Conversations | John Morton’s Sound Installation “Fever Songs”
“Fever Songs was born from the notion of creating a space where the sonic representations of gods can be woven together in one room.” – John Morton
Experimental sound artist John Morton explores religious expression in his newest installation, the NYFA Fiscally Sponsored Project Fever Songs. Through innovative computer processing and viewer interaction, Fever Songs coalesces as a collage of incantations and chants that transforms in real-time as the viewer moves through the space. Stripped of doctrine, the installation becomes a tangible experience of the sonic aesthetics of sacred devotion. Fever Songs will be installed at Odetta Gallery from April 20 to May 20 in Brooklyn, New York.
Morton is a recipient of a FY2018 New York State Council on the Arts Grant and the 2017 Shelley Pinz Professional Development Grant awarded to NYFA-affiliated music and sound composers for his work on Fever Songs. Morton is also a two-time NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Music Composition (‘06, ‘02). Read our full interview with Morton below.
What: Fever Songs
Where: Odetta Gallery, 229 Cook Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206
When: April 20 – May 20, 2018; Friday – Sunday, 1:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Opening Reception: April 20, 2018, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
NYFA: Have you been experimenting with new ways of organizing sounds since the beginning of your composing career?
John Morton: My earliest memory of sonic experimentation was as a teenager in Los Angeles. Somehow, I was given some vintage WW2 radio-jamming equipment—oscillators, filters, etc.—and a bunch of us would set them up in a room with a tape-deck delay, some strange lighting and strobe effects, and invite friends over. Poetry, or at least text, may have been involved as well.
NYFA: What made you interested in exploring, appropriating, and re-presenting religious chants, incantations, and vocalized texts in Fever Songs?
JM: While I have never been a practitioner of any devotional belief system, religious music often embodies a deep and profound sense of communication—spiritual, emotional, and musical. I feel incredibly moved and attracted to their sensibilities when experiencing these pieces of music. It is the dogma that confuses me. Fever Songs was born from the notion of creating a space where the sonic representations of gods can be woven together in one room. It is an exercise in coming to grips with societal intolerance and the pervasive unwillingness to accept all beliefs.
NYFA: What does the technical process entail in creating Fever Songs? Do you try to stay current in technological trends in your work, as technology continually changes?
JM: I am increasingly interested in creating the potential for musical interaction, and not dictating a particular outcome. I use a variety of proximity sensors to collect data from the movement of people in a sonically active space, and use that data to control and manipulate both live and recorded audio, a sort of communally composed and ever-changing sound design. While I do a great deal of the programming myself, I depend on experts and fellow experimenters to assist in creating the data-to-sound interface. My technological development is always evolving in response to the demands of a specific space and the nature of the project.
NYFA: What does it mean to ‘interact’ with sound? Are sounds physical or conceptual?
JM: Both. My primary focus is in the composition and musicality of the vocalizations, how they can inter/counter-act with one another, and composing a variable system where sonic structures are reinforced. The sound installation literally requires listener/participants to initiate the sounds by entering the space. From that point, their own choices dictate the sound design, form, and musicality. In a sense, I build the instrument; others are needed to perform.
NYFA: Why did you choose NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship?
JM: I have been fortunate and lucky to be able to compose and produce a number of large-scale public sound projects, funded primarily by institutional and governmental support, but I need assistance in seeking out foundation and other forms of support. Similarly, the folks at NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship have offered terrific advice, very helpful criticism of my proposals, and hints on approaching funders.
– Interview conducted by Priscilla Son, Program Assistant, Fiscal Sponsorship & Finance
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Image Credits: Fever Songs, 2017, Photo Credit: Alejandro Rubin; Head shot, Courtesy of the artist