Interview: Doron Sadja on “SENSATIONS” & the Artist as a Tinkerer Extraordinaire

Monday, May 20th promises to be a night of nights at Roulette as our very own Doron Sadja presents, SENSATIONS, a multichannel, multi-sensory, audio and visual extravaganza that will throb and ooze sound, light, and colors, stretching the audience’s imagination, intellect, and emotion, in an awe-inspiring display of beauty and terror alike. A snap shot from Sadja’s ongoing process of reflection, experimentation, and creation, SENSATIONS is a site-specific performance that has been geared to take maximum advantage of Roulette’s acclaimed hi-fi audio-visual system.

In this interview, Sadja discusses the ideas behind SENSATIONS, offering a glimpse into the thought process behind his multi-disciplinary approach, and talks a bit about his influences, of his unabashed love of top 40 pop music, and about the triple entendre behind the word “sensations.”

How important is the element of visual presentation to you in your live performances and installations?

It’s really a large range, depending on the situation. The use of visuals in my performances stems from my belief that everything surrounding a work of art affects your experience of it: the the architecture, color of the walls, lighting, etc. You don’t hear with your ears – you hear with your entire body and all of your senses. I try to approach each performance, installation, or art object as site specific, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses which can serve as compositional guidelines. Sometimes sound alone is best for a situation, but other times – like my recent MAKE ME installation at Big Law Country Club Gallery – I couldn’t really use sound, so I had to work in a purely sculptural framework (though I did use low frequencies to animate materials).

Although light projections are common in my performances, I’ve also done work with smells, movement, and touch. I find that when I go to a show, I want to be completely owned by the work – for it to envelope my entire being and transform my reality. I desire this, so I do my best to create it with whatever senses seem appropriate, inappropriate, or exciting for one reason or another. Although you generally can’t change much about a performance space, I’ve found that through the use of smoke and light, I can temporarily transform a space to create my own immersive environment for sound. Unfortunately, I can’t use smoke machines at Roulette, so this performance will be a little different than the visuals I’ve been doing recently. But there still are many other things that are unique about the space at Roulette that I’m excited to work on for this piece (multichannel sound, multiple projectors, two levels of seating, theatrical lighting system, etc).

You also have a strong interest and background in the visual arts and in graphic design. Do you see your approach to visual art as being distinctly separate from your musical explorations or are they different manifestations of the same range of ideas? What is your approach as you create and select the visual elements to your music (in performances or in packaging art)?

I dont think of all my work as being connected except by the fact that I have my general interests and everything in one way or another falls into that range. I am a tinkerer. My working method is a process of play, experimentation, and collage.  Although I plan out specific forms, sounds, visions, or concepts I’d like to approach in a given project, I always let the work take me in whichever direction it decides. I don’t see myself as being particularly virtuosic at any of the things that I do, so there’s always a disconnect between what I imagine and what actually happens. This is what I find exciting about creating work: the constant process of being surprised/disappointed/impressed/scared/seduced by what I’m doing, and having to re-imagine or re-evaluate everything along the way.

Tell us a bit more about SENSATIONS. The word “sensations” evokes both a physical and a superlative phenomenon (“sensational” or a “sensation”). And sense perception, in classic philosophical terms, is the source of both emotion and intellectual understanding. Is this more or less what you seeking to explore and draw out: emotion and thought?

Initially I set out to make SENSATIONS in the same way I usually do my bigger performances/compositions, which is sculpting a 40 or so minute computer piece together in my studio over the course of a month or two, and then live mixing the piece through multiple speakers. However, I’ve been building a performance instrument over the last year or so – synths/ipad/effects and whatnot – so it felt like this was a good opportunity to take this mode of working up a notch. I’ve augmented my normal setup to include a computer, which enables me to use more advanced effects as well as move the sound through 6 speakers instead of my normal two. Nothing will be precomposed, but I’ve designed different templates of sonic spaces that I would like to move through, each with its own system of lights or projections to go along with it.

The name SENSATIONS is actually still a work in progress – this may change either before the concert or after. I gravitated towards the word because its something that can be both physical and a more elusive feeling or phenomenon. Sound is so fascinating to me because on one hand its concrete, mathematical – even physical, but its also mysterious, sensual, ephemeral, and beyond words or intellect.

SENSATIONS is also the name of a brand of condoms, so I liked that.

 

 

If someone who experienced your art could feel either empathy or disgust, which would you prefer and why?

My preference is for both at the same time. My ideal listening experience would pull at me from all directions. I read recently about an unethical study on puppies to see how they attached to their owners depending on if they were treated lovingly, abusively, or chaotically alternating between the two. The puppies that loved/clung to their owners the most were the ones in the third, most uncertain situation. They call this the Polarity Principle, where stress and uncertainty – even manifestations of hatred – somehow enhance love. A terrible thing to do to an animal or child, but kind of an ideal experience of music or art to me.

If I had to choose between empathy and disgust, I’d probably say empathy. I think it’s a little more challenging to involve someone in your work than it is to push them out, and ultimately more rewarding.

Your music explores a wide range of sounds, discrete and sonically pure. It’s hi-fi stuff. But it’s likely that most listeners who find your music online will listen on crude computer speakers or headphones. Do you think about what is lost when the source is presented in less-than-ideal contexts (such as laptop speaker)? And what is retained in this exchange if not the purity of the sound?

It extremely depresses me to think about how people might listen to my work. That’s a major reason why I didn’t release any music for about 7 years after my first release. My music loses a lot of its intention when played on a poor soundsystem, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it is more important to make sure the music gets out there than it is for getting to people’s ears exactly as how I imagined it.

In addition to your art, you are also the Marketing Director at Roulette. What does Roulette mean to you as an artist with respect to its history, its current programming, and for the future?

I work here – so I’m biased – but Roulette is really the most phenomenal place to hear music in New York. The quality of the sound, the acoustics, the facilities, and the general focus it demands from the audience is unparalleled.

Who are some of your heroes or inspirations, musically, visually, and intellectually?

Autechre, Maryanne Amacher, Paul McCarthy, Hermann Nitsch, Chris Burden, David Lynch, Aphex Twin, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Robert Ashley, Mike Kelley, Iasos, Vangelis, Cocteau Twins, list goes on & on….

What do you listen to for pleasure (in pop, rock or other music)?

I’m obsessed with top 40 pop music. My Guilty Pleasures include: Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift… On the more experimental side, two people that have been blowing my mind recently are Mark Fell & Laurie Spiegel.

Of all the great sources of inspiration and support that comes from living and working in New York City, is there one specific aspect of the city that you find indispensable as an artist that you can’t find anywhere else?

The community. Not to say that doesn’t exist elsewhere, but there are so many great people here, it makes it hard to go anywhere else.

What are your plans for beyond SENSATIONS? What can we expect from you next?

I have lots of ideas, but nothing firm yet. I have a lot of more rhythmic recordings that I haven’t been able to fit into anything yet, so I’m going to try to piece together a small release in June and then do a little northeast tour in July. I’m trying to finalize a space for the next event in a series of multichannel sound events that I organize called SOUNDCORRIDORS (hopefully in August or September). I’m also hoping that this performance of SENSATIONS will be the groundwork for a new album. We shall see!

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