Michael Schumacher

New York University

Composing Boundaries: A Portable, Immersive, Music Performance System

Composer Michael J. Schumacher has devised a portable multichannel sound system (the PMcSS) for the presentation and performance of his compositions and improvisations. Complete with speakers, amplifier, interface, wires and computer, the entire system weighs 30 pounds and can be carried in a suitcase and backpack. Schumacher has toured Europe with the system (a second tour is planned for May 2018) and given numerous one-off concerts in the United States as soloist as well as with improvisors including instrumentalists from various musical disciplines, poets, dancers, performance artists and videoists. Currently, Schumacher has been presenting a set of compositions called Variations, a 45 minute set of short (3-7 minute) pieces that transpose the classical idea of variation into the areas of spatialization and timbre.
The PMcSS exists at the intersection of many of the issues of contemporary musical composition and presentation. It is a technology that is sophisticated yet also “DIY”. It combines algorithmic and studio compostion practices with improvisation. It is electro-acoustic, informed by acousmatic approaches as well as contemporary signal processing – convolution, non-linearity and other uses of the FFT. It is a portable acousmatic orchestra that sets up in 45 minutes and is amenable to alternative spaces as well as academic settings. The range of sound sources includes analogue synthesizers, acoustic instruments, field recordings and found sounds, as well as computer-generated sounds. It is a technology and a practice that has been evolving for 30 years, incorporating a generation’s worth of electronic music history into its practice.
This paper will explore the details of the technical and compositional practices developed in the PMcSS. The basic thesis is that these reveal a great deal about contemporary approaches to music composition in general, issues relating to unconventional instruments and performance, the role of improvisation and collaboration, generative and algorithmic composition, the influence of computer software, the possibilities and problems of notating and archiving work, the sound art/music dichotomy (or continuum), as well as the questions of audience development, selling and distributing work and the cultivation of alternative performance/presentation spaces.

Keywords: Algorithmic composition; Spatial music; Sound art


Michael J. Schumacher has worked with spatialized sound, computers and electronics since the 1980s, creating multi-channel, generative “Room Pieces” presented in galleries, museums and concert halls, as well as site-specifc, “alternative” and private living spaces. His interest in the relationship of musical form and architecture led to the founding of Diapason Sound Art, a gallery devoted to the presentation of multi-channel installations, long-duration performances and intermedia artworks. In its 15 years of existence, Diapason presented over 300 artists, at a time when sound art was emerging as a distinct practice in the United States. Schumacher studied music composition with Stanley Applebaum, Bernhard Heiden, John Eaton and Vincent Persichetti and piano with Seymour Bernstein, John Ogdon and Shigeo Neriki, and has degrees from Indiana University and Juilliard. He has collaborated with choreographers, poets, musicians and filmmakers and received awards and residencies from NYFA, Harvestworks, Rennsellaer , DAAD and others. He’s an adjunct professor at NYU.