“Standing in Shawn Decker’s sound installation A small migration is like being inside an exploded piano, or more precisely it is like standing inside the moment of explosion. The component parts of the work are suspended around me as though frozen in time. Still, yet full of potential movement; they generate a physical sense of imminence. At either end of the gallery large wooden frames support scaffolding bars rigged by chains from the ceiling. Piano wires are stretched across the gallery between the frames. At one end small striker motors are positioned alongside each wire; the installation responds to a series of computer-generated algorithms which trigger the motors that strike the wires.” - From A deep vibration: A small migration by Lizzie Muller
Shawn Decker’s Artist Statement: Initially educated as a composer of both instrumental and computer-generated music, my work has gradually evolved from primarily performance and tape-based music composition to installations intended for galleries or other spaces, as well as to interactive performance works which make use of a variety of electronic media. My current work, which involves a variety of physical and electronic media, is positioned at the intersection of music composition, the visual arts, and performance.
In my most recent work, I have become increasingly interested in the processes found in nature and in other large and complex systems, and the potential of computer programs to model or simulate such systems within time-based artworks. I have also been quite interested in creating media installations which are physical and tactile in nature, which are grounded in objects and in the creation of environments which are integrated within the gallery spaces they are presented in, and which create immersive situations which echo those found in the real world.
Within my most recent interactive installations and performances, patterns of behavior are fixed and defined only by the algorithmic process specified within the computer program embedded within a micro-controller which is typically part of each work. These algorithmic processes are designed to simulate the manner of operation of physical and natural systems. This ongoing investigation of computer-mediated processes - both as a means of producing work, and more recently as the form of the work itself - has been central to my interest in the use of computers for creative purposes.
I have also recently become increasing dissatisfied with the electronic production of sound via conventional speakers (stereophony) and have been investigating the use of mechanical and other “direct” sound production techniques that may be controlled by a computer program,. These techniques include the use of small motors to strike metal objects, piano wires, etc. and are often kinetic in nature. Due to the physical nature of these works the distinctions between sonic, visual, and spatial elements begin to blur. Another related approach I am taking is the investigation of the use of speakers in a more “raw” mode than usually used in stereophony – as single sound sources that may be summed together in sufficient quantities to form spatially immersive environments.
The use of simple mechanical devices such as surplus motors, inexpensive piezoelectric speakers, etc. also certainly has a modestly subversive anti-high-tech element to it that pervades my entire aesthetic. Rather than being interested in creating complex “high tech” systems (for instance, complex robotic systems) I instead focus on the complexity of interactions between many simple, even common, machines. In other words, I am interested in building robotic systems in an environmental /sociological manner.
Shawn Decker is a composer and artist who writes music for live performance, electronic tape, and for film and video soundtracks, and works primarily with interactive computer-based performance and with sound and electronic media installations. His work has appeared in a variety of settings ranging from small galleries to large concert halls, and has been heard on NPR, the European Broadcast System, PBS, and the Learning Channel. Recent commissions include the first permanent public sound installation ever installed in Finland, a piece for the Chicago Saxophone Quartet which has been widely performed in the US and Europe, and an interactive live-electronic score for a major work by the Mordine and Company dance ensemble. Mr. Decker also has performed with and composed for the acclaimed new music ensemble KAPTURE. In addition to writing and producing music, Mr. Decker is an Associate Professor in the Art and Technology and Sound departments at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition to his creative work, Mr. Decker also writes and lectures, and was recently the chair of the 1997 International Symposium on the Electronic Arts. Mr. Decker received a Bachelor’s degree in music composition from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Master’s and Doctor’s degrees from the Northwestern University School of Music.