Frank Spigner is a composer, artist, and engineer who has been actively creating an evolving array of works in the form of music and sound art, installation, sculpture, and electronic media at the conservatory and gallery level, at music and art festivals, and at various concerts and exhibitions throughout the US. His work has appeared at such venues as The Stone, Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation, Experimental Intermedia Foundation, Judith Charles Gallery, Issue Project Room, BronxArtSpace, Basilica Hudson, Silent Barn, LeRoy Neiman Gallery, and Sweet Thunder Electro-Acoustic Music Festival among others. His performances include numerous collaborations such as performing the works of John Cage at the National Academy Museum & School with composer-performer and Pulitzer Prize recipient, Du Yun, performing the works of Grammy award winning composer, Joel Thome, and working with sound art pioneer Liz Phillips on several installations and multimedia works. He has given a number of lectures and workshops at the university level and has been featured in publications such as Composers Circle, SubMag, PAPER Magazine, and The Creative Quarterly Journal of Art & Design which named him one of the “100 Best of 2015” in the category of Fine Arts.
In addition to his music and sound work, much of Frank’s current work takes on an intermedia approach, often involving the melding of several different mediums such as interactive audio-visual installations, sonic and kinetic sculpture, synthesizer and audio hardware design, performance, and socially mediated public works. He has also served a clientele of musicians, studio artists, and arts organizations as an audio engineer, electronics designer, fabricator, and creative technologist.
He studied Music Composition at the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase and holds an MFA in Sound Arts from the Columbia University Computer Music Center.
I am an artist, composer, and engineer creating works that navigate the uneasy cusp between physical and virtual realms.
In much of my work, I juxtapose opposite or divergent processes and motifs, such as the use of traditional music and art-making practices with cutting-edge emergent technologies or by subverting the intended functionality of found objects or systems as a way of exploring perceptual, philosophical or sociopolitical themes.
With a concept-based approach to music and art-making, and a refined technical approach, combined with material improvisation while investigating the boundaries between process and object, I am able to address theoretical and formal concerns in ways that are both thought-provoking and aesthetically engaging.
1. Custom AVR Capacitive Sensor/DAC Feeding Axoloti Core (2020)
Custom hardware I designed for an Artist-in-Residence at Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center. It involves the use of a microcontroller to convert capacitive proximity sensing into an analog voltage output, which is then fed into an Axoloti Core, as a way of creating a platform for interactive sound manipulation/synthesis. In the attached video, you can see the hardware prototyped, which involved a microcontroller built with a highly customized C++ script tuned for the artist’s application, which was semiconductive textiles, and interfaced with an Axoloti core, which uses an open source visual programming language so that the artist could relatively easily create custom sounds. In the video I demonstrate the proximity sensing and triggering elements on a variety of conductive materials.
2. Parallelism (2015)
April 2015 Amplitude Curated by Galen Joseph-Hunter (Wave Farm). Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation. Brooklyn, NY.
Frank Spigner’s kinetic and sculptural work explores alternate histories, the institutionalization/socialization of humans and machines, and the duality of virtuality and actuality. The installation Parallelism reflects social, perceptual, and political themes which include commodity fetishism, surveillance, and anarchism.
Spigner foregrounds exposed circuitry and mechanical parts, the repurposing of audio surveillance bugs and CCTV cameras, and hacked consumer electronics in an aesthetic leveling of the hierarchy between apparatus and object.
Writes Spigner, “In much of my work, I’m interested in creating mechanisms in which electricity, 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.”
3. (Untitled Sextet) (2013)
2013 premiere of untitled sextet at the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music by members of the Purchase New Music Ensemble (Julie Lee – alto flute; Kenneth Trotter – violin; Jay Sager – percussion; Dana Malseptic – piano; Elise Linder – cello; Nick Rufolo – bass).
