Networked_Music_Review

Interview: Jeff Talman

Jeff Talman - Photo by Ginger MarleyJeff Talman’s sound installations focus on notions of “self-reflexive resonance”, often using no other sound source than the natural ambient resonance of the installation site. His works also have a strong visual component, owing to his dual backgrounds in music and the visual arts. His latest work, “A Play of Flows” premiers on October 23, 2008 at the Galleria Mazzini in Genoa, Italy. Talman was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Sound Art in 2006 and was a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Award in Computer Arts in 2003. He currently resides in Manhattan.

Due to the nature of his pieces, Talman does not provide sound samples on his website – the pieces are simply too site-specific to experience in any other way than first-hand. As such, we will only be providing photos and discussion with this interview.

Peter Traub: Before you began creating sound installations in the mid 1990s, you were a more ‘traditional’ computer music composer and musician. Could you discuss how you made the transition into sound installation work? Was there a particular experience of a space or place that pushed you in this new direction?

Jeff Talman: First, let me thank you very much for your interest in my work and this opportunity to go into your well-thought through questions. Many thanks also to Networked Music Review and Helen Thorington and Jo-Anne Green. I’ve found that interviews can really help tremendously because they put me as an artist outside of myself, so new or different slants to the work may become available. It’s is a very welcome kind of refreshment.

Now, to your first question: the conventions of music performance had become increasingly frustrating to me by the early 90’s. I thought especially that electronic music “performed” via loud speakers in a concert situation was a very self-conscious experience, rather than one in which a more typical theatrically-born suspension of disbelief was available. Further, I found the typical American audiences’ lack of interest and support for experimentation in contemporary music to be deadening. There’s no need to discuss the plight of music oriented toward the classical here, but at the time I felt mired in it, and was looking longingly at how experimentation was embraced in the visual arts.

When the opportunity first came for collaboration with a sculptor and then with a video artist I was more than ready to re-think my own use of sound for the work. These exchanges led me to confront even further where I was headed with my work in general. But I couldn’t figure it out, and it became clear that I needed to change my scene for a fresh start. So in 1996 I decided to sell my belongings and move to Prague to search for something different. While living there I went to the Cathedral of St. Vitus and after several visits discovered I had an increasing fascination with the sound of the space. I already had a fundamental knowledge of the physics of resonance and I knew about room tone, so I understood something of what I was hearing, but this sound in the cathedral, its self-sound – I was marveling at it day after day. At first it didn’t strike me as something to work with specifically, it was more just a phenomenon. But on coming back to the states the next year I began a series of experiments, recording room tone in churches in New York City, studying the results on the computer, and then searching for some larger concept or mechanism in the sound that might be useful for composition.

Within two years I figured it out and put up my first installation based on spatial resonance as extracted from the room tone of the site. I’ve never looked back. I stopped playing piano, stopped conducting and stopped scoring music, though at times traditional musical forces still apply as choruses have sung along with installations, for instance in St. James Cathedral in Chicago, and in Munich at Lukaskirche.

Peter: Your background in visual art intersects with your work in the sonic realm in pieces such as “Stream Space Lacing” (2002), “Sonalumina-13” (2004), and “Mirror of the Moon” (2008). How does the visual inform your work with the aural, and vice versa? Also, with specific respect to your pieces, how do you think the visual comes into play in affecting the perception of the aural spaces you resonate and explore?

“Mirror of the Moon” (2008)
Mirror of the Moon

Jeff: My work concerns nuances of perception, specifically those of the aural and visual. The interrelation you mention is both critical and non-existent to varying degrees in my installations. I hope especially to underscore the critical interrelations. “Sonalumina-13” and “Mirror of the Moon,” which you mentioned, are perhaps two of the more successful attempts to integrate unified concepts of perception. “Mirror…” for instance attempts to unite multiple perceptions of wave motions – by way of both sound and vision. The moon’s gravity (waves) creates the sea’s waves create sound waves, the base sound set for the work (which is then rarified – and so made to be resonant to the room in which the installation is presented). The room is engaged, so the effect of the sound is not just to mimic the sea, and not just a playback mechanism, but rather a literal engagement of the space – which is available both as a visual and an aural environment.

