When a gregarious clerk at her Montréal hotel mentions that he too has produced a cd recording, Marina Rosenfeld listens intently, extending the same courteous behaviour to him as she does to this interviewer while preparing to depart the day after her MUTEK performance. That same spirit of generosity is evident at the Saturday concert where she and three other revered turntablists—Martin Tétreault, Philip Jeck, and Martin Ng—convene for group improvisations and solos. Listening closely to the developing sound field, Marina's contributions integrate themselves seamlessly into the group fabric. Most strikingly, when her solo turn arises, she elegantly constructs with purposeful deliberation a nuanced mini-composition using her turntables and acetates. She later says, “I wanted to bring the microscope down to a micro level and construct a delicate, sinuous shape that couldn't have happened with others playing too.” Marina's appearance at MUTEK 2003 was her first Montréal performance, although she had played already with Tétreault and Ng numerous times. Jeck was the 'unknown quantity,' for, although long an admirer of his music, she'd not played with him before, nor had the chance to see him perform. In her view, “Some moments in the (group) performance crystallized, whereas others felt like moments of searching. There's no way you can prepare for that, except that when you're interested in improvisation as 'a way of life,' it's most important to be listening to others, so that one can make interventions into what the group is playing, deploying a different strategy as a soloist than for an ensemble situation.”
A classically trained pianist, she was born and raised in New York , moved to California in 1991 where she studied at Harvard and the California Institute of the Arts, and returned to New York in late 1999. As one might expect, the change was reflected in her music-making. She explains, “My music had been expansive and empty, not empty of content, but if you think of a water-colour painting, it was as if pigment extremely diluted by water had been stretched across the canvas. When I got back to New York with its incredible racket, all these so-called 'incorrect' noises, like a tone-arm falling off an lp and slamming into my arm, seemed to assert themselves more intensively and have a greater presence in my music.” Her customized acetates contain unsampled sounds that might originate from instruments like violin and piano, or from feedback, other instrumentalists, vinyl surface noise, or her computer. However, since many of the sounds she works with on the acetates recur—albeit in re-edited, re-processed, and re-cycled forms—she thinks of them as relating to one another like discordant family members, sharing genetic material, past experiences, likes, and dislikes. Why use acetates when sounds could more easily be archived on cds? Vinyl's tactility and vulnerability intensify the acetate's appeal, since it deteriorates through variegating stages of noise and hiss. Thus, while she regards conventional cds as frozen artifacts, her acetates exist in a kind of embryonic netherworld, since the records she uses aren't 'born' until they're used in performance. A major foundation of her approach is its fusing of real-time composition and improvisation in each performance, ‘improvisation' not meant in the conventional jazz-oriented sense, but more to suggest a sensitive responsiveness to abstract sounds as they develop in the moment. In her earlier performances, she generated loops by heating pins with a lighter and sticking them into the vinyl. This enabled the audience to make an immediate connection with what they heard because they could literally see the tone arm hit the pin and double back upon itself. But, as her current music largely unfolds discontinuously, she now uses loops infrequently. And, while sometimes she will use a third turntable for rhythmic pulses, she's more drawn to musics that are not pulse-based. “Because there's so much music around that has this continuous groove, I'm really attracted to music that's liberated from that obligation to move forwards, music that moves backwards and sideways too. I think it's political—unpopular, in a good way—to construct complex, ungrammatical sentences, to be spastic and out-of-control yet still aware at the same time.”
In 1997 she began to garner attention for her fragment opera project, an open-ended work incorporating turntables, acetates, and video that has been presented in museums and galleries, and even at a night club inside a Vienna Metro Station. Two of her recordings in particular have been recognized: 1999's theforestthegardenthesea and 2003's Water's Wake. theforestthegardenthesea consists of two lengthy live performances, the first a solo and the second a group performance. The first is an evocative, undulating piece full of crackles and hums; the second is similarly atmospheric but, predictably, more expansive, given the presence of six others. On the improvised collaboration Water's Wake, Marina is joined by turntablist Toshio Kajiwara (whom she calls a “shamanistic archeologist”) and percussionist Tim Barnes. While she has been involved in many exciting projects (such as playing with Sonic Youth on its Goodbye 20 th Century tour in Zurich, Switzerland on the John Cage composition 'Four'), the Sheer Frost Orchestra, Turntable Hell, and Sonic Garden are three that deserve special mention. Initiated in 1993, the Sheer Frost Orchestra project is a 17-woman electric guitar performance which has group members (often non-musicians selected, she says, “on the basis of glamour, personality, and a hunch I have that they would be great musicians”) playing guitars using nail polish bottles in gestures she invented such as the ‘hop,' the 'drop,' and the 'scratch.' Later performances featured guitar sounds digitally altered in real-time using laptop computers. Utilizing a group/soloist approach like that seen at MUTEK 2003, Turntable Hell featured eight turntablists (Martin Tétreault, Otomo Yoshihide, Paul Hood, Steve Noble, Lepke B, Janek Schaefer, Martin Ng, and Marina) assembled for a May, 2002 UK tour. Finally, in the aftermath of 9/11, four artists—Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Ben Rubin, and Marina—were commissioned to create site-specific installations at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden for presentation during October-November 2002. Entitled Sonic Garden, the project was designed to symbolize a spirit of Lower Manhattan renewal. Marina's Sonic Garden: Cephissus Landscape exploited the acoustical qualities of this enormous indoor atrium with its palm trees and 17-foot ceilings by creating what she called 'confetti,' tiny bursts of acoustic and electronic noises scattering across the space's 56 speakers. She explains, “When we went in with hard hats in the summer of 2001, all the marble was shattered and there was broken glass everywhere; all the trees had died, having been bombarded with dust. The feeling of the space was very sombre but this wasn't the mood we wanted to create. I wanted to focus on the wetness of the space in its acoustical terms because it's extremely reverberant; I also wanted to exploit the reflectivity within the space created by the mirror panes, chrome, marble and glass. The setting was not only visually and sonically shiny, but 'psychologically' shiny. I tried to bring all of those ideas into the space, having the sounds sprinkling and reverberating within it in all kinds of different directions.” (An upcoming DVD release from Harvestworks/Tellus in New York will include her Sonic Garden piece as well as two other multi-channel works: Delusional Situation, commissioned for the Whitney Biennial 2002 and recognized with an Honourary Mention Prize at the 2002 Ars Electronica for Digital Musics; and anti-Warhol movement, using cello and electronics and recently shown at a New York gallery devoted to Sound Art.)
Future plans include a solo album coming out on Quakebasket in January 2004, and a February trip to Australia for the 'What is Music' Festival in Melbourne and Sydney. However, she's most excited about a new orchestra she's calling The Emotional Orchestra. She offers an intriguing preview: “It picks up in some ways from where the Sheer Frost Orchestra left off in examining the idea of expression and of how a musical language, a playing language, can become codes for signifying emotion or even the very possibility of emotion in music, which we take for granted as viable but is a very specific idea with specific cultural consequences. I am trying to connect the ideas of emotion in music and improvisation itself—and making the claim that both the idea and the practice of improvisation are essentially feminine—a female art derived from female so-called vices: emotion, volatility, variability, fickleness. Being called fickle, for instance, is never a compliment, but I think it can actually form a kind of structure for a work of orchestral music.” No matter the outcome, there's little doubt that future works by this turntablist original will be highly provocative and imaginative.