Having absorbed Cage's maxim that "any sound can be a musical sound," by the age of 18 I found myself quite unable to choose any one sound over another. Feedback (the Zen-like infinite amplification of silence) became my pathway out of this stasis: turn up the volume and let physics do the rest. In "Pea Soup" a self-stabilizing network of simple circuits (for Cut and Splice emulated in software) shifts the pitch of feedback to a different resonant frequency of the space every time it starts to build, creating an architecturally-specific raga that can be influenced by movement and performed sounds.

By the early 1980s my musical indecisiveness led quite naturally from feedback to live sampling and a preoccupation with "found" sound material. In "Devil's Music" the performer sweeps the radio dial (AM, FM, shortwave and scanner bands) in search of suitable material to sample on the fly, loop, layer, retrigger, reverse, detune and re-rhythmitize. In 2002 the original ElectroHarmonix circuits (which lie corroding in an attic in New England) were cloned in software and distributed to a dozen Chicago DJs for a shambolic revival at The Empty Bottle. The quirky rhythmic instability of "Devil's Music" reappeared in my first hacks to CD players in 1988. "English Music" is the latest in a series of pieces combining "skipping" CDs (in this case, of 16th century Consort music) with acoustic instruments. I like the suspension and elongation of fragments of the recordings, and the superimposition of the glitch (my "digital claves") on the mellifluous sounds of early music.

New York born and raised, Nicolas Collins studied composition with Alvin Lucier at Wesleyan University, worked for many years with David Tudor, and has collaborated with numerous soloist and ensembles around the world. From 1992-95 he was Visiting Artistic Director of Stichting STEIM (Amsterdam), and in 1996-97 a DAAD composer-in-residence in Berlin. Since 1997 he has been editor-in-chief of the Leonardo Music Journal. In 1999 he joined the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he is currently Chair of the Department of Sound. Recent recordings are available on PlateLunch and Periplum.


Thursday 24 April, 8pm
(BBC broadcast 3 May)