Listening & Reception

Music to die to

With a touch of irony, Brian Eno tells a story about waiting in Cologne airport where awful piped music provoked him to compose Music for Airports. Prompting reflections on mortality, the forcefully happy melodies he heard in the departure lounge and aeroplane comprised music designed to inoculate against panic. “I thought it was much better to have music that said, ‘Well, if you die it doesn’t really matter’ … I wanted to create a different feeling that you were sort of suspended in the universe and your life or death wasn’t so important”.

By playing and discussing vinyl records that attempt the instrumentation of airborne death I will treat Music for Airports as Eno intended—as music to die to. These are examples of ‘bad music’, records whose motivations and sometimes tasteless musical ideas can be hard to fathom. D.O.A. (1972), is Bloodrock’s, first-person narration of dying after crashing. Jupiter Prophet’s 35,000 Feet: Challenger’s Theme (1986), a Terry Rileyesque synth memorial to the Space Shuttle disaster, blithely croons “a candle in the sky … no stopping to let them cry”. On his LP ‘In Search’, Chance Martin features two flight songs, Too High to Land and High Test, singing “747 started to twirl / Out of control / Look out the window at your own dead ready world”. Merrill Womach’s LP ‘I Believe in Miracles’ gives holy thanks for surviving his own plane crash, while the bizarre Flight F-I-N-A-L…a dramatic comparison to death, enacts a trip to heaven on hymn-filled Inter-World Airlines.

The most compelling film about aeroplane death may be Johan Grimonprez’s pre-9/11 D.I.A.L. H.I.S.T.O.R.Y. showing the timeline of hijacking using documentary footage, extracts from Don DeLillo’s novels, and a soundtrack including ambient music and Do the Hustle, played over terrifying footage of crashes. In the wake of 9/11 and the non-negotiability of hijacking, how has our fear of in-flight death changed and to what extent is Eno’s ambient early-warning solace superseded by desperation to alleviate current insecurities about terrorism? What kind of music is needed to address these new anxieties? Steve Reich’s 2010 WTC 9/11 anyone?

Music to die to

Diffusing the Norm – Brian Eno's Music For Airports

Brian Eno’s Music For Airports presents to us the destruction the familiar, the removal of expectations. The album attempted to avoid the classification of Muzak and brought to us another world completely. Background music often adds a stimulus that has a polarising effect. It’s often assumed that, once forgotten, the music should merely exist as ambience ; the quality or character given to a sound recording by the space in which it occurs. The opposing effect is that it offers to us a dislocation or diffusion of the norm; in that it allows to be transported to a place where the mundane is bypassed and replaced by something that’s meditative and completive.

This paper attempts to address such issues while examining the albums role in establishing a forum for the use of ambient music in public spaces. It examines the role of the environment and what musical stimulus can provide within this space.

Diffusing the Norm – Brian Eno's Music For Airports

Watermelons (Or The Limits of Capitalist Materiality)

This set of texts comprises an attempt to analyze some of the difficulties that living composers face under today’s global economy. The author introduces a number of interrelated, speculative thoughts on the nature of aesthetics in order to push the reader to challenge common, reified views of music as nothing more but a tool to perpetuate reactionary means of social reproduction. Ultimately, a metaphor ('watermelons hitting a wall') is used in order to suggest that New Music can exist as a projection of future, unknown material realities.

Watermelons (Or The Limits of Capitalist Materiality)

The Politics of Resonance

‘GIB SIE WIEDER’ is a series of two political compositions, dedicated to exceptional performers Garth Knox (viola d’amore) and Rhodri Davies (harp). In this project, the central focus is on resonance in both a musical and wider socio-cultural sense. Finding the term closely correlated to the construction of gender, I direct my inner ear to the hidden background noises of the organisation of society. As a woman and composer, I perceive aural patterns of individual and political significance.

The Politics of Resonance

An alternative approach to 3D audio recording and reproduction

The following paper provides an overview of an alternative method of recording 3D sound scenes using several separate SD card microphones as opposed to using single multi capsule ambisonic or surround sound microphones. Instructions are provided on how to set the microphones up, appropriate directivity and positioning, and speaker setup for reproduction.

An alternative approach to 3D audio recording and reproduction

Strategies for spatial music performance: the practicalities and aesthetics of responsive systems design

This article will explore practical and aesthetic questions concerning spatial music performance by interrogating new developments within an emerging hyperinstrumental practice. The performance system is based on an electric guitar with individuated audio outputs per string and multichannel loudspeaker array. A series of spatial music mapping strategies will explore in-kind relationships between a formal melodic syntax model and an ecological flocking simulator, exploiting broader notions of embodiment underpinning the metaphorical basis for the experience and understanding of musical structure. 

