New Renaissance Artist
The word renaissance as most adults may recall from grade school history class, signals rebirth and revival. Historically, the term Renaissance has referred to people who were well versed in a vast array of subjects including art, philosophy, science, and literature. As an artist and personally, I feel as though I am constantly going through a revival, a transformation, and a rebirth. I’m always looking to push myself further in my sonic practice but along the way I become fascinated with other subjects that I may or may not have studied previously. I return to old subjects with a new outlook. Infamously, one of my mentors declared “…most people change their molecules every seven years. Elizabeth changes her molecules every seven months.” While Renaissance may conjure images of dusty Renaissance fairs, with people in ornate costumes and giant turkey legs, my purpose in prefacing Renaissance with New, is to signal that we are and I am in a place for a fresh look at revival. There have been many other Renaissance periods, including the Harlem Renaissance (which as an African-American woman, I can identify deeply with from an artistic standpoint.), but my purpose is to embrace the term away from geographical or chronological prejudice. I am a New Renaissance Artist. I embrace a constant stream of change and rebirth in my practice, which expands into a variety of media, chiefly an exploration of how the sonic world can be manipulated to personify a variety of philosophies and principles both tangible as well as intangible.
My passion for music and life comes through the consideration and exploration of relationships between physical bodies in theory, metaphysical questions, as well as philosophical concepts. I used to look at my musical works as a series of paintings in a gallery in which the experience was personalized for each viewer, but as I have grown and evolved as an artist, I have come to realize that music is a living breathing art form that changes with it’s environment. The extension of this ideal is that performers and composers are and ought to be collaborators. With the advent of notation software and digital audio workstations it has become increasingly easier to create the “perfect” realization of a work as it has been notated in the score, but humans are imperfect and each body is unique… the implication is that each artist has their own feel for a piece, which should not and cannot be constantly bound by strict adherence to a robotic interpretation of a black dots on a page. At the same time performers do have a responsibility to interpret what is on the page… the ideal result would be a beautiful organic dance in which both composer and performer take turns leading and following each other. Further detailed explanations of my current approaches to music and preoccupations with particular concepts are explored below.
Perception of Time
Everyone experiences time in different ways yet we all occupy the same physical plane of existence. Lately, I have sought to explore how layering and juxtaposing different, frequently opposing, tempi creates a musical microcosm akin to the timelines, which happen as a natural part of the universe. A work I composed for the pianist Hanbo Ma for performance and study in her doctoral piano literature class was a large-scale experiment in these theories. In the spring of 2015, I traveled to Jacksonville, FL to play with Steve Swell for the Jacksonville Jazz after dark series. On one of my breaks, I visited the Museum of Modern Art and happened upon the work of British visual artist, Christopher Watt. The work, which captivated me so much that, I felt a strong pull to just sit on the floor and study it for hours was a collection of pieces based on four separate planes. Each plane was the same size and yet was divided in several different ways. The first of the collection, was an image of all the planes assembled next to each other, while the subsequent images layered and folded the planes on top and behind each other such that various parts of each plane were visible while keeping the same size as the plane the furthest to the back. Each block was numbered and I immediately began thinking about how I could translate the proportions of the various planes to music. The resultant piece, Four Planes, uses different compositional techniques for each plane, different tempi, and further asks the performer to fold the planes in real time to create different permutations of the juxtapositions between planes. This serves as a microcosmic representation of what time feels like between various bodies on our physical plane. While things are disjointed due to personal experience they remain interconnected and the remarkable thing about this system is that while composed separately as a disconnect… when the pianist gets the piece well under his/her fingers an organic continuation appears.
