Dan Brophy

Composer|Performer|Educator

Writings

My writings dissect the composition, performance, and aesthetics of niche-audience music through theories of transgression, the grotesque, eternity, time, and improvisation. The purpose of these writings is to investigate the major influences in my music and life and how they have contributed to my aesthetic, composition and performance technique, and philosophy of living. Papers are available in both digital formats on the merchandise page and is physical form by request.

Failure:  Towards a New Expression of Shared Ownership

In 1863, The Parisian Salon des Refusés presented an exhibition of works that the academics of the time felt “challenged the criteria and authority of the Academy of Fine Arts.”[1] The Salon featured ‘failed’ works such as Édouard Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, and James Whistler’s Symphony in White no. 1:  The White Girl who since then have become important works.[2] This alternate exhibition not only presented the failings of the artists’ ability to live up to the criteria of the Academy, but in contradictory form, became a validation of their progression beyond the accepted criteria of the time, moving towards a new aesthetic.

From this example we can begin to see how growth and renewal is born from failure, how it raises important questions about what is deemed acceptable, and opens new avenues for ideas that do not need the validation of authority. Through wallowing in failure and working with incomprehension, malfunction and messiness, artists are able to develop a core of techniques that inform a new aesthetic and push art past invisible boundaries of acceptability. In this paper I have chosen to explore several of these techniques that reflect failure, being: risk and experimentation, focusing on error, and sampling or secondary sound sources as compositional materials. With these in mind, I will investigate the music of Brian Ferneyhough, Otomo Yoshihide, Christian Marclay, and Nicholas Collins, and how failure as an aesthetic does not simply strive to remove the ego and eradicate expression, but looks to create a new artistic expression of shared ownership and constructs a new paradigm and aesthetic of contemporary art music.

The literature that focuses on failure is varied in its approach, but the theme of negating what is deemed acceptable to an authority is a consistent undercurrent running through each of them. In Paul Hegarty’s Noise/a History, the term failure is used as an alternate form of noise, where it becomes a disruption in the message, carrying new information that enables growth. He outlines several methods that allow an artist to utilize failure including the improper use of instruments, focusing on error, and sampling or ‘cut-up’[3] technique. In Kim Cascone’s article, The Aesthetics of Failure:  ‘Post Digital’ tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music, like Hegarty, he focuses on highlighting error and background sounds as an important source of material, but also speaks in length about the use of tools as a means of creation, replacing the medium. A differentiation between the two is that Cascone focuses mainly on computer music and the style known as ‘glitch,’[4], where as Hegarty seeks to be inclusive of all mediums such as vinyl, magnetic tape, CDs, etc. Failure, a book on contemporary art by Lisa Le Feuvre, and A Sprawling Mess:  The Poetics of Musica Residua by composer Eldritch Priest, deal with many of the same issues as Hegarty and Cascone, but in addition, write in length about the benefits of experimentation, negating the need for a finalized product, and allowing in its place an art work that can never be perfect or fixed. The common link I have found between the four writings is how techniques embedded in the aesthetic of failure can become generative material that pushes the boundaries of the accepted style of an artist’s time, in this instance being defined by the extreme expressivity and subjectivity that encompassed art in the early 20th century known as Expressionism.[5]

The removal of the ego in Western art music is most easily exemplified in the works of American composer John Cage. Cage, who became greatly influential on the Neo Dada and Fluxus movements and still resounds heavily today in contemporary art,[6] was strongly influenced by South Asian philosophies of art. In particular, he was taken by Ananda Coomaraswarmy’s The Transformation of Nature in Art,[7] in which ‘impersonality’ is referred to as “the proper manner in which one is to execute tasks artistically.”[8] This impersonality is to be taken as a removal of the artist’s expression in the act of creating art, in this view “the appearance of the artist’s person in any work is intrusive; at worst; it is a glaring indication of defective workmanship.”[9] Through the removal of the artist as genius or authority figure, there is a transfer of power in which “the artist is not a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist.”[10] Through the removal of the artist as the romantic genius and sole creator of all things artistic, authorship and expressivity not only become questioned, they are opened up to allow newer and more relevant searching questions such as:  Is it possible to eradicate expression? Does the responsibility of expression and ownership become shared with the tools/performers/mediums that are used to realize the work? The first tool that I will investigate is the use of experimentation and risk.

When working within the aesthetic of failure, the experiment is a useful tool for opening doors and “becomes intrinsic to creating open systems and raising searching questions:  without the doubt that failure invites, any situation becomes closed and in danger of becoming dogmatic.”[11] In Brian Ferneyough’s Lemma-Icon-Epigram, the notation of the score is designed to be purposely open through its impossibilities, forcing the performer to utilize what James Bunch calls ‘meaningful inexactitude.’

Meaningful inexactitude, in this sense, is the rediscovery of the learning process in that the “tactics provide the performer with a broad and deep field of practical decision-making, in the sphere of realization/interpretation. They encourage fidelity to the work [rather] than its literal reproduction.”[12] Ferneyhough’s instructions for Lemma-Icon-Epigram reinforce the idea of meaningful inexactitude in that it asks the performer, in a step-by-step process, to learn, unlearn and re-evaluate both the notation and practice routines:

 1) An overview of the (deliberately relatively direct gestural patterning without regard to exactitude of detail in respect to rhythm); 2) a de-learning in which the global structures are abandoned in favored of a concentration upon the rhythmic and expressive import of each individual note; 3) the progressive reconstruction of the various gestural units established at the onset on the basis of experience gained during the above two stages of preparation.[13]

These three stages of learning invite the performer to share in both the ownership and expressivity with the composer. A good example of this is the overtly complicated time signatures imposed on the performer. As the work progresses, unconventional time signatures are used such as 2/10, 3/12, in which the performer is expected to subdivide a breve into a fraction. For example “2/10 signifies two beats to a bar, each equal to one-tenth of a breve.”[14] This near impossibility of execution, or meaningful inexactitude, coupled with the rejection of rubato put forward in the performer’s notes,[15] puts extra pressure on the performer to inject more of their authority than is usually expected. The composer is forced to share ownership with the performer, making the music a shared expressivity, with results dependent upon chance, an experiment for both the composer and the performer.

Composers who utilize risk and chance engage in “the poetics of this way of making music [which] is a study of tactile mobility, of making due and accepting ‘the chance offerings of the moment,’ offerings that include the chance of risk and failure.”[16] The outcome of each performance varies in its predictability, remaining unfixed and plastic while undermining the authority of the score as a fixed object. For Ferneyhough, failure is utilized as a means to disrupt the message and purposely create differentiation of interpretation between composer and performer, one performer and another, and between separate performances of a single performer. This use of failure through experimentation exposes inconsistencies between the ‘unreal’ fixed score and the ‘real’ performance. In the next section, I will discuss how Otomo Yoshihide and Christian Marclay highlight error through the disruption of an instrument’s and medium’s functionality, resulting in new paradigm of contemporary art.

Otomo Yoshihide, guitar player and turntablist, brings uniqueness to his sound through the extension and improper use of his instruments and mediums. He is known in many circles as the ‘Godfather of House Music’ in Japan, and for collaborating with many prevalent artists in the Off-Site music of Japan.[17] Commonly seen in ‘off-site’ concerts of music in Japan are performances “on prepared turntable[s], objects such as clips or bent-up cards, …often attached to the needle as well as placed directly on the empty turntable as it spun.”[18]  By augmenting the instrument with outside objects, the machine or medium is forced to fail in its intended use. The failure, in turn, creates a new instrument without the possibility of a perfect technique, but where the exposition of its flaws has the ability to create new sonic possibilities in real-time. In a performance on February 28th, 2002, Otomo played a 20-minute work using turntables without records, (and most likely with overdriven or distortion added)[19] to create a wall of feedback and harsh sounds with no melodic, harmonic or rhythmic elements. The flaws showcased in this work were the extreme volumes and lack of intended medium (the record) being utilized. The ensuing sound is an aggressive malfunction of machinery, medium, and function being transmitted to the listener. The ownership of sound materials then becomes deferred to the failing of the instrument, and the choice to discover and present these findings instead of creating them from scratch is the artist’s expression.

