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Swearing Off 

Living Off the List

Wednesday, Sep 20 2000
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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

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