Further, the direct light waves of the sun and those reflected from the moon make available to us the visual wave motion of the sea: these are then portrayed via the light waves of the installation video. When I looked at the reflected moon on the sea I realized that if the sea is the mirror of the moon as it reflects moonlight, then the moon is the mirror of the sun and the sea is also the once removed mirror of the sun when the sea reflects the moonlight. It is a natural hall of mirrors. Is this my work – no! It is just perception, perhaps at best exposed by my work.

Peter: In many of your installations, you use only the ‘room tone’ as the initial sound source to resonate the space. This tone is near silence and contains the unique resonant frequencies in that space. Can you tell us a bit about how you record and analyze the room tones for these unique spaces?

Jeff: The recordings are done usually late at night or very early in the morning when it’s as quiet as possible in the space. It’s strange but wonderful to be alone in some of these spaces, for instance the Cathedral of Cologne, at 4 AM. As you might suspect, the possibility for truly hearing these spaces in their astonishingly rich silences is at a peak – without the crowds or services or even the electrical hums, as I request that the lights and other electrical devices all be turned off.

I place a microphone in the space at various points, somewhat elevated (perhaps about 4 to 5 feet), always above any pews or chairs or natural low-lying obstructions. I record in numerous places in the space so that during analysis I can later correlate the resonance readings from the recordings. I have also measured spaces and used sweep tones and impulse responses to correlate resonance. A combination of these methods gives an accurate reading. I have further tested by then putting up sine tones of resonant frequencies as determined by my analysis and sine tones of non-resonant frequencies, to test for differences. A recording and analysis of these sine tones demonstrates their interaction (or lack of) with the space, but it’s easier than that, you can hear it without a problem.

Peter: One common characteristic of the pieces I heard audio samples of was very long overlapping textures, gradually changing in pitch, timbre, and so forth. What types of compositional approaches do you take to create these textures? Are they processed versions of the room tone recordings, or perhaps synthetic textures based on the spectral analyses of the spaces?

Jeff: These overlapping textural structures you mention are all created through base filtrations of room tone. There is no synthesis or any added sonic material to any of the installations, except where noted, for instance in “Mirror…” in which the sound of the sea is the base sound, or in “White Sound Down,” in which the sound source is the sound of snow falling. I try to keep all processing to a minimum. After dealing with the MIDI protocol in previous composition and dozens of sound modules, samplers, compressors, reverb modules, patchbays, mixers and cables everywhere, etc., I decided to strip absolutely everything out that I could! I do not process the sound much beyond filtration, perhaps a little compression to smooth out the amplitude, and certainly work with gain. Beyond that I mostly apply fades and panning and try to decide how the sound structure will relate to the space and concepts of the work.

Cross country skiing trail through Talman’s “White Sound Down” (2007).

White Sound Down

In a process-driven, goal-oriented era it is maybe the hardest to talk about ‘composition.’ Once during a question-answer period after presenting my work I was verbally assaulted by a young musician who wanted a justification for everything I did compositionally. My response (several times) was that I was trained in composition, but that I consider the work to be simultaneously a perceptual stream that is about room integration. I downplay the compositional aspects at times in favor of ‘bringing the room forward’ in the work. The compositional elements are slowed down, the rates are the human rates of walking and breathing and looking at a large place. Apparent motion of sound in space by way of panning is frequently crucial as a ‘thematic’ element of the works – this is more like dance, more like choreography than music. Some works eschew what people might consider even to be ‘composition.’ Others are sculpted near-music, except that the ever-present space, interior or exterior, is always hovering there exerting itself, and I am extremely conscious of that, and know that the work is ‘about’ that as much as it is about whatever concepts I might try to bring to it. There is a trade-off in leaving scored performance behind if you are talking about music per se… but I am not. It’s about perception and then using those perceptual materials as my vehicle.

Peter: One of the issues I find interesting with site-specific sound installation is the inability for people to really experience the art through any means other than visiting the site. While you don’t provide any sound samples on your website of your work, you did provide me with a DVD with audio samples in preparation for this interview. One thing that became clear to me in going through it was that I was just totally missing the site of the art – both physically and also theoretically: the pieces play with space, and most subtle markers of the spaces you work in are really lost when put into a sound recording. Yet it is those markers, and your play with them, that essentially give each piece its character. Do you agree with this take on it, and how does one introduce people to sound installation art, get them interested in it, and study it academically when it presents this almost special case in terms of how it is retransmitted?