In Christian Marclay’s Record Without a Cover (1985), error is brought to the forefront through designed chance.  The record, which is a recording of a performance of Marclay, is sold without a cover, allowing the damage that is incurred through the shipping and storing process to become the center of attention. In this sense, the errors that are naturally a part of the frailty of vinyl “end up revealing disruptions, cuts and interferences that are always already present in the ‘proper’ functioning of those media.”[20] The exposition of the vinyl’s error in this case, allows us to shift our focus to normally unwanted sounds, giving artists and listeners alike the opportunity to enjoy the “data hidden in our perceptual ‘blindspot’,”[21] and to further explore the unknown.

In both of the examples of Yoshihide and Marclay, the goal of eradicating expression is provided through permitting the inherent failed qualities of the medium and machinery to shine, but the composer’s expressivity or authority in the work is not completely removed, it is merely transformed. The choice to augment the instrument, to force damage onto the medium, is still in the hands of the artist. These choices directly affect the outcome of the sound and how it will be perceived which are to a certain degree predictable and controllable.

As we saw in Record without a Cover, Marclay’s choice of using vinyl is not arbitrary; in fact, many of his projects center themselves around this medium. The mediums of vinyl and magnetic tape are attractive not only for their inherent frailty, but also in their ability to carry history. In turntablism, “these media contain completed music, and act as a type of storage that fixes performances, making the recording a reference point.”[22] The expression of the artist is not within the original sounds themselves, but in the choosing and organizing of said media, which becomes a new ‘score’ of sorts.

In Marclay’s Recycled Records, both visual and audio attributes become important to the project. Marclay takes records of various artists, cuts them into interesting visual pieces, and glues them back together in a jig-saw puzzle type manner, which creates visually, and when played, sonically stunning results. The original material is brought to the forefront, carrying with it its own history and narrative. Through these choices, the form of the work is created and “[f]orm is sought through destruction of the previously inscribed form, but…, it matters what the sound source is, so destruction is not complete.”[23] The narrative of the old form is altered, while being juxtaposed with the other splices of records, creates new contexts and relational histories to draw upon. Expressivity is not eradicated here, it is presented in a fragmentation and failure of narrative, altered, but still carrying new information.

While the cutting, re-arranging and pasting of records alters the narrative of the material, the creator is still somewhat in control of the linear playing out of these records. In the electronic instruments of Nicholas Collins, the process of choosing sonic materials and constructing instruments from them is the end of the creative process. After completing the instruments, they are thrown into the world, a relinquishing of control, where, like that of turntabilism, the original source still matters, but finds new growth in the performance and presentation of these sounds. Collins, in this instance, chooses to eradicate his own voice, negating any authority over the originating sounds, calling to mind the “Cagean edict that ‘any sound can be a music sound’.”[24] This then becomes a creative solution for the artist who feels that they “have no great instinct for originating sounds” and “prefer[s] recycling existing ones.”[25]

Collin’s electronic instruments for improvised performances are “difficult to control precisely – the sounds the audience heard were more the byproduct of the performer getting to know an instrument, rather than articulating a predefined result.”[26]  Failure in this sense is reflected in the difficulty of control of the instruments, sharing expression with the performer who is learning the limitations of the instrument in real time. Collin’s electronics for installations are often greatly affected by their environment, as in Pea Soup, where an acoustic feedback circuit is created that is affected by not only the shape of the room, but the bodily movements of the performer within the room.[27] The goal of eradicating expression and the deferral of authority over the original sound sources becomes in this case the expression of the artist. The materials, the mode of interaction, the degree of predictability, have all been pre-determined by the artist. The outcome will vary with each presentation, but only within degrees that are designed by the artist.

The goal of eradicating expression is present in all the above-discussed techniques, but the complete loss of expression and ownership of the end result can never be fully achieved. The artist creates the opportunity for experimentation, risk, and error, through limitations and augmentations.  The decision to create music that is impossible to replicate, to play turntables without a record, to purposely inflict damage on a medium, to create instruments with pre-fabricated sounds; is still an informed choice. All of the outcomes of the above-described works are, within a degree of variability, predictable, and this variable predictability becomes the expression of the artist. Expression has not become eradicated, but shared with an outside performer, a record, a circuit, etc. Therefore, even though it is impossible to completely eradicate expression from a work, the goal of doing so, constructs a new paradigm and aesthetic of contemporary art music.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Austin, Larry and Douglas Kahn, editors. Source:  Music of the Avante-Garde.    Berkeley and Los Angeles, California:  The University of California Press, 2011.

Bunch, James. A Brief Comparison of Independent Elements of the music of Brian           Ferneyhough and Christian Wolff. Submitted to Dr Erik Lund, University of Illinois, 2006-2010.

Cascone, Kim. “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in   Contemporary Computer Music.”  Computer Music Journal 4, no. 24             (2002):  392-8.

Collins, Nicolas. Composing Inside Electronics:  Published research in the field of experimental music, 1998-2007. Ph.D. diss., University of East Anglica, 2007.

Dempsy, Amy. Styles, Schools and Movements:  An Encyclopedic Guide to Modern Art.    New York, NY:  Thames and Hudson Inc., 2005.

Ferneyhough, Brian. Collected Writings. Edited by James Boros and Richard Toop.      Abingdon, London:  Routeledge Taylor and Francis Group, 1998.

________. Lemma-Icon-Epigram for solo piano. London:  Peters Edition      Ltd., 1982.

González, Jennifer. “Survey.” In Christian Marclay. London:  Phaidon Press Ltd., 2005.

Hegarty, Paul.  Noise/Music:  A History. New York:  The Continuum International       Publishing Group Inc, 2007.

Le Feuvre, Lisa, editor, Failure:  Documents of Contemporary Art. Cambridge,    Massachusetts:  Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press, 2010

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ectasy of Influence:  A Plagarism Mosaic.” In Sound    Unbound:  Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Edited by Paul D Miller, 25-52.             Cambridge, Massachusetts:  The MIT Press, 2008.

Miller, Paul D. “In Through the Outdoor:  Sampling and the Creative Act.” In Sound   Unbound:  Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Edited by Paul D Miller, 5-20.            Cambridge, Massachusetts:  The MIT Press, 2008.

Microcosmos. Pilgrimage. Otomo Yoshihide, Tenko. TZADIK 7222, 1999.

Patterson, David W. “Cage and Asia:  history and sources.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Cage. Edited by David Nicholls, 41-62. Cambridge, United            Kingdom:  Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Peterson, Lloyd. Music and the Creative Spirit:  Innovators in Jazz, Improvisation and    the Avante-Garde. Edited by Edward Berger. Lanham, Maryland:  Scarecrow           Press Inc., 2006.

Plourde, Lorraine. “Listening in Tokyo:  Onkyo and Non-Intentional Sounds.” In         Ethnomusicology 52, no. 2 (2008):  270-295.

Priest, Eldritch. “A Sprawling Mess:  The Poetics of Musica Residue.” Radical   Musicology 4 (2009). http://www.radical-musicology.org.uk/2009.htm

Shapiro, Peter. “Deck Wreckers:  The Turntable as an Instrument.” In Undercurrents:                        The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music. Edited by Rob Young, 45-          58. London:    Continuum, 2002.

Yoshihide, Otomo/Voice Crack. Bitsbotsandsigns. Otomo Yoshihide, Norbert     Möslang, Andy Guhl. Erstwhile Records 011, 2000.

Young, Rob. “Worship the Glitch:  Digital Music, Electronic Disturbance.” In     Undercurrents:  The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music. Edited by Rob Young, 45-     58. London:  Continuum, 2002.

[1] Lisa Le Feuvre, editor, Failure:  Documents of Contemporary Art. (Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press, 2010), 13.

[2] Albert Boime, Art in an age of civil struggle, 1848-1871, (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2007), 676.

[3] Cut-Up:  taking samples from outside sources, cutting them up and re-arranging them to create a new whole.

