SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Sigman, Alexander

Alexander Sigman
US composer


Interview: 10 Questions

1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?
My first efforts in composition were at ca. age 7-8, primarily improvising at the piano. However, I would consider my first more “serious” composing activities to have commenced at age 13, writing for various small ensembles, choir, synthesizer, etc. During my childhood, I was also studying piano (classical and jazz), clarinet, conducting, and had a brief stint as a chorister. Given this relatively early immersion into a musical environment, no further motivation was necessary.

2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.
Although neither of my parents was an active musician, I had been exposed to various forms of music (be it recorded or live) from a young age. My first “formal” musical education took the form of a Kindermusik class (ca. age 4). Thereafter, I studied piano (primarily) and other instruments privately, both at a conservatory and at summer music programmes. This was supplemented by courses in music theory and history, through which I first encountered the works of pre- and post-war avant-garde composers. From my experience as a member of the American Boychoir for two years, it soon became apparent that the existence of a touring performer was not a desirable one. However, it was my intention to pursue some mode of engagement with the production of music in a manner that would also address my interests in other artistic disciplines, philosophy, computer science, and literature. During my high school years, I received encouragement (largely from my jazz piano/improvisation teacher) to focus upon developing as a composer. As an undergraduate, I complemented a rather solid (albeit traditional) education in composition with a major in Cognitive Science, and enriched both my experience of collaborating with performers and my compositional vocabulary via attending contemporary music festivals/workshops in France and Germany. My initial curiosity into the domain of electronic music was triggered by hearing Stockhausen’s Kontakte, as well as computer music emerging from the Columbia-Princeton Lab as a teenager. After a few experimental forays into CSound, my first “formal” study of electronic music occurred within the framework of a summer programme, offered by the TIMARA department of Oberlin Conservatory. My studies in this vein continued during my undergraduate period (including a two-week course at IRCAM). More recently, I have been exposed to further possibilities at CCRMA (Stanford), The Institute for Sonology (Den Haag), and via courses taught by sound/media artist Paul DeMarinis.

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

At the moment, I am on an artist-residency. As such, it has been possible to function as a composer more or less without distraction. In 2009-2010, I will be completing my doctorate at Stanford, which will likely entail some quantity of pedagogical activity. Thereafter, on verra.

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

4. Principles? Hmm. Although the systems employed may be ultimately implemented via software (i.e., algorithmic procedures), I will typically begin to design these systems manually, as a means of providing a physical engagement with a given work (especially as I have avoided composing “at the piano” for the past decade or so). At this initial phase, the resulting sketches may take the form of a graph or time-line representation of the work’s architecture/structural attributes, a flow-chart, or simply a list of terms/statements central to organizing my thoughts a bit. In certain cases, experimentation with a particular instrument/performer or technology (especially if rather unconventional, or poorly documented), and/or research into extant repertoire may occur during the preparation-phase of a project. Thereafter, the project’s unfolding becomes entirely context-dependent. While the emergence of a surface may proceed “automatically” in certain cases, others may involve constant revision…a sort of “feedback-loop” between basic assumptions, compositional structure and surface realization. But in all cases, a degree of methodological plasticity is encoded, such that systems may engender further systems, and surfaces may collide and transform in unpredictable ways.

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

5. First of all, my scores are all computer-notated via Finale. But onto less banal topics: Within the realm of electroacoustic/sound-art works, sound analysis/synthesis has typically been achieved via Audiosculpt and SPEAR. Further operations have been realized within SuperCollider, Max/MSP, Kyma, and CLM. I have employed OpenMusic, AC Toolbox, and Common Music when resorting to algorithmic procedures (exclusively on local levels of structure). Recently, I have been exploring the possibilities of Wavefield Synthesis, and am currently experimenting with Isadora as a means of integrating video and sound. Last year, I had the privilege of working in the analogue studio of the Institute for Sonology (Den Haag, NL)…and while I found the results compelling, had encountered a fair degree of frustration in generating anything worth keeping. Generally speaking, I subscribe to no electroacoustic orthodoxies: technology has existed for me as a tool…not the object of an ideology.

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

Not certain I fully comprehend this one. Sorry.

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

Ah, a rather sensitive subject. The majority of performances/presentations of my recent work, both for ensemble and electronic media, have received institutional subsidies (i.e., universities, festivals, independent state or private grants). However, current economic conditions would suggest certain limitations in this regard on a global scale henceforth.

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?

Although I have collaborated with artists in other disciplines (film, dance, theatre), my work has been primarily conducted in solitude. Recent experiences with collaborative composition experiments have suggested a preference for the latter.

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


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

To become Immortal…and then to die.