Listen to "Sylvian's Wood" here
from the CD: Owasso Night Atlas
on the infrasound label
Most of my work is electro-acoustic music meant to be heard over the radio, on your home stereo, and on your iPod. By capturing the ordinary and extraordinary sounds of everyday life with field recordings, I bear witness to current crises–– eroding civil liberties, poverty, war, corporate control of the media––that touch my conscience and impel me to respond.
Since late 1999, I have been making overtly political music, but not just business-as-usual pieces with politically topical titles, pointed dedications, program notes, or brief aural allusions.
My large-scale compositions such as "N30: Live at the WTO Protest November 30, 1999" (1999-2000), its optional companion piece "N30: Who guards the Guardians?" (2001-2002), "Live in New York at the Republican National Convention Protest September 2 – August 28, 2004" (2004-2005), and "Wallingford Food Bank" (2008) use the pertinent sonic materials of social change: raw protest recordings, battlefield audio, relevant texts, and earwitness testimonies.
My work challenges prevailing notions of how field recordings are made and what field recordings can be. The longstanding ideal is to record invisibly, standing still or moving very slowly to document nature, scientific phenomena, or indigenous music with high fidelity equipment. The recordist excludes unwanted human activity (airplanes, coughing during a song, dropping the microphone), smoothly editing everything into a seamless "reality."
I challenge those prevailing practices in several ways. I affirm the inevitable influence and presence of the recordist and recording gear––both in the field and back in the studio. Listeners hear me, my struggle, my incompetence, and my fortuitous discoveries. My body moves. I run multiple microphone set-ups concurrently, corporeally improvising in the moment with body-mounted mics to shape the stereo image, azimuth, and the depth of field while swooping an additional microphone boom for a contrasting aural perspective. My audibly risky tactics (sidling up to riot police, bobbing through mobs, standing fast in stampeding crowds) enable me to document rare, unpredictable instances of non-commercial mass gatherings. As forces move and talk beyond our vision, it is crucial to hear what we can’t see, so I also capture police and other wild card transmissions (surveillance audio, behind-the-scenes media chatter) with a radio scanner.
Back in the studio, I use aggressive editing (abrupt stops, dead silence, frenetic intercutting, obviously artificial polyphony, antiphonal spatialization, the traditional transparent cross-fade) to explore the intersection of speech and music, to preserve oral history made in the moment, and to convey the truth spoken by voices in crisis.
I embrace traditionally unwanted technical flaws. Along with opening up new territory for musicians and encouraging beginners to create with cruddy gear, the liberation of field recording’s forbidden elements—mic handling noise, hiss, narrow frequency response, distorted proximity effect, haphazard directionality, device self-noise, glitchy edits––admits those overt flaws into the realm of music and helps erode the erroneous idea that recordings objectively represent one "reality."
I do compose music for acoustic instruments, but not often. Many of my peers and progenitors write acoustic music for singers, soloists, chamber groups, big bands, and symphony orchestras that will never be performed. Long ago, I resolved to compose acoustic music only by request, and only for interested, capable performers––not for the desk drawer, where the broken hearts of many neglected composers rest.
I’m devoted to two projects as an improvisor: the Seattle Phonographers Union (SPU) and rebreather.
Fusing the sonic characteristics of noise, lowercase sound, and circuit-bending with the blues-shouting rapture of free jazz, rebreather (Alex Keller and myself) improvise live electronic music from the digital glossolalia of sabotaged consumer electronics, homebrew circuits, and obsolete devices. As tactile, corporeal improvisors, we eschew laptops: We like the circuits to burn beneath our fingers.
By contrast, the SPU is a protean, transdisciplinary collective of Seattle-area sound artists and who improvise in real time with unprocessed field recordings. Our use of everyday sounds—most them recognizable, some quite surprising—offers a unique entryway for listeners wary of more abstract experimental music.
Christopher DeLaurenti (1967-2071) is a Seattle-based composer, improvisor, radio host, and music writer. His sound work encompasses field recordings, electroacoustic and acousmatic music, text-sound scores, free-improvised low-tech electronics, and compositions for acoustic instruments. He is chiefly known as a soundscape composer, most notably for "N30: Live at the WTO Protest November 30, 1999" based on his gritty front-line field recordings of a momentous day in Seattle history. Since December 2006, he has co-hosted Flotation Device on KBCS 91.3 FM heard throughout Seattle. Christopher's music and other writings reside at delaurenti.net.