My first job in the professional theater was on a Mississippi river boat in 1989 portraying Mortimer, The Man Who Dies aboard the Clinton Area Showboat Theater. I’ve been working as a sound designer and composer since 2000, preferring the title of Sound Writer. I create sonic inventions, soundscapes and music for live performance, interactive media, and film, often mixing the timbres of acoustic instruments with synthetic audio to sculpt imagined textures and environments, sometimes danceable, sometimes hummable, often neither. My tools typically consist of original compositions, sampled music, spoken words, sound effects, and live signal processing.
My music and sound designs have been heard at numerous New York City venues including Lincoln Center, Theatre Row, The 92nd St. Y, Joyce SoHo, The Atlantic Theatre Company, Japan Society, Performance Space 122, The American Museum of Natural History, The World Financial Center, and on Long Island at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center. I’m currently based in Washington, DC where my work has been heard at Signature Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, The Studio Theatre, Folger Theatre, Theater J, The Davis Center for Performing Arts at Georgetown University, Rorschach Theatre, Synetic Theatre, CityDance Ensemble, and the Atlas Performing Arts Center, among others. My sound designs have appeared in exhibits at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of American History, the Megapolis Audio Festival, and the Conflux Festival. As an actor I performed extensively at nationally-recognized experimental venues in New York City and Seattle, across the U.S., and throughout Europe.
I have taught Sound Design and/or served as an artist-in-residence at Georgetown University, Whitman College, Abrons Arts Center, Watermill Center, HERE Arts Center, Consolidated Works Arts Center. I received my MFA in acting from the University of Washington, and my BA in Theater from the University of Northern Iowa.
Sound Design Theory
The raw material for a lot of my compositions for theater comes from recordings I make. I’ll take these recordings into my studio and alter them to suit the imaginative world of the play. I rarely start from a purely synthetic source and it’s my hope that everything I make has an element of recognizable, “real-worldness” to it mixed with some un-nameable, emotional qualities.
My approach to Sound Design is uniquely interactive & rooted in dynamic, actor-based sensibilities, as this is where my formal training lies. I prefer to work with directors during their process in the rehearsal room, playing with performers – giving them impulses and listening to their responses – to find integrated textures & rhythms. I also prefer to mix my designs live, continuing the process with the performers throughout public performances. My designs focus on the active interaction between myself and the actor, between myself and my design, between my design and other design elements.
Much as a flutist accompanies a light opera or a pianist accompanies a modern dance performance, so do I accompany actors in rehearsal - triggering atmospheric drones, musical interludes and representational effects. I will also manipulate parameters such as delay, reverb, chorus, etc. Through improvisations in rehearsal, I build a map and then play the design in performance.
Microphones placed on a stage and on an actor’s body are used, not necessarily to amplify, but to send sonic information to my computer. I process the sound, set it loose on the audience and performers, and become an active piece of the production. I essentially play a live score that uses actors’ voices and ambient sound from the stage as raw material.
Tiny Dance Film Series
In 2006 I created the Tiny Dance Film Series with choreographer Peter Kyle. The series is an installation of very short and very small dance films screened in a darkened kiosk for an audience of one. The result is a uniquely personal, interactive experience for the viewer, which evokes the nostalgia of an old-time penny arcade. It has been on view in art galleries, film festivals, and theater lobbies throughout the U.S. and Europe and at the fourth Jumping Frames Dance Video Festival in Hong Kong, Macau, and Guangzhou. tinydancefilms.com
The project evolved out of guerrilla performances choreographed, rehearsed, and filmed in Lower Manhattan's public spaces. My collaborators and I agree to follow two restrictions governing how the films are made: 1: The addition of a soundtrack is the only post-production allowed (all of the films are done in “one take,” without any picture editing after the shoot), and 2: No artificial light is used during the shoot.
This strict manifesto encouraged us to concentrate on what we feel is useful in dance and on film: corporeal and mechanical magic. The tiny format and the disorienting venue in which the films are screened provide further possibility for both filmic and physical trickery. tinydancefilms.com
As A Performer
My formal training is in acting, which I received at the University of Northern Iowa, earning a BA in Theatre, and at the University of Washington's Professional Actor Training Program in Seattle, where I earned my MFA. My teachers there - Steven Pearson, Robyn Hunt, Corey Hansen, Cathy Madden, Judith Shahn - taught me a “whole body” approach to the stage, incorporating elements of the Suzuki method, mime, physical balance, and centering, the Alexander Technique, and Linklater Voice training.
I appeared on numerous stages in Seattle and New York and toured with Cirque du Soleil for one year. I stopped pursuing a career as an actor to focus on Sound Design in 2005.
I grew up in Southeast Kansas, attended school in Iowa and Seattle, spent ten years in Brooklyn, and currently live and work in Washington, DC.
jamesgarver at gmail dot com