Composer and Installation Artist Peter Traub Explores Sound, Space and Time

October 23, 2009

October 26, 2009 — Space, time and sound are the elements Peter Traub uses to create his sound explorations. A graduate student in the composition and computer technologies program in the University of Virginia's McIntire Department of Music, Traub is creating five compositions based on the dimensions of physical, virtual and hybrid spaces for his doctoral dissertation.

"Peter is a brilliant explorer of sonic space, both actual and virtual," said music professor Judith Shatin, Traub's dissertation adviser. "His installations and compositions variously respond to the spaces in which they unfold and offer compelling listening experiences."

His latest exploration is "Solera: for sound, site and time," a sound sculpture on exhibit in the Ruffin Hall lobby from Oct. 26 through Nov. 6.

Using speakers and microphones set in the four corners of the lobby and a Mac mini computer, the composition will evolve over time. During the two-week installation, moment-to-moment acoustic occurrences – voices, footsteps, the air flowing through the ventilation system and other sounds – will be recorded and played back after 24 hours to develop layers of sound as part of the soundscape. The installation and resulting sound are specific to the space. The length and width of the space or the surfaces "all play a role" in the piece, Traub said.

The Ruffin installation is focused on "resonant space and the play of time against space and stretching it out. Older sounds are diminished but traces remain over time. It's about creating an aural memory of the space."

Traub took inspiration for his composition from solera, the process of aging sherry, fortified wines and vinegars that involves fractional blending in a series of barrels over a period of time to create the final product.

He will give a talk about the installation on Nov. 2 at 5 p.m. in the main lobby of Ruffin.

Last spring, Traub created his first composition in the dissertation series, "ItSpace," a Web project that is a commentary on the "social space" of networking. For this Internet-based sound art he recorded the sounds of objects in his home, including an egg timer, folding table, pillow and metal bowl. Traub posted short compositions made from each object, which has been struck or resonated and recorded, as a "friend" to the others on a MySpace site.

Visitors to the Web site are invited to create their own short compositions using the sounds or contribute sounds of their own. In this Web creation the distance of the person interacting with the sound "friends" becomes meaningless, Traub said.

For the third piece, "Feedback for Hybrid Space," Traub is working with fourth-year computer science and music major Eric Montgomery to stream full-quality audio over a network. Montgomery is writing the computer software for the project in which two musicians will perform in two separate spaces fitted with microphones and speakers. Sound created in the first space will be sent over the network to the second space, and each musician will play against the sound created in the other space. The result is a loop of layering sound that is a guided improvisation with variation in key, tempo and pitch in response to the sound that comes out of the speakers. The speed of the network may vary and as the sound travels over the network, it "creates a kind of third space, a hybrid acoustic space that doesn't really exist," Traub said. "It's about using networks to interact with spaces and create an imaginary space."

Traub's fourth piece is designed for dancers. As sound emanates from speakers, dancers will hold acoustically reflective objects as they move through the air and shape the piece by deflecting and reflecting the sound waves. "The dancers create the piece through their movement and make the acoustic space really dynamic," Traub said. It's about "treating the space as an instrument that you could play."

Traub is exploring two ideas for the final piece. One is "site-specific and at the same time portable," Traub said. With this composition, Traub will write a computer-driven score or "metascore" that can be tailored to the dimensions of a space and the surfaces and objects within it. The different parameters of each space would generate a unique composition based on the same underlying framework.

His plan for an alternate final project would incorporate Cabell Hall Auditorium in his scholarly research. "The echo on the upper balcony is dramatic," Traub said. "The smooth and perfectly curved wall is an amazing acoustic environment."

If he can obtain permission to use the space, he would like to create a piece that plays with that effect.

Traub worked as a software developer for several years after studying English at the University of Florida and earning a master's in electro-acoustic composition at Dartmouth. A Jefferson Scholar, he also received an Award for Excellence in Scholarship in the Humanities & Social Sciences administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.

Traub has published in "Contemporary Music Review " and contributes to the Networked_Music_Review blog. His music and Internet-based work has been played internationally and recently he was commissioned by New Radio and Performing Arts to create a new work.

— By Jane Ford