frank Stemper

Rural American Sound Bytes  (1994)
Sonic Installation in 35 movements for Computer, synthesizers, samplers and
processors with live sampled audience interaction  — 7 hours
     MIDI sequenced playback, using quickly edited and
     processed samples of the ever changing audience as the entire "Electronic Orchestra."
     Commissioned by CCA and supported, in part, by a RAP Fellowship from the

     National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).



RURAL AMERICAN SOUND BYTES (1994) is a 7 hour piece(!) – commissioned to be a sonic installation for a regional arts festival in Illinois.  It is composed for computer, several synthesizers, samplers, and processors  - with the audience’s voices supplying the actual sound material.

The piece was performed in a huge tent at the outdoor arts festival.  The tent contained mostly empty space, for the audience to wander around and listen.  The quadraphonic sound came from the four corners of the tent, and, as the audience moved about, because of the quad sound, they would each hear slightly different versions of the “music.” 

 On one side was the electronic set-up, computers, synthesizers, processors, etc., and the composer with five assistants.  The set-up also contained a small, soundproof recording booth, constructed for the installation.  A pre-composed twelve-movement, twelve-track MIDI sequence composition began, with twelve MIDI patches (from the synthesizers) used as the sound material for each of the tracks.  As the festival folks wandered in, they were ushered, one at a time, into the recording booth and instructed to make any sound they desired – with their voice or anything else that they would like that would make noise.  Sometimes the recorded “sample” was a short single sound, sometimes it was a longer phrase or even a short song.

That recording was then quickly analyzed, edited, and transformed into a sample (digital sound byte), which was then fed into one of the awaiting synthesizers, where it got in line to become part of the entire 12-part texture/composition.  Each of these newly sampled and created MIDI patches then took the place of one of the original twelve patches, performing one of the twelve musical parts of the actually composition, and became part of the over all music in the tent.  

 This is analogous to taking say a Beethoven string quartet, beginning with 2 violins, viola and cello, but then replacing one of the quartet’s musical lines (1st violin) with a trumpet, then another (2nd violin) with an accordion, then the viola with a snare drum, then the cello with a piccolo: the music that Beethoven wrote stays the same, but the instrumentation changes. And then as the orginal music of Beethoven’s string quartet continues, those new four instruments are gradually replaced by four new ones and it continues on.  Except that the instruments in RURAL AMERICAN SOUND BYTES are created by the audience’s voices, AND except that a string quartet is only 4 tracks/voices and RURAL AMERICAN SOUND BYTES is 12!  And of course Beethoven’s quartet is 20-30 minutes long and RURAL AMERICAN SOUND BYTES is 7 hours long!

For seven hours, the instruments, digitally performing the continuous music, gradually changed as the audience changed.  The effect if you were a member of the ever-changing audience was to walk into the tent, listen to the sound, then work up the nerve to go into the recording booth and create one of the “instruments;” then waiting and listening for a while longer, and, finally, hearing yourself become part of ménage.  It was great fun.  One fellow, a math professor and amateur violinist, attempted singing Wagner’s March of the Valkyrie.  When his high tones began penetrating the texture, that was for me the climax of the day.  It was quite beautiful. 

It was quite an honor to receive support for this project from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  I wish they would have also supported my request(s) for my multi-textured MASS.  Oh well.

21 Jan 2018


  • Rural American Sound Bytes12:11

Note: this 12-minute is just a short segment of the 7-hour work.  It does however give an example of the overall sound of this piece.