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(Zee)Reis ((Sea)Journey)

Digital music and interactive installation created for the
400th anniversary of the Dutch East India Company.

The concept of (Zee)Reis ((Sea)Journey) is more than just the idea of travelling. When we set off for foreign countries, we experience their cultures through a filter of our own culture. Often we do not notice it, but we always try to fit into our edification the foreign elements that are difficult to understand. However, we are not equipped with the same set of experiences as the people who were raised within that foreign culture. That’s why we cannot experience the complicated rhythms of African music or the unique tuning systems of Indonesian gamelan in the same way as those people who have been exposed to that type of music their entire lives.

What happens when I expose this ‘projection’ of our own culture onto the music of other cultures? In other words, how would foreign music sound if played ‘through’ Dutch music (or vice-versa)? In (Zee)Reis I have mixed together the sounds that the travellers must have heard during their journeys on the VOC-ships with the music that was in their memories of Holland. Using digital signal processing (DSP) techniques, I have created new sounds by combining different sounds - what you hear in the piece are actually crosses between a violin and a gamelan, a lute with a shakuhachi, a voice and a didgeridoo, among others.

As you walk through the installation space, you are literally walking ‘through’ the composition. Your movement is tracked by a video camera, which lets a computer know approximately where you are standing in the hall. The computer switches between the different sections of the piece depending upon your location; in this way you are free to make your own journey through my composition.

About the Techniques

I use (or sometimes mis-use) new interactive technologies in all my compositions and sound installations. It is important for me as an artist to explore these technologies in order to counterbalance their use as a means towards more controversial corporate or political ends. For instance, the video camera has become a powerful device in our society - used sometimes belligerently and sometimes benevolently. The same video motion tracking technologies used by some military forces are used in the installation (Zee)Reis in order to liberate the listener from the confines of composed musical structure.

The sounds in (Zee)Reis were created using two different DSP techniques: cross synthesis and granular synthesis. Cross synthesis is a frequency-based synthesis technique in which the frequency and amplitude content of two different sounds are multiplied by each other. The resulting sound has the characteristics of both sounds, yet does not really sound like either of them. In the time-based technique of granular synthesis, very short snippets of sounds (as short as 1/100th of a second) are recombined to create new sounds. By combining the ‘sound grains’ of different musical instruments one can create an entirely new instrumental sound.