Sean is an artist and audio mentor at madelife who mixes music and other tangible media to create a full experience with his art. We are excited to present a selection of work by him, opening First Friday June 5th. We sat down with him to ask about him, his work and his inspirations.
Current Residence Denver
Country of Origin USA
Describe yourself and your work
I’m a musician who’s always been interested in investigating the gray areas between disciplines. I’m fixated on gaps between our often inconsistent behaviors, perceptions, knowledge, definitions, etc. I used to think my fixation was simply a matter of psychological flexibility, and limited perspective. But in shifting perspective, the world changes. I start asking “How does it change?,” and eventually, “What does it become?,” I think I’m beginning to ask the right questions. Each of us is part of the reality we observe. So by extension our flexing and shifting must be part of reality too, as something inherent to the seemingly inert physical materials we’re made of. I consider these thoughts a basis for art.
How did you get started?
As a kid in the 90s, discovering and listening to music wasn’t enough. I had to make my own. Trying to make my own music and failing was a start— I realized I had to ask progressively harder questions of myself if I was to understand, and eventually cultivate, my own approach to right and wrong. Sharing my work was never a priority. In fact, I was pretty secretive. I’d memorize dozens of original pieces and record nothing. My attraction to music has always been its momentary truth— its inability to last, its physical impermanence. Sure, notation (and even recording) is a shorthand for maintaining some semblance of a work’s consistency. But any realization is uniquely of a time and place. I’ve always been happy to let it go. So my eventual interest in electronics and recorded sound wasn’t about preservation, but always about investigating new possibilities for sonic construction and transformation. In college, I started taking these ideas more seriously. I stopped being quite so secretive, and eventually recognized that I couldn’t do anything else, except compose.
What piece of work best represents you and why?
One of my concert pieces, Windows Left Open, has been remarkably useful in pushing me to ask some really fruitful questions. The work features an algorithmically generated electronics component, an open form (quasi-improvisatory) live performance score for microtonal chamber ensemble, and soundscape recordings. It’s the tension between each of the parts that I’ve found continually engaging. The work is very listenable, even pretty sounding… but structurally there are oppositions that seem to glide right past listeners (including myself). The work opened up a new area of exploration for me: to hide the fractured nature of parts underneath a shiny veneer of holistic perceptual integration.
How and does material influence your designs?
Besides sound, I don’t find any particular material or approach to material necessary, or even all that interesting, in isolation. It’s always about juxtaposition, a relationship. Materials are always placed alongside other materials, human or otherwise. It’s in the interaction that things become interesting. This is why space is just as important to music as time is to photography, painting, sculpture, etc. I’m just more of an aurally perceptive than I am visually perceptive. So sound is the exception, because already I’m always already listening in relation to myself.
Where do you go to get inspired?
I take a shower, or hunt around on the internet for new technical products (microcontroller stuff and open source software). I also get inspired by watching humans interact with what they think is natural. Talking to humans about this is usually a non-starter though.What have you learned through creating that has surprised you?That despite extensive education and experience in modern art and music, I still find myself spending some time writing tonal pop music… with beats, yo.
Describe the setting of where one of your designs will be in the year 2050
Some slight intervention into normal, boring experience–lost in the noise of contemporary society, but still perhaps discernible for those who care to listen or see beyond (or into) the obvious.
What is it like when you collaborate with other artists?
I usually go into a collaboration with a pretty strong concept that ends up getting destroyed… but nearly always for the better. Music composition is a very individual activity. But integrating sound with other art forms reveals possibilities that artists firmly rooted in one medium or tradition may never have considered on their own. I like this sense of discovery, of learning what’s visually or structurally possible from another artist, while showing a depth of consideration that can be brought to sound on my end. Ultimately, I like relinquishing authorial control over both implementation and concept.
How do you balance being an artist and being an entrepreneur?
Very poorly. While creative industry is definitely a thing… I have a strong suspicion that artistic investigation and commercial pragmatism are (on some low level) diametrically opposed. This conflict is internal to me, of course… but as the old saying goes, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.
What is your process for coming up with new work?
I throw or identify shit against a wall as a matter of spontaneous activity or happenstance. Then I think about its results and implications for at least a month or two. After that, I research some technical facet of production that might help me realize additional interesting consequences of what happened, or deepen my initial fascination with it. I then plan, assemble, and attempt to integrate the necessary components of a new intervention. I fail. I revise. I fail… and eventually remove everything extraneous. I draw a circle around it and call it done.
Why do you believe art has value?
Art doesn’t necessarily have value. Some art is valued. It’s decidable. And its decidability is something that I value.
What is playing on your stereo?
Most people I know would say that they love music. I think, largely, they love the experience of listening to music on their stereos, or phones, or whatever. Honestly, listening to music this way feels more like work than an experience I could love. It’s often too stimulating or too painful for me to take. The surprising sounds of machinery, a walk in the city, the muted rumbling coming from the badass’ car stereo in the lane next to me— these things are playing all the time. They keep me engaged with music, without much need for a stereo. A stereo is a compositional tool for me. Which is to say, I have a more productive rather than consumptive relationship with my stereo. My stereo is usually playing me.
What’s in your cup in the mornings?
I avoided getting addicted to coffee until I turned 30 last year. Now I’m screwed. Ideally, my cup would be full of fresh orange juice though.Which artist inspires you most? What Robert Irwin called Conditional Art. Something that may not even been there– something that is so tenuous in its departure from what is already pre-supposed to be the site that it often goes unnoticed. Max Neuhaus’ Times Square is a great example.
Whats the best thing about your studio/workspace/workshop?
Its a mess, but it reflects the simplest and cheapest way to do the work I’ve needed to do thus far in my career.
How do you stay motivated to create?
I don’t always. But I find that differentiating the work that I do helps me to remain engaged and shift focus toward other possibilities when I’m cool on a particular vein of work.
Whats the best part about being an artist?
At the end of the movie “Untitled”, the main character (a frustrated, self-defeating, yet committed composer) attends his brother’s exhibition of new paintings at a small gallery on Nantucket. The exhibition space reflects being a long way away from an epicenter like New York. But one of the waiters passing drinks recognizes the composer and makes a point to say that a concert of the composer’s music some years ago changed his life. The scene is fleeting, and treated with restraint. But most artists, my self included, will probably never hear something like that. And I don’t need to hear something like that. The notion that art can affect even the slightest of changes in someone else, despite our cynical times, is enough. Such a notion is hopeful—not a hope for future praise or validation—but a hope for the future itself. That I remain hopeful in this way is the best thing about doing the work.
Join us First Friday June 5th to view his work, 6-9pm, along with two other artists showing separate exhibitions in our multiple gallery spaces.
Find more out about Sean at www.ludicsound.com