Joel Chadabe




A Statement ...

When people ask me what I do as a composer, I explain that I do not compose pieces, I compose activities. A 'piece', whatever its content, is a construction with a beginning and end that exists independent of its listeners and within its own boundaries of time. An 'activity' unfolds because of the way people perform; and consequently, an activity happens in the time of living; and art comes closer to life.

How does art function in the life of the performer that is participating in one of my musical activities? Well, for one thing, I view the performer as a human being and friend, and not as the executer of a construction; and so I try to design a role for the performer that is challenging, creative, and comfortable. By challenging, I mean that I put the performer in a situation where the demands on the performer's listening and reacting skills are not routine. By creative, I mean that the performer has to make compositional decisions, as against, in a more traditional role, executing the notes in a musical score. By comfortable, I ask the performer to participate in a way that the performer finds agreeable, both physically and musically.

The musical 'instrument' I use is defined by the software I design. It is the software that articulates the interface between instrument and performer, determines how the instrument will react to a performer's actions, and generates the sounds. The activitity that I design, then, is defined by the interface, the way the instrument responds to a performer, and the nature of the sounds. In short, as against a musical score that is played on an instrument, in my music it is the instrument itself that is the work of art. The instrument is inseparable from the music it produces. As Yeats wrote, "How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

Here's a case in point from some recent work. I composed 'Many Times ...', where the elipsis is the name of the performer, for a concert of my music at Engine 27, a sound gallery / performance space in New York City, in the spring of 2001. The underlying idea of the use of technology is that technology expands our capabilities. In 'Many Times ...', the instrument takes the sound produced by a performer and from it produces many different transformed instances of it throughout the performance space, multiplying the performer's actions so that it comes from loudspeakers on the left, on the right, above, behind, from here, there, everywhere.

Those transformations, generated by the software that animates the instrument, are essentially unpredictable. Because of their unpredictability, they provide the performer with something to react to. In other words, the performer is influencing the electronic system by performing, vocally or by playing an acoustic instrument, and the electronic system is influencing the performer by giving the performer something to react to. This is what I call 'interactivity', where the word interactive means 'mutually influential'. I find it a wonderful way to make music. It brings out the best in everyone. And considering that anyone can play the role of performer, it could bring out the best in anyone.

-- Joel Chadabe

Note. This statement was written in December 2001 for Imadjinn, in New Delhi, India, producer of The IDEA, a CD-ROM gazette on media arts and artists. It has been slightly revised since then.