Dissertation Listening Room

This project was presented to the public in the form of an exhibition that took place in Granoff 3S on October 8-15, 2015. The space was chosen because it was an open, sunny, and pleasant sun room for reading and relaxing. It was meant to exude the atmosphere reading nook in one’s home, and participants were supposed to engage with the work on their own terms. The room was not intended to be visited at a specific time and not by many people at once because it would put pressure on the participant to engage socially. The room was kept open for a few days and by appointment. The  listening and gallery session was expected to take a participant anywhere from 12–60 minutes to experience. Within the space, there was 1) seating for reading and listening (three to four people at a time) in a relaxing atmosphere with tea, headphones, reading lamps, and media players, and hand sanitizer, 2) a small gallery space to view illuminated score experiments, 3) three to five copies of the codex placed upon a coffee table, and 4) tea for visitors to enjoy.

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Media players and headphones were provided in the space for the participants to listen to pieces while reading the codex and scores. Alternatively, if the participant preferred to use his or her phone/computer and personal headphones to listen there was a SoundCloud playlist that could be accessed via any mobile device. The Gallery area was decorated with large-format illuminated scores The Listening Room was presented to the public in the following wall text:

To the Greeks, there were four mathematical disciplines: Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Harmonics (Musica). According to Medieval scholars, Musica was the study of truth using the “witness of the ears.” Sound was seen as a mediator between the seen and unseen world. It was considered to be a unique window into human nature and the inner invisible workings of Nature itself. Nature was governed by logic, logic is described by Number, and the application of number granted legitimacy to even the most incredulous beliefs with almost an occult power.

The successful aural reproduction (“intonation”) of these invisible truths was a mathematical proof of Man’s comprehension and mastery of the world—like divination. Intonation, like the proper recitation of a spell, was a mystical representation of an unseen logic. Through music, Man understood the cosmos. The invisibles of nature could be transcribed using proportion (and musical notation).

These views have been translated, misunderstood, and translated again to find meaning and reason through sound in almost every era. There are echoes of these beliefs of logic and inherent reason of numbers in legitimized fields such “Big Data” and less legitimate areas of inquiry such as pseudo-science and “fuzzy math.” A popular example of misuse of “reason” is the common application of the Fibonacci Nautilus Proportions to argue the perfection of a work of art.

The composition of music, then and now, can be a bit like this. My work explores electronic music composition and representation using the logic of Medieval mathematics. I use these ideas (and many more) in the systems and data sets that I have based my works. Information from mystical sources such as planetary motion, flocking algorithms, or whole number ratios is mediated, recorded, translated, performed, re-translated, beautified, re-imagined, and embellished with gold leaf.

The participants were provided with program notes and I was available to answer any and all questions.

Kyrie (9 minutes, realized as a work for accordion and electronics) : This piece is about the aliasing that comes from shifting and layering timbres and whole number ratios. The inspirations came from an analysis and re-synthesis of digital and harmonic artifacts in recordings of of Eastern Orthodox and Sardinian chants.

Agnus Dei (12 Minutes, realized as a work for 9 instruments) : This is a work inspired by the interesting historical relationship of music, religion, and astronomy. In this work, I use the placement of the celestial bodies on the modern horizon to create chordal structures. I also work in harmonic rules from a 1489 text which specifies the proportional relationships of music and the cosmos. I alternate and combine these pitch sets to modulate between the cosmic (divine) and human worlds. The electronics place the performers in the space and adjust levels based on the planets’ positions on the horizon (spatialization), as well as reverb (a representation of distance and time) based on the planets’ distance (in Astronomical Units). Pitch is derived from the distance and is modulated very, very slowly by the oscillation of the orbits. All of this depends on the position of the listener and the time of year.

Ebbinge (17 Minutes, realized as a work for 8 double basses) : This piece is intended to capture the motion of drains/galaxies/flocking in timbre space. I have always been fascinated with the wandering motion and tonal parallelism of objects all trying to converge upon a point (the tonic). At slow speeds, this blind following-and-imitating can sound ritualistic—like hundreds of people walking slowly in a procession. Motions are intricately linked to the sensation of pitch, much like physical motion of carrying ‘boomboxes’ in Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night. In the Draining and Flocking algorithm, there are points at which the flock is drawn to or repelled from with varying speeds and within other parameters. It “flocks” in pitch and dynamic spaces. The pitch is variable and relative to the initial number of members and distance scaling settings at the time of onset. Generally, the further away from the drain, the lower the dynamics.  Objects can travel arbitrarily far away into silence.  Rhythmic material is derived from two or more members being so near in frequency that they beat against one another.

Dissertation Listening Room Tracks

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