SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Dunn, Dorsey

Dorsey Dunn
US based

artist biography


Interview: 10 questions

1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?

I started working seriously with sound 10 years ago. Having been a lover of music and language all my life, I had been writing and editing literary fiction before that, but wanted to develop a more direct, more physical work. Sound for me is a parallel language.

2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.

I was raised in Tokyo and Singapore, and later New York City, where I attended university. My formal musical training had been fairly minor until several years ago, when I did an MFA in music at Mills College. I now live in Los Angeles.

3. Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?

Sound art is my profession – particular organizations of sound and space. Most of my time is spent creating such sound installations. I do record and perform my music here and there, but it’s the complete environment, with sound as the lead element, that most interests me.

4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?

I work improvisationally: first thinking and writing about a piece, I’ll set out a concept and a group of parameters for it, then begin working with samples and instruments, both analog and digital, to get to a point that reflects the concept.

5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?

I play saxophone, make noise with other objects and instruments, record environmental sound, sample other work, and collage all of the above on a laptop via Ableton Live or Logic. I have a few analog processors to enrich sounds as necessary. I’ll often design and build the diffusion method as well – something that has a profound effect on the eventual sounds.

6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general
and you personally?

The chances are very good. The experimental music tradition includes many, many forays into mixing new media and music, and most of my work reflects this history. The fundamental Cagean idea of opening up music to all sound is a new media idea. It would be difficult to understate the influence of this notion; most experimental musicians I know work with it every day.

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

Thus far, all of my sound installations and music productions/performances have been self-financed. Some have also eventually been paid, but new media art and experimental music are, generally speaking, not occupations in which you’re going to fully support yourself—at least not in the US.

8. Do you work individually as a musician/sound artist or in a group or collaborative?
If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

I work individually, and I’m interested in creating all aspects of a particular work – physical, digital, sonic. Collaborations are something I enjoy, but they’re usually short-term productions. However, I do gain a great deal from discussions and investigations with others, and though these may not result in finished work, they are collaborations of a kind.

9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?

Not so much. I’m very interested in many kinds of music, but my strongest influences are derived from literature and place: Bulgakov and many other Russians; various contemporary west European writers; Murakami. Language and travel continue to be fundamental to my work, and in a way my sound work grows from my efforts to translate concepts of journey and story into sound.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a sound artist or musician?

I’m working on a number of new sculptural sound pieces—large installations which I expect to show in the US and Europe over the next year or so. I’ll be at TESLA in Berlin for a residency and exhibition this fall, then solo shows in Seattle and Los Angeles next year. Both the Berlin and Seattle shows will combine performance and installation.