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Signal Jamming and Random Interference (excerpt from end of piece)

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Published on Apr 29, 2015

Performed by the JACK Quartet and Annie Gosfield on December 7, 2014, at Roulette, NYC
Composed by Annie Gosfield
Signal Jamming and Random Interference is inspired by the sounds, processes, and perceptions of jammed radio signals, a wartime technique used to block an opponent’s radio transmission by broadcasting noise, speech, or other sonic effluvia on the same frequency.
This is the last five minutes of a forty-five minute piece. The first part of the excerpt uses original recordings of radio signals. The end is purely acoustic, echoing the noise and distortion of the jamming process with extended techniques.

I originally planned to write a “tape” piece for string quartet accompanied by recordings of jammed radio signals from World War II. After meeting with the JACK Quartet and working together to interpret these surreal wartime signals, I chose to focus on the quartet’s mastery of extended techniques to evoke the elusive, transformative nature of the jamming process. It was far more compelling to recreate the sonic spoils of disruption and distortion using the human element and acoustic means. The members of JACK were active collaborators, and we developed the piece together, using subtones, stratosperic upper partials, double harmonics, imperfect repeats, and many other unorthodox techniques to produce unstable sounds that evoke radio distortion, oscillating tones, and noise. The recordings of jammed radio signals are still critical to the piece, but have been layered and edited to function as an intermittent interruption (as they did originally) and as a reference and reminder of a very odd form of audio warfare.

Radio also has an influence on the structure of the piece. Music, speech, noise, and a variety of themes come and go, as if different frequencies are drifting in and out of range to a listener. Musical materials (in the form of shifting melodic figures as well as abstract extended techniques) recur and replicate, just as jamming signals might repeatedly interrupt a changing radio broadcast.

Thanks to the JACK Quartet, Jim Staley and Roulette, NYSCA, who commissioned this work, and thanks as well to the American Academy in Berlin, where I began my research on the subject in 2012, and to the Agosto Foundation (Prague) and Robert Wilson’s “Watermill Center” (Long Island) where I composed the piece during residencies earlier this year. Special thanks to Roger Kleier who endured months of jammed radio noise at home.

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