photo courtesy of Kasey Pocius
When Kasey Pocius began their performance at Montreal’s La Vitrola in early 2020, they took to the stage with a T-Stick, a digital gestural musical instrument connected to a laptop, and performed a choreographed work with the accompaniment of a laptop orchestra. This performance resonated with me specifically because it was the first time I ever witnessed a laptop orchestra outside of an academic setting and out in the wild and made me realize the how complex the intricacies lay when it comes to conceptualizing not just a work for such a contemporary ensemble, but to also pair it with an experimental gestural controller.
Writing for this emerging medium doesn’t come easily and having a keen understanding of how digital music functions lies at the basis of what made this work interesting to watch and enjoyable to listen to.
“I'm really drawn to the way [digital music] can transform spaces, particularly in surround sound contexts, and that you aren't bound to what is possible in a physical phenomenon,” Pocius said. “Every possible aspect is malleable, and the ability to break sounds out of their normal time scales is really exciting for me.”
The focus on the in’s and out’s of a space’s acoustics has lead Pocius to establish themselves as a unique voice when it comes to writing in new digital mediums in Quebec.
“You're ever really limited by what techniques you have the patience to learn and the amount speakers you have access to” Pocius continued. “The combination of electronics and acoustic instrumentation is also really exciting for me, particularly live electronics. Getting to work as an extension of another musician's performance, and getting to play with their expectations as well as the audience creates some connections I never experienced when I was playing as an acoustic instrumentalist.”
After finding their way to Montreal for university, Pocius stuck around and found themselves engrained in the city’s experimental electronic music community. Their initial drive to compose more digital works led them to collaborations with Concordia University’s laptop orchestra, CLOrk.
“I came into the laptop orchestra having played in the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Orchestra as the principal violist for a few years as well as some other chamber and orchestral, so I was already pretty comfortable making music in a group, but that first rehearsal I sat in on while visiting Concordia for portfolio day really excited me like nothing else, and so I went into the course super motivated,” Pocius said. “The challenge of democratically getting an hour of music concert ready with a rotating roster of guests every few weeks is really rewarding.”
Despite the challenges of writing for laptop orchestra, Pocius has found several ways to streamline the process.
“In terms of what I've learned - simple ideas often work really well, and less is always more,” Pocius said. “It's really easy to over complicate things with electronic composition, and if everybody is playing every idea they have as dense as they liked all the time you'd lose the detail. I've found in CLOrk it's often a lot more rewarding to stick with one idea, and weave it in and out of the overall soundscape, and just pull back and wait for those perfect moments to bring it and then get out of the way of someone else. I also found working with as many different possible interfaces as I can to be a great way to keep what I'm doing exciting, every new interface brings some novel interaction that changes how I think about the sounds I'm building which in turn changes how I'm working with those interfaces.”
Pocius’ understanding and development working in the confines of experimental electronic music also drew from their appreciation of minute details in music.
“Texture manipulation is really what draws me to electronic composition, though when I reflect on my work as a violist it's definitely there too - I was always playing around with different fingering and articulations to find the right timbres to portray the pieces I was interpreting,” Pocius said.
“I don't necessarily see harmony & melody as separate from this, especially the avenues possible from microtonal & modal compositional techniques, but as a another layer of texture to be manipulated. I am really excited by the melodies and harmonies of natural objects & phenomenon and how we can extract those for compositional processes, I continue to find intricate systems in the world around that are so much more interesting that what I normally results from me writing out melodies and chord systems in the traditional way.”
With a solid footing in new digital music, Pocius now looks forward to several upcoming projects that expand on their work engaging with new technologies.
“I've got some really exciting performance pieces I've been collaborating on - some will be pushed back to next year, others we're exploring as 360 video experiences with 3D sound for Youtube & Facebook's VR systems,” Pocius said. “I've recently gotten involved with Exit Points, an experimental improv collective based out of Toronto that has moved to telematics, which I'll be doing a show with in June. I'm chipping away at some more solo works for High Density Loudspeaker Arrays, which I hope to premiere as soon as the facilities can host audiences again.”
With textures, spatial control, and more at the heart of their music, Pocius continues to find ways to impress us with their control over the medium. At the end of the day, their inspiration comes back to the natural world, creating a beautiful cyclic nature at the core of their work.
“I love water, texture wise there's nothing like it, it's become our barometer for how we describe the sounds of other fluids, and there's something really special about about being surrounded by waves, the spatial cues as the tides flow and the overall cycles and rhythms that form are always pleasing and exciting, at least for my ears.”
Kasey's music can be found on their Bandcamp and on Sonus
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Erich is a musician and writer living between Montreal and New York whose work appears on Best Life, Eat This, Not That!, MSN, and more and has represented artists for years as a PR rep. He likes weird music. If you want to find his music, it's over here.