Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Swearing Off 

Living Off the List

Wednesday, Sep 20 2000
Life is full of lists. Dos and Don'ts, Pro and Cons, To Dos, To Calls, not to mention the lists of dreams, desires, and foods to give up for Lent. Composer/performer Donald Swearingen has been collecting such lists, in text, image, and audio forms, in preparation for his new work Living Off the List, a solo performance premiering this weekend at A Traveling Jewish Theater. In fact, ATJT's four-member company will be participating in the performance via recorded clips of their voices -- reading lists.

Swearingen uses the data to create what he calls "expanded music," compositions that he "plays" using infrared light controllers, environmental sensors, a MIDI wind controller, and his own invention, the "LaserHarp" -- a stand with four laser beams which he can break to trigger sounds, lights, video images, and other effects. Originally trained in piano, wind instruments, and percussion, Swearingen has an affection for the physicality of music. While his performances require the intercession of computer technology, he says, "Acoustic instruments are physical all the time. Your body moves, a string vibrates, eventually moving the air." But with most electronic music, "once it leaves your finger on the keyboard, it's an abstraction, it's just a number or some bits -- you tend to lose that physical connection. There are people who are very content nowadays to press a key and sit and see what happens. But I don't want to seem like I'm reacting to that -- I've been physical all along."

While some acoustic art can be alienating, even deliberately so, Swearingen's play-full quality puts his work on the more accessible end of the spectrum. The evening is scored in nine sections, some more loosely themed, some more tightly composed. The structures mainly apply to which "instruments" he will be using or which part of the stage, leaving him lots of room for improvisation.

About The Author

Julie Feinstein


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"