4. Study in Electromagnetic Transduction (2017)
July 2017 Household Narratives. Curated by Kevin Liebowitz. Gallery North. Setauket, NY. Mixed-media kinetic sound sculpture with mild steel, OSB plywood, fused deposition modeled polymers, mechanical assembly, analog electronics, and sound ~64 x ~24 x ~24 inches (~36 x 13 x 12 inches, not including base) A steel sound sculpture is divided formally by holes and slots which segment a metal plane into small resonant pockets of varying frequency material determined by the sculpture’s proportions and their proximity to harmonic nodes. The use of an electronic apparatus, made up of a function generator, amplifier, electromagnet, and mechanical assembly, allows for amplified waveforms, passing in and out of tune with the resonant frequency of the sculpture, to be focused in a narrow field of electromagnetic radiation, acoustically driving the metal without the intervention of traditional hammers, plectrums, or bows. The electromagnet, which is enclosed in a vertically moving carriage, scans up and down the length of the steel sound sculpture, focusing on different sections of the metal form. The result is a sculptural work that evolves and morphs over time as an organic and autonomous resonant body. In addition to the primary kinetic element, this piece builds upon an aesthetic language incorporating such things as the use of provisional construction techniques, transparency of process, aesthetic functionalism, and the use of crude, yet effective analog systems.
5. Sublimation of the Transient, for String Quintet (string quartet + double bass) (2015)
This performance of my piece, Sublimation of the Transient, was performed by Alex Fortes (Talea ensemble, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Future in REverse), violin; Katie Hyun (Houston Symphony, Dallas Chamber Orchestra), violin; DJ Cheek (Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Cantata Profana), viola; Michael Nicolas (International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Da Capo Chamber Players, Met Chamber Ensemble), cello; Logan Coale (A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra, International Contemporary Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound), bass at The Stone as part of a group concert, curated by Suzanne Farrin. This piece expands upon traditional concert music in terms of notational system and form. The piece alternates between through-composed movements and circular ‘mandala’ scores which are read by the instrumentalists in a rotating manner, where there is a glissando from one note to another. The instrumentalists are instructed to use the parameters of these scores as a framework to improvise off of each other while exploring the space between each note, and use various elements such as timbre and articulation to engage in a sonic dialogue with each other.
6. Counterpoint (2016)
Counterpoint is an installation of kinetic sculpture utilizing sonic and mixed-media components. The sculptural elements, which are driven via rotational transmission from the LPs, allow all the elements in the installation to be animated or sonified. The LP is prepared with a makeshift stylus that captures sound with piezo elements, amplifying sounds from the record groove. The surface aberrations and sonic artifacts from the surface of the LP and from the mechanical apparatus allows for an eerily abstracted version of the source material. The work explores themes presented in Spigner’s previous works, such as kinetic and sonic transmission, the manipulation of readymade objects, and the use of provisional and constructional aesthetics. Writes Spigner, “In this work, I use an improvised construction method to mine a physical source, a vinyl LP, for sonic material. This includes not just the intended audio recording, but transient noises as well. In this way, I reveal history and temporality that exists within a mechanically reproduced object. The creative misuse use of LPs is in dialogue with a historical lineage which includes works such as John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No. 1 or the development of turntablism as an instrumental technique. The very use of rotational transmission as a primary kinetic element in the work is itself a metaphor for the interconnectedness of sound.”
7. Splunger Mute (2019-)
This is a hardware design project I began in 2019 for Harvestworks Artist-in-Residence, Kalun Leung, for his ‘Mubone Splunger’ project. The objective of this project was to design a new performance system in which the sonic possibilities of a trombone is manipulated or augmented through physical and electronic means. The final prototype consists of a standalone piece of hardware that works as an electronic performance device or preparation, similar to a mute, which can be used in conjunction with a trombone as part of the instrument.
There is the sound manipulation component of the circuit which is based on feedback generation while manipulating it within the bell of the trombone. There is a dynamic microphone element, which feeds the main sound manipulation circuit, which is basically a delay and feedback line, with a very short delay time, to create a kind of ‘spectral feedback’ for lack of a better term. Then, there is a small power amplifier which amplifies the sound manipulation component, and then is output to an 8-ohm speaker. The speaker and speaker enclosure is designed so that the opening of the speaker, and speaker itself, can be manipulated with the hand to alter the sound being generated. There are various points on the circuit that are serviceable with trimpots and pin connectors to allow for calibration and customization at various points.