Interview with Christopher deLaurenti
about his show The Sonar Map on KSER (Seattle)
KSER is one of those oddities in the world: a radio station dedicated to the obscure and fringe in the sonic world.

Earsay director John Oliver talked with Chris deLaurenti over a nice cup of virtual java (2000).

earsay: Tell us a bit of the history of "the Sonar Map."

The Sonar Map was originally a quarterly magazine devoted to challenging new music: noise, out jazz, new composition, and electroacoustic music. In 1996, I stumbled upon a copy and sent the editor a copy of my cd, Three Camels for Orchestra. He liked the disc and asked me to write some articles and reviews. While I enjoyed writing and reviewing new music cds, I really wanted to share the music in a more tangible form.

In August of 1998, I approached KSER, a community radio station just north of Seattle, Washington, about doing a new music program. As a composer, I figured that doing a weekly show would sharpen my ears, force me to excavate a lot of new music and enrich my own musical ideas. Unlike the rest of Seattle radio, KSER is committed to marginalized musics and kindly offered me a slot for the Sonar Map. Although the Sonar Map magazine ceased publication in 1997, I helped myself to the name because I want my radio show to possess the same enthusiastic open-minded catholicism as the magazine.

earsay: What would a typical week sound like on the Sonar Map?

The Sonar Map comes in three flavors: composer-based shows, "theme" broadcasts where the compositions share an unusual or interesting relationship, and programs which survey a single genre such as the symphony or acousmatic music or piano music or opera etc.

I avoid conservative musics such as jazz, the blues, country, world music, celtic, reggae, rock and roll, heavy metal et. al. That stuff usually puts me to sleep. Because I do the show live, turn down the lights and listen to the music (some djs don't listen at air time!), I program what interests me as a composer and a listener: creative chamber, solo, orchestral, electronic, improvised, experimental, electro-acoustic and computer music. I like out jazz and free improv too, but I won't air much of those challenging musics until I make the transition from being an admirer to an aficionado.

Listing the titles of a few Sonar Map broadcasts should convey what I play: Arnold Schoenberg: the Hits, Pillage and Plunderphonic, Harry Partch Blowout, Variations, 20th Century Piano, From Data, Four Symphonies, and Water - I've done almost 50 programs in all.

For the Variations program, I played pieces that were comprised of variations and, in an unusual twist, interspersed several recordings of Stravinsky's Variations throughout the broadcast. During the Harry Partch Blowout, I played the 85 minute Revelation in the Courthouse Park complete, with no interruption along with several pieces from the criminally out-of-print World of Harry Partch LP. My goal is to create programs that will seduce the casual listener into new music as well as reward the longtime listener with old gems and new jewels.

The Sonar Map also has a web page with links to as many composers as I can unearth. Each week I post the playlists at http://www.eskimo.com/~foont/sonar.htm and write a squib about the broadcast.

earsay: What is your view of mixing different genres of music in a broadcast?

I'm all for it; good music is good music, regardless of the sounds and/or instruments it may or may not contain. What distinguishes music from sound is the listener's perception of context, organization and meaning; form, balance, tension, chaos, narrative(s), noise, timbral variety, etc. - none of those qualities are required for good music but they satsify my ears.

earsay: Have you ever done any live remix work on air?

No. I remix snippets and slabs of my own sounds in my live performances, but live weekly on-air remix work such as blending Ligeti into some prepared piano and then infusing a hothouse Expressionist orchestral piece such as Berg's opus 6 would force the Sonar Map into another direction. Occasional live remixing is definitely on the agenda for future shows, along with in-studio guests and live performers, but I do not want to seem vain by polishing my composition skills on-air. Listeners should love Berg before ever hearing my music or mixology.

earsay: Tell us a bit about your other activities promoting and creating new music

Aside from the Sonar Map, my new music rabble-rousing includes sporadic live performances - I perform solo on multiple cd players and I am one half of rebreather, which uses homemade and sabotaged consumer electronics. I've played festivals and dingy dives, so I'm more interested in sharing my music than milking the cash cow of arena rock. In addition, I'm part of the Tentacle Collective, which publishes the Tentacle (www.tentacle.org) a monthly print and web magazine devoted to publicizing creative electroacoustic music, out jazz, free improv, noise, new composition, post-classical, multimedia and other underground musics in the Pacific Northwest.

I believe it essential that composers not promote themselves but help their fellows garner recognition too. I've organized two festivals of electronic music, Electromuse One and electromuse2, as well as staged several single-evening events of new music in Seattle.

The Sonar Map airs every Wednesday night from 10pm to midnight and can be heard in the Seattle area on KSER 90.7 FM. The Sonar Map web site contains links to Chris's own compositions which are excellent, challenging, and gutsy, just the way we like it!