Jeff: Ah, but don’t forget that the DVD I sent to you provided integrated video and audio samples. The audio in my work is usually a function of the space and I provided the space as best as possible in documentation by way of the video. I had mentioned to you previously that I specifically do not put sound up on my website because it would make no sense divorced from the installation sites, and no sense apart from a sound field presentation.

However, the work must be documented someway, both as a record of what I have done for myself, and for various arts professionals such as yourself. This is not unusual, Smithson or Goldsworthy for instance, made careers with documentation of actual work. This is a well-established model in the visual arts world. Sound has not caught up to that yet, maybe because we have become so use to the recordings of work actually standing for the live performance. The entire has also been confused with so-called acousmatic work in which the recording is the work, for instance the “Sgt, Pepper” album, which was not intended as a representation of music to be played live. The album was the work.

My recordings are not the work. The work is the installation. So I am left with finding a means to document the work. I tried audio alone, and even more than you registered, you do not get the space at all, except perhaps for the resonant content and site reverb being different from installation to installation. But this is extremely subtle and can easily be mistaken, especially in the case of resonance as being specific tuning choices as opposed to actual site information. It takes practice to hear spaces. So video seemed the only thing possible. I could integrate at least stereo sound, though the sound field is gone. In a few more recent videos I have experimented with 5.1 reductions of the sound fields, and this has worked pretty well, but I still can’t count on reviewers having access to 5.1 sound playback systems. So there is a conundrum, how to show/auralize something that you can’t possibly show/auralize without the specific conditions. As I mentioned, Smithson and Goldsworthy have done enough to get the weight of their ideas across. Beyond the DVD’s I have a website with a lot of images and data, and there are publications, reviews, interviews like this one, and even a few things on TV (more video). The complex somehow serves to stand for the work, though it is not the work, and anyone that has been to an installation can tell you that immediately. But that is what we have at present.

Regarding introductions to sound art and the academy, the best I can say is experience the actual work wherever and whenever you can. Otherwise, again, a battery of video, still images, recordings, readings, interviews, presentations and discussions from living artists, historians, critics and curators does a lot. We will never set foot inside the Le Corbusier-Varèse-Xenakis 1958 Brussels Worlds Fair Philips Pavilion – what a great loss! But the existent documentation does give us some idea. Also, and though this isn’t your point, which if I understand correctly is regarding the capture and dissemination of the actual experience of the event, it is important to recognize the fragility of the event is part of the experience; the on-site recognition that a time-limited installation is a fleeting occurrence is not only a powerful metaphor, it is a possible means of harnessing a closer attention. One of my installations, a pretty big one, lasted only about five hours!! That was five of the most electrifying hours I’ve had in the last ten years…

Peter: In our emails prior to this interview, you mentioned having visited Bernhard Leitner’s studio five years ago and the experience having a deep effect you. You had already created a number of sound installations at that point. Did your visit there influence or change your work in any way, and if so, how?

Jeff: I had discovered Leitner’s book Sound:Space in the Whitney Museum bookshop after I had put up my first few installations.

I read it and studied it like a Bible.

Before I go into my visit with Leitner, I’d like to insert an aside: I think it’s appalling that Leitner’s work has not been shown in the states in over twenty-five years. His installations are brilliant, but U.S curators will not touch him. I understand the expense of overseas shipping, but that doesn’t stop other major work from moving trans-continentally. It is hard to understand the lack of vision here by those who are charged with making decisions about the work to be exhibited before the public. Perhaps because no galleries or collectors have come forward the museums are reluctant to take on the work, but this is a kind of subsidy that should have nothing to do with museums. He is one of a very slim handful of founders of an entire genre, in my estimation the best, and his work is available only in Europe – that is a neglect that is painful and a gross injustice to what he has brought us. It is not a question of familiarity, I know that several major American curators have visited his studio – so why no U.S. exhibitions?

Okay, that very important complaint offered, flame-off.

Here was someone who had already made a huge career in Europe in an area very close to the one I had only just begun to step into. His architectural background was very different from my musician’s background, so we had a very different fundamental view, and his viewpoint was freeing to a person who up until a few years before had been thinking in oboes and treble clefs.

