Gaston's work with electronic media has been commonly recognized as humorous, playful, and inventive, and as such has earned him not only awards such as the University of Louisville's Best New Electroacoustic Work (for "Nocturne: Crickets Inside & Out"), but also places on the board of the Conway Composers Guild and the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce's arts advisory board. His collaborative piece A Dream Retrieval Ritual 2014 was given special attention by Little Rock Soiree and Arkansas Times as a unique engagement of and contribution to the local community and was awarded as Official Selection of the 2016 Los Angeles CineFest.
Ryan Gaston (b. 1990) is a composer and improvisor currently based in Los Angeles, California. Gaston's work centers around musical interface/instrument design, modular synthesizer and laptop performance, electronic improvisation, sound spatialization, and strategies for notation and analysis of electronic and timbre-based music.
Gaston has done extensive work for ad hoc multichannel speaker systems, including 12+ channel pieces for networked Raspberry Pi computers (as in "50 small boxlike spaces" and "PiAGRA Falls"), homemade multichannel distortion systems (as in disonillum), and 5.1 film applications (as in A Dream Retrieval Ritual 2014).
Gaston performs on electronics frequently in improvisational ensembles and is a founding member of the electroacoustic ensemble/collective Burnt Dot. He was a featured performer at the Serge Modular 40th Year Anniversary Concert in San Francisco, February 2015 and performed alongside David Rosenboom in the 2017 Don Buchla Memorial Concerts.
Gaston's current research centers around the advancement of electronic music performance practice through study of its current contrasts to typical acoustic performance practice and the typical scheme of Western music theory/performance/analysis pedagogy. Gaston specializes in interface-neutral notational systems, and works intensively with adaptation of spectromorphological analytical practices into compositional and improvisatory contexts. Initial thoughts are discussed here.
Gaston received MFA in Music Composition & Experimental Sound Practices at the California Institute of the Arts in 2016. He completed his BA in Music Composition from Hendrix College in 2012.
A statement or two
It stands to reason that I should use this space to divulge something a little bit more directly about my aesthetic and conceptual concerns. Now that you have made it through my "Bio" proper, I am assuming the first person and addressing directly some thoughts about humor in my music and about the idea that electronic music performance could be different (not necessarily better, but different) than it is now. All this will hopefully lead to the creation of an all-siren/taxi horn ensemble and the transfer and display of counterfeit Subotnick.
I believe in humor as a useful tool in music. Humor helps to create a welcoming environment for an audience and helps to approach issues that otherwise may be difficult to address. My aesthetic is deeply imbued with a tongue-in-cheek attitude equally absorbed from Erik Satie, Charles Ives, Gyorgy Ligeti, Peter Maxwell Davies, Frank Zappa, Gong, Comus, Nurse with Wound…the list goes on. This sense of humor can act both purely as a means of entertainment and as a means of highlighting moments of sincerity and ambiguity.
All in all, it is easy to make music that sounds morose, hopeful, mysterious, vengeful, etc…as such, this obviously emotional music is very common. It seems to me that there is enough purely morose/hopeful/mysterious/vengeful/etc. music in the world that does its job sufficiently well. I am perhaps less interested in making music that directly inspires an emotional state than I am in making music that approaches these responses through its operation as caricature. This is not to say that I am uninterested in sincerity of expression, but that I prefer to highlight moments of sincerity in my own work by approaching them through contrast with surrounding materials that are entertaining, but emotionally detached and sardonic. Parody/caricature/satire can act both as an approachable and very surface-level form of entertainment (and after all, entertainment is one of the key functions of art), but also acts as a padding by which grave, threatening, or otherwise difficult issues can be approached through a lens of humor. This ultimately presents the audience with the choice as to whether to leave their experience at the level of humorous response or serious contemplation. I consider offering this choice critical. I often navigate the space between sincerity and caricature through mindfully balancing periods of coherence and incoherence: through movement between relatable and abstract materials.
The theme of parody and unveiling of parody is perhaps most apparent in the various iterations of A Dream Retrieval Ritual, which trudges through a forest of nasal pseudo-fanfares, toilet humor, and broken toy sounds before emerging into an empty clearing in which a narrator briefly describes her own struggles with mental illness. To a lesser extent, the balancing of humor, gravity, and ambiguity is evident in the form of short pieces “End Fly Violence!,” “Sunday, Midmorning,” and “Meet Me Halfway: Artifacts.” Even in my “absolute” music I attempt to navigate the line between playfulness and gravity, coherence and incoherence.
About Electronic Performance Practice
I am excited about exploring the advancement of collaborative electronic performance. The trend begun with the mid-century emergence of the composer as a studio artist has continued and is interesting, but has perhaps naturally dissuaded a number of very talented musicians away from some of the wonderful results that can be had through collaboration in composition and performance. By the nature of their primary instruments’ operational principles, acoustic musicians often adopt conceptually different approaches to performance and composition than do their electronic counterparts, and while we live at a time that electronic performance practice is more evolved than ever, there is still much to be learned and gained from the interaction between people deeply embedded in the “acoustic” model and people deeply embedded in the “electronic model.” I am interested in providing electronic musicians with analogs to many aspects fundamental to acoustic instrumental performance practice, including:
- a flexible, but roughly standardized lexicon for describing their instruments’ sonic vocabularies
- a model for musical analysis and notation based on this lexicon
- a model for individual performer development through structured practice
- a model for development of collaborative sensibilities through ensemble rehearsal/performance
- a model for development of skill in individual and group contexts through interpretation of familiar materials
I firmly believe that fulfillment of these criteria would yield interesting results in the advancement of many areas of musical practice, including more deeply developed strategies for electronic and acoustic collaboration in structured ensemble music and purely improvisational music, creation of works for electronics by purely acoustic musicians (and vice versa), creation of electronic performance music that can more easily outlive its composer, and the creation of electronic music scores that are interface-neutral and open to exploratory interpretation by performers of any electronic instrument.
Areas of interest for exploring these possibilities include instrument neutral performance languages/notation systems such as Wadada Leo Smith’s Ankhrasmation and analytical systems such as Lasse Thoresen’s developments in the field of spectromorphology. I am currently approaching these developments through performance in ensembles focused on interpretation of instrument-neutral notation systems and through sonic and technical analysis, transcription, and reproduction of familiar works of electronic music.