We visit with senior composition major and audiovisual artist James Talambas about his creative process, his influences and what he considers his most daring project.
When and why did your interest in audiovisual installations start? I have always felt like I can see sound just as much as I can hear it. I started as a composer and producer. I would write music and have it played, but I kept having the urge to move music beyond the 2nd dimension, where an audience sits in front of musicians and they play a piece of music for it's own sake. It felt flat. So, during my senior recital I wrote a piece that the audience could experience from all around them for two pianos and 8 speakers in a 30' x 30' circle. Each of the speakers had a consecutively delayed sound of each of the pianos being played, creating a swirling nauseous affect. Dr. George Chave and Dr. John Solomons performed the pianos. After that piece I started working with space, architecture, and acoustics more. Also, creating sounds that fill the sounds from all angles in a room really helped when I would have panic attacks from my anxiety. In that, the Multi Sensory Installations could better express the noise inside my head.
Why did you choose UTA? I really appreciated the importance of fundamentals in the music program here. I felt that I had the creativity down, but I needed a strong foundation to work from.
How important is technology in your creative process? Technology is always present in my work, but I don't let it become the focus. It is important for the idea or meaning of a piece of work to dictate the technology, not the other way around. I like using very basic technology and repeating it until it is complex. I call it the "normalization of technology."
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most? My ears. and my notebook. Even if I am programming, composing, or building something, I am always scribbling in my book.
What, for you, is the most fulfilling aspect of being an audiovisual artist? Being able to talk about subjects or events that I couldn't talk about otherwise is most fulfilling. That and allowing people the space and time to experience a moment differently.
What artists, musical or otherwise, have influenced you? The composer, John Cage was a major changing influence at a pivotal time for me. He stretched the meaning of music and sound, creating many electronic works and even one of silence. Also, the recently late Pauline Oliveros influenced the spirituality of my work by listening deeper into the sounds around us. She founded the Deep Listening Institute.
2,524 Earthquakes This Past Year
You work was recently featured at the Galveston Arts Center. Tell us about it. My exhibition at the Galveston Art Center was called "2,524 Earthquakes This Past Year" a composition for earthquake, siren, and strings. It is 8, 2' x 2', 16 gauge, hot rolled steel plates, with 16 stereo mixed surface transducers. I wanted to talk about the increased amount of earthquakes in the North Texas and southern Oklahoma area due to the scientifically proven effects of "fracking" and injection wells in the ground. The number 2,524 is a reference to the number of "considerable seismic events" (Earthquakes) in the area, between January and September of 2016.
What is the most daring installation you've ever worked on? Hmm. Probably one of my bigger sound pieces. Maybe, "I,Too." (2015) - Electronically Manipulated panoramic music for 88 speakers. The original was 25'h x 40'w, and was driven by 50 individual and different stereo mixes from 25 different amps. The music would flow and jump around creating a cascading effect across the wall. The source material and the idea sprang from two places. Billie Holiday's (and also the Nina Simone rendition) of "Strange Fruit" and Langston Hughes' poem, "I,Too." In which Hughes states - "I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother.They send me to eat in the kitchen. When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table. When company comes. Nobody’ll dare Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,"Then. Besides, They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed— I, too, am America." I feel the poem and those songs are still all too relevant.
What project(s) are you considering or working on right now? I am currently working on a multi sensory sound touch and light outdoor mural here in Fort Worth.
What are your career plans for the future? I just hope to continue to grow in my practice. It is never ending, and is more of a state of being than a career.
From KERA's ART & SEEK: Artist Spotlight - James Talambas