SIP - SoundLAB Interview Project

Swack, Debra

Debra Swack
US sound artist


Interview: 10 questions

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

I started writing music around 10. I found that I preferred writing music as opposed to playing it, taught myself guitar and keyboard and began composing music for those instruments.

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

My father was a Julliard trained composer of chamber music whose archives are in the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library. I spent many childhood summers at Tanglewood and sometimes went to ASCAP events at Lincoln Center or parties at Stanley Drucker’s house who was first clarinetest for the NY Philaharmonic for over 50 years and toured with Leonard Bernstein. His wife had a chamber music group that performed my father’s music, sometimes at Weil (Carnegie) Hall. My father started me on the piano and then switched me to violin when I was 7 because he felt it was a more social instrument. I preferred the piano but I became first violinist and concert master in the school orchestra. I also sang in the choir.

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

I previously worked in the recording industry for PolyGram Records/Deutsche Gramophone/Philips and have presented my sound and video work at Princeton University, the University of California at Irvine, the New Museum, Eyebeam, the Beecher Center for Arts and Technology, White Box Gallery and the Museum of Natural History. “95 Chimes”; a soundart installation relating Brian Greene’s idea of String Theory to music was first presented in ASCI’s Sci-Art Symposium at the Museum of Natural History in 2002 in conjunction with the Einstein Exhibit. It was later mastered at Banff Centre for the Arts under a co-production grant and is now in the new media collection of the New Museum.

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

I favour an overall tonality and structure verses simply making noise or sound effects when composing sound works. Structure doesn’t have to be rigid or formal as a Bach fugue but I like the idea of counterpoint which my father liked to say is like characters having a conversation in a theatrical play. I also like some forms of minimalism because it provides basic structure and has roots in both visual art and music. It makes it easier to unify sounds with visual images since I am also a visual artist.

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

I look for things with musical and acoustical qualities. I’ve recorded chimes in the recording studio at Banff Centre for the Arts under a co-production grant and then edited and composed music in Protools. Sometimes I use field recordings like those used for “Birdsongs; the Language Gene” which premiered in the “Sonic Fragments Soundart Festival” at Princeton University in March 2008.

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

The internet, sound art festivals and galleries provide forums. Of course it’s always nice to be invited to contribute something to an event.

7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

Sometimes I’m asked to participate, as with White Box Gallery in Chelsea where I showed “Little Wars; the Carousel Project” (Carousel means “little wars” in Italian and therefore previously had a militaristic meaning). “Little Wars” is a virtual 3D immersive video animation comprised of carousel horses and animals accompanied by my father’s music “Four Burlesques for flute and Bb clarinet (Shawnee Press).” Sometimes I get grants or grants for in-kind services such as access to a recording studio at Banff where I mastered “95 Chimes.” “Little Wars” was also mastered at Banff under a co-production grant.

8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collaborative?

Sometimes alone, and sometimes I collaborate by creating videos to accompany my father’s music or by working with other sound artists like at Eyebeam’s Gallery in NYC.

If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

I like doing both, collaboration allows you to get outside your own head and to experience new ideas and ways of thinking and doing things. Sometimes collaboration helps crystallize other projects and ideas.

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

I like all kinds of music, chamber, jazz, rock, minimalism, experimental. Lately I’ve been listening to Steve Reich, Stan Getz, Aaron Copeland and Polynesian music, having recently returned from a trip to the South Pacific.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?
To listen and write more.

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