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Interview with Robert Duckworth

Broken Streams

Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar, Show #304, 17 March 2001. Kalvos & Damian in a live telephone interview with Robert Duckworth (in Macon GA) and collaborators Roddy Schrock and Tadashi Usami (in Tokyo). Listen to the interview (RealAudio) from the original broadcast [0:17:20–2:00:26].

[Kalvos] We’ve got Robert Duckworth from Georgia and Roddy Schrock from Japan on the air and they’re going to do some stuff for us. Tell us all about it, tell us who you are…

[Damian] Wait, wait, aren’t they supposed to wait for 12 minutes?

[K] No, this is the interview part, they are going to do an hour-long live performance beginning in 15 minutes.

[D] What will we do in the meantime?

[K] We will listen to it. You mean during the performance?

[D] Yes, do we get to interact? Do we get to do stuff too?

[K] Only if the stream fails and then we fool around for a while and pretend we are professional while we get it back.

[Robert Duckworth] Okay, here’s the general disclaimer: if the stream fails, we’re all going to break into Steve Reich’s Clapping Music.

[K&D break into Clapping Music]

[Roddy Schrock] We’re ready in Tokyo.

[K] Very good. Let’s see if we can get a live stream going and we’re going to bring a little of that in and just see what happens. You guys can tell us about it in the meantime.

[D] Can you also tell us about the food in Tokyo?

[RD] Roddy, why don’t you start off? Roddy’s better.

[RS] Food in Tokyo… I think my favourite is the fried octopus in batter, which is always an interesting treat, But the sushi is one of the most enjoyable things, I believe. Although it’s difficult to find the California rolls.

[D] I would think so, but they don’t have any Tokyo rolls?

[RD] For me, I’m not a big fan of sushi, but they have a kind of “country cuisine” which is called inago and is pickled crickets.

[D] Like grits!

[RD] Like momma used to make.

[K] We’re going to read a bit about each of you. We’re not going to read much about Robert, because Robert doesn’t make much about himself. He says: “Name: R. Duckworth; Date of birth and citizenship and current location and occupation, education; Composition: private student and current activities.” But tell us more about yourself, how did you come into this? Are you famous?

[RD] Well, after this show…

[RS] Maybe you’ll be infamous.

[RD] Yes, I’ll have to hide. Let see, briefly, it all started when I was about 15 or 14. My mother actually played percussion, and I got into music through her. She taught me how to play it. But in college I got serious about things and I started studying               composition. I graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in composition. After that, I had studied computer music and I started to study computer music with a Japanese university professor named Takehito Shimazu, during my senior year as a university student. I basically defected from my University of Georgia teacher to him, and he said, “Please come to Tokyo and I’ll teach you music and computer music.” So now, I’m currently a special researcher for the Japanese government. They have a cultural foundation which is called the Bunkacho, and I research modern Japanese music for them as an under fellowship.

[D] And they pay you to do this?!

[RD] They call it payment. Actually the scholarship is a handsome one. When my research ends this year, I’ll actually be headed back to America, but this time to California, I’ve been accepted into CalArts to study composition and new media.

[D] We know someone who is at CalArts, don’t we? Or is that just a figment of our imagination?

[RD] I’m sure you guys know someone at CalArts. Actually, I think everyone who is going to be playing on the programme today is headed to California. Roddy will tell you he’s headed to Mills in September…

[D] According to his bio, after that things become a little more foggy.

[RD] And our friend and collaborator, Mr. Tadashi Usami just found out last night he is headed there.

[RS] So congratulations to Tadashi!

[D] Any chance that you will be in the Vermont area around the 25th or 26th of August?

[RD] Roddy, will you be in America in August?

[RS] Yes, I will, I’m going to be in America somewhere at that time.

[D] There is the Ought-One festival there.

[RD] So Roddy will be in the States, I’m not sure, I may be in Japan.

[D] We’re listening to “stuff” now, correct? What “stuff” are we listening to and what is the genesis of it?

[RS] We’re actually broadcasting from an apartment in Tokyo. We are receiving a live stream from Robert, as we speak. It’s a live stream of music that Robert has composed for the programme today. He could give you a little more insight into that, I believe.

[RD] Sure, sure. I’ve arranged a bunch of pieces for today. Basically, in a nutshell, they were composed using different programmes, maybe Max/MSP or Pluggo…

[K] And those are all running on Macs, yes?

[RD] They were running and then maybe I made a recording of this…

[K] Oh, a maybe you made a recording! So a delayed real time and real time.

[RD] That’s true. The actual sequence of events is being structured in real time, but the actual properties of sound are not changing in real time.

[RS] There’s one exception to that, actually. Tadashi is going to be receiving Robert’s stream and combining that with sounds that I’m going to be creating in real time in Tokyo as well. Tadashi has also threatened to take some samples from the live programme that we’re making today and use those…

[D] Wait, wait! What about the intellectual property rights of us? [General laughter]

[RS] We’ve contacted our lawyers and they are on guard.

