SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Polli, Andrea

Andrea Polli
is a digital media artist living in New York City.

  • artist biography
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    Interview: 10 answers

    When started you making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?
    In the late 80’s I had been studying and making visual art and art history and had studied a lot on the rise of abstract, non-representational painting. I started to think about sound as abstract by nature, an idea that I would probably argue with today, but it is what drew me to start being involved with sound. The other reason had to do with my interest and experience with computer algorithms and computer programming. The abstraction that I saw in sound and music was (to me at the time) very similar to abstraction in mathematics. Computer programming to me was a kind of applied abstraction, and I thought of sound and music in the same way.

    Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.
    I live in New York City and direct an MFA program in Integrated Media Arts at Hunter College, a program that focuses on socially engaged media production and includes sound as well as video, new media, vr and gaming. I have an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I primarily worked with sound. I would not say that I have a formal music education, but I would say that I have a formal ‘sound art’ education.

    Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?
    My work is very experimental sound and new media art. I develop systems for translating scientific and other numerical data into sound and build systems for improvisation and generation. This work is presented in galleries, and at conferences and festivals. As a professor of Integrated Media, I do a lot of administrative planning and development, but when I do teach, much of it involves sound and interactive media.

    How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?
    I am interested in what some people might call ‘pure’ sound (although I don’t think of it as that pure!) I am engaged with the acoustic ecology movement and spend a lot of time listening to the natural and man-made sound environment (see a group I am involved with .

    Lately, when I create sound I have been interested in a kind of reductive process, starting with a very noisy sound and using programmed filters to sculpt the sound into various shapes. What interests me about this method is both the conceptual analog to sound in cities, the way sound moves between and through buildings and other man-made structures and is transformed, and the unexpected kinds of sounds that can result from the process.

    I am also interested in different ways people can experience sound, and have designed several interactive applications that allow listeners to access sound.

    Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?
    I use a laptop, often with live or sampled sounds as input, transformed in various applications but primarily Max/MSP. I designed a Max/MSP object called Datareader with artist and programmer Kurt Ralske that I use a lot when I collaborate with scientists. I often use multi-channel output.

    What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general
    and you personally?
    I think that music as we know it is being transformed. Over the last century, the definition of music was changed by recorded technology. Music became synonymous with the recording, a fixed, unchanging experience. Kind of like fast food, when you buy a particular CD anywhere you know exactly what it’s going to sound like, just like when you buy a McDonald’s hamburger, you know exactly what it is going to taste like. The problem is, with food and with music, you’ve lost any sense of context. Before recorded music, most people in the general population played music for recreation, so the experience of music was both creating and listening, whereas now with recorded music the experience is very passive.

    I think that computer technology is changing that paradigm. There are so many laptop DJs that mix and transform recorded sounds. With software like Garageband, anyone can create a kind of music, so the contextual musical experience is coming back.

    How about producing and financing your musical productions?
    My productions are sound art, so they already exist far outside of the music industry’s structure, but though knowing and working with professional musicians and professionals in the music industry, I would say that the formal structure of the music industry is changing as it becomes easier for artists to independently produce and distribute. As an artist, I think this is a positive change, giving more control and ownership to the artist.

    Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collective?
    If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
    I have worked in both ways, and it depends on the project. I have worked a lot with scientists and on the level of the concepts of the work, there’s no difference between working with scientists and working with other artists, both the scientists and artists I have worked with have been heavily involved in the work on the conceptual development side. I was almost going to say that the scientists have been more involved in this, but not really, just in a different way, for example a scientist might have an idea of some natural phenomenon and might be able to point out aspects of a data set that illustrate that phenomenon, while an artist I’m collaborating with might talk about the form of the work from an aesthetic side, both of those things to me are formal.

    The difference between the two for me has been when you get down to the nitty gritty making the work. Not being a scientists and being familiar with all the scientific tools, I usually can’t be involved with the hands on scientific work. So I can ask if data sets can be formatted in certain ways but I can’t actually do it alongside the scientists. With other artists it’s different, all of us can get into the code of what we’re doing and make adjustments. So there’s a little bit of a disconnect unfortunately when working with scientists, where you have to use language to communicate the ideas rather than working directly. So this requires a lot of clarity and a lot of understanding of what the science is. It’s a challenge that I enjoy.

    Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?
    I’ve been really involved in the Acoustic Ecology movement and the related phonography movement, many people around the world who are interested in listening to the soundscapes of the world, natural or man-made and creating recordings and other kinds of projects to address the soundscape. That’s very fascinating to me. I’m also interested in what people in the Microsound community are doing, dealing with sound on the computer in a very material and almost sculptural way, it’s something I think I’ve been trying to do with some sound projects.

    I guess my perspective is that the art world as we know it is kind of in flux or transition, between sound work and other intangible media work, the traditional art world is struggling to keep up, figuring out how to exhibit and archive this kind of work (or, unfortunately, sometimes ignoring it), but it’s not going away and people are creating all kinds of alternative venues, some of them quite large and well-respected like Ars Electronica, that are getting a lot of attention that maybe museums should have had if they were keeping up.

    What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?
    I guess when I think big I think in two ways, physical scale and temporal scale. I work with climate and meteorological data sets that describe large geographical areas. In one project I used 16 channels of sound in a large space, each one corresponded to various geographical points on the East Coast of the United States. Right now I’m working with data from the North Pole. I think about how weather and climate connects the world and am developing projects that can show that connection, transforming data from various points on the globe and bringing them together. That’s why now I’m doing a lot of traveling around the world, to start to gain more perspective on these connections.

    In terms of temporal scale, that dream is a little different, it has to do with the perception of the sound. The translations of data to sound (sonifications) that I create are usually only listened to for a short time, allowing listeners access to only a small chunk of data that is actually continuous over time. For example the North Pole data is translated in real time. So my dream would be that there would be some way people would listen to an ambient sonification over a long period of time, tens of years, not continuously of course, but that through listening over time they could gain insight into the nature of the phenomenon.


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