[4] Paul Hegarty, Noise/Music:  A History, (New York:  The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2007) 189. Glitch:  “music constructed from digital debris, errors, processing of normally extraneous sounds.”

[5] Amy Dempsy, Styles, Schools and Movements:  An Encyclopedic Guide to Modern Ar. (New York, NY:  Thames and Hudson Inc., 2005), 70. “These new art forms, which used colour and line symbolically and emotively, were in a sense a reversal of Impressionism:  instead of recording an impression of the world around him, the artist impressed his own temperament on his view of the world.”

[6] Ibid., 284

[7] David W. Patterson, “Cage and Asia:  history and sources.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Cage. Edited by David Nicholls, 41-62. (Cambridge, United Kingdom:  Cambridge University Press, 2002), 44.

[8] ibid. 45

[9] Ibid.

[10] Patterson, Cage and Asia, 46

[11] Le Feuvre, Failure, 17

[12] James Bunch, A Brief Comparison of Independent Elements of the music of Brian Ferneyhough and Christian Wolff, ( Submitted to Dr Erik Lund, University of Illinois, 2006-2010), 1.

[13] Brian Ferneyhough, Lemma-Icon-Epigram for solo piano, (London:  Peters Edition Ltd., 1982), iv.

[14] ibid.

[15] ibid.

[16] Eldritch Priest, “A Sprawling Mess:  The Poetics of Musica Residue.” Radical Musicology 4 (2009), par 1.  http://www.radical-musicology.org.uk/2009.htm

[17] Lloyd Peterson, Music and the Creative Spirit:  Innovators in Jazz, Improvisation and the Avant-Garde, edited by Edward Berger, (Lanham, Maryland:  Scarecrow Press Inc., 2006), 308

[18] Lorraine Plourde, “Listening in Tokyo:  Onkyo and Non-Intentional Sounds”, In Ethnomusicology 52, no. 2 (2008): 276.

[19] In my experience, this particular quality of sound is achieved with the help of overdrive or distortion. The following link is to a recording of the performance:  http://soundcloud.com/alcohol-label/otomo-yoshihide-turntable-solo

[20] Hegarty, Noise 181.

[21] Kim Cascone, “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music”, Computer Music Journal 4, no. 24 (2002): 3.

[22] Hegarty, Noise, 181

[23] Ibid., 182

[24] Nicolas Collins, Composing Inside Electronics:  Published research in the field of experimental music, 1998-2007. (Ph.D. diss., University of East Anglica, 2007) 13.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 7.

[27] Collins, Composing Inside Electronics, 7.

 

Projecting the Skeleton, Skin and Flesh of Time in Free Improvisation

 

Introduction

In improvised music, the sounds that pass through time necessarily exist in the present. Improvised sounds cannot be archived in a score to be played back perfectly, even with a graphic score, there is an impossibility of exact repetition – each iteration, interpretation, and repetition involves new materials, processes and results. Because of this, the role of the listener becomes more complex than that of archived music. The listener’s end of the process is to sift through the mess and to discern patterns and sounds that they find interesting or familiar in order to customize their experience. The tool used to relate the incoming stimuli is causal relation of sounds and timbres, used by the listener to deconstruct the complexity of the work as it unfolds. In an improvised concert setting where the information never ceases to change, the listener actively looks for these relationships, and will even invent them where they do not yet exist.

In this paper, I will discuss the intersecting and relational values of historical, perceived and organizational time, and their use of repetition and excess through the investigation of improvisational practices.

The theoretical portion will be the combination of several papers used in conjunction to create a more comprehensive view. To discuss our perception of time, I will begin with some definitions from the famous treatise The Confessions of Saint Augustine in which he tackles past, present and projected time, and how they are intricately linked. In order to translate these definitions into musical terms and explain their special position in both the performer’s and listener’s perception, I will be looking The Skin, Flesh, and Skeleton of Time in spectralist composer Gerard Grisey’s essay Tempus Ex Machina. To give a more tangible context to these readings, I will further filter them through definitions found in saxophone and electronic improviser David Borgo’s Sync or Swarm:  Improvising music in a complex age. It is my hope that through the combination of these theories with personal anecdotes from my time as an improviser of experimental and noise music I can demonstrate the special place that time and repetition have in a temporal art form such as musical improvisation.

The excess of new information within the present moment in improvised music is already taxing on the listener, but when the ability to predict the future becomes almost impossible – due mostly to a lack of repetition and familiarity – it accelerates into incomprehensibility, changing the perception of time into something undesirable. Gerard Grisey, French Spectralist composer points out “…if the sound B is entirely predictable, time seems to move in a certain speed. By contrast, if the sound B is radically different, and virtually unpredictable, time unfolds at a different speed” (Grisey 258) In my experience, a lack of predictability happens both simultaneously and because of a lack of repetition. How then, is a listener expected to deal with this excess of information without tangible repetition? The listener in this case will begin to recognize repetitions of timbres, rhythms, and contours to fill the gap so to speak.

In both the listening and performance of an improvised work, both the audience’s and performer’s deconstructive listening process takes place in the recognition of repetition in the musical shapes and timbres of the ensuing sound. Due to the impossibility of an exact figural repetition in improvised music, causal relationships between the timbres, contours and rhythms become the replacement, the tool to guide the listener’s perception. In parallel to the listener, each performer also uses a limited arsenal of techniques, based on the limitation of their training, cultural experience, and the limitations of their instrument or apparatus. In this sense, the listener and the performer feed each other. It is through the listener’s recognition of limitations that they form causal relationships, which in turn informs their perception of memory, projected future and present moments constructed in time. To better understand the implications of past, present, and projected time, I will first turn to the famous treatise Time and Eternity from Saint Augustine.

Saint Augustine and the Confession of Time

            Saint Augustine, born 354, was a highly influential Priest and Catholic Doctor of the Church, whose philosophies helped to frame the concepts of just war and original sin.[1] In his essay Time and Eternity, the 6th book from his volume entitled “Confessions,” Augustine looks to explain the perception of time from both subjective and objective existence. First, he describes the perception of moving time through change and variation found in his natural surroundings:

“See, heaven and earth exist, they cry aloud that they are made, for they suffer change and variation. But in anything which is not made and yet is, there is nothing which previously was not present. To be what once was not the case is to be subject to change and variation.”

Through a realization of objects in nature necessarily having a beginning or birth, Augustine discovers the necessity of time. If objects are to have a past and present tense due to the apparent variation which must occur temporally, then the creation of things must also take place in a temporal space. Next, Augustine discovers that all things that are created, must exist in time, including those things that are invisible such as sound (the word of God):

“Therefore it is clear and evident that the utterance came through the movement of some created thing, serving your eternal will but itself temporal. And these your words, made for temporal succession, were reported by the external ear to the judicious mind whose internal ear is disposed to hear your eternal word.”

And from this Augustine comes to a conclusion on the necessary relationship between historical, present, and projected time:

“But no time is wholly present. It will see that all past time is driven backwards by the future, and all future time is the consequent of the past, and all past and future are created and set on their course by that which is always present.”

From this treatise, then, I have created some labels that we may use throughout the paper:

·       Historical Time – Historical time cannot exist in isolation, it exists in the context of the present moment to be called upon in the form of archived images. To clarify this point, Augustine uses the example of recounting a memory to another person:  “When a true narrative of the past is related, the memory produces not the actual events, which have passed away but words conceived from images of them.”[2]

·       Present Time – “If we can think of some bit of time that cannot be divided into even the smallest instantaneous moments, that alone is what we call the ‘present.’”[3]  From this, we may assume that the present time is fleeting and is in motion at all times, process and product being one and the same.