Perception of Space
After living at Florida Southern College for two years, and observing daily how the esplanades and outer hallways of the Polk County Science building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright had a profound psychological impact for visitors; the short ceiling height and dark hallways ultimately make the green spaces feel bigger; I became interested in how sound pressure during performance can mimic the idea of “closed in space” and how sparse textures and sections of perceived silence create that feeling of entering the wide open world after being “boxed in” for awhile. Another thing that I gleaned from my experience living in the world of Frank Lloyd Wright was the concept of surprises that appear after one becomes so comfortable with a place that predictability and complacency become normality. One day I took a different path back to my dorm from the Roux Library, I happened upon the President’s office, a building also a part of Wright’s massive design for the campus. “Skylights or breaks” in the esplanade structure at this point were not a new concept but when I turned the corner there was an unexpected fountain and garden built into the open space… It had this other worldly and peaceful quality. It was if I had transcended this plane and fallen into a heavenly oasis. I forgot that I was at school. I forgot that I was even in Lakeland, FL and it was magical. I referred to it as the secret garden for the longest time. The ramifications of this unexpected discovery easily translated to art when composing I realized that the occasion of a “secret garden” particularly in the midst of a something quite repetitive is jarring and unexpected but at the same time offers a respite that one perhaps didn’t even know they were seeking.
Sight Expectations & Sound Psychological Disconnect
Recently, I have become mildly obsessed with toy piano and more so, with the combination of toy piano and electronics. Using contact microphones, which I built in my studio, with Pro Tools, guitar pedals, and Ableton Live; I have been able to create massive walls of sound that are completely unexpected from such a tiny instrument. As I began to experiment with the possibilities of my very tiny setup, I realized how often our eyes create a judgment of how a particular object should sound. When that object fails to live up to our expectations, it is unexpected… it plays with our emotions… and it becomes is another powerful tool for composers and performers. It is another secret garden an unexpected oasis that one did not even know they were craving.
Creating a set of rules or cells, which can be expanded upon. Rules about how the improvisation may unfold differ from composition to composition. Sometimes the cells are based on quantifiable notated music, while other times the cells and rules are based on creating textural soundscapes. I have been particularly interested in how these structures can be employed in long form works such as sound installations.
Water & Other Field Recordings
After reading a chapter in British acoustic scientist Trevor Cox’s The Sound Book, and witnessing a performance of Tan Dun’s Water Concerto, I have developed a profound interest in submerged water recording (an obsession that lead me to building my own hydrophones) as well as live processing of water. In recording these natural sounds for fixed media realizations, one realizes the simple beauty and power of seemingly regular everyday sounds. Meanwhile, the Water Concerto became an immediate inspiration for harnessing the elements… I’ve yet to figure out the best ways to make fire into an instrument but it is a consideration! In summer of 2015, I embarked on a project to collect personal stories for a sound installation, in the process of interviewing and then editing the resultant audio for presentation, I discovered a deep profound love for the human voice. In recording interviews, I quickly sought to embrace the common atmospheric sounds of coffee shops and street noise as though they were akin to the piano or orchestral accompaniment of a cello concerto. There is something very magical about how the general din of a room adds presence to speech and how arresting the noise floor can feel after an impassioned speech… all of these sounds have place and worth in the musical sphere and I want to further explore how seemingly mundane and mechanical sounds can join with the familiar voices of defined instruments to mimic the relationship between perceived “high art” and the “reality” of daily life.
In patients with psychosis, command voices are the ones that instruct them to do destructive things or behave in a certain manner. I am intensely fascinated with the relationship between a musician and their instrument as a secondary self, and the implied consciousness of an inanimate object. In many ways, musicians are command voices for instruments, composers are command voices for musicians, fundamental tones are command voices for the partials that make up the pitches that we know; but all of these instances are largely predictable and controlled.
A vibrator presents a more accurate depiction of a command voice in a psychotic patient, while I may be able to control one or two of them in manipulating the sound of the piano, as I add more of them, I lose control… specific pitches and the resulting resonant tones are left to chance. In this way, the instrument is coming alive in a manner that removes my authoritative energy, and my conversation with the instrument inevitably must fundamentally change. Furthermore, vibrators in piano create a certain underlying chaos; as I begin to interact with the instrument in a traditional manner (playing the keys) I am acting as a dominant command voice, but on a deeper level because of the subtlety of the resonant voices underneath, I am also, presenting the public face of my instrument. We all have noise in our heads, it may manifest as non-command voices, but an inner dialogue is always present; however, we don’t go around sharing our inner thoughts all the time, we have a mask… in this relationship, I am the piano’s mask, which conceptually obliterates the conventional relationship between musician and instrument.