The Dr. Tommy Comeaux Endowed Chair in Traditional Music at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette celebrates three Spring 2021 graduates whose studies focused on traditional music.
Fox Schwach is a second-year graduate student at the School of Music and Performing Arts majoring in Theory/Composition with Music Media Emphasis. For his thesis project, he is employing technology to connect music with the environment around us. Fox is using ambient sounds from locations around Lafayette as a compositional tool. By feeding field recordings through an algorithm he designed, he extrapolates pitch data over time to create unique scales. These of-the-moment, location-specific scales provide the harmonic framework for a musical bed Fox composes with hybrid digital and analog synthesis. He then invites different musicians to improvise over a composite of the field recording and its corresponding musical accompaniment.
His compositional process involves a three-step uni-directional compound improvisation. The field recording of an environment provides the sonic backdrop. The technological component uses the data within the field recording to facilitate a musical interpretation. The improvisor interacts as a soloist over both.
In Fox’s own words, “the practice of field recording involves really listening to our environment in ways we don’t always appreciate in our daily lives. I wanted to make a piece not only inspired by those soundscapes but actually using them as an integral component. If we extract tonality out of a recording of a swamp, a bayou, or an HVAC unit, what will it sound like, and how can we use it in a musical context?”
Although the result of this exploration was initially intended for live performance (which remains a possibility), Fox decided to change course and present it as a video piece. This alteration allowed for more diverse location settings and the ability to work with performers as far flung as the Netherlands. The result is a work of collaborative art that complies with changing pandemic restrictions while celebrating Lafayette’s unique landscapes.