Frank Spigner

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My Creative Practice

       My music and other works using sound as its primary descriptive material draws on a wide range of historical influences. I have always been very interested in early Western music, primarily such topics as early temperament and tuning systems, the opposing schools of thought in the music of the Counter-Reformation, and the mannerist composers of the ars subtilior whose work makes up the Chantilly Codex, such as Solage and Baude Cordier, which was a major influence in the formation of my notational methods in my concert music. I am equally influenced by more recent composers, such as Satie, Webern, Messiaen, Varèse, Scelsi, Moondog, Partch, Penderecki, Xenakis, the early minimalists, and the Darmstadt and New York schools of composers.

       A major influence on my work has been the development of electronic music from the beginning of acousmatic music and the introduction of musique concrète with Pierre Schaeffer’s Studio d’Essai and Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrete, to the Elektronische Musik movement based at the WDR studios in Cologne and American electronic music, such as the composers of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, the San Francisco Tape Music Center, and the group, Composers Inside Electronics. Contemporary aesthetics which inform the direction of my electronic works also include Japanese noise music such as the works of Otomo Yoshide, Sachiko M, and Merzbow, granular and particle based composition, for example the works of Curtis Roads, glitch musicians like Alva Noto and Ryoji Ikeda, much work based out of IRCAM, for instance the works of Georges Aperghis, the algorithmic music and installation work of Olivier Pasquet, and the spectral composers like Murail and Grisey. More mainstream electronic musicians such as Richard Devine, Aphex Twin, Christian Fennesz, and Dan Deacon have also guided my music in new directions.

       My music also draws from folk music of various cultures, such as the harmonic and improvisational language of Hindustani classical music, Carnatic music, as well as certain types of African folk music such as the Gnawa and Sephardic music of Morocco and the Zulu-folk derived forms of choral music, Isicathamiya and Marabi, originating in South Africa.

       Pioneers of free improvisation and avant-garde jazz has especially shaped my musical language. The works of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and recently the improvisational and compositional styles of George Lewis, Steve Lehman, Tyshawn Sorey, and Vijay Iyer have influenced my work.

       A focal point of my music and sound art deals with using sound as a physical and sculptural medium. I am interested in the linguistic and cognitive aspects of sound, such as the idea of music being primarily an abstraction of cultural language, consisting of sonic symbols which the listener subconsciously assigns meaning to, versus music aiming towards a universal language drawing on human physiology, elements of perceptual psychology, psychoacoustic phenomena, the physics of sound, time, and space, and the role of music in reflecting psychological archetypes on a large scale. I have delved into these fields and have become fascinated in how to effectively integrate these subjects into my music and sound art. In particular, Alvin Lucier’s use of heterodyning, combination tones, and the utilization of resonances and sonic qualities inherent in space and physical media, Maryanne Amacher’s use of otoacoustic emission and spatialization, as well as David Tudor’s methods of deriving frequency material from various objects and using them as physical filtering mechanisms.

       I am always  gaining a great deal of insight into my compositional process from visual media. The aesthetics of Bauhaus and constructivism have informed my compositional decisions, and my tape music and musique concrete have been greatly impacted by classical film theory, Eisenstein montage theory, and the use of collage and photomontage in the Zurich and Berlin Dada movements, especially the work of Hannah Hoch, whose pieces, Cut With The Kitchen Knife Through The Beer-Belly of The Weimar Republic, and her series, From An Ethnographic Museum, made a great impact on some of my musique concrete in regards to my formal and gestural approach and the way I manipulate found sounds.

       While my work presents a historical dialogue while striving to push the limits of this medium, my compositional and performance practices explore social issues such as audience participation, interactivity, as well as the movement of contemporary music from the concert hall into galleries, public spaces, nontraditional independent venues, and the internet.

       Through my installations, I create a visual and sonic language drawing equally from traditional sculptural techniques and from contemporary aesthetics utilizing analog and digital technologies. Many of my electronic audio-visual installations involve interactivity and incorporate elements of synthesized sounds, field recordings, or sound sculpture, it uses light, including laser diode modules, LEDs, and video projectors, objects such as electromechanical devices, and other visual mixed media.

       A major influence in the way I think of interactive installation and kinetic sculpture is the piece, The Way Things Go, by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. I’m interested in creating ‘mechanisms’ in which electricity, physical movement, and various forms of energy are constantly transforming via transducers and sensors in real time, allowing interactivity and the controlled introduction of noise at each stage, often employing crude, yet effective analog systems. I try to keep my process and methodologies as transparent as possible. I never mystify or obscure parts of my work or process and I never decorate. Every component that I introduce into a piece has an important purpose serving the whole work. Much of the time, the aesthetic impact of my work arises out of the sheer functionality of the piece.

       Another theme that appears in much of my installation work is the idea of creating a continuous spectrum in the medium and senses that are engaged in the viewer. If for instance, an installation involves the use of steel sculptures being acoustically driven by transducers, allowing for the transmission of sonic resonances throughout the space, I will emphasize the relationship between the form and proportion of the structure with the sound it is producing, and from that, I might derive a system for how I could set up lights or some other component in the installation. In other words, I create a system where one medium picks up where another leaves off. I’m influenced in the way I use electronics from such artists as Phillip Stearns, Nam June Paik, Ed Osborn, and the aesthetics and artists associated with such electronic arts festivals and organizations as Bent Festival and Dorkbot, as well as the multimedia works of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Mary Lucier, and the sound installations by Max Neuhaus. Sarah Sze’s approach to improvising with materials and her sense of scale and proportion, as well as James Turrell and Robert Irwin’s use of light and color has influenced my installation work. Artists such as Bruce Nauman, Yves Klein, Vito Acconci, and Joseph Beuys has inspired me to examine my creative practice and explore new ways of developing my process and conceptual approach.

