Composition

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of hijacking, how has our fear of in-flight death changed and to what extent is Eno’s ambient early-warning solace superseded by desperation to alleviate current insecurities about terrorism?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

Tambambient: sound mixtures in surf, dip and bit dilations

Brian Eno’s Discreet Music and Music for Airports have, since their publication in the 1970s, opened up new ways to conceive sonic worlds that listeners could “swim in, float in, get lost inside” (Eno B. , 2017), using a vast electronic palette of sound.  Different senses of the immersive experience evoked by Eno have inspired our composition Tamba.  In Tamba, we explore the possibility of generating electronic sonic temporal dilations of an immersive experience, using synthesized sounds programmed in Pure Data. 

Tambambient: sound mixtures in surf, dip and bit dilations

Multiphonic Mobile

Multiphonic Mobile is an improvised work for an oboist-in-motion and a mobile. For its creation, the work uses a range of pre-selected multiphonics and sound distortion techniques (flutter-tonguing, embouchure modifications etcetera) which are read from the planes of the mobile, alongside improvised movements which are dictated by the mobile.

Multiphonic Mobile

Resonances and Responses

The idea of resonances and responses as a fundamental compositional principle is found in many of my compositions. I have used it in instrumental pieces both with and without electronics, in theatre contexts, in conceptual works and in intertextual and intermusical referential structures. In Terpsichord, a piece for percussion and pre-recorded sounds, the resonances from the acoustic instruments form sonic bridges to the pre-recorded electronic sounds, that, in turn, prolong the resonances, re-shaping them into new sonic gestures. A dialogue of actions and reactions is created that drives the trajectory of the music.

Resonances and Responses

Reinventing Harmony in Splintered Echoes (2014)

This paper discusses the new harmonic possibilities enabled through the implementation of Sethares’ theory of the dissonance curve in MAX and its use in a live electronic composition Splintered Echoes with Monty Adkins (composer), Jonny Axelsson (composer and percussionist) and Adrian Gierakowski (programmer).

Reinventing Harmony in Splintered Echoes (2014)

Patterns in Radical Spectra

This paper contextualises my creative practice produced over the past 20 years and discuss how some of the themes arising from this work relate to some of my contemporaries and wider musical and cultural thinking. These works have little or no percussive content yet are still loosely defined as, or considered to be, ‘post-techno’ (I discuss this term below). Here I describe these works, consider my relationships to them, and reflect upon my responses to those works – leading to the installation ‘The Moment of Impact’ (exhibited as part of the Beyond Pythagoras Symposium, March 2014).

Patterns in Radical Spectra

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

Tuning Systems as Processual Material

The scope of this paper is to introduce and present two recent pieces I made for solo keyboard, Contracting triads in temperaments from 12 - 24 (2011) and Similarly spaced triads in temperaments from 12 - 24 (2011), and discuss the manner in which I used various equal-temperaments within a simple iterative framework to explore transformation of a chord pattern.

Tuning Systems as Processual Material

Strata Sequence: From Musical Rocks to Palaeo-Soundscapes

Strata Sequence is a body of work comprising a range of creative outputs, including compositions and installations. The work represents a series of collaborations with museums and festivals related by the theme of geology.

Strata Sequence: From Musical Rocks to Palaeo-Soundscapes

The Harmonic Sequencer: Mapping the Harmonic Series to a Sequencer

This paper discusses a software tool created by the author in MAX. I have created a sequencer that mimics (in reverse) the relationship between the harmonic series and the equal temperament tuning in terms of temporal timing. I will discuss the theory underpinning the software and its implementation.

The Harmonic Sequencer: Mapping the Harmonic Series to a Sequencer

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

Exploded sounds: spatialised partials in two recent multi-channel installations

I discuss two recent sound installations that both explore a spectral sound diffusion technique based on partial tracking that allows individual partials of a sampled sound to occupy individual locations in space. The two installations, The Exploded Sound (60 channels) and Significant Birds (12 channels), use similar techniques and modes of presentation to different ends.

Exploded sounds: spatialised partials in two recent multi-channel installations

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

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

Introduction: Temporalities in contemporary music

Issues of temporality remain close to many musical discussions, yet there remain comparatively few sustained theses on the subject. In particular, contemporary and experimental musics, which can offer radically unique temporal experiences, provide many rich untapped sources for scholarly investigation. Often, research stops short of examining the actual experience, rather falling back to focus upon what information can be drawn from the score, or the compositional intentions behind a piece. But what is the relationship between these composed designs, and individual temporal experience?

Introduction: Temporalities in contemporary 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