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6 Questions to Sound Artist Ian Jarvis

Ian Jarvis is a Toronto-based sound artist, composer, songwriter and media producer. He is often the mouthpiece of frAncIs, who is best described as an Audio Being and the illegitimate offspring of the right side of Ian’s brain and the slightly abused digital media that authenticates his life. Their interaction often results in what might be described as music and sound art. Much of the work is motivated by the implications of technology on creative practices and the development of personal identities. Recent works are included on the NAISA Deep Wireless 8 CD, the Cybernetic Orchestra’s debut CD ESP.beat, and have been presented at the Hamilton Art Crawl, the Sheridan Gallery, and the 2012 Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium. He creates “The Becoming of an Audiophile” for NAISA webcast, and composes and produces various audio projects under the names Audio Being and Caught In The Groove. |

[1] Briefly describe your musical / sound art background and education, formal and informal.

Growing up in a Salvation Army household, music was commonplace. Every one of my family members played in the band or sang in the choir. This environment lasted till I was about 12 years old and I have very fond memories of this music tradition. While my exposure to learning and playing an instrument was limited within this context a major turning point for me was when my older brother brought home an acoustic guitar when I was about 16 or 17. This opened up the world of creating music, as I would learn a few chords so that I could play and sing along to Bob Dylan, or whoever, but I enjoyed much more exploring the chords that I had learned to see what I could come up with. For the next five or six years, I enjoyed playing without ever feeling the need to actually write anything — I would learn a song or two and then just make up what I could with what I had learned.

Arriving at Simon Fraser University enrolled in the physics department, I took a general elective course, Introduction to Music Composition, or something like that. After this course I was told that I would be able to continue within the program — I found this very exciting as I had not been formally trained in music, and now I was able to study it within this very new area (to me) of 20th Century music and musical processes, or Electroacoustic Composition, as the program was called. Studying under Barry Truax and Arne Eigenfeld I traversed the acousmatic, soundscape, and computer music traditions and became somewhat obsessed with the creative process: what is an artist (or anyone for that matter) doing and thinking when they are being “creative”? I enjoyed the diversity of creative practices that I was introduced to and how it fundamentally altered the way I approached making music and sound art.

After I completed my BFA I began revisiting the singer-songwriting tradition that had fuelled my interests in the early years of my life. This was motivated by the drastic difference in creation and performance of fixed media electroacoustic music and the singer-songwriter style. In particular, this raised the question of what was my body doing during the creation / performance process? It was at this time that I began to formally write songs and explore music production drawing heavily on my education, while seeking to balance what seemed contradictory musical trends. At this time I was working at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice and, through discussions with the musical therapists and my boss in the facilities department, I began to think about and research the musical potential of technology as bodily extensions. This made me realize that I was interested in returning to academia. So, I moved back to Toronto and shortly after began the Master’s program at McMaster University, studying with David Ogborn. It was here I was introduced to live coding and the laptop orchestra, which broadened my musical practice and helped shape my Major Research Project (MRP), which in the end included live coding, creating GUIs and DIY digital instruments, gestural controllers, all for the performance contexts of a solo performer, laptop orchestra, and a networked laptop orchestra. 1[1. See Ian Jarvis’ article “Creating ‘Orbit, a Scalable Laptop Composition’” in this issue of eContact! for more on this project.] The goal was to explore the breadth of potential using digital media for music creation.

[2] Could you briefly describe your current musical / sound art activities, private, within the community, and public. Please indicate whether you view these as “professional”, “artistic” or other kinds of activities.

Currently I work for New Adventures in Sound Art as the Production Coordinator, a position that wears many hats. Periodically I run workshops for the introduction to live coding using the ChucK programming language (which will at some point also include SuperCollider), creating radio transmitters, contact microphones and DIY digital instruments. I perform in a small live coding ensemble called extramuros as well as on occasion with the Cybernetic Orchestra. I create the webcast called “The Becoming of an Audiophile,” create and perform under the name frAncIs and run two small production companies, one that houses my Sound Art related practices called Audio Being, and the other for traditional musics called Caught In The Groove Productions.

[3] Please briefly describe your uses of technologies in your creative life. You may want to include a short description of the equipment and software / services you use (number of computers, phones, scanners, Facebook, Skype, etc.), and comment on your use of mobile technologies compared to a few years ago.