Then luckily through a mutual friend I met Leitner in New York and he invited me to his studio near Vienna in 2003. I went, not knowing what to think, except that I was extremely excited to be visiting a master artist and a true original. We went from room to room in this old railroad grange, a place where grain was gathered to be sent out by train, that he had converted across ten years into an elegant complex of studios, which are perhaps as many as seven or eight large, separate spaces. The place was like a museum. The spaces were loaded with decades of his work, much of it up and running – many of the works that are featured in Sound:Space, but also others, and works in development as well, and everything was immaculate, really clean and beautiful. He was very gracious, and gave me a lot of time talking about the work and letting me explore the many pieces he had up, showing particular solutions that he was proud of (for instance mechanical rotary switches to move sound across speaker arrays in the early 70’s). It was dizzying and spectacular. But best was getting to ask him questions about the work, about his influences and how he was thinking.

I was impressed very much with his sense of precision in hearing, precision in placement, making sure that you could actually hear what you were theorizing you should hear. This was important to him as it came out in piece after piece, and as I saw that he tested and re-tested and re-re-tested and beyond until he got the results that he knew were somewhere in the concepts, or took advantage of others that had spilled out of his research. If you have seen the images of his sound array tests in Sound:Space you’ll know something of what I am speaking – the man works hard at getting the results he gets, which then is first rate! His work is both intuitive and empirical, through long effort. I admire that immensely, and would hope that I bring a fraction of that to the work that I make.

Further, Leitner was considerate and genuinely interested in the documentation I had brought of my own work. He was highly supportive and we spent a good deal of time discussing my work. I left his studios with a firmer, concrete sense of how one might approach this rather ethereal work that we do, and with lasting impressions of his diligence and accomplishments.

Regarding direct technical influences from Leitner, I’d say that I am more influenced by Ligeti’s concepts of spatial volumes of sound, though Leitner is on to a similar way of thinking. I asked him about it, and he said that as a student he had heard Ligeti speak and that he did not recognize a direct influence from him but that in hindsight a connection could have been there. It is possible that this did exert some kind of subliminal influence later. At any rate, Leitner took it into an architectural concern with space. I did need this concern for my work, but I was also interested in this area of music–non-music, in which the function of the sound and the space are more heightened, such that space and sound are intimately bound not just by proximity, but also deeply by the acoustic physics of the space.

Importantly for my work, there was the interest in room resonance, and Leitner has not addressed this at all as far as I can tell. His abstracted sounds are generally very attractive, but they are also non-committed in a sense, as they could almost be anything and could play anywhere. But that is his point, because he is dealing with the interplay of space and sound in an abstracted fashion. He has sometimes chosen abstracted instrumental sounds, for instance brass multi-phonics, because they are beautiful sounds, which to me, yes, are beautiful, but too referential to what I personally excised  – symphonic music! But then those are my ghosts, not his…

Peter: Do you consider any particular artists (sound, visual, etc.) profoundly influential on your work? If so, who and why? Also, are there other artists, not necessarily influences, working in sound installation who’s work you enjoy or admire?

Jeff: “Profoundly influential,” well, sure. We all have to draw from the past, even as some do to negate it. There are many influences to my own work, but the influences are so diffused, synthesized into what I do, that I’m not sure the names would help to explain much – for instance, where is Delacroix in my work? But I will note my drawing teacher, Seong Moy. He had a unique capacity as a teacher for expressing one thing at a time, as the only lesson for the day. He would frequently underline only one point in a four-hour drawing session, but he illustrated it so dramatically that you came away from the session with a way of seeing that was transformed. He was really not so much teaching techniques of drawing as techniques of seeing. He never said that, or even intimated it. But thinking back, I realize how formative that was. It’s a kind of inversion that artists do all the time. He had found a way to teach it by striking example, which, because he only did it once per session at most, really stayed with you.

Otherwise, another area of influence is science. I have a real passion for exploring science investigations: the nature of the cosmos, micro-particles, current thoughts on time and relativity, and on and on. It is fascinating, and it should be evident that it finds its way into my work. Science is endlessly marvelous and an endless resource.

As to current artists working in sound installation, sure, there are many people making interesting work. Again, there’s Bernhard Leitner, but also Alvin Lucier and Christian Marclay and many others.

