Altos Transferre I

Altos Transferre I tracks are experimental works built in two or three sequential layers.  The first layer consists of live improvisation on the viola through a set of custom Max patches. The second layer, which is optional, involves reprocessing those recordings through the same, or a similar, set of patches. For the third and final layer, I sequence the resultant recordings in Logic.


Selected tracks:


Beat-making side project dabbling in hip-hop, retro synths/sounds, and ambience.

Robert Dominicus: There's Something in the Water

Robert Dominicus is a collaborative project with John Robert Ferguson. The goal is to explore techniques and timbres associated with a variety of vernacular electronic music practices, avoiding the latent dynamics of genre-specific expectation. The majority of "there's something in the water" (2014) was recorded in an entirely improvised/live duo scenario. It's something of an oversimplification, but John is often responsible for the beats/dynamic fractures and Seth for the textures/harmonic shifts. Robert Dominicus believe that the values and timbres of much contemporary vernacular music remain an awkward proposition for many supposedly forward looking art institutions, a tension that they seek to highlight.


Selected tracks:

John is excited by digitally augmented instruments and the aesthetics of the handmade, his contribution to this project represents initial explorations with the Ableton Live/Max for Live controller: Push. Seth applies a punk aesthetic to extended viola performance; his contribution to this project revolves around bespoke max patches, a Behringer BCR 2000, and a MIDI keyboard.

Altos Transferre II

Alto Transferre II follows a procedure similar to the one in employed in Altos Transferre I, but here the works are more highly composed, and the proximity to the viola more remote and abstract. The logic of that relationship is practically homeopathic, the same mysticism Stockhausen affirmed when he wrote of the "highly-compressed" Beethoven symphony which nevertheless retains a trace of the original in the transformation. This is radical objectivism: the experiences of the psychological subject are set aside in favor of the construction of the object.


Selected tracks:

Suppose you take a recording of a Beethoven symphony on tape and speed it up, but in such a way that you do not at the same time transpose the pitch. And you speed it up until it lasts just one second. Then you get a sound that has a particular color or timbre, a particular shape or dynamic evolution, and an inner life which is what Beethoven has composed, highly compressed in time.
— Karlheinz Stockhausen

While Stockhausen’s qualification that the symphony must retain its “pitch” might suggest that either the frequency or time axis of the sound must be preserved in order for it to retain any sort of identity, I read this as the practical caveat that any material whose speed is increased a thousandfold will cease to have any definitive perceptual characteristics at all. This point notwithstanding, perception is still to be regarded as secondary to the internal construction of the object, which Stockhausen signifies with “inner life”: a sound has a life that is all its own, which it perhaps may not ex-press at all. The absolute regard for this inner life, when extended to the inner life of entire compositions, becomes the basis for serialism. Adorno, on the other hand, would cite the failure of this principle for the same reason that he cited the futility of the tone row in twelve-tone music: that the row itself cannot be “heard." This is not to suggest that this procedure is not compositionally useful or sonically interesting, but only that, from Adorno’s perspective, the impetus for objectivity behind serial procedures—with their exclusive regard for the internal construction of the object—results in an object whose objectivity is indecipherable.

A real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not block its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully.
— Walter Benjamin

One of the most interesting contributions to this notion of “inner life” (Stockhausen) in a work emerges in Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay on translation, The Task of the Translator. Benjamin sets the tone for his essay at the outset when he puts aside any regard for the work’s recipient: “No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the audience." The electroacoustic corollary of this principle is Stockhausen's objectivism.

Benjamin’s metaphorics of light—the “transparency” of the translation; the original that it does not cover but whose light it allows to shine through, thus letting the original be seen, for the first time, for what it always already was, for its pure language—this metaphorics of light can be transposed into a metaphorics of sound and applied to the electroacoustic process. In composing with sounds, and in altering these sounds via recording and studio processes, their ordinary significations are disrupted. But perhaps it is still unfamiliar to us that something essential in these “original” sounds comes to light (and to sound) via such interventions. For these interventions allow the sounds to be heard as "themselves" for the first time. The translated sound is not an alteration or destruction of the original but even closer to the essence of the original, paradoxically, than the original was to itself; for in this translation something like “pure sound” also emerges, sound experienced as nothing but sound—an affective movement, perhaps a spectro-morphology or a gesture. It is tempting to reduce “pure sound,” the absolute essence of sound, to one or more of the delineated categories of Dennis Smalley’s “spectro-morphology.” Yet any such attempt at a reduction of this sort will only reintroduce the signifying chains that are undermined by translation, and thus refer to possibilities which are no longer those of pure sound. Spectro-morphologies speak to human possibilities by means of the connection to psychophysical experience; pure sound speaks to possibilities other than human ones. And although the claims of pure sound are certainly idealized, perhaps this is precisely the perspective on sound that Schaeffer sought to free, despite the pragmatism of his detractors.

As in literary translation, fidelity to a sound is something other than passing along a fixed and eternal content. The best and most faithful translations are faithful precisely because of their infidelity to that content, choosing instead to illuminate and to enunciate the syntax or configuration of the original—in any case something that was never considered to be essential to it. Translations “allow” this to happen; they allow the original to unfold, to be itself via this peripheral focus.