Adam Basanta is a Montreal-based sound artist, composer and experimental music performer. Across disciplines and media, he interrogates intersections between conceptual and sensorial dimensions of listening, instabilities of instrumentality, and means with which site and space can be articulated. As a resident of MoTA Point in March 2016, he created a site-specific installation for the gallery titled Inside Out, and held an exhibition of his sound installations. Artist Talk asked him a few questions before the opening of his solo show, which was also the last show at MoTA’s former space.
Basanta often uses obsolete technology in his sound art works, trying to change the way consumerism has taught us to think about technology. By using a piece of equipment that was looked upon as garbage in his sound installations, he is trying to give it a new voice in a different context, thus showing us it can still look beautiful, sound interesting and, maybe, tell us something important. Or as he puts it: “To amplify something is to give it power to be heard.” Although he is not trying “to make an overt political point in the works, […] there is politics involved in making of the work.” Growing up playing in bands, he acquired a lot of equipment over the years, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with the way the industry works. That is why he is always trying to subvert the way in which a particular piece of equipment is supposed to be used.
He likes to look at the tools he uses from a certain distance, which is one of the reasons he doesn’t particularly like new technologies. “If the technology is new, it is hard to be critical about it,” he says. Cassette tapes are one of his favorite materials to work with. For him, the reason is somehow nostalgic, as he grew up recording songs from the radio on cassettes and they were always around him – a situation that changed when he started making music on the computer. At home, they never had a record player, where he could listen to vinyl records, so he doesn’t feel connected to the medium. It is also a matter of practicality. Cassette tapes are light, but also cheap.
In his sound art pieces, he is “combining sound and space and making space more audible,” which is “very different to what [he] did with composition technologies.” He composes and performs his experimental musical pieces, but works also as a composer of chamber music. Apart from different approaches in the connection between sound and space, he also sees differences in time in the two practices: “The difference between a concert and sound installations is not only in space, but also in time. Time works differently in a concert. I know people are going to sit down and listen to it from the begging to the middle until the end and hopefully pay attention throughout the whole time. So, you can approach the construction of sound and time with this very stable platform. In sound art, it’s not stable, […] so I try to have some compositional dynamics in the sound piece and a compositional dynamics to the way the works inter-relate to one another.” Taught as a composer, he still thinks about many issues he faces in his sound art pieces from a composer’s point of view, but he thinks “about composing not just with sound, but also with space and sculptural elements.”
Although Basanta can agree with some criticism towards sound art, he still likes it. “I think sound art is very unique. […] I like sound art that addresses some sort of political or conceptual concerns and combines it with something that sounds really interesting.” The titles of his works often imply some kind of a joke, even though, he says, “it is always a sad kind of joke, accompanied with melancholy.” Still, “when the artist is too serious, it also interests [him] a bit less.”
Watch the video below to learn more about Adam Basanta’s work and his exhibition at MoTA Point.