       My interest in electronics and electronic media stems from a personal history immersed in computers and technology. Everyone in my immediate family worked with computers professionally. As a child, I would frequently watch my father, who worked as a computer consultant, building computers, or my mother, a computer and technology teacher for the New York City Department of Education, creating web pages. When I was very young, these experiences of seeing the insides of computers as they were being built and the visual language and aesthetics of computers, circuits, and interfaces of the computer and of the early Windows and DOS operating systems would leave a major impact on me.

       Later, as my artistic and musical identity developed, my technology-driven side was revitalized as I searched for new electronic methods of realizing the sounds and visions of my imagination. I would dissect old electronics and delve into the process of modifying circuits, hardware hacking, and the creative ‘misuse’ of IC chips and electronic components. Much of my time off from school during breaks was spent in my room with breadboards and IC data sheets covering the table and floor as I would prototype and design circuitry endlessly. I would study schematics and read articles and books about circuit building and DIY electronics such as the writing by Forrest Mims, Craig Anderton, Reed Ghazala, and especially the book “Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking” by Nicolas Collins which would become a staple of my early electronics explorations. Besides creating original circuits, I practiced by making ‘clones’ of existing circuits as well as working from preexisting formats and archetypes, for instance filter topologies, types of oscillators, and transistor configurations.

       I incorporate many digital technologies in my work and I believe the personal computer can be an important part of the contemporary artist’s technical inventory. It can facilitate the creation of works just as the piano was to the classical composer or the hammer and anvil was to the blacksmith. Part of my ongoing work exploring the computer as an expressive medium involves such projects as the creation of videos, images, GIFs, and sound pieces created by the systematic corruption of file data. In doing so, I exploit the phenomena of the glitch and artifact as they arise as a direct response from encryption data and coding inherent in the computer system.

       I see much of the electronic arts including databending, circuit building, and hardware hacking as a socially mediated and subversive art form which supports the ethic of self-sufficiency and the empowering of the individual while reflecting the anti-consumerist and anti-corporate ideologies of the DIY and punk movements as well as the information ethics of hacktivism. Another social issue which I confront through teaching circuit building workshops is the growing electronics illiteracy which has been prevalent since the beginning of the digital revolution. From the 40’s until the 70’s, DIY and amateur electronics was very popular. There were publications such as Popular Science and Scientific Monthly regularly writing articles on the subject, ham radio enthusiasts were building homemade radios, the Heath Company produced a wide range of kits for electronics hobbyists which promoted education through hands-on circuit building. It was an era when the average person could open an electronic device for repair and have an idea of what each component did. Ever since analog circuitry started to be replaced by digital technologies, when handmade transistorized circuits started to be replaced by mass manufactured PCBs covered with programmed IC chips and microelectronics, the public became less informed and less educated in regards to electronics. These days, the ability to read schematics and repair and design circuits are skills that few people have. I believe that through teaching practical hands-on electronics, as well as the development of open-source makerspaces, this trend can be reversed and can encourage education and self-sufficiency among the public.

       The primary material used in my sculptures is metal, mainly steel, aluminum, bronze, iron, britannia, and whatever metals may be present in the found objects that I salvage to use in my work. My aesthetic language incorporates natural systems, similarly to other mediums I work in, as well as sedimentary rock formation, fossilization, evolutionary genetics and morphology, and the occurrence of noise and mutation in organic systems.

       My metal sculpture is also informed by industrial metalworking practices and manufacturing processes. Having studied metal sculpture on a university level as well as having experience in the field of art and architecture fabrication, I have developed a high level of proficiency in several welding, brazing and cutting processes, as well as other forming, fabrication, and finishing techniques, including forging, casting, machining, and other metalworking processes. I always strive to find the best methods of producing my work based on the aesthetic of the work, as well as the functional and metallurgical qualities of my materials, taking into consideration the origins of my materials and the way in which the materials were manufactured.

       I have drawn inspiration from Alexander Calder and Mark Di Suvero’s use of industrial processes and structural materials and the use of found objects in the work of Jean Tinguely and Richard Stankiewicz. I often combine the creative practice of metal sculpture with other mediums I work in as well, such as with installation, electronic art, and sound sculpture. Sculptors incorporating sound such as the Baschet Brothers, Trimpin, and especially Harry Bertoia have guided the direction of much of my sound sculpture. Recently, I have also had a great fascination in the formal aspects of Richard Serra’s large scale works, and especially Arman’s accumulation and recomposition sculptures which has also influenced my use of found objects.

       My 2D works spans computer art utilizing algorithms and glitch artifacts. I regularly sketch to develop skills in drawing as well as to expand on forms and concepts to be applied to various mediums. Some of my current experiments in painting involves the use of collage and the formal language of neoplasticism while drawing inspiration from Judy Pfaff’s use of plastics and encaustics in her 2D works.

       I believe in the careful and meticulous study and ongoing development of proper technique and foundations in every medium I work in. By developing good technique, I am able to take a thoroughly refined concept and move throughout mediums with fluidity, thereby being able to create a coherent body of work with over-arching concepts that are not held within the limitations of a certain medium.




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