My creative practice is almost entirely rooted in digital media, excluding live acoustic guitar and voice. My practice evolved out of the time of the personal home studio and landed on my lap. I have always been attracted to the possibilities that are available for relatively low cost of equipment, as well as the headphone culture that I have grown up in. I use a MacBook Pro with Logic and Reaper, Max/MSP, ChucK, SuperCollider, Reason, Amadeus Pro, Arduino Microcontrollers, a H4N Zoom Digital recorder, Iphone 4S (running OSC touch), Yamaha studio monitors, Audio-Technica headphones, Gibson acoustic guitar, and voice. I am thoroughly interested in the reciprocal relationship that occurs between me and the technology and how that influences my creative practice. How I think about and approach sound and music is heavily rooted in my experience and familiarity with digital media. In regards to mobile technology, I have not really thought about it exclusively but more in terms of the growing body of digital media and how it is related to networked performance. I have been a part of performances using multiple audio streams from different geographical locations using mobile technologies, smart phones, though I have not yet consciously included it my creative exploration.

[4] How do you feel that the use of these technologies has contributed to those areas of your creative life where you employ them? You may also wish to comment on those that you don’t use (and the reasons). Do social media help or hinder in this?

Most of my creative life rests on the use of the technology — all of it has been influenced by it. The larger question that motivates my practice is the relationship between digital technology and the human understanding of self and reality. This influences my musical practice in two ways: one, through the way in which sound and music can be explored through the variety of digital media (live coding, to digital instruments, GUIs, manipulating sound files, synthesis, etc.) — how does my physical interaction with digital media reveal sonic material that is beyond what is imaginable; and two, striving to realise and refine my sonic imagination though the embodiment of the digital media practices. Social media I am somewhat undecided on. I see the potential that it provides but I am still in the process of habitulizing its use such that it is not a distraction to my practice. One area that is a growing interest is how one’s digital / virtual self can take on a life of its own and how it provides others with caricatures or (mis)representations of who you are. I have sympathy for those who wish to portray themselves accurately through their virtual selves, as the media only allows for relativistic versions of accuracy.

[5] Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, Skype, Twitter, blogs … are part of the lingua franca of the students I meet every year. Are there ways for the older generation to use these technologies to communicate our values to those who were born after (about) 1988?

I think this is a tricky question. I consider myself a self-learner and I am envious of future generations’ access to information — it is not a stretch to say that whatever you want to learn is just a few clicks away. The concern that I see, which connects to the question I mentioned above regarding what the body is doing during the creative / performance process, is related to the externalization of cognitive functions — it is currently easy to access information but increasingly difficult to justify and promote the struggle to understand it at a deeper level. The question that is troublesome is what information is necessary to pass on and how do we pass it on to a generation that not only questions previous generations but has a genuine necessity to do so in relation to the exponential growth of technological advancement. I think one of the struggles that I have and perhaps previous generations have is dealing with the unsettling idea that there is always more to learn in our area of expertise — gone are the days when an individual could imagine themselves being a master of an intellectual domain — especially related to technology. Now this is exciting on one level as there is always more that can be learned, but disturbing on another for I will never be able to traverse it all. This increases the importance of the phenomenological experience, for one’s account of his or her experience through particular subject matter will be one chapter among many that creates the body of knowledge for topic that informs the future generations — rarely will we see single author books that cover a complete topic (whatever that means!).

[6] Distribution of work used to be difficult to secure. Today with YouTube and Clouds, it is ubiquitous. Where it used to be difficult to find a copy of something, today, sometimes it is almost as difficult, not because it is not available, but because there are 1200 other (similar) competing items. Could you comment on how you see your work in this context now and in the future?

The use of YouTube and the Clouds has been a relatively new venture for me and I find myself quite fond of them. Being one who tries to promote a creative culture vs. the consumer culture, I enjoy the fact that anyone can create something and put it online for others to access. Yes this saturates the space with audio that I am not interested in (as is probably the case for everyone) but when I find something from someone I have never heard of from the other side of the world and it only has 10 listens and I really like it, I find this amazing. I think the notion of niche communities is what the technology really allows for, even if those niche communities are undefined. It’s not about having everyone hear the work it’s about finding those who genuinely enjoy it. This is an area that I would like to explore, that of building / discovering niche communities online. I think the catch to existing online is that you need to participate and engage in conversations, the idea that you can just put your work online and the rest will handle itself, an automated distribution, is not how it works. Yes, this can happen, but for most of us we need to put work online, let people know that it is there, remind them (perhaps many times), and be thankful for the ones that return.

[Monday, 6 May 2013]

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