Peter: Several of your pieces, such as “Inner Nature” (2008) and “White Sound Down” (2007) use outdoor spaces as their site. What particular aesthetic and technical challenges do these present in contrast to indoor pieces, and how do you approach them differently? Does your notion of what constitutes space change when working outside?

Jeff: The outdoor pieces become harder to imagine spatially as they grow in size and harder to manage technically the more distant the speakers are from each other. Some landscape feature hopefully pulls the work together and gives not a central point so much as a reason for a field of sound to be in a specific location. Electricity can be a real concern when you are way out in the forest. We had a generator for “Sentinel to the Wind” (2006), which worked well, though we had to place the generator more than a 100 meters from the installation and build a sound barrier around it. Also, the generator had to be filled every 4 hours – it was embarrassing, especially in a green-conscious country, to bring an engine into the forest – though they use them there all the time for logging. But I haven’t used one since. Which now means running cable for hundreds and hundreds of meters. That’s a problem.

A speaker mounted to a tree in Talman’s “Sentinel to the Wind” (2006).

“Sentinel” speaker
The sound also diffuses much more outdoors with no walls or ceiling to contain it, though perhaps on the scale I am working the sites do extremely effect the perception of the sound. This is especially the case as you move away from the installations – how well you can hear them apart from them, how well the sound carries on the wind. Then there are specific effects, for instance the idea of playing sound back in a snow-covered landscape — it was incredible, the sound suffused throughout the hushed, still forest.

Panning from speaker to speaker tends to break up because of the distances, unless you are near the center of the installation, so I have used more point-source sound recently outdoors and I thicken shared speaker (mid-pan point) durations. Sometimes though the panning is a central idea of the piece for instance the curved arch of sound over the hill in “Hearing Curved Space” (2005), so there I consciously massage the material in the mix as much as possible to fill in the physical space of the installation.

There is also the problem of documentation again. The visual documentation of some of this work can be extremely difficult. As I have mostly worked with mounted speakers in the forest, there is not a whole lot to shoot except the mounted speakers or the site. These are emblematic of the work, but I am not sure how interesting they are visually. With “Inner Nature” the work was so diffused across the mountainside that I had a really hard time documenting the sense of the space itself. Also, the forest cover is really thick this year, so what could have been at least dramatic shots of the landscape were nearly completely filled in. Still, it borders on landscape photography that happens to have a sound installation somewhere (unseen in the image) in it. That’s not so interesting maybe. I haven’t edited the video yet, but I imagine it will be pretty much the same. I did build speaker blinds, so multiple views of those could be interesting, but it will not give a sense of the scale of the site itself, which was probably the largest I’ve put up at this time.

Peter: In our pre-interview email exchange, you discussed the notion that sounds always take on the characteristics of their space, and that “even displaced sounds are not entirely displaced, but rather become intrinsically shaped by their environment.” How do you see this idea reflected in your own work?

Jeff: It is central to a lot of what I do. Since I am working essentially with resonance feedback systems I am locking into this notion of the environment intrinsically shaping the sound, and harnessing the energy available in that process. One might think of it as exposition of the energy available in spaces by way of gathering energy as it is applied. Resonance adds as you add it into a system. The sound fields generated in a lot of my work operate with this recognition. Further, the intrinsic shaping by the space itself becomes a sonic focal point of the work – it is how we sonically can recognize a space, and it is available virtually everywhere in interiors (to a far lesser degree with exteriors). This is a prime material source of my work. From there other concepts interact with or amplify this notion, producing a kind of tension in the work, for instance in “resonance^3” (2002) in which the resonance of a space is re-resonated by tuned steel columns and then re-re-resonated as it emerges into the space. Beyond that there is composition with this sonic plastic material.

‘sonic columns’ fill a gallery space in Talman’s “resonance^3” (2002).

resonance^3

Further, this idea of intrinsically shaped sound brings up the notion that we can’t just put one sound from one space into that of another without a further and perhaps unwanted complication occurring. While the reference is certainly there, the original sound is transgressed or transformed or both. I have noticed many, many sound art projects that take the sound from one place and put it into another space. Technically it is maybe the easiest type of sound art: make a recording, stick the sound up somewhere else – not really so sophisticated from anything like a compositional sense. I understand a conceptual value may be generated, but as a trained composer it is difficult not to be just a tad cynical about the easy parroting that is the work. Imagine taking the same sound, and working with it, exploring its characteristics in relation to the installation site sonically as well as conceptually.

