Dan Siegler

Insider Interview: composer Dan Siegler

On October 17 and 18, 2019, composer Dan Siegler and guest artists perform the world premiere of Concrète Jungle at The Invisible Dog (51 Bergen St.) in Brooklyn. In this Insider Interview we spoke to Mr. Siegler about the origins of Concrète Jungle, his early inspirations as a composer, and more.

How did Concrète Jungle come into being? 

The work evolved slowly. It was something I would do for fun in between assignments for hire. I became fascinated by New York voices and sounds, and more conscious of the city I’ve spent my whole life in. I would wander the streets recording noise, interview people with strong accents, find archival clips on YouTube. After a few years it had developed into…something. I wasn’t sure what yet. 

How/where did you find and gather all of the different voices you use in the piece? How did you determine which bits to use?

The piece is entirely instinctual, with the imperative that every sound come from New York or a New Yorker. As I collected the voices, I began to notice that themes were emerging; dialogue about gentrification, art making, industry, feminism. Do you remember that game “Concentration”? It was kind of like that. I’d turn over one square and try to find the other square that matched the same subject matter. It was like some gigantic puzzle, but the answers were more abstract than literal. I became interested in creating dialogue through editing, between people who had never met. 

You recently gave a workshop performance of excerpts of this work. Tell me about the audience reaction. What do you hope the audiences at the Invisible Dog performances will come away with?

In the Summer of 2018, I finally showed the piece to the public when David Lang and Suzanne Bocanegra graciously opened their little theater to me. If I didn’t get this thing out of my head I was going to go crazy. What I was looking for was what they call “proof of concept” on Shark Tank. In other words, does the thing work? Does it hold an audience’s attention. It’s a “deep listening” experience and requires focus. To my complete shock at the Q & A after, there was so much response that we had to cut it off at a certain point. The conversation with the audience on that night was one of the most validating experiences of my life and helped me recommit to the project and go deeper. I hope that the audience for Invisible Dog will feel the intention of the piece which is about connection and how hard it is and how important it is, between people and across generations. We have sound, lighting, and production design now so the whole piece has taken a bold step further. 

What roles do the guest performers – be it dancer, instrumentalist, or vocalist - serve in relation to what you are doing on stage? Do you provide printed music, parameters or suggestions to them? 

The guest performers are all talented artists I know or have worked with and I’ve been lucky to have surrounded myself with a lot of special people. That they would contribute their time and talent to this is really an honor. All the direction really comes from curation. I would only ask people I knew would be comfortable improvising in this sort of environment. I think of the guests as representing those chance encounters that you have, like at the deli or on the street, that affirm humanity and make the city feel like a special place. They serve as a reminder to not live too far inside your own head, that others around you can contribute to a shift in collective energy if you’re open to it. 

And….what ARE you doing on stage during the performance? 

What I’m doing is live mixing. So I’m taking the text and the sounds and using f/x to manipulate them, so that every performance contains improvisatory elements, both from the guest soloists and myself. I can decide to emphasize a particular part or bring something down. I can fly a sound around the room or make it sound tinny, like it’s coming from an old transistor radio. 

What led you to a career as a composer?

I studied classical piano until I got to high school and then I ditched it for rock music. I had bands and played all the great clubs that are now closed, CBGB’s etc. All the while, I was contributing music to friends’ theater productions and modern dance performances. I was setting up my recording studio and finding that was my happy place. I love tinkering with sounds and structures and I can take a maddeningly long time to finish. But I get there eventually. So essentially, not becoming a rock star led to my career as a composer, which it turns out, I was a lot better suited for. 

How would you describe your composition style, and what other composers do you draw inspiration from? 

I start with sounds, as opposed to notes. The notes come later after I’ve established the baseline concept. The concept comes from the sounds. Over the past few years my work has evolved and has become more mobile. I record from wherever I am and that inevitably becomes part of the composition. Hildegard Westerkamp has been a huge influence as of course has Pierre Schaeffer, an early pioneer of musique concrète, from which Concrète Jungle gets its name. I try to mess with people’s conception of rhythm. We’re such a beat-driven society. I love beats as much as the next person, but I want to find rhythm in different ways. Even arpeggios make me impatient. We all rely on these devices to create propulsion and I try to find that motion in other ways. I use words rhythmically, voices as instruments, not as singers or storytellers. Then I usually add vintage synthesizers and minimal orchestration for strings, horns or woodwinds.  

Dan Siegler's Concrète Jungle: a twist on New York voices

October 17 & 18: Dan Siegler's Concrète Jungle

A conversation between New York past and New York present, about New York’s future

"The recorded music, by Dan Siegler...used varied sounds—rushing water, staticky buzzes—to complement the piano, strings, and brass, and was frequently haunting." - Andrew Boynton, The New Yorker

On October 17 & 18, Bessie-award winning composer of experimental music, Dan Siegler and guest artists perform the world premiere of Concrète Jungle at The Invisible Dog (51 Bergen St.) in Brooklyn. Admission is free ($15 suggested donation) and reservations are available at this link.

Siegler's new electro-acoustic work features hundreds of intricately edited New York voices and highlights borough-specific accents, linguistic filler and word repetitions to form assembled sentences and musical grooves. Layered under the dialogue, Siegler transforms harsh urban street noise by filtering it through digital delay, reverb and echo effects, rendering it meditative and ambient.

The world premiere performance features guest instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers including Pam Tanowitz (dance), Christina Campanella (voice), Pauline Kim Harris (violin), Tomoko Omura (violin), and Greg Chudzik (double bass); additional performers to be announced. The collaborative artists perform, individually, improvised solos that compliment and contrast with the ambient noise created by Siegler.

Concrète Jungle is inspired by and takes its title from musique concrète, an electronic genre pioneered in the 1940’s in which readymade sounds are employed in place of instrumentation.

Dan Siegler began recording the source material, clips of conversations and other utterances by New Yorkers, in 2013, shortly after his father was diagnosed with dementia. “I didn't realize it at the time,” said Siegler, “but by creating this piece, I was attempting to make order out of the chaos of my dialogues with him, which contained some of the most comical and emotional exchanges we'd ever had." After Siegler's father died, Dan discovered some of his black and white street photographs, including images of a Times Square flea circus, Chinatown parades, and East Village tenements. Projections of this artwork are incorporated into the performance.

“The New York City I remember is long gone,” says Siegler. “But when I'm live-mixing these dialogues and sounds, I'm establishing some measure of control, if only for one night, and placing sounds, voices, attitudes, expressions that may be considered antique, into a contemporary context.”


October 17 and 18, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Concrète Jungle

by Dan Siegler

with guest performers Pam Tanowitz, dance, Christina Campanella, voice, Pauline Kim Harris, violin Tomoko Omura, violin, Greg Chudzik, bass and more

The Invisible Dog

51 Bergen St.

Brooklyn, NY

Free admission

($15 suggested donation) RSVP at this link

Dan Siegler is a Bessie Award-winning composer and sound artist. His music has been described as "luxuriously mercurial" by Artforum, and “eerie, churchly and jazzy…” by The Village Voice. Strongly influenced by musique concrète, his work incorporates references to jazz, blues and folk via a mix of analog synthesizers, orchestration for strings, horns and woodwinds, glitch sound material and field recordings.

Siegler has worked extensively with choreographer Pam Tanowitz. Their collaborations have been performed at venues including Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, Lincoln Center Out of Doors and The Joyce Theater. He has composed music for choreographer Yanira Castro and the violin duo, String Noise, among others. DanSieglerMusic.com