[RD] We’ve already filed a lawsuit against everyone who’s going to be listening.

[RS] We’ll be combining that in Tokyo and hopefully sending that stream on over to you guys in Vermont to do with it what you may at that time.

[D] We do like to use the streams that we get from time to time. Usually they are yellow streams, they’re not generally any kind of sound streams that we would ever want to play again, but I can already tell… I mean, I’ve been humming the music that you’ve been sending us so far and it’s becoming just like one of these little nettling adverts in the back of my mind, I can’t quite get it out.

[RD] It’s certainly jingle theme material.

[D] Exactly, yes.

[RD] It’s a combination of a lot of different styles that are happening with the stream. Basically, you’re safe to say, if you say “all of the above”, what is happening is “all of the above”.

[D] How long have you been working on this particular Macintosh system musical programme thing?

[RD] Myself, I’ve been performing computer music on the Macintosh for maybe two-and-a-half or three years. I don’t know about Roddy, I think he’s been doing it lot longer than I have.

[RS] I started doing some Macintosh music programmes maybe about four years ago, but the style that I’m working in now basically reached some sort of culmination in the last one-and-a-half to three years. Much of that has been work that I have done with Robert in our group Tricky OL.

[RD] Same here, I’m greatly impressed by what Roddy does, there’s a real synergy between us.

You’ve asked a really wonderful question, I wish I could give you a wonderful answer.
— Robert Duckworth

[D] We found a lot of people who do a lot of real-time composition use Macintoshes over PCs… why?

[RD] Because they don’t know any better. [Giggling] No, I’m sorry, that’s not fair. Roddy, why do they use Macintosh?

[RS] Well, that’s a very good question.

[RD] All of the research institutes I’ve been to around the world, maybe in Japan, in America or in Europe — the music-related research facilities — have all used Macintosh.

[K] Is that because they got there first, with the first audio stuff, before the PC was borne into that world?

[RD] It’s a thought. You’ve asked a really wonderful question, I wish I could give you a wonderful answer.

[K] Well then, you’ll have to give us wonderful music instead.

[RD] I can at least say, from a pragmatic point of view, if one were not using a Macintosh, it would be difficult to work with what I would think were the leading people in the computer music field. Roddy, would you agree with that?

[RS] Definitely. There are many examples of programmes that were developed first and limited only to the Macintosh in the history of audio programmes. I think recently, many more things have become ported to IBM’s. Still, in general, it does seem like everyone just tends to use Macintosh, sort of the de facto standard. Plus they look cool. [Laughter]

[D] Oh yes, the visual impact of the concert is, I think, very important.

[RD] We’re just a glam rock version of a computer music band.

[D] So you don’t do a whole lot of acoustic music?

[RS] In the past I’ve done more acoustic music and in the future I plan to as well. Recently I’ve been focussing almost [exclusively] on computer music, but I would like to reach more of a synthesis of that in the future.

[RD] For me, my research is actually split between computer music and computer music. Because of my research for the Japanese government, a lot of the instruments that I write for are ancient Japanese acoustic instruments. Recently it’s been mostly koto but I’ve begun to write for shamisen also. But that would be in combination with electronic music also. Sometimes solo, but sometimes in combination.

[K] We’re about ready to hear your hour-long performance and what we’re going to do is take the breaks that may happen in the stream and we’re going to mix in the material that Robert has on So if we get a break in the stream, while we’re re-establishing it, we’re going to bring that up underneath.

[RD] That sounds like a great idea.

[K] So that’s what we’re going to do for the next hour.

[RD] Okay, so I guess I’ll get off the phone then and we’ll give it to you for about an hour .

[K] Gentlemen, shall we hang up from you guys as you play?

[RD] Sure, sure. Roddy, please go ahead, I’m going to go over to the computer right now.

[K] Roddy Schrock, Robert Duckworth and Tadashi Usami, an hour-long improv. We’re going to try and establish that stream right now and bring it up.

We listen to Composition #1 by Robert Duckworth, Roddy Schrock and Tadashi Usami [0:32:10–1:31:40]. Live performance from Georgia, USA and Tokyo, Japan, via the Internet.

Interspersed at points where the feed failed, the following compositions by Robert Duckworth are inserted: abi kyokan; tokyo wa…; por jorge; set phasers on “kill”; wail; unknown-unknowable; hoshi no oto; jinkokoyu; phase II; oh my god, they killed kenny! All recordings provided by the composer via <>.

[K] Okay, good, we’re on the air, gentlemen. Would you just tell us what just happened? And introduce Tadashi as well.

