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Erik DeLuca: The Deep Seascape

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


The SEAMUS conference hosted at Sweetwater in early April (see FWR #123) lead to an interesting collaboration and workshop/lecture at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

While the visual arts are usually referenced by the term "art world," some of the most beautiful, mysterious, and overall captivating things have been happening in the genre of sound art, and electro acoustic music. While both of these are extremely diverse fields, they are primarily concerned with different sonic techniques, which employ electronic technology. While this many times sends artists in an exploratory mode, finding sounds which have not been used in traditional music — such as synthetic timbres or a new reliance on the texture of a composition as opposed to score-based music — it can also take everyday sounds or never-heard natural sounds, using them to strike new and complex emotional chords.

One interdisciplinary artist-composer exploring both of these methods is Erik DeLuca, a Miami resident just finishing his graduate degree in music technology and composition from Florida International University, and getting ready to begin the four to five year process of obtaining a doctoral degree in music composition and computer technology from the University of Virginia. In addition to this, DeLuca has an impressive array of experience and awards.

DeLuca's work explores the use of natural soundscapes ( "found sounds" taken from natural acoustic environments), and the broad idea of a soundscape (the sounds or combinations of sounds which result from an immersive environment, natural, manmade, all of it) to create often haunting compositions which challenge the traditional range of musical sound and inform the audience with sounds which are sometimes inaccessible to the human ear.

DeLuca's music creates a paradox in which it is very difficult to describe or compare his pieces, even though many of the sounds that he is sourcing are water, crickets, and other everyday sounds. Some of DeLuca's compositions remind one of more mainstream musicians/groups like Efterklang, CocoRosie, Bjork, or Thom Yorke, and some pop musicians DeLuca stated as influences are Brian Eno and Miles Davis. His piece "The Sounds Trains Make" is an example of how DeLuca appreciates collaboration with other artists, and appreciates improvisation. This series was constructed from others' fragmented improvisations, then edited together by DeLuca. Of the three parts, two include human voices, all include instrumental sounds, and each gains its own emotional tone from the fragments used. This process of "finding" rather than creating the sounds can also be heard in "Two Habitats," an installation piece, with its collections of water and land soundscape sources.

Thankfully, Sweetwater Sound was hosting the SEAMUS conference in Fort Wayne, which allowed DeLuca to come into contact with Megan Mirro, FWMoA Community Outreach Specialist, to put on a lecture and workshop, where attendees were treated with a brief history of the phonograph, and were taught how to create a homemade record player out of paper, tape, a pencil, and a sewing needle. Attendees were also invited to perform their newly made record players with DeLuca at the SEAMUS conference. "Collaboration pushes the artist so much, is needed to work in a more open sense," Deluca says. The collaboration that arose out of the workshop took the form of almost a dozen performers, playing their record players as an opening to DeLuca's piece "Mechanisms."

"I became interested in the instability of these players, and how rhythms emerged from the inevitable mistakes and scratches that result from working with such a system", DeLuca goes on to say, "This series of pieces will further develop to include other mechanical instruments such as a music boxes.

"Mechanisms" is formed in three parts, each a different method of sound production, Part I being homemade record players, Part II live electronics, and Part III for a trumpet, saxophone, trombone, baritone sax, Fender Rhodes Piano, percussion, and electronics. "Mechanisms" is a beautiful piece which begins with a short narrative of a chorus of chaotically placed electronic and mechanical noises being played on a record, with the needle being placed on and off the record, then short and dramatic breath before jumping into the second half of the piece which is dominated by heavier beats with a thrilling rhythm. "Performing our record players at the SEAMUS conference was an incredible experience,” says FWMoA’s Megan Mirro. “Hearing each record come in one by one made my ears well tuned. So when Erik’s piece began and we stopped playing, I could still hear records skipping and playing and tried to see where it was coming from on stage, but it was just his piece playing with me. I thought Erik’s song was great because he added us as a new, unpredictable, and visual element to the performance."

In addition to the previously mentioned pieces in DeLuca's commanding body of work, he has also created "The Deep Seascape: The Sonic Sea," a multi-media installation piece. After receiving a Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs grant, DeLuca was able to collect underwater sounds using hydrophones off the coast of Miami to create a "seascape," and uses a surround sound speaker system "that will act as a transportation device, acoustically, reconfiguring the concert hall into an aural sea."

Collaboration is key to this project, with DeLuca working with visual artist and poet Clark Lunberry, photographer/animator Vanessa Monokian, and visual artist Izlia Fernandez, as well as Florida International University music students to create the full installation/performance which took place March 21st, 2009. With a rich collection of the sounds made by, shrimp, dolphins, winds, and boats, among other things, DeLuca literally turns the sea and its inhabitants into a symphony.

DeLuca has successfully created a fresh, diverse, and utterly compelling body of work, bridging gaps between artistic disciplines, and blurring lines within musical practices. His compositions and the conceptual, ecologically-minded themes which inhabit them, can captivate any lay person with their subtle familiarity and aesthetic beauty, and march their ears and minds into a stronger understanding of the incredibly active and growing world of electroacoustic music.

Hear Erik DeLuca's work and learn more about him by visiting www.erikdeluca.com

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