It’s interesting to follow this great ‘debate’ about what is or is not Sound Art. While conceptual art has essentially made anything possible, there does happen to be thousands of years of work in music from hundreds of cultures. When stacked against the thinness that so much conceptual art presents in terms of actual sonic material work, I think it becomes increasingly apparent that sonic interest can be heightened by an artist’s conscious engagement with the sound. But there is no reason to toss out conceptual work at all, there is no reason that work in the material can’t be work that operates conceptually as well. This is a kind of bridge I find exciting.

Even Duchamp constructed found objects into something else, there was a making involved. In a recent visit to ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, Margit Rosen, a curator and historian told me how excited she was about the level of “kraft” as we toured the exhibition. That’s a pendulum I wouldn’t mind seeing swing further in the same direction.

Peter: I agree that relocation of sounds seems like an overly common and/or popular thing to do, but then I also would look at certain pieces by someone like Bill Fontana, who has been doing those types of work for a long time, as an example of where that approach can work well. But then pieces like those seem to be much more about content of the sounds, the history of the spaces and places, and how the interaction of those elements reframe how one listens to the parts (the waves of Normandy crashing around the Arc de Triomphe in “Sound Island” on the 50th anniversary of D-Day for example). Would you agree with that assessment? Also, how much does sound content and the history of a space or place matter to you in terms of your work?

Jeff: Bill Fontana did “Sound Island” more than a decade ago – his recent work involves a dynamic spatial processing of the sounds in the place to which they have been moved, for instance in “Harmonic Bridge” (2006). This is exactly what I am talking about – a dynamic processing, taking responsibility for the sound, not just grabbing it and putting it up elsewhere. So perhaps “Sound Island” worked back then, probably was terrific, but Fontana has moved on – though if anyone has the legitimacy to simply move specific sound from one place to another for an installation, well, he pretty much invented the concept.

Regarding sound content and the history of spaces, there really is no choice, if you are at all sensitive to the space, then the idea of a history of a space is right there with it. This is particularly true in old buildings, but even more so outdoors, where you are dealing with the geology, the sun, the moon, the stars. But the “is-ness” of a space also implies its history. By making the space more available through sound, you make the “is-ness” more apparent and the historical ramifications can come bubbling out. Harold Raab, a Bavarian art critic, discussed the effect of a resonant installation of mine in a medieval space in Regensburg, and he felt that it was bringing the history of the place forward, as if somehow human energy via sound had been stored in the walls. So it is there for other people even if it is only a “scientific” process that generates the initial resonance reflexivity in the space.

Peter: On your website you give a tantalizing preview of a Max/MSP-based software project you have been working on called ‘Morton’ (presumably after Morton Feldman?). Morton “achieves the generation of consistent, yet ever-variable sound fields of unique formal identity through strategic use of pre-existent site resonance source material, the atomization and recasting of structured components, and the partial control of randomization.” What does Morton do that you have not been able to do to date? That is, how is it intended to extend your work? Also, do you have any plans to release Morton, or parts of it, to the public?

Jeff: Yes, ‘Morton’ is named after Feldman, who I only just met, but who is deeply impressive in his work, writings, interviews and presentations. There is also the element of time in his later work, which he expanded so effectively, and the software program attempts to emulate this in some fashion.

The program is an open-ended sound-field generator. Unlike my current and previous work, which mostly loops in a given time-frame, ‘Morton’ will generate open-ended sound fields that do not loop. I have been bothered by the finiteness of my installations, not so much in the limited-time only exhibitions, but rather that the sound in the installations looped and was repetitive. While most museum-goers will only stay a few moments at any given installation, it bothers me that people stay sometimes for even more than two cycles of a sound-field loop, and all they are offered is a loop (though now a loop may extend to more than an hour as in “Inner Nature”). Further, conceptually, I want an ongoing-ness embedded in some work, as that is what the situation is with the normal self-sound reiteration in a site: ongoing. Beyond that, I want constant change available, though unified by various compositional factors, to give a constant newness to the exhibition, a constant differing exploration of the material sound of the space. It does not mean I will not work with loops in the future, but that other resources are becoming available.

