Evidence (Scott Smallwood and Stephan Moore) in conversation with Daniel Neumann
Interview for Contour Editions, June/July 2013

Daniel Neumann: Firstly, congratulations on your double release with Contour Editions - you have the album version as a free download & an 8 channel installation - both with the same material & the same title, but in two very different formats. My first question is how did you decide on a rather unusual format like this, instead of just printing a CD, for example? And secondly, for your piece, how do you see the relationship between these two formats - do you consider it two separate releases?

Evidence: Thank you! We are very excited about this dual format. Contour Editions' installation-as-release idea is an innovation that we think is brilliant. It lets us do something that can normally never be done, which is specify the listening circumstances. We spend as much time as we can listening to music together in a comfortable room with good speakers, and it's thrilling to invite the public into that kind of intimate, quality-controlled experience. It has also allowed us to treat the material on Visuals as flexible, non-linear, and in an extended conversation with itself, able to unfold its own possibilities. It's such an amazing shift away from the fixed-media mindset. The experience of the installation is, we hope, somewhere between listening to a CD and listening to a performance. Or between listening to the radio and listening to the environment surrounding the radio. We love that Studio10 is on a busy street and we can leave the window open, as it will add another layer of appropriate sound beyond our control.

We do see the recording and the installation as singular release, with a unified palate of sounds and musical identity, but with two manifestations that satisfy different desires: one is pragmatic and one is idealistic. It can be downloaded and listened to anywhere, but you can also come into a room we set up for you and listen to it there. The two don't contradict each other, we don't view one as "true" and one as "compromised". Each has its noble purpose.

As for printing a CD - we love physical media, in a nostalgic way, but we're not really interested in engaging that nostalgia with this project. Plus, the album turned out to be just over 80 minutes, making it too long for a CD. So -- good riddance to the plastic!

DN: Now, concerning the sonic material, you said there is the same musical identity for both manifestations, and attending a recent live performance* I felt this connection compared to the online piece very much - highly processed abstract material gets interwoven with field recordings and concrète sounds and with mostly fades, textures of a certain consistent density are created, evoking a diverse palate of associations, while keeping the listener cinematographically engaged. What processes are you using to create this musical identity? And is it important for the listener to understand this, or should the listener approach it like the cover artwork you are supplying: "It is possible to consult the image as one would an oracle, though no instructions for use are provided."? How would you frame the musical identity of your material?

* The concert was part of Practice at Public Assembly, Brooklyn, June 17 2013

EV: You experienced the most critical part of our process firsthand at that show. In that kind of situation, as in the generation of the material for Visuals, we use our libraries of collected sound material to improvise together without any pre-agreements about form or approach. During the sound check we noted that the subwoofers in that room were particularly good, and we were aware that we each of us had made a note of that, but otherwise we discovered our direction in the moment. Visuals was composed from a number of similar (but mostly smaller) improvisations, edited together afterwards by us (for the fixed version) or continuously in real-time by software (in the installation). If the listener can be drawn in by the sounds alone, as we hope, then there's no need for them to understand anything at all about our process. If they imagine this music is meticulously through-composed, that would be fine with us. There's an understandable need for some listeners to develop a narrative to work with, to explain to themselves how and why things are happening in the music, and that narrative affects what they will hear profoundly. We are interested in the range of possibilities that exist for our music within that subjective realm.

Taking that a bit further, and answering your other question -- yes! If the listener is able to consult the music as an oracle, allowing aspects of it to speak to them about their own experience, that would be immensely gratifying. We have another installation piece, the Karmic Teller Machine, created in collaboration with some of our friends, that does this with sound very explicitly. We are very interested in oracles and symbolic systems, and how they can be sonically represented and re-interpreted. The image that accompanies Visuals and is included with the download is a 12" square album cover created by our friend Chris Harvey. We are huge fans of Chris's work, and we think he nailed something important about our music in this image. The chaotic yet orderly arrangement of those items look amazing just as themselves, but could also function as a sort of associative object-oriented ouija board. That's only our interpretation of his creation, of course we don't know if that idea ever occurred to him. But probably.

