the museum of americana

a literary review

Sound Art by Anthony T. Marasco

 
As a composer, sound artist, and instrument designer, I love exploring an aspect of our current outlook on technology and society that philosophers refer to as Digimodernism: the effects and ramifications on how we interact with each other, with culture, and with art from different time periods through the use of new digital devices. At a moment’s whim, we can easily consume examples of art and music from sixty years ago, six hundred years ago, or from six minutes ago. Thematically, I like to present this Digimodernist view in my works by blending stylistic influences from a wide variety of historical and cultural music styles together, often by employing the new digital devices that have allowed these styles to co-exist simultaneously.
As a parallel to this, my electroacoustic works ask musicians to reinterpret their traditional approaches to performing by introducing elements of interactivity with common objects or user-friendly electronics.

Communique´focuses on love, loss, travel, and communication in the Digimodernist Age. In order to emulate the story’s focus on memory and the recurrence of unpredicted actions, each of the four vocalists are tasked with repeating cells of melodic and percussive material as many times as they’d like across a designated span of time. The prerecorded audio track includes sounds of cellphone interference, along with skipping, glitching samples of organ drones and melodic figures—emulating a skipping mixed CD that would have surely been sent between these two characters as a slightly ironic romantic gesture. In the middle of the piece, each vocalist takes a turn pulling a “prepared” postcard from a randomly shuffled pile and performs the “aria-esque” musical passage attached to the back of it. The juxtaposition between repetitive, mechanical performances and emotionally stirring operatic performances comments on digital vs. analog communication and carefully planned conversation vs. visceral, emotional confessions.

Mid-Century Marfa paints a sonic portrait of the small town of Marfa, Texas and comments on the significant role it has played in popular culture, experimental artistic circles, and rural legacy. A town oft depicted in both vintage photographs and Instagram facsimiles, Marfa and its people consistently defy convention and somehow exist straddled between the Past and the Future, but nowhere near the Present. Scored for toy piano and homemade instruments, the piece blends the musical conventions and sonic extremities of cowboy lullabies, windswept plains, mid-century Texas rock ‘n’ roll, and contemporary experimental harmonies together to create a impressionistic take on an indefinable place.

My sound art and installation pieces contain and center on common objects, daily activities, our relationship with nature, and the social impact of user-friendly or mobile electronics in order to comment on how our society uses new technological facsimiles as a substitute to actually holding and engaging with physical objects of nostalgia and media, as well as how we perceive the world around us.

Arming performers with strategies to use new or preexisting tools in performance gives me the opportunity to expand my approach to composing music by allowing for infinite interpretations of scored material. Recently, I have been exploring ways to incorporate more complex homemade instruments and interactive computer systems in order for them to have a dramatic effect on the overall structural and sonic landscapes of the piece. Newly built instruments such as an electric music box and a robotic percussion instrument have allowed me to focus on writing pieces that ask performers to alter their performance on the fly, reacting to unpredictable audio events that are generated by the improvisatory nature of these new devices. I am also currently working with incorporating sensor modules that will gauge a variety of a performer or audience member’s physical actions, such as their electro capacitive skin response, pulse rate, or muscle flex response in conjunction with computer performance software. This allows the them to be an essential element in the crafting of the piece as a whole; its very structure will change from one performance to the next not only due to someone’s approaches to choice and interpretation, but also to their biological make-up.

Anthony T. Marasco, Artist

 

Mid-Century Marfa 

 

Ultraviolet Cleopatra 

 
Communiqué

 
 
 

The Trouble Board, a board game prepared with metal contact points for each space along the game path and an embedded microphone under the “pop-o-matic” bubble dice—allow audience members to control a digital soundscape through play. A Makey-Makey microprocessor circuit and a custom-made software patch allow movement around the board and the clicking of the bubble dice to trigger the playback of sound files and process the sound of the dice roll in real-time.

The Trouble Board—a board game prepared with metal contact points for each space along the game path and an embedded microphone under the “pop-o-matic” bubble dice—allow audience members to control a digital soundscape through play. A Makey-Makey microprocessor circuit and a custom-made software patch allow movement around the board and the clicking of the bubble dice to trigger the playback of sound files and process the sound of the dice roll in real-time.

 
 
 

The Oxblood, an electro-acoustic instrument consisting of four compression springs amplified by contact microphones. Each spring consists of a different thickness and tension and is suspended across the instrument’s solid wooden body, attached to steel L-shaped brackets. A handmade contact microphone is attached to each set of brackets in order to directly amplify the vibrations of the performers interactions with each spring.

The Oxblood, an electro-acoustic instrument consisting of four compression springs amplified by contact microphones. Each spring consists of a different thickness and tension and is suspended across the instrument’s solid wooden body, attached to steel L-shaped brackets. A handmade contact microphone is attached to each set of brackets in order to directly amplify the vibrations of the performers interactions with each spring.


 
 
 
Set-up for Laying of Hands, an installation piece that amplifies and processes the sounds of audience members interacting with objects of nostalgia. Folding letters, flipping through photographs, and rewinding/advancing through tape-recorded memos create a sonic atmosphere to accompany live electric guitar and melodica improvisations and video playback.

Set-up for Laying of Hands, and installation piece that amplifies and processes the sounds of audience members interacting with objects of nostalgia. Folding letters, flipping through photographs, and rewinding/advancing through tape-recorded memos create a sonic atmosphere to accompany live electric guitar and melodica improvisations and video playback.

 

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Anthony T. Marasco is a composer and sound artist who takes influence from the aesthetics of today’s Digimodernist culture, exploring the relationships between the eccentric and the everyday, the strict and the indeterminate, the raw and the refined, and the retro and the contemporary. These explorations result in a wide variety of works written for electro-acoustic ensembles, interactive computer performance systems for groups and soloists, and multimedia installations.

An internationally recognized composer, he has received commissions from performers, ensembles, and institutions such as WIRED Magazine, Phyllis Chen, the Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, the Toy Piano Composers, Data Garden, andPLAY Duo, MakeSh/ft Maker Community, Color Field Ensemble, and the soundSCAPE International Composition and Performance Exchange. Marasco was the grand-prize winner of the UnCaged Toy Piano Festival’s 2013 Call for Scores, an Artist in Residency at Signal Culture in the winter of 2015, a grant-winning composer for the Mural Arts x American Composer’s Forum “If This Walls Could Talk” project, and one of six composers in the 2014 Rhymes With Opera New Chamber Music Workshop. His compositions and installations have been featured at festivals across the globe, such as the upcoming 2015 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, the 2015 Montreal Contemporary Music Lab, the 2009 and 2011 soundSCAPE International Composition and Performance Festivals, the 2012 Penn State University Learning Design Summer Camp, and the 2013 Color Field Festival. In the fall of 2014, his piece Communiqué was featured on Realign the Time, the debut album release by Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble.

Marasco also builds and designs custom interactive computer systems and electroacoustic instruments for his own use and for the works of others. Recent instruments include the Oxblood—a series of amplified tension springs that can be individually routed to signal processing effects—and a set of prepared board games that can be used as physical controllers for digital software instruments.