Interview: Matthew Ostrowski


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Matthew Ostrowski
is a New York based soundartist

  • artist biography
  • example of soundart

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    Interview: 10 questions

    1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?

    I took an electronic music class almost by mistake when I was 16, and got hooked. (I thought I was going to become a historian.) I would say it found me rather than me finding it. I think my fascination had to do with the contrast between the logical thinking needed to create sounds, and the possibilities of rather violent or chaotic results coming forth from that logical thinking.

    2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.

    I studied history as an undergraduate, then wound up playing on the free improvisation scene in New York in the ’80s. After about 10 years of that, working entirely with analog synths, I moved to the Netherlands, where I studied at the Institute of Sonology, and lived in Den Haag for 7 years, where I became involved in computers. In 2000, I moved back to New York, the city of my birth.

    3.Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?

    Music-related things are my profession. The actual income I get from performing, installations, and so in is fairly limited at the moment, but it varies from year to year. I teach, develop software for musicians and media artists, and just started working with Diamanda Galás as her engineer/live processing person. I play a lot around New York, but that’s no way to make a living…..

    4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?

    I do a great deal of improvisation, which is how I would say I “learned music”, but my approach will vary a great deal on other projects, depending on what they are. My work tends to be very fast-moving and dense, but that is a function of my personality rather than any conscious aesthetic decisions — that is just what sounds good to me.

    5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?

    I use Max/MSP almost exclusively, and a variety of controllers. For my improvisation concerts, I use a glove-type videogame controller, which controls a physical model of a virtual object. The behaviours of that object actually control the sound, which gives my setup a more instrumental feel than simply operating sliders. I’m very concerned with issues of interface, and how to make computer music musical in a more performative sense.

    6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general and you personally?

    I think New Media is a marketing buzzword rather than any kind of actual phenomenon, so I don’t really know how to answer this question. Artists work with whatever technology is available — when coal-tar based paints with much more vivid colors became available at the end of the 19th century, artists used it because they were there, but it was not New Media. Neither was the piano. “The media” has been a subject for art at least since Cubism and Dadaism, so I don’t consider dealing with the world of information as an artistic subject particularly new.

    7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

    It is naturally very difficult in the US, as there is a very small pool for funding, and almost no state support. Since returning from Europe, where funding was more readily available, I do more scaled-down work. To some extent, one’s interest also follow the funding — as installations and “sound art” is more fashionable and better-funded at this point, I do more of those. I think the funding systems make it trickier for American artists to do what they really want, not to mention that the cost of living in New York makes it hard to find the time to work at all.

    8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collaborative?

    Both. I do not have a regular band, but I have certain people from various media who I enjoy working with, and do so regularly.

    If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

    I like both — they serve different purposes for me artistically, and I find all of them interesting. Fixed-media works I generally prefer to do on my own, but I prefer improvising with others. I enjoy having someone else’s ideas to bounce off — live music, like theater,is in essence a social art form, and the interaction of people on the stage is one which has a particular magic that a soloist cannot acheive.

    9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?

    For me as an individual? or for the world generally? I find the conversation about influence to be rather dull, and a mere excuse for name-dropping.

    10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?

    To continue banging my head against whatever wall addresses my artistic questions of the moment.

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