But the program is a massive undertaking! Finding the concentrated time is incredibly difficult. As a programmer, I need to be sequestered, with no distractions and a full refrigerator! But as an artist I also need to get new work up and to spend time in the studio working up that work, as well as be out there running the game, finding new commissions and new exhibitions as well as seeing as much art as I can and attending the occasional concert. It means endless travel, which is fun, exciting and exhausting, but this is not conducive to programming “Morton.” I could hire someone to do the programming and I have done that in the past – Stephan Moore, who did a superlative job with the programming for “Sonalumina-13.” But with “Morton” I am feeling a real need to be deeply in the program because so many choices are at compositional levels, and because the more I tinker, the more that spins new or better ideas to integrate into the program.

So I have decided to take a couple of years to make the program. It is not confirmed, and I certainly have a long way to go beyond the completed prototype, but I am hoping to test the working program in 2009 and unveil v.1.0 in a large scale installation in Manhattan in 2010.

At this point I have not really thought about making it available to the public – first let’s see if it works! Should I make it available, it would probably be usable only by those with some facility at Max/MSP and with some compositional and audio editing skills. Though it is an overarching program for creating sound fields, the source material that goes into the program must first be ‘composed’ to some extent and individual sound files need to be regulated via amplitude and frequency content. I could automate some of this, but I prefer to still have a hands-on approach to the source files, because they can vary so drastically. It is a point of the program that the ‘composed’ sections are pulled apart and restructured, resulting in unity through use of similar materials, but difference also in the way they are reassembled. So in a sense it is a re-composition engine, into which different work fragments might be loaded, a few operational decisions switched, and entirely new sound fields would be generated based on the different base material.

Peter: Could you tell us a little bit about what you are working on right now and what new works you have in store? What directions do you see (hear?) your work taking over the next decade?

Jeff: I’m very excited about “A Play of Flows,” a very large installation that’s going up in Genoa, Italy in the Galleria Mazzini in late October this year. It’s a wonderful 19th Century space, huge at 592 feet long and over 80 feet high. The ceiling of the space is built with pre-formed cast iron sections and glass, much like London’s Crystal Palace or the Galleria in Milano. The 12-channel installation will use wave sounds of the nearby Mediterranean Sea that are filtered to resonate to the Galleria space. The long arcade of the Galleria is punctuated with four glass domes and the space under each of these domes will become sites for four “sound fountains” that feature primarily vertical streaming of sound. The four fountains will be coordinated to “fire” in various synchronized patterns up and down the length of the Galleria. It’s a fantastic space for sound.

A Play of FlowsThe Galleria Mazzini in Genoa, Italy, the site of Talman’s latest work, “A Play of Flows” (2008). Photo courtesy of Ginger Marley.

Otherwise, I have a couple of group shows coming up that feature video/sound works, one, an auction, in Yvonne Lambert Gallery in New York in October and one in the Kunst und Gewerbeverein in Regensburg, Germany in September.

Importantly, in the Spring of 2009, we are slated to put up a work in the Cathedral of Cologne. This installation has been delayed several times now, and it is no small thing organizing the many organizations that each have a say in the project (or could nix it unilaterally if they so decided!). But I am told it is to be this spring – so I am very honored to have the task ahead, which is entirely humbling and which will be an enormous effort. But the space is magnificent and the people are wonderful to work with, so I could not be happier!

A decade is too far advanced for me to see ahead into clearly regarding my work. But here is where I am, and what I see ahead if all goes well. I am putting efforts into Morton, the software program we talked about, so that should have a big impact. I am very interested in modern architecture, and would hope to work with an architect(s) in placing an installation in a new space(s), designed with the idea of sound as a component of the space. I am pretty much convinced we will see this happen, perhaps even as a “normal” function of high-end building design. And as acoustic science matures beyond looking primarily to control unwanted sound, I think we will see more inventive uses of sound in an architectural context. It’s a very exciting time to be making work, to be on the cusp of this great potential.


Aug 19, 2008
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Networked_Music_Review (NMR) is a research blog that focuses on emerging networked musical explorations.

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