to approach "regular" instruments in a similar way.

Lastly, PACKED ended up inverting the function of these "protective" objects by making them extremely fragile and vulnerable. All the layers and innards of the cardboard is laid bare, the bubble wrap will deflate and pop soon, and, as further evidence of my brutality, a layer of styrofoam dust now lines my basement floor. Stay tuned for demo videos as I start to set up the audio gear!

(Click for a closer look!)
Summer Residencies, CMA Grant, and the Wild West

This past summer I spent time at three very different residencies: Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Studios at MASS MoCA, and Avaloch Farm Music Institute. It was fun to try on different hats– as hermit-composer, messy studio artist, and chamber music collaborator. But the best part was getting to know the fellow residents and their work from all different disciplines. Moving, witty poetry. Meditations on freshwater environments. Landscape photography with an architectural twistSculptures made of dead particles. SO MUCH AMAZING STUFF. My heartfelt thanks goes to these organizations for the amazing opportunities they offer for artists.

I am very excited to write a large-scale work for Spektral Quartet over the next year, thanks to a commissioning grant from Chamber Music America! We will be collaborating on a 30-minute work that explores the relationship between musical sounds and the natural environment. 

The upcoming season will feature a few trips out to the West Coast. First to Los Angeles for premieres by wild Up and piano duo HOCKET, then to Tempe, Arizona where I will be present my music, work with the ASU Orchestra, and set up an interactive sound installation at the beautiful Gammage Auditorium.

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