·       Projected Time – In a similar manner to historical time, projected time also cannot take place without the existence of the present or the past:  “So future events do not yet exist; and if they have no being, they cannot be seen at all. But they can be predicted from present events which are already present and can be seen.”[4]

We can surmise from Saint Augustine’s definitions that both time past and projected time exist only within the realm of the present, creating a causal effect where the existence of one depends upon the others. We are always perceiving time within the present, yet within this present moment we have memories of the past because it is the result of the past. But within our present also lies the projection of the future, affecting the decisions we are currently making. How we view our future influences the saliency of specific memories, which in turn affects our present moment. The next stage of investigation then, belongs to the angle or positioning of the preceptor of temporal realities for which I will look to Gerard Grisey’s article Tempus Ex Machina:  A Composer’s reflections of musical time.

Grisey’s Skeleton, Flesh and Skin of Time

In his article Tempus Ex Machina:  A Composer’s reflections of musical time, Gérard Grisey outlines three different forms of temporal sound perception to clarify the role each of us play in the production and creation of music, and the way in which these intersect:  The Skeleton of Time[5] – the way in which sounds are organized by the improviser/composer in time; The Flesh of Time[6] – how time is perceived at the moment of its audible existence and; The Skin of Time[7] – how the listener perceives and translates these sounds in historical, present, and projected time. Each of these definitions can be fed back into the three perceptions of time outlined by Augustine to create the link between sound and time. But first, a clarification on Grisey’s terms.

In Tempus Ex Machina, Grisey explains the Skeleton of Time as “the temporal divisions that the composer uses to organize sound”. Within this Skeleton, there are three manners in which we may identify rhythm: a) in relation to pulse or meter; b) as duration, in which there is no relationship to pulse, and each duration is “perceived quantitatively by its relationship to preceding and successive durations.”[8]  and; c) “…an oscillating rhythm in which the meter itself would fluctuate constantly.”[9] Each of these frameworks has their advantages and disadvantages, but for the purpose of experimental improvisation – which has no definitive tempo or rhythmic structure – duration, the quantification of the present moment, is the most relevant tool for our analysis.

In live improvised music, both the flesh and the skin of time happen simultaneously for the audience and the performers. The Skin of Time is the act of birthing a duration, or actual sonification of a duration, and allowing it to change through time. This of course may only be perpetrated by the performer, but is greatly affected by the reactions in the audience.

The Flesh of Time is the physical-acoustic realization of the Skeleton or, “where sounds, like living cells, will come to inhabit and envelop the temporal skeleton with their density and complexity.”[10]

Both the Flesh and Skin must take place within a temporal framework, as they have states where they did not yet exist, a state of variation, and the ability to engender a prediction of the next event.

The network between the flesh and skin are of course causal, as the perception of one explains and introduces another’s existence. For Grisey “It is no longer the single sound whose density will embody time, but rather the difference or lack of difference between one sound and its neighbor.”[11] From this, one may conceive of comparing and contrasting the sounds immediately as they come forth for the purpose of predicting what will come next, through the memory of what has already transpired, and enabling a prediction of the next event which in turn creates less complexity and confusion for the listener. Or as Grisey states:  “the transition from the known to the unknown and the amount of information that each sound event introduces.”[12]

The Performer in Time

What may be discerned from the previous discussion is that a sound may only exist in relation to other sounds that either preceded or followed. With this in mind, it is the repetition of sounds, timbres, rhythms, etc. throughout the total duration of a work that gives it cohesion, whether purposeful or not. The performer uses this information to create structure within the overall duration. While the listener uses reflexivity to create a cohesive experience for themselves, performers use it as a kind of guidance system. In David Borgo’s Sync or Swarm:  Improvising in a complex age, there are two types of reflexivity used in live improvisation:  a) reflexivity towards the sounds being emitted from the others performers in the ensemble and b) reflexivity with the instrument or apparatus being used by the performer where “the individual parts that generate the system – the performer and his apparatus, are intrinsically part of the system being generated.”[13]

Each member of the group reacts to stimuli in a particular manner, dependent upon prior musical, cultural, and social experiences that shape the improviser’s identity. With all of this individuality, “attractors”[14] are set in place through the process of feedback.”[15] These “attractors” are defined by Borgo as “a region of phase space that seems to ‘pull’ the behavior of a system toward it, as if magnetically.”[16] The attractors are maintained through negative and positive feedback that informs both the creation and limitation of sound. This reflexivity creates a closed feedback circuit (positive and negative), whereby the temporal organization is based on influence rather than by strict organization on behalf of the composer.

Each choice made by a performer will also affect the action of the others, causing a chain reaction. The ensemble becomes a network of reflexive actions, each reacting to both the sounds emitted by the other performers in the ensemble, and to the sound last emitted by their instruments. This chain of reactions creates an unpredictable outcome and an original and unrepeatable experience. The process and product of sound are not only explicitly linked, but they morph together into a causal network of feedback and attractors that Grisey sees as “infinitely mobile and fluctuating;…tend[ing] toward a continual transformation of their own energy.”[17]

The Listener in Time

The act of listening is not a passive state, but in fact an active process in which we perceive sounds, store them as useful information, relate them back to past experiences that have been gathered and stored in a similar way, and allow this relation to become our experience of the current and projection of future sounds. As David Borgo notes, “[T]he sound is not complete until the sound enters the consciousness of those that hear…it asks the listener to continue the creative process of interaction.”[18] In the paper Ex Machina, Grisey puts forward an important question relating to causal perception that will help us to carve-out a definition: “How does the listener organize and structure the complexity of sound?”[19]  A term that needs a little more attention before moving on is ‘complexity’. In David Borgo’s Sync or Swarm Robert Axelrod and Michael Cohen put forward a definition of complexity that may shed some light: “a system is complex when there are strong interactions among its elements, so that current events heavily influence the possibility of many kinds of later events.”[20] From this, we may determine that experiences are causal, creating a network of relatability, where the system “operates without imposed centralized control” or is “self-organizing.”[21]

This causal or relational experience is what makes the listening experience original and specific to the listener. It is through causality that, “cognition as the ‘bringing forth’ of a world and a conception of self that is inseparable from an organism’s biology and its history of interactions and lived experience.”[22] Causal perceptions therefore combine historical, present and projected time into a single space of relational and comparative experiences.

Each iteration of a recognizable sound creates memory in the listener and performer (who, in the act of improvisation, is also a listener). The first time a sound is enacted it becomes an object. The following sound that transpires is thought of in relation to the first sound. The quality of the following sound, whether a repetition or a contrasting idea, is founded upon the principles of the memory of the first sound, creating future projection. When a listener is given a framework, where the first sound and the final sound have audible comparative natures, the listener and performer form their own causal relations or “reflexivity.” While the listener uses reflexivity to create a cohesive experience for themselves, performers use it as a kind of guidance system.

Recording in Time

A large problem exists for the world of improvised music:  is there any validity to a recording of a spontaneous live improvised event?  In my research, I have found that most spectators and performers of this music seem to think that no, recordings have no place in the world of improvisation. Cornelius Cardew, famous British improviser and artist has this to say: “Improvisation is in the present, its effects may live on in the souls of the participants, both active and passive (ie audience), but in the concrete form it is gone forever from the moment it occurs, nor did it have any previous existence before the moment that it occurred…” (Cardew 3).

I agree here with Cardew in that its effects, or the memory of the emotions and thoughts processed during the performance have the ability to live on in the participants. Of course, being memories, they become biased over time depending on the user’s needs. The audience’s and performer’s perception of future performances will be greatly coloured by these memories. The effects of time in motion are fairly obvious when it comes to live situations, but what happens when we try to capture this fleeting moment in a recording?

This temporariness becomes a problem for many performers when it comes to recordings, Cardew himself completely dismissing their value:  “documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and gave at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of the time and place.” (Cardew 4). This creates a problem for the artist trying to disseminate their music and widen their berth of listeners.

This attitude, in my opinion, is due mostly to the limitations of technology that were available at the time. In the present moment, there is simple to use, relatively cheap equipment that can take fairly accurate high quality recordings.

A field recording of a live performance is a bad example of conveying time and place due to the energies and connections that were present during the performance, which are not conveyable through a recording.

