SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Mantione, Philip

Philip Mantione
US soundartist


Interview: 10 questions

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

Music was always a great source of joy in my family. I began taking private guitar lessons at age eight and played my first gig at fifteen. I also played clarinet for several years. I remember considering other pursuits at the time, but in retrospect, music was my only real passion and my becoming a composer was inevitable.

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

I was raised in Buffalo, New York. My parents were blue collar workers of modest means that put three children through college. I relocated to Los Angeles where I studied jazz guitar for several years and ultimately earned a Masters in Music Composition degree from CSULA in 1996. There I studied composition mainly for acoustic instruments and had my first exposure to computer music. Later, I taught myself MAX/Msp and began composing for computer, interactive mutlimedia performance, experimental video and installation.

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

I currently make my living as a music copyist working for musical theatre productions, and the recording and film industry. Since the early 90’s, I’ve been writing electroacoustic and acousmatic music, as well as music for for multimedia performance, experimental video, installation and acoustic ensembles. In the last few years, I’ve been experimenting with bent circuits, instrument building and various forms of live improvisation.

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

I have used a variety of approaches to composition over the years. Often I use some “nonmusical” paradigm as a means of determining form or structure. I usually try to limit my palette such that a single piece is derived from one or possibly two sound sources. While I may impose a “method” or construct for an individual piece or group of works, I do not adhere to any overriding principles and try to approach each new work with an open mind and a willingness to experiment with untried ideas. My recent experiments with group improvisation have led me to develop new software and hardware devices for live performance, which has made my interaction with the computer a much more fluid and responsive process.

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

MAX/Msp has been my tool of choice since 1995. I write custom software based on my needs for a certain piece or performance situation. I also use Protools for editing and mixing. My recent work with bent circuits and instrument building have yielded exciting results and I’m now beginning to experiment with combining these analog worlds with digital manipulation.

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

In terms of new media, this is an exciting time to be an artist. New tools, hardware, and software are continually being developed. I think the most important aspect of all this relates to dissemination. Self-publication and distribution is now a reality for video, audio and the written word among other forms of creative expression. I think it’s still too soon to fully understand the ramifications of being able to communicate your work on a global scale and having instant access to the work of others from around the world. New media has had unprecedented influence on sociopolitical events as can be seen with the demonstrations in Iran in 2009, and the use of Twitter to disseminate information. The democratization of creation and distribution has had a leveling effect on political power structures. In the arts, this new found ability to freely broadcast or distribute your work eliminates the geographic constraints of place and reduces alienation.

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

With exception of some nominal grants, commissions and stipends, I have largely self-financed my work. There are few avenues for funding individual artists in the US. In comparison to European countries or in fact, the world in general, the US does not seem to have the same commitment to its artistic community. Instead of providing support directly to artists, the trend has been to funnel what little support exists through organizations that often have very specific and limiting mission statements. This allows these organizations to influence the nature and content of what is created as opposed to simply supporting the individual creator. Art becomes a mechanism for furthering public and private agendas, a process that seriously limits creative potential.

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 have worked as an individual and with collaborators and find both to be rewarding in different ways. As an individual, you have complete creative control and freedom. With a collaborator you have less control, but access to the energy and expertise of another artist(s). My work with visual artist, Alysse Stepanian has spanned over two decades and includes multimedia performance, installation and experimental video. Together we created work that would not have otherwise been realized as individuals. A mutual respect is essential for such a relationship.

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

I believe everything I’ve experienced in my life resides somewhere in my psyche and influences my creative thinking. While I’ve been influenced by many composers and musicians over the years, I believe John Cage has had the greatest and lasting impact. His ideas opened the ears of a generation and you would be hard pressed to find a composer today whose work has not been either directly or indirectly influenced by him.

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

The tactile nature of bent circuitry and instrument building is greatly appealing to me and I plan to continue pursuing these areas. My recent explorations in group improvisation with electroacoustic ensembles is another area that has been quite fruitful. But these live performance-based interests will not preclude my continuing efforts in fixed media work, installation and experimental video. Limiting myself to one area does not seem necessary or conducive to creative thinking.

Philip Mantione