Strategies for spatial music performance: the practicalities and aesthetics of responsive systems design

Aural Territories: how phenomenology taught me how to compose electroacoustic spatial music

In this article I describe the process of creation, performance, and reception of two sets of multichannel pieces - Journey I and II and Night Song I and II - performed as part of Aural Territories: a concert of spatial electroacoustic music. The main philosophical foundation for this experience has been the views on phenomenology as conceived by Merleau-Ponty (2004) and Dufrenne (1973). In these pieces, I explore compositionally three aspects of the interrelationship between sound and space that were fundamental for my theoretical and practical understanding of electroacoustic spatial music: acoustic space, sound spatialisation, and reference.

Aural Territories: how phenomenology taught me how to compose electroacoustic spatial music

Multichannel sound and spatial sound creation at Sporobole: A short account of live performance, studio design, outdoor multichannel audio, and visiting artists

The recent history of multichannel audio at Sporobole, an artist-run centre located in Sherbrooke, Canada, is discussed based on a multidisciplinary exercise. The underlying working axes are presented, from the experience of hosting an experimental rock band in an artistic, electroacoustic, and multichannel context, to the centre’s development, which includes a multichannel sound studio in its recently renovated building. 

Multichannel sound and spatial sound creation at Sporobole: A short account of live performance, studio design, outdoor multichannel audio, and visiting artists

Audium – sound-sculptured space

Audium has established a series of ideas, expanding the layers of controlled sound in space and evolving a paradigm for positioning and listening. Additionally, it has taken a new architectural approach to the performance-space, with a potential for flexibility through a myriad of environmental combinations.

Audium – sound-sculptured space

A direct link to the past: nostalgia and semiotics in video game music

The multimedia nature of video games and the interactivity of the medium create new possibilities and purposes for nostalgia, as Bastion (2011), Fallout 3 (2008), and  The Legend of Zelda series (1987 to present) illustrate. In Bastion, composer Darren Korb uses iconic signifiers of nostalgia to create an empathetic response within the player to the in-game character’s longing for a lost world and time. Fallout 3, in contrast, uses the player’s own familiarity with the popular music of the 1930s and ’40s to heighten the destruction of the world after an in-game nuclear war. Finally, The Legend of Zelda series, which made music a major part of its gameplay in Ocarina of Time, uses music indexically and symbolically in Twilight Princess to prompt a nostalgic response within the player that mirrors the response apparently felt by the main character in the game, Link.

A direct link to the past: nostalgia and semiotics in video game music

Temporality as an analytical approach to minimalist music: Tom Johnson’s An hour for piano

Minimalist compositions thwart most attempts at analysis given their remarkable simplicity; their structure is often deliberately obvious. The experience of a minimalist piece, however, is anything but simple. These compositions encourage the listener to ignore the past and the future, memory and expectation, and explore an extended present. 

Temporality as an analytical approach to minimalist music: Tom Johnson’s An hour for piano

Time, eternity and the problem of minimal music’s alleged non-linearity in Louis Andriessen’s De Tijd

This article explores contrasts between time and eternity in Louis Andriessen’s De Tijd from 1981. The music, although inspired by the experience of “complete tranquility”, appears to establish a dialectical opposition between musical elements signifying timelessness and measured time.

Time, eternity and the problem of minimal music’s alleged non-linearity in Louis Andriessen’s De Tijd

Scanning the temporal surface: aspects of time, memory and repetition in my recent music

This paper considers the role of musical temporality and memory in the recent works of composer Bryn Harrison. In contrast to earlier pieces, the essay outlines the ways in which these pieces adopt a singular approach to musical structure which utilises high levels of repetition. It is argued that, through this approach, the listener is able to build up a composite understanding of the surface of the music over time. Comparisons are made to the scanning of a picture plane, and the work of Bridget Riley, James Hugonin and François Morellet are given as examples. The paper ends with a description of a new collaborative project with digital artist Tim Head which seeks to develop on this same phenomenological approach.

Scanning the temporal surface: aspects of time, memory and repetition in my recent music

Looking inward: La Monte Young, Arvo Pärt, and the spatiotemporal dwelling environment of minimalist music

There is a thread of epistemic theory connecting the discourse of twentieth-century aesthetics and phenomenology which asserts that works of art open up or disclose a sort of ‘world’, so to speak, as well as an associated view of reality that accords with the subject’s primordial and embodied sense of being.

Looking inward: La Monte Young, Arvo Pärt, and the spatiotemporal dwelling environment of minimalist music

The Handless Watch: On composing and performing 'Flutter Echoes'

Étude d’un prélude II - Flutter echoes for string quartet is one of the first works to be based on the transcription, into standard notation, of millisecond-faithful micro-temporal data; the work was composed in 2009, premièred in 2010 and recorded in 2011. This article provides a first-hand account of its inception by the composer, Richard Beaudoin, and one of its first performers, Neil Heyde, cellist of the Kreutzer Quartet. The micro-temporal data was collected using the Lucerne Audio Recording Analyzer [LARA], a powerful software developed by the acoustic researchers Dr Olivier Senn and Lorenz Kilchenmann of the Hochschule Lucerne, Switzerland. The object of their analysis, and the source work behind Flutter echoes, is Martha Argerich’s 1975 Deutsche Grammophon recording of Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, no. 4.

The Handless Watch:  On composing and performing 'Flutter Echoes'