Studio recordings on the other hand, with the correct preparation and mind-set can convey different meanings of temporality. The mind-space of the performers, in this case, must be of recording a fleeting moment that will not fade in memory once the piece is finished, creating the need for performers to develop new cues, codes and dynamics tailored for the unfading momentFrom the audience’s perception, they now have the ability to form a whole new set of personal causal experiences, as the ability to memorize will colour the listening experience. With a complex style of music such as free improvisation, this memorization is of course relative, meaning that exact pitches, and/or rhythms are impossible to remember. What the recording allows the listener to accomplish though, is to memorize colours, timbres, contours, and emotional reactions that can be collected, organized, filtered, and expelled for later use. With a repeated listening of the same material, allowing them to focus on new sounds of the recoding everytime, with the information of previously memorized materials in the background to create a more informed listening experience.

In other words, recording an improvisation makes it no less valid, but it does require a different and specific mind-set for both the performer and listener in order to gain all possible revenue from the experience.

Conclusion

In both the listening and performance of an improvised work, the deconstructive listening process takes place in the recognition of repetition in the musical shapes and timbres of each player. Instead of searching for exact figural repetition, causal relationships between the timbres are perceived.

The temporal state of the sounds are perceived as a singular moment, stretching from one end of the spectrum of consciousness to the other, infinite within the existence of itself. In a successful improvised performance setting, the organization of time is handled in a specific manner that takes the perspective of both the audience and performers into special consideration, allowing it, in the same manner that the past and future affect the present, to affect the compositional process of organizing sound in time.

________________________________________________________________________ 

Bibliography

          Augustine, Saint Aurelius. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Translated by F.J. Sheed, edited with notes by Michael P. Foley. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co.,       c2006.

Borgo, David. Sync or Swarm:  Improvising music in a complex age. New York:  The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2005.

Cardew, Cornelius. “Towards an Ethic of Improvisation” in Treatise Handbook.   London:  Edition Peters, 1971.

Grisey, Gérard. “Tempus ex Machina: A composer’s reflections on musical time.” Contemporary Music Review 2, no. 1 (1987):  239-275

 

[1] TeSelle, Eugene (1970). Augustine the Theologian. London. pp. 347–349. ISBN 0-223-97728-4. March 2002 edition: ISBN 1-57910-918-7.

[2] Saint Aurelius Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, translated by F.J. Sheed; edited with notes by Michael P. Foley, (Indianapolis : Hackett Pub. Co., c2006), 234.

[3] Ibid,, 233.

[4] Ibid., 234.

[5] Gérard Grisey, “Tempus ex Machina: A composer’s reflections on musical time” Contemporary Music Review 2, no. 1 (1987): 239.

[6] Ibid, 239.

[7] Ibid, 269.

[8] Ibid., 240.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 257.

[11] Grisey, Ex Machine, 258.

[12] Ibid.

[13] David Borgo, Sync or Swarm:  Improvising music in a complex age, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2005, 56.

[14] Ibid., 72

[15] Ibid., 72.

[16] Ibid., 72.

[17] Grisey, Ex Machine, 268.

[18] Borgo, Sync or Swarm, 26.

[19] Grisey, Ex Machine, 272.

[20] Borgo, Sync or Swarm, 126.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.41.

 

Projecting the Skeleton, Skin and Flesh of Time in Free Improvisation

Introduction

In improvised music, the sounds that pass through time necessarily exist in the present. Improvised sounds cannot be archived in a score to be played back perfectly, even with a graphic score, there is an impossibility of exact repetition – each iteration, interpretation, and repetition involves new materials, processes and results. Because of this, the role of the listener becomes more complex than that of archived music. The listener’s end of the process is to sift through the mess and to discern patterns and sounds that they find interesting or familiar in order to customize their experience. The tool used to relate the incoming stimuli is causal relation of sounds and timbres, used by the listener to deconstruct the complexity of the work as it unfolds. In an improvised concert setting where the information never ceases to change, the listener actively looks for these relationships, and will even invent them where they do not yet exist.

In this paper, I will discuss the intersecting and relational values of historical, perceived and organizational time, and their use of repetition and excess through the investigation of improvisational practices.

The theoretical portion will be the combination of several papers used in conjunction to create a more comprehensive view. To discuss our perception of time, I will begin with some definitions from the famous treatise The Confessions of Saint Augustine in which he tackles past, present and projected time, and how they are intricately linked. In order to translate these definitions into musical terms and explain their special position in both the performer’s and listener’s perception, I will be looking The Skin, Flesh, and Skeleton of Time in spectralist composer Gerard Grisey’s essay Tempus Ex Machina. To give a more tangible context to these readings, I will further filter them through definitions found in saxophone and electronic improviser David Borgo’s Sync or Swarm:  Improvising music in a complex age. It is my hope that through the combination of these theories with personal anecdotes from my time as an improviser of experimental and noise music I can demonstrate the special place that time and repetition have in a temporal art form such as musical improvisation.

The excess of new information within the present moment in improvised music is already taxing on the listener, but when the ability to predict the future becomes almost impossible – due mostly to a lack of repetition and familiarity – it accelerates into incomprehensibility, changing the perception of time into something undesirable. Gerard Grisey, French Spectralist composer points out “…if the sound B is entirely predictable, time seems to move in a certain speed. By contrast, if the sound B is radically different, and virtually unpredictable, time unfolds at a different speed” (Grisey 258) In my experience, a lack of predictability happens both simultaneously and because of a lack of repetition. How then, is a listener expected to deal with this excess of information without tangible repetition? The listener in this case will begin to recognize repetitions of timbres, rhythms, and contours to fill the gap so to speak.

In both the listening and performance of an improvised work, both the audience’s and performer’s deconstructive listening process takes place in the recognition of repetition in the musical shapes and timbres of the ensuing sound. Due to the impossibility of an exact figural repetition in improvised music, causal relationships between the timbres, contours and rhythms become the replacement, the tool to guide the listener’s perception. In parallel to the listener, each performer also uses a limited arsenal of techniques, based on the limitation of their training, cultural experience, and the limitations of their instrument or apparatus. In this sense, the listener and the performer feed each other. It is through the listener’s recognition of limitations that they form causal relationships, which in turn informs their perception of memory, projected future and present moments constructed in time. To better understand the implications of past, present, and projected time, I will first turn to the famous treatise Time and Eternity from Saint Augustine.

Saint Augustine and the Confession of Time

            Saint Augustine, born 354, was a highly influential Priest and Catholic Doctor of the Church, whose philosophies helped to frame the concepts of just war and original sin.[1] In his essay Time and Eternity, the 6th book from his volume entitled “Confessions,” Augustine looks to explain the perception of time from both subjective and objective existence. First, he describes the perception of moving time through change and variation found in his natural surroundings:

“See, heaven and earth exist, they cry aloud that they are made, for they suffer change and variation. But in anything which is not made and yet is, there is nothing which previously was not present. To be what once was not the case is to be subject to change and variation.”

Through a realization of objects in nature necessarily having a beginning or birth, Augustine discovers the necessity of time. If objects are to have a past and present tense due to the apparent variation which must occur temporally, then the creation of things must also take place in a temporal space. Next, Augustine discovers that all things that are created, must exist in time, including those things that are invisible such as sound (the word of God):

“Therefore it is clear and evident that the utterance came through the movement of some created thing, serving your eternal will but itself temporal. And these your words, made for temporal succession, were reported by the external ear to the judicious mind whose internal ear is disposed to hear your eternal word.”

And from this Augustine comes to a conclusion on the necessary relationship between historical, present, and projected time:

“But no time is wholly present. It will see that all past time is driven backwards by the future, and all future time is the consequent of the past, and all past and future are created and set on their course by that which is always present.”

From this treatise, then, I have created some labels that we may use throughout the paper:

·       Historical Time – Historical time cannot exist in isolation, it exists in the context of the present moment to be called upon in the form of archived images. To clarify this point, Augustine uses the example of recounting a memory to another person:  “When a true narrative of the past is related, the memory produces not the actual events, which have passed away but words conceived from images of them.”[2]

·       Present Time – “If we can think of some bit of time that cannot be divided into even the smallest instantaneous moments, that alone is what we call the ‘present.’”[3]  From this, we may assume that the present time is fleeting and is in motion at all times, process and product being one and the same.