DN: You're definitely creating quite some mysteries here, also with the title Visuals - as a title for a sound piece. So the sounds are made to evoke subjective imagery, up to the individual listener, the structure of the sounds in the installation is generated by the computer in a non-repeating matter and your interaction as a duo is improvised. To me this goes against (or rather beyond) traditional notions of an artwork, where there is a finished object to be clearly understood and to be kept and fixed and repeatedly shown. If this open, process-based approach is part of the artistic vision behind Visuals (or behind Evidence), then what is the role of the fixed stereo piece, besides being the pragmatic manifestation of that material? Is this piece to be understood as one out of infinite possibilities of what the piece could be or is it an excerpt of a stream? And how do you see Evidence in it's role as the author - are you the Varèsian sound organizer as a non-author?

EV: We're not sure that artworks that are "clearly understood" and "fixed" are really the norm anymore - we certainly don't consider our work to follow notions of tradition in that sense; but we do feel that they are in dialog with artworks of our own sonic culture. I think the "visual" aspect of this work came to us after we had already created the tracks. Upon listening back, we found that they seemed to evoke imagery in a fleeting, even hallucinatory way, rather than in a coherent, cinematic one. This is probably not unique to this release, as we are often told by listeners that our music has brought them into a state of visualization. But this work seemed to lean even more in that direction somehow; possibly because of the types of materials we used and the particular textures and densities of the sounds. I think it is fair to say that the fixed pieces that are part of this release are possibilities, but I don't think the possibilities are infinite; they are characterized by the particular group of sounds and field recordings that make up the materials. We might imagine them as a series, like a particular series of Chihuly glass sculptures (glass flowers inspired ikebana) or Hantaï's "Les Blancs" series of white, folded canvases. The three works on the release are edited, fixed works based on several improvised sessions, whereas the installation mimics our improvisatory process by generatively making decisions about the mixing and layering of these materials (albeit in a higher-level way).

Certainly we consider ourselves authors of the work. It's not that there's a desire to somehow deny our own authorship. Our attitude comes from a desire to collaborate with our audience, to engage with them and to be both respectful and demanding of their intelligence and imagination. Our authorship is most strongly felt at three points in our process. One is in our practice as avid field recorders, or "phonographers," which supplies our music with its sound sources. Our listening, our taste, and our approach to recording serve as substantial authorial filters here. Then, when we edit and process the collected sounds, preparing them for use in performance, again we are very involved. This engages our "studio practice" which is something that comes from our "training," we suppose. Finally, in performance, we are making hundreds of decisions in the moment which are wholly ours, using our library of sounds and a set of performance tools that we have created and then developed an intimate relationship with.

But when the resulting sound meets a listener, we think it's more interesting to step back from that interaction and invite them to complete the work, some assembly required, in their own mind. Our intention is not to generate directionality or musical rhetoric, nor is it to tell a story; it is simply to create a sonic environment that ebbs and flows, and gives the listener a space in which to imagine their own content, visual or otherwise. The content of that environment, from our perspective, is simultaneously intentional, personal, and aleatoric. The story they tell themselves about what they are experiencing is more interesting and valuable, in our opinion, that any intention we could have for them. Since we are always improvising "from scratch" with few or no pre-discussed parameters to the music, we are often too occupied with figuring out what interests us in the moment, and what should happen next, to worry much about incorporating any didactic notions. The sounds reflect our personal proclivities as composers, as well as being representative of our biographical situations. The way they are put together (layered and mixed) is improvised, and in some cases, we purposely surprise ourselves and each other by letting our decisions be informed by random processes. These decisions reflect an attitude about the music, its function, and its interaction with an audience that we hope is honest, coherent, and generous of spirit.

As for the fixed-media album version of Visuals: we love the spontaneously unfolding relationship to the music that happens in the shared, public space of a live performance or installation, but we also place a high value on the deep, personal relationships that listeners form with "albums." In our experience, when listened to repeatedly, albums develop resonances and reveal more of themselves over time, which can be rewarding in a unique way, a way you can't get from performance. We hope our music functions well in both contexts, even though they are very different and must be approached with different ears and minds.

