Tools of the Trade: Sam Pluta's Cinematic Compositions


Video: Sam Pluta, American Tokyo Daydream I (Calypso Sunrise)-Full Version, 2008

For this installment of Tools of the Trade, Melody Chamlee reports from last week's Dorkbot meeting in New York. - Ceci Moss

Composer Sam Pluta demoed his new performance piece at Location One in SoHo as one of the featured presenters for September's New York Dorkbot meeting. He creates original music scores and visual experiments that contain mathematically arranged sequences to make his compositions using his own software scripts.

Pluta says he began experimenting with software-generated music by exploring data structures, which he defines in his software using specially selected algorithms. His compositions use non-traditional, un-syncopated beats to create rhythm in common sounds, which can play like robotic malfunctions one moment and complicated tribal drum sets the next.

He began by using algorithms to chop up set blocks of sound samples, which were programmed to mix up and repeat to make it difficult for human hearing to sense repetition in the sounds. Pluta then says he found he was able to generate unique compositional percussion scores with even the tiniest of sounds, such as the shearing of a pair of scissors and the slurping of drinks.

Not content with the single mathematical re-arrangement of the same sound samples, Pluta began exploring MIDI sample distortion until he was able to arrange samples not just by sequence, but also pitch and length, creating true musical melodies that could be played in different scales.

He says his biggest challenge to date has been attempting to use his software in live performances. "Using algorithms is great for track mixing, but for live performances, it's hard to collaborate with."

As Pluta experimented with software audio application design he also began exploring visual notes to show as well as play intense sounds, including famous sci-fi and psychological thriller scenes from popular films.

During this performance, which he calls data structures/monoliths ii, he has visual scene clips mapped to a MIDI keyboard using his custom software application. By playing the clips on the keyboard like a musical piece, the projector displays the visual version of his selected clips, and chops them up using strobe-like random display to express the graphic equivalent of musical chords as the sounds from the clips are played together.

Watching him play a combination of these moments in a new order, removed from the context of the full-length films from which they originated, creates an all new experience and understanding of these cultural memes, where the clips themselves become visual samples in a reinvented story.