·       Projected Time – In a similar manner to historical time, projected time also cannot take place without the existence of the present or the past:  “So future events do not yet exist; and if they have no being, they cannot be seen at all. But they can be predicted from present events which are already present and can be seen.”[4]

We can surmise from Saint Augustine’s definitions that both time past and projected time exist only within the realm of the present, creating a causal effect where the existence of one depends upon the others. We are always perceiving time within the present, yet within this present moment we have memories of the past because it is the result of the past. But within our present also lies the projection of the future, affecting the decisions we are currently making. How we view our future influences the saliency of specific memories, which in turn affects our present moment. The next stage of investigation then, belongs to the angle or positioning of the preceptor of temporal realities for which I will look to Gerard Grisey’s article Tempus Ex Machina:  A Composer’s reflections of musical time.

Grisey’s Skeleton, Flesh and Skin of Time

In his article Tempus Ex Machina:  A Composer’s reflections of musical time, Gérard Grisey outlines three different forms of temporal sound perception to clarify the role each of us play in the production and creation of music, and the way in which these intersect:  The Skeleton of Time[5] – the way in which sounds are organized by the improviser/composer in time; The Flesh of Time[6] – how time is perceived at the moment of its audible existence and; The Skin of Time[7] – how the listener perceives and translates these sounds in historical, present, and projected time. Each of these definitions can be fed back into the three perceptions of time outlined by Augustine to create the link between sound and time. But first, a clarification on Grisey’s terms.

In Tempus Ex Machina, Grisey explains the Skeleton of Time as “the temporal divisions that the composer uses to organize sound”. Within this Skeleton, there are three manners in which we may identify rhythm: a) in relation to pulse or meter; b) as duration, in which there is no relationship to pulse, and each duration is “perceived quantitatively by its relationship to preceding and successive durations.”[8]  and; c) “…an oscillating rhythm in which the meter itself would fluctuate constantly.”[9] Each of these frameworks has their advantages and disadvantages, but for the purpose of experimental improvisation – which has no definitive tempo or rhythmic structure – duration, the quantification of the present moment, is the most relevant tool for our analysis.

In live improvised music, both the flesh and the skin of time happen simultaneously for the audience and the performers. The Skin of Time is the act of birthing a duration, or actual sonification of a duration, and allowing it to change through time. This of course may only be perpetrated by the performer, but is greatly affected by the reactions in the audience.

The Flesh of Time is the physical-acoustic realization of the Skeleton or, “where sounds, like living cells, will come to inhabit and envelop the temporal skeleton with their density and complexity.”[10]

Both the Flesh and Skin must take place within a temporal framework, as they have states where they did not yet exist, a state of variation, and the ability to engender a prediction of the next event.

The network between the flesh and skin are of course causal, as the perception of one explains and introduces another’s existence. For Grisey “It is no longer the single sound whose density will embody time, but rather the difference or lack of difference between one sound and its neighbor.”[11] From this, one may conceive of comparing and contrasting the sounds immediately as they come forth for the purpose of predicting what will come next, through the memory of what has already transpired, and enabling a prediction of the next event which in turn creates less complexity and confusion for the listener. Or as Grisey states:  “the transition from the known to the unknown and the amount of information that each sound event introduces.”[12]

The Performer in Time

What may be discerned from the previous discussion is that a sound may only exist in relation to other sounds that either preceded or followed. With this in mind, it is the repetition of sounds, timbres, rhythms, etc. throughout the total duration of a work that gives it cohesion, whether purposeful or not. The performer uses this information to create structure within the overall duration. While the listener uses reflexivity to create a cohesive experience for themselves, performers use it as a kind of guidance system. In David Borgo’s Sync or Swarm:  Improvising in a complex age, there are two types of reflexivity used in live improvisation:  a) reflexivity towards the sounds being emitted from the others performers in the ensemble and b) reflexivity with the instrument or apparatus being used by the performer where “the individual parts that generate the system – the performer and his apparatus, are intrinsically part of the system being generated.”[13]

Each member of the group reacts to stimuli in a particular manner, dependent upon prior musical, cultural, and social experiences that shape the improviser’s identity. With all of this individuality, “attractors”[14] are set in place through the process of feedback.”[15] These “attractors” are defined by Borgo as “a region of phase space that seems to ‘pull’ the behavior of a system toward it, as if magnetically.”[16] The attractors are maintained through negative and positive feedback that informs both the creation and limitation of sound. This reflexivity creates a closed feedback circuit (positive and negative), whereby the temporal organization is based on influence rather than by strict organization on behalf of the composer.

Each choice made by a performer will also affect the action of the others, causing a chain reaction. The ensemble becomes a network of reflexive actions, each reacting to both the sounds emitted by the other performers in the ensemble, and to the sound last emitted by their instruments. This chain of reactions creates an unpredictable outcome and an original and unrepeatable experience. The process and product of sound are not only explicitly linked, but they morph together into a causal network of feedback and attractors that Grisey sees as “infinitely mobile and fluctuating;…tend[ing] toward a continual transformation of their own energy.”[17]

The Listener in Time

The act of listening is not a passive state, but in fact an active process in which we perceive sounds, store them as useful information, relate them back to past experiences that have been gathered and stored in a similar way, and allow this relation to become our experience of the current and projection of future sounds. As David Borgo notes, “[T]he sound is not complete until the sound enters the consciousness of those that hear…it asks the listener to continue the creative process of interaction.”[18] In the paper Ex Machina, Grisey puts forward an important question relating to causal perception that will help us to carve-out a definition: “How does the listener organize and structure the complexity of sound?”[19]  A term that needs a little more attention before moving on is ‘complexity’. In David Borgo’s Sync or Swarm Robert Axelrod and Michael Cohen put forward a definition of complexity that may shed some light: “a system is complex when there are strong interactions among its elements, so that current events heavily influence the possibility of many kinds of later events.”[20] From this, we may determine that experiences are causal, creating a network of relatability, where the system “operates without imposed centralized control” or is “self-organizing.”[21]

This causal or relational experience is what makes the listening experience original and specific to the listener. It is through causality that, “cognition as the ‘bringing forth’ of a world and a conception of self that is inseparable from an organism’s biology and its history of interactions and lived experience.”[22] Causal perceptions therefore combine historical, present and projected time into a single space of relational and comparative experiences.

Each iteration of a recognizable sound creates memory in the listener and performer (who, in the act of improvisation, is also a listener). The first time a sound is enacted it becomes an object. The following sound that transpires is thought of in relation to the first sound. The quality of the following sound, whether a repetition or a contrasting idea, is founded upon the principles of the memory of the first sound, creating future projection. When a listener is given a framework, where the first sound and the final sound have audible comparative natures, the listener and performer form their own causal relations or “reflexivity.” While the listener uses reflexivity to create a cohesive experience for themselves, performers use it as a kind of guidance system.

Recording in Time

A large problem exists for the world of improvised music:  is there any validity to a recording of a spontaneous live improvised event?  In my research, I have found that most spectators and performers of this music seem to think that no, recordings have no place in the world of improvisation. Cornelius Cardew, famous British improviser and artist has this to say: “Improvisation is in the present, its effects may live on in the souls of the participants, both active and passive (ie audience), but in the concrete form it is gone forever from the moment it occurs, nor did it have any previous existence before the moment that it occurred…” (Cardew 3).

I agree here with Cardew in that its effects, or the memory of the emotions and thoughts processed during the performance have the ability to live on in the participants. Of course, being memories, they become biased over time depending on the user’s needs. The audience’s and performer’s perception of future performances will be greatly coloured by these memories. The effects of time in motion are fairly obvious when it comes to live situations, but what happens when we try to capture this fleeting moment in a recording?

This temporariness becomes a problem for many performers when it comes to recordings, Cardew himself completely dismissing their value:  “documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and gave at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of the time and place.” (Cardew 4). This creates a problem for the artist trying to disseminate their music and widen their berth of listeners.

