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Compose a song with Lanier Sammons– and 100 other people.

Posted by on August 9, 2013

Lanier is leading an audience-interactive composition installation at Santa Cruz Music Night (click here for more info) on Friday, August 16th. Musicians will be in each gallery interpreting visitor responses to create a collaborative composition. You can request to changes to the tempo, alter the pitch or describe your favorite sound for the musicians to respond to.

One of the most compelling and subtle advances in recording technology in the last twenty years is the process known as convolution reverb.  Through modern computational methods and some pretty sophisticated math, convolution reverb allows an audio signal to be convincingly transferred into a real-world resonant space other than the one in which it was recorded.  With the right software, you can hear that melody you recorded in your bedroom last night bouncing off the walls in the Taj Mahal, Chartres Cathedral, or the Abbey Road echo chamber.



Of course, it’s possible to see convolution reverb as simply the latest manifestation of a trend that started centuries ago.  Since the development of musical notation and the decline of the patronage system, the music that composers write has been less and less tied to specific physical location.  Even composers who, like I do, still think of their music as principally written for live performance generally design their pieces to work in most any potential performance space (or, more honestly, we often just assume that’ll be the case).


As a Participatory Performing Artist-in-Residence at MAH this summer, space has thrust itself back onto my list of compositional concerns.  Though I was very pleased to discover that MAH has quite a few spaces with wonderful acoustic properties, some of the most basic questions about the logistics of musical performance (for example, where do the performers sit?) need to be revisited in a museum (there’s no stage!).  Since my work is fundamentally audience-interactive, those logistical questions expand exponentially:

How should visitors move through the piece?IMG_20130712_192021_785
Does it matter in what order visitors encounter components of the piece?
How will the installed exhibits impact how visitors hear and interact with the piece?
What visual relationship will the piece and performers have to the art around them?
How will visitors interact with each other within the spaces?

And, as this partial list suggests, the boundary between logistics and aesthetics is quickly and thoroughly blurred.  Space and all its sonic, visual, kinetic, and social characteristics inevitably become a vital component of the piece.

IMG_20130712_194412_305Unsurprisingly, answering these questions in order to truly compose a work that belongs within the space has been one of the great challenges and great opportunities afforded me in my role as a PPAIR at the museum this summer.  Additionally, being part of the program has transformed my usually solitary compositional process into a wonderfully collaborative and responsive undertaking.  My understanding of and responses to the space have benefitted immensely from the wonderful staff at MAH and through participation in the Hack the Museum Camp.  I hope you’ll join us on August 16 from 5:00 – 8:00 to explore the answers we’ve developed.


Learn more about Lanier and the Peforming Participatory Artist-in-Residence program here.