Devil’s Music

Nicolas Collins

Devil’s Music is a performance piece about global media, local culture and individual interference. It developed in 1985 out of the confluence of my fascination with early Hip Hop DJs, a Cagean love of the splendor of radio, the introduction of the first affordable, portable samplers (Electro-Harmonix’s 16 Second Digital Delay and Super Replay), and a simple home-made “stuttering circuit” (inspired, perhaps, by my years as a student of Alvin Lucier.) In Devil’s Music the performer sweeps the radio dial in search of suitable material, which is sampled in snippets of one second or less. These are then looped, layered and de-tuned. The stuttering circuit “re-rhythmitizes” the samples by retriggering and reversing the loops in response to accents in the rhythm of the ongoing (but usually unheard) flow of signal out of the radio – in other words, the radio material you don’t hear is always governing the phrasing of the sounds you do hear, defeating the annoying periodicity of digital loops. The brevity of the samples is disguised by this constant shifting of the start and end points of the loop – a thrifty solution to the high cost of memory. All sounds are taken from transmissions occurring in the AM, FM, shortwave and scanner bands at the time of the performance; no samples are prepared in advance. The result is a jittery mix of shards of music, speech and radio noise -- sometimes phasing languidly, sometimes driving rhythmically, sometimes careening frantically -- a patchwork quilt stitched from scraps of local airwaves. I revived the piece in 2002 by replicating the original hardware in software for open distribution and group performances.