This attitude, in my opinion, is due mostly to the limitations of technology that were available at the time. In the present moment, there is simple to use, relatively cheap equipment that can take fairly accurate high quality recordings.

A field recording of a live performance is a bad example of conveying time and place due to the energies and connections that were present during the performance, which are not conveyable through a recording.

Studio recordings on the other hand, with the correct preparation and mind-set can convey different meanings of temporality. The mind-space of the performers, in this case, must be of recording a fleeting moment that will not fade in memory once the piece is finished, creating the need for performers to develop new cues, codes and dynamics tailored for the unfading momentFrom the audience’s perception, they now have the ability to form a whole new set of personal causal experiences, as the ability to memorize will colour the listening experience. With a complex style of music such as free improvisation, this memorization is of course relative, meaning that exact pitches, and/or rhythms are impossible to remember. What the recording allows the listener to accomplish though, is to memorize colours, timbres, contours, and emotional reactions that can be collected, organized, filtered, and expelled for later use. With a repeated listening of the same material, allowing them to focus on new sounds of the recoding everytime, with the information of previously memorized materials in the background to create a more informed listening experience.

In other words, recording an improvisation makes it no less valid, but it does require a different and specific mind-set for both the performer and listener in order to gain all possible revenue from the experience.

Conclusion

In both the listening and performance of an improvised work, the deconstructive listening process takes place in the recognition of repetition in the musical shapes and timbres of each player. Instead of searching for exact figural repetition, causal relationships between the timbres are perceived.

The temporal state of the sounds are perceived as a singular moment, stretching from one end of the spectrum of consciousness to the other, infinite within the existence of itself. In a successful improvised performance setting, the organization of time is handled in a specific manner that takes the perspective of both the audience and performers into special consideration, allowing it, in the same manner that the past and future affect the present, to affect the compositional process of organizing sound in time.

________________________________________________________________________ 

Bibliography

          Augustine, Saint Aurelius. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Translated by F.J. Sheed, edited with notes by Michael P. Foley. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co.,       c2006.

Borgo, David. Sync or Swarm:  Improvising music in a complex age. New York:  The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2005.

Cardew, Cornelius. “Towards an Ethic of Improvisation” in Treatise Handbook.   London:  Edition Peters, 1971.

Grisey, Gérard. “Tempus ex Machina: A composer’s reflections on musical time.” Contemporary Music Review 2, no. 1 (1987):  239-275

 

[1] TeSelle, Eugene (1970). Augustine the Theologian. London. pp. 347–349. ISBN 0-223-97728-4. March 2002 edition: ISBN 1-57910-918-7.

[2] Saint Aurelius Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, translated by F.J. Sheed; edited with notes by Michael P. Foley, (Indianapolis : Hackett Pub. Co., c2006), 234.

[3] Ibid,, 233.

[4] Ibid., 234.

[5] Gérard Grisey, “Tempus ex Machina: A composer’s reflections on musical time” Contemporary Music Review 2, no. 1 (1987): 239.

[6] Ibid, 239.

[7] Ibid, 269.

[8] Ibid., 240.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 257.

[11] Grisey, Ex Machine, 258.

[12] Ibid.

[13] David Borgo, Sync or Swarm:  Improvising music in a complex age, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2005, 56.

[14] Ibid., 72

[15] Ibid., 72.

[16] Ibid., 72.

[17] Grisey, Ex Machine, 268.

[18] Borgo, Sync or Swarm, 26.

[19] Grisey, Ex Machine, 272.

[20] Borgo, Sync or Swarm, 126.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.41.

Sonic Identities:  Distortion and Death

 

“Orchestral horrors I vehemently conduct

My corpus concertos cordial

Disinterred… and detuned

With six feet below

In harmony with the deceased

My inspiration…your disintegration

For my latest masterpiece

My scope creeps your flesh…

Notes seep from sinewy frets…”[1]

Extreme musics – being musics that push the sonic and aesthetic boundaries of the listener such as brutal/black and death metal; noise music; and the avant-garde – are fascinating for their dependency upon the often improper and destructive use of their mediums (instruments or apparatuses), creating a violent and dense sonic space. The ‘distortion’ of these mediums is developed through techniques created specifically for the genre and/or the creation of new instruments which transgress, repel, and mutate societal norms of music and sound. It is this unique use and construction of their mediums that serve as abstract codes, manifesting themselves through physical and communicative symbols and signs, which feed back into themselves, mutating with each iteration.

In this paper, I will demonstrate how the musical techniques of extreme metal (death/black/grind/etc.) have been appropriated (primarily from common practice concert music, military band music, blues, jazz, and rock n’ roll), filtered through a process similar to distortion, and expelled as a new sonic identity. At the end of this paper, I will compare the use of the term distortion to the defintions productionluxury, and the miraculous as they are found in George Bataille’s writings on political economy in the three volumes titled The Accursed Share written between 1946 and 1949. I will not be able to perform an exhaustive list of these techniques as that would take us beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, I will focus on the following few techniques which I believe to be a fair representation of the genre:  false chord vocals;  speed/tremolo guitar picking;  and the blast beat technique.

The symbols of the mass culture that are appropriated by subcultures or scenes are intercepted and transformed in new and unique ways in a manner that can be compared to the process known as distortion. The word distortion, when used in the context of an audio signal, refers to the modification or augmentation of the wave-form of a signal through an outside party, which in most fields/disciplines is considered unwanted. In the genre of heavy metal however, distortion is widely known as the preferred sound of the guitar, often being referred to as fuzzy, chainsaw-like, chunky, or saturated (which are used as positive descriptions of sound). Beginning as early as the mid 1950’s, distortion was utilized in rock n’ roll guitar solos as an effect to create a ‘warm,’ or ‘fuzzy,’ and/or ‘rich’ tone[2]. Today, this sound is used throughout entire discographies of bands within different genres, most notably in metal subgenres. Guitar players now buy and modify equipment specifically to find their signature sounding distortion in order to compliment their aesthetic.

The process of distorting an audio signal is accomplished in three parts: the interception of an original signal or sound source;  the overdrive or overamplification of said source and;  compression of the overdriven signal. The first step is self explanatory, where the original signal for example could be a guitar. The second step is to overdrive the intercepted signal to the point of ‘clipping’, which creates additional high amplitude odd harmonics overtones[3]. These overtones that were not originally present, create a clash of harmonics that are inherently dissonant. The third step, is a compression of the overdriven signal to a narrow band-width, removing any sudden spikes in volume or unwanted sounds that may appear with clipping.

This is of course reminiscent of Jacques Attali’s definition of ‘noise’ in which “despite the death it contains, noise carries order with itself; it carries new information.”[4] Distortion, in much the same way, not only intercepts and disturbs a signal, but in addition to intercepting, reshapes it into a new form – it is the death that carries new information. Although this new form is distorted, in extreme music genres, this does not equate with a lesser, or lower form in the same sense as noise music or punk rock, as posited by Paul Hegarty in his book Noise/Music A History.[5] This new form creates new and different standards, no longer requiring authentication from older forms from which they originated. The new symbols are then able to form their own reflexive behaviors, feeding back into themselves. This new form then becomes static, creating a new authenticity, until portions of it break away from expectant behaviors and augment themselves with new outside appropriated sources, forming newer sub-genres. An interesting example of the death caused by distortion is the false-chord vocal style championed by most extreme metal vocalists. In the next section, I look at how the normative vocal technique has been appropriated and distorted by extreme metal vocalists in order to create a whole new style of vocalization. I will be comparing the classical vocal style known as Bel Canto (beautiful sound) as made famous by 18th and 19th century opera vocalists and the false chord vocal technique as is practiced by extreme metal vocalists.

Vocal Technique

In all styles of music specific techniques are used to achieve what is deemed within that culture as a preferred sound. In classical or common practice western art music technique (especially in opera bel canto style), much stress is put upon the vocalist to achieve a ‘perfect’ tone that rests in between light and dark sound. The sound of Bel Canto – meaning beautiful singing[6] – is achieved through a combination of practical exercises and education to aid the vocalist in better understanding the physical, mental and spiritual techniques necessary to embody the preferred aesthetic of this style. As part of my research for this paper, I asked my good friend Caitlin Treibel, a musicologist/soprano, to help explain the techniques used for bel canto style (opera) which I will elaborate on in the next section.

