Nicolas Collins | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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In an interview from the mid-90s, Chicago-based sound artist Nicolas Collins summed up his MO like so: "In a nutshell, everything I do has to do with sticking something into a machine and watching it come out different at the other end." In the late 80s Collins designed the gadget he's best known for--a trombone rigged as a processor, with inputs for other instruments and electronics. A small keyboard controlled the signal, and a speaker attached to the mouthpiece directed the sound into the horn so he could manipulate it further using the slide. On 100 of the World's Most Beautiful Melodies (Trace Elements, 1989) he used the system to manipulate contributions from the likes of John Zorn, Tom Cora, and George Lewis. A few years later he mucked with the innards of a CD player and prefigured Oval's experiments with digital errors on It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. But this show revisits a technique he came up with before either of those projects. In 1985, fascinated with the rhythmic manipulation and repetition of hip-hop DJs, he recorded a piece called Devil's Music, using a primitive sampler that could hold only one second of material at a time to pluck sounds from the radio and "loop, layer, re-trigger, reverse, de-tune and re-rhythmitize" them on the spot. Side one of the LP is a continuous flow of shifting beats and percussive effects splattered with chopped-up spoken word; the flip side manipulates snippets of easy listening and classical music. Here Collins has invited a variety of the city's notable improvisers and electronic musicians (including Casey Rice, Fred Lonberg-Holm, TV Pow's Todd Carter, and 8-Bit Construction Set's Paul Davis) to perform a continuous series of short sets, drawing on not only AM and FM radio but also Internet radio and police scanner. Since the original sampler "lies corroding in an attic in New England," he's designed computer software with the same limited capabilities. Wednesday, May 29, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David V. Kamba.

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