SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Osborn, Ed

Ed Osborn
US sound artist


Interview:10 questions 

1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?
I started playing music when I was a kid, and spent a fair number of years trying to make a French Horn sound good (not with great success). I also played with cheap cassette recorders a lot – no hope of making them sound good (or rather, anything but low fidelity) but lots of fun nonetheless. If I could figure out my motivation (then and now) for working in sound I’d probably be in danger of stopping.

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

I grew up in Philadelphia and was fortunate to be there in the late ’70 and early ’80s because a local radio station, WXPN (from the University of Pennsylvania), had an absurdly large part of its programming devoted to experimental musics of many flavors (they have long since changed format to something more sensible but less interesting). I ended up studying at Wesleyan University and Mills College, both excellent programs for experimental sound, but if not for WXPN I wouldn’t have ended up there.

3.Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays? 
I teach sound and media studies in the Visual Art Department at Brown University (and in the Music Department’s graduate program in electronic media), so dealing with sound in one form or another is my profession, though not always in creating it. I work more sound installation than music now, so the context is usually galleries and museums and/or sound and media festivals.

4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc? 
I don’t have one or even several sets of guiding principles that I follow. Since the work varies a lot from project by project it would be hard to apply a unified format to it. Usually I’ll try to find some interesting quality of a sound/place/instrument/situation and build out from there. This approach leads me off in many different directions, which is both challenging and healthy.

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

On the software side I’ll use Max/MSP, Logic, Peak, Live, SoundHack, and a bunch of other things. I also build and customize my own hardware, so the sounds and movements of this hardware shows up a lot in my pieces, especially the installations.

6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general 
and you personally?
The ease of integration now of various kinds of media (sound, video, data, custom electronics) is something that I find both daunting and useful. It is relatively easy now to make high-quality productions on a technical level, and the vocabularies of media work develop far more quickly and with greater complexity than they used to do. While this raises the bar for everyone, I think that this makes it more of a challenge to cleanly and clearly present the central concerns of any particular project.

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions? 

Sometimes I’ll get commissions or grants, and once in a great while I’ll sell something. But most of the time I’ll have to finance it myself. When I was living in Germany I could live off of my work, but since I have been back in the US I have to have another job to support it. Fortunately, I have an interesting and flexible job that not only supports my creative work but requires that I do it.

8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collaborative? 
If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer? 
Generally I am working on my own projects, but I have worked in a variety of group situations. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, so I don’t really have a preference. It is easier to schedule time when it is only myself on a project, so that has been the main factor lately (I’ve had lots of competing and concurrent demands on my time in the last few years). If I can arrange more flexibility in my schedule then I’ll do more collaborations.

9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music? 
Too many to list here. Overall the kind of work that sticks with me and has some sort of influence is work that is compelling because it focuses on some small area of focus and makes a whole world out of it. Agnes Martin’s grid drawings have this (she spent about thirty years doing nothing but drawing grids by hand), the same with Phill Niblock’s drone pieces: they initially seem similar, but listen closely and a universe emerges.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician? 
That someday someone would say about my work what I answered for the last question.

Can works of yours experienced online besides on SoundLAB? Where?
List some links & resources

Most everything can be found at