[RS] This was a collaboration between myself, Robert Duckworth and Tadashi Usami. Robert and I work together in the sound unit Trick OL, and you can find out more information at for more gigs and more information about what we’re doing. What we just did was collaborate via the internet: Tadashi and I are based in Tokyo and Robert is somewhere in Georgia.

[RD] Actually, right now I’m in Macon but I live in Tokyo. I’m just here for the concert and also visiting some family.

[RS] Robert had composed a piece of music in which the sounds were composed beforehand but in real time the structure of the piece he played was changed using his computer and programmes such as Max/MSP. I think he did some work with Pluggo on that, as well. We took the sound he created from Georgia, we got it from the internet in Tokyo and we added to his sounds and sampled and remixed some of the things that he was doing and created a real-time group collaboration and then broadcast that to you guys via the internet.

[K] Right, you sent it back to us, and because we are on a shared connection here at Godard College as part of WGDR, there were times at which we lost that stream. And during the time we lost that stream, which was occasional, we mixed in part of Robert’s pre-recorded music that he has posted on the site. So that we have included not only your live mix but also the recorded stuff; all that was derived from internet sources.

[RD] Which makes it a much more interesting collaboration, in my view. Because it involves an element totally beyond our control. I can’t wait to hear the archive and hear how it sounds.

[K] Roddy, you could hear it on your end, is that true?

[RD] Yeah, it sounded great, actually and I thought what you guys did was great, maybe we can play together when we come back to America.

[K] Right, August 25th and 26th at our Ought One festival. Would you introduce Tadashi please?

[RS] Tadashi is a friend of ours who we have collaborated with on numerous occasions here in Tokyo and he is be going to be coming Mills College to study computer music this Fall. And actually, I’ll just put him on the phone here so he can make his American début. Here’s Tadashi.

[Tadashi Usami] Hello, this is Tadashi Usami in Tokyo.

[K] Tell us what you did in this composition as you were working on it.

[TU] In this session I used hundreds of Japanese pop tunes and processed that in my computer and just played that.

[K] The use of the Japanese pop tune, how did you use that? Just as mere source material — simply for the sound — or were you using some of the implications of the song as well?

[TU] I cut the original songs into hundreds of pieces and then mixed them almost at random. I can’t explain because I have very few English words, you know.

[K] Well, if Robert or Roddy could give us an idea of how you all have collaborated over for however long it has been

[TU] The time delay is so large! It is not a bad point, rather it is very interesting, for me at least.

[RD] Usami is involved with solo projects in Japan and also group projects. He has a computer music ensemble called Kaiten Mind, and they perform all over Japan together. We’ve collaborated with Mr. Usami probably for about year on and off. We very much enjoy working with him.

[D] Who is your audience? Where do you perform?

[TU] I have performed in Tokyo and also in Nagwaya and in Osaka. which is an older, big city in Japan.

[RD] Probably we would perform maybe at a club or an art gallery or maybe a concert hall; the locations vary tremendously.

[K] A question I asked Robert during an email at one point: is the kind of music that you do more popular there in Japan than it is in America? Do you have a larger audience, or a more receptive audience?

[TU] Very few people in the audience, but we enjoy it.

[D] Do you get subsidized by any other organizations to help you put on your concerts?

[TU] Our performances are planned independently. Any organizations haven’t helped yet.

[K] Robert, how long have all three of you been playing together, and how did you meet?

[RD] I met Roddy first, about three years ago at a concert here in America at Mississippi State University. Roddy and I wound up going to the SUNY at Buffalo acoustic and computer music workshop in 1999 and we decided to work together from that time on a computer music duo, because we both had plans to move to Tokyo. When we moved to Tokyo — Roddy moved that year and I followed not long after that, maybe the next year — we started working together. Roddy and I have been working together for more than a year now. We met Mr. Usami through an acquaintance of mine, so he and I have been in contact for almost that long. We’ve done maybe five or six collaborations with him before; we’ve worked together with him probably more than any other Japanese underground or experimental sound artist.

[K] We’re going to go to another piece you’re going to work out, who’s going to be doing this one?

[RD] I think Roddy and Mr. Usami are going to start off and I’ll join in a few minutes. I think this will last about 15 minutes.

[D] We need a title, it’s very important that we attach a title to this piece.

[TU] Sure, the title is Abraham Lincoln and Zucchini.

[K] Robert Duckworth, Roddy Schrock and Tadashi Usami, thanks so much for joining us.

[RD] Thanks for having us, guys.

We listen to Abraham Lincoln and Zucchini by Robert Duckworth, Roddy Schrock and Tadashi Usami [1:42:04–1:55:30]. Live performance from Georgia and Japan, via the Internet.

We listen to tokyo wa... by Robert Duckworth [1:57:32–2:00:26]. Recording provided by the composer via <>.

[Transcription by shirling & neueweise, August 2010.]

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