Octophonic Music

AE interviews composer Larry Austin
March 9, 2007

At 9 p.m, on Thursday evening, March 15, 2007, at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, 224 Centre St., #3, in New York City, you will present six recent pieces: four with performers-plus-octrophonic computer music and two as solo, octophonic computer music pieces. We caught up with Larry to ask him a few questions.

AE What are the specifics of the program?

LA The program features the world premiere of a new work composed for and performed by flutist Jacqueline Martelle, "Les Flutes de Pan: Hommage r Debussy" (2005-6), as well as two works receiving their New York premieres: "Tableaux: Convolutions on a Theme" (2003-4), composed for and performed by saxophonist Stephen Duke and "Adagio: Convolutions on a Theme by Mozart" (2004-5), composed for and performed by clarinetist F. Gerard Errante. Bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern will perform my "Threnos" (2001-2), for real and virtual bass clarinets, dedicated to the victims of 9/11. The two solo computer music pieces are my "Williams [re]Mix[ed]" (1997-2000) and "art is self-alteration is Cage is..." (1982, rev., 1993).

AE How did you come to compose these and other octophonic computer music pieces?

LA Beginning with my first electronic music composition (Roma, 1965), I have characteristically created pieces within a concert/theatrical context involving solo or ensemble vocal/instrumental performers in combination with the electronic music medium, be that fixed recording or real-time, live-electronic, or computer interaction. I compose such electronic-music-plus-performer pieces upon being commissioned by a specific soloist, producer, conductor or ensemble. I continue to work this way, and the pieces in this concert are representative of my recent works through the last decade, all inspired by virtuoso solo performers and ensembles who have collaborated with me to combine their performances with my electronic/computer music: Adagio with clarinetist F. Gerard Errante; ; Tableaux with saxophonist Stephen Duke; art is self-alteration is Cagi is... with contrabassist Robert Black; Threnos with bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern; and, most recently, Les Flutes de Pan: Hommage r Debussy, with flutist Jacqueline Martelle. What an honor and challenge it is to work with such inspired musicians! All the composer/performer collaboratons in this concert involved pre-compositional studio recordings by the performers of musical material I had created, all recorded for subsequent electronic transformation and remixing for the electronic part of the piece.

AE How do you reconcile computer-generated sound with the sound of the instrument?

LA Each performer was sonically "bonded", in a very real sense, to their piece. This is particularly true of my most recent pieces since 2001, those involving the "convolution" synthesis process. Through a process of pairing the soloist's pre-recordings, using one sound recording as the "primary input" soundfile and a second recording as the "impulse response" soundfile, the convolution process multiplies the waveform spectra of the two soundfiles together, producing a third, hybrid soundfile. The effect is a type of cross-synthesis, in which the common frequencies are reinforced. To me, provocatively beautiful, ethereal sounds are produced, which I find are especially resonant with wind instruments.

AE Why octophonic?

LA As for the octophonic, surround-sound aspect of these pieces, I can say that I have always been fascinated with immersing the audience in the sonic experience of whatever piece I am presenting, be it electronic, orchestral, choral, or theatrical. The spatial aspect has always been and will always be an important factor in the creation, performance, understanding and appreciation of my music. It is especially important in the presentation of these spatial pieces that the configuration of speakers and the placement of the amplified performers be carefully executed, as they will be in this concert. The Experimental Intermedia Foundation loft space is well suited for such spatial experiences and, through the decades, has been the special home in New York City of intermedia experimentation of this sort. I salute its founder, Phill Niblock, for his dedicated tenacity in this genre. I invite everyone to attend this "experimental intermedia" concert on March 15 and, hopefully, take in and be a part of the "whole experience".

© 2007