DN: And how will you approach the space at Studio10? Do you use a floor plan? Or do you imagine how Visuals will sound like? It is a process of spatialization of existing stereo material - can you tell me more about what this process is for you? Do you feel you are translating or expanding or opening?

EV: The approach to the Studio 10 Gallery space will be to listen. It's a lovely, empty room, lots of light from outside, and a comfortable size for our sounds. There's traffic sounds though the window, which we love, and neighbors who might also make noise from time to time. We want to set up an inviting area where a listener would feel comfortable spending a sustained length of time, preferably reclined. We've got the idea that an 8-channel installation, where the sounds could gradually migrate around the room, would be ideal, and the speakers should be placed at a variety of heights and distances to create all sorts of dimensional effects using the room's natural acoustics. Basically, listening and trying out several configurations will allow us to find a way to cooperate with the room as much as possible. After all, there is no point in arguing with it!

We have already created the installation once in another room in Providence, RI, last month. That room was carpeted, smaller, and had a much lower ceiling. We were basically working to make sure the software functioned, and that our general concept of a kind of slow-moving eternal crossfade would sound good, hold attention, and generally do the material justice. All of that came together very quickly, and then it was just a matter of making sure that we were getting the timings and the gradual spatial movement right. Even though the speaker placement and acoustics will be different, this basic plan should (we hope!) travel well.

A floor plan will emerge from this initial installation process, but we hope it will serve less as a strict rulebook and more as a guide for how to approach setting up the installation in another room. We would like very much for this piece to travel to other sites.

DN: This is definitely a very fascinating project for me and I really hope it will live in other places in the future. One aspect of what is fascinating for me is again this multitude of manifestations, that are made to be singularities, but beyond that, being interconnected, they form a field on a plain, without hierarchies. Without forced-upon narratives the field you open up between the singular manifestations is a fluid being in itself, that expands and contracts over time, putting the audience - as mentioned before - in a more active position. Does this, in terms of your artistic motivation, result from a criticism of entertainment culture that more than often delivers easily consumable spectacles - & also the art world with its growing event & super-event culture is certainly moving in that direction.

EV: Your question is a bit hard to decipher, but very imaginative. If we understand you correctly, you are positing the existence of a "fluid being", like an amoeba, whose perimeter is defined by the various manifestations of our album, and then asking if that being results from a critique of entertainment culture. Our response is that our amoeba prefers to defined in the positive instead of the negative. Our amoeba, yes, has an opinion about the audience having an active role in the work. But that's just when our amoeba is on the job. At night and on weekends, our amoeba (like each of us) is an avid consumer of entertainment culture. This culture has, in recent years, been having an intelligent conversation with the larger psyche of our culture, which seems worthwhile and fascinating in a way that distinguishes it from much of so-called "serious" culture. Plus, there's nothing wrong with being entertained sometimes. Our amoeba loves it! It is a very loving and kind creature. But ultimately, entertainment culture is really obsessed with telling us what to think and how to feel at every moment, and that gets to feel manipulative and boring. So our amoeba exists, perhaps, as a response to that boredom, and a desire to be free from manipulation. It's less about articulating a critique and more about providing options. There's room for all of us. Entertainment culture may look at our amoeba's job description and feel implicitly critiqued, but that would just say more about entertainment culture's insecurities than our amoeba's attitude. Our amoeba loves entertainment culture anyway, even as it remains apart from it.

DN: Yes, sorry for being cryptic, but sometimes posing cryptic questions leads to great metaphors!
I think it's about time to let the amoeba go and to let it grow in between the manifestations of Visuals. I really enjoyed your answers and again congratulations on the double release! The show at Studio10 gallery opens July 31st. And I'm really looking forward to hearing more Evidence.

EV: Many thanks to you, and thanks to Contour Editions for the opportunity to release our music in this way. It would be great if other labels took notice of this great idea!