Rachel Devorah Trapp Interview

Rachel Devorah Trapp

Rachel Devorah Trapp is an American composer, sound artist, and improvising hornist. Her context-specific works for performance and installation crystallize in sound the habits of being: the daily patterns of ineffable exchange that bind our individual lives together. She is currently a Jefferson Fellow at the University of Virginia pursuing a Doctoral degree in composition and computer technologies.

I first came across Rachel Devorah Trapp's music because of one her postings on the SuperCollider Facebook group. When I was looking for composers to compose a piece for computer-controlled pipe organ, she was one of the people I approached because I knew her knowledge of SC would prove beneficial to her composition for the organ.

Carl Testa: When did you first become aware of SuperCollider? How long have you been using the software?

Rachel Devorah Trapp: I learned about SuperCollider when I started my MA in composition at Mills College in Fall 2011 and have been using it ever since. I didn’t have any experience with electronic music before Mills, but I did have a background in JavaScript, so SuperCollider seemed like the best place for me to dive in.

CT: Are you primarily a developer or a user? Or both?

RDT: A user.

CT: Can you tell me a little bit about your music/work in general?

RDT: I’m interested in making works that are crafted to actively engage with the poetics of their context. I am particularly interested in using sound to interrogate the ways in which art functions within society to create culture and thereby community – how art can be used to elicit identification between individuals. E.B. White wrote “If you want to write about Man; write about a man.” I take this advice to heart and use context-specificity as an opportunity to maximize the identification I seek to elicit between every individual who interacts with my work.

CT: How do you use SuperCollider in your music?

RDT: I think of the language itself as an interface between myself and possibilities I can imagine in digital sound. I start with those possibilities and then develop what I need to bridge the gap.

CT: Could you elaborate a little on what you mean by the SuperCollider language as an interface between yourself and the possibilities you imagine?

RDT: Rather that sit down and build a piece with what I already know how to do with SC, with what I know will “work;" I try to push my goals beyond the limits of my known possibilities. I teach myself what I think need to know about SC in order to get to a specific unknown possibility, but more often than not that I end up somewhere completely different.

CT: What do you feel is the greatest strength of the software?

RDT: The quality of the sound!

CT: What is the most frustrating thing about the software?

RDT: Why must it crash so much!

CT: Has using SuperCollider changed your approach to music?

RDT: Absolutely. My friends tease me that whenever I sing any snippet of something I’m working on, I always do it in a voice that’s an imitation of the timbre of the horn. I imitate the horn with my voice because I’ve played the horn for three-quarters of my lifetime and that’s been the historic voice of “my” music in my mind. Learning SuperCollider has helped me actively move beyond this limitation because the computer is slowly becoming “my” instrument in the same way that the horn has been.

CT: Can you tell me a little about your piece {auto}poetics&tune?

RDT: {auto}poetics&tune is an improvisation structure for myself as solo performer on horn and electronics. I was inspired by reading Boris Groy’s “Going Public” and by listening to the great Gordon Mumma’s 1967 work Hornpipe for horn and "cyber-sonic console.” In the work Mumma’s horn solo becomes a duo between the horn and the circuit which in turn becomes a trio between the horn, circuit, and room. His form elegantly and effectively complies with the difficulties of the horn as soloist: the electronics fluidly interact with the horn and the room to compensate for the intractability of the horn - a lesson I took to heart. Just as I began work on the piece I was exposed to Cathy Van Eck’s beautiful performative sound art piece Wings. I was captivated by her use of simple feedback systems, so I started messing around with the parameters of an SC feedback system that Scott Petersen posted on his fantastic website and adjusting it for me to improvise with and against.

{auto}poetics&tune (2015) by Rachel Devorah Trapp from Rachel Devorah Trapp on Vimeo.

CT: Do you use SuperCollider in combination with other software or hardware?

RDT: Not consistently: I've done the standard playing around with an Arduino Uno and with using my iPhone as a TouchOSC interface. I’ve also been lucky enough (thanks to the great Carl Testa!) to also write for the MIDI-controlled organ at Wesleyan University using SC. This past Fall I developed a series of short SC pieces using a Mathews Radio Baton that we have here at the University of Virginia.

CT: What current musical projects are you working on?

RDT: Right now I’m developing a SC feedback system for me to improvise with using the palate of barely audible multiphonics I have developed as a hornist. I use the mouthpiece and body of the horn of the horn independently (as sound source and amplifier, respectively), and the SC system will pickup these delicate sounds for the loop. I’m also in the preliminary process of building a sculpture using conductive fabric that will hopefully (fingers crossed!) allow me to play my laptop in SC with the air of my horn as I improvise.