Breathing itself becomes one of the most important and difficult of the skills to master in this style. First, the vocalist must learn to control the movement of the diaphragm, an involuntary muscle that lies between the lungs and guts. Because of the involuntary nature of the diaphragm, the vocalist must compensate by controlling the intercostal (which surround the rib-cage) and abdominal muscles, which together pull on the floating ribs, forcing air in and out of the lungs.

The mouth acts as a valve. Its shape, coupled with the placement of the tongue, helps to shape the sound and amplify it. By physically manipulating the body in this manner, the vocalist creates as much space and aerodynamic outward motion as possible (tongue loose and away from throat), helping to create a more ‘pure’ and directed sound.

The larynx, also known as the ‘voice box,’ is the part of the body that actually creates the sound. It sits on top of the trachea and below the root of the tongue. It is part of the respiratory system that allows air to be passed “from the pharynx to the trachea on its way to the lungs and again returning to the exterior.” The actual production of the sound is initiated by the movement of small muscles inside of the trachea that manipulate the ‘true’ vocal chords within the trachea[7][8]

Extreme metal vocals were first practiced in early black metal bands such as Bathory, Celtic Frost and Venom, with its beginning sounding more as snarling and grumbling mixed with some screaming. The extreme metal vocal sound has now been solidified through practice and critique, aided by new techniques to achieve specific sounds. One of these techniques that I would like to speak to is named ‘false-chord vocals,’ a distortion of the proper or normative style of vocalization, created to help save vocalists from doing permanent damage to their throats.

Using the intercostal and abdominal muscles in the same manner as bel-canto technique, the lungs are filled with air, then slowly expelled. The difference between normative vocalizations and false chords is that instead of producing a ‘tone’ or pitch, the vocalist expels a ‘sigh,’ being much quieter than a pitched tone. By denying the use of pitch, the false-chord vocals are enacted. The sound is then amplified through the vibration of the false chords and distorted through a purposeful vibration of the sinuses that results in a sound that could be referred to as growling[9][10]. The pitch is manipulated through the shape of the mouth and the placement within different parts of the body such as the chest, throat, nose and head (much like bel-canto). The beauty of this technique is that it utilizes a complex pitch, much like a percussion cymbal, completely negating any ability to sing catchy or soaring melodic lines and allowing for much more chromaticism or complete lack of a tonal centre in the supporting music without the worry of being  ‘out-of-key.’

The extreme metal vocalist then has taken the original technique of sound production and distorted it by altering the sound producing mechanisms, and completely negating pitch, created a new sonic identity. The instrumental section of the band has also developed specific techniques for a more aggressive sound that symbolizes extreme metal. In the following section, I will l discuss how the electric guitar has been modified through techniques in order to achieve a more extreme sonic result through the lens of distortion.

Guitar Technique

The guitar, seen as a symbol of rock n’ roll and freedom, has survived multiple changes over the centuries. From its ancestors the ude and lute, mandolin, banjo, acoustic, and nylon string guitar, it has been constantly transformed on the basis of necessity and style. When the guitar entered the psychedelic and progressive rock genres, eventually making its way into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a new set of techniques emerged. Of these techniques, one of the more salient that I would like to speak to is speed or tremolo picking.

In much classical music, tremolo is used as a texture, creating a bed of sound, a ‘storminess’ or a ‘floating quality’ that can either heighten or soften the mood (depending on the composer’s intentions). An example of this can be heard in Hector Berlioz’s fifth movement, Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath from the work “Symphonie Fantastique in which the eerie and anxious mood has been heightened through the tremolo technique, yet dynamically is kept fairly soft in order to create a bed of sound. In his famous treatise on orchestration, Berlioz describes tremolo as having the ability to create “something of a stormy, violent character in the fortissimo on the middle of the first or second string. It becomes, on the contrary, serial, [and] angelic, when employed in several parts and pianissimo, on the high notes of the first string.”[11]

In extreme metal, the tremolo technique has been appropriated by rote and sonically amplified by hand pressure and distortion pedals to serve the aggressive nature of the music. While the tremolo in metal is aggressive, it also enables the player to retain the ability to play longer melodies without the loss of momentum. This technique may be found in much of the extreme metal sub-genres, but most salient in black metal where long, criss-crossing and contrapuntal melodies are used quite often. Many bands write almost entire albums using this technique such as the North American Black Metal band Judas Iscariot’s “To Embrace the Corpses Bleeding.”

Also found in the extreme metal genres, are individual ways of achieving the technique through the employment of different parts of the body. For example, when watching the guitar player Paul Ryan from the band Origin, one can notice the utilization of three different muscle groups in order to avoid fatigue:  the entire arm, the wrist, and the fingers (between the forefinger and the thumb). In classical technique, a uniform technique (usually with as little movement as possible) is taught to all students in an attempt to create a perfect sound, and in doing so producing a homophony.

The homogenous leaning of techniques has thus been effectively removed, amplified through individuality, and distorted to create a new sonic symbol. Very similar to tremolo, is the use of doubles in percussion and the drum kit. In the following section, I discuss the distortion of the technique known as ‘doubles,’ and how extreme metal drum kit players have intercepted and distorted this technique in order to satisfy a specific sound.

Drum Kit Technique

One of the most important contributors of sound in extreme metal styles is the drum kit. The drum kit, like the voice and guitar, originated from former styles of music such as military marching bands, blues, jazz, rock, and psychadelic bands, and through distortion has taken on new symbolic and sonic meaning.

Unique to the technique of percussion is the use of doubles. Doubles allow for twice the amount of percussive shots in a single stroke through controlled reflexivity. By allowing the drum stick to bounce twice in a single stroke, the percussionist is then enabled to play at nearly double the speed as is normally heard. Gene Kruppa, and other drummers from the big-band and swing era learned this technique from the military snare drum performer and educator Sanford A. Moeller, who published his internationally used snare drum technique book titled  “The Art of Snare Drumming” in 1925[12]. In military band music, the doubles are often used for quick fills, sounding like an equivalent to the string or guitar tremolo.

Although some garage, psycadellic and early metal bands touched upon this technique, it was not until the extreme metal came about, most noticeably with Pete “commando” Sandoval from Morbid Angel, that it became integrated permanently and wide-spread throughout the community. In the same manner as tremolo picking for the guitar, extreme metal styles utilize these doubles for a new style of drum-beat called the ‘blast-beat’, as in blasting off, or as it is known in grindcore music – ‘grinding.’ The blast beat is essentially a back-beat taken from rock n’ roll and punk music, doubled in speed, which almost completely distorts the pulse. Doubling, originally used in earlier metal styles for short bursts of speed with either the hands or the feet, is now used in every limb of the percussionist, to create a nearly blurred, pulseless sound. Like the guitar tremolo, when used in the kick-drums, allows the music to retain a consistent hum, or wash of sound that fills in a large part of the lower frequency range, creating a looming dark texture. The use of doubles in the kick drum also allows the drummer to ride the kick drums in the same manner as a rock or jazz drummer would use the hi-hats or ride cymbal, freeing the hands to embellish and improvise while retaining the wash of sound in the bass frequency.

The technique of doubles, being appropriated and re-interpreted, has created a new set of techniques for the drum-kit that has evolved over the past 20 years to a state of technical perfection. The doubles, now a staple in the extreme metal drum style, is well known amongst both fans and practitioners, and has helped to develop the double kick and the blast-beat, which are now sonic symbols with the genre.

Conclusion

This distortion of musical techniques and instruments analyzed in this paper can easily be compared to George Bataille’s defintions of Production/Luxury/Miraculous as found in the first volume of his series The Accursed Share. Through these volumes, I have a found not only a source to aid me in my discussion of distortion as a process that results in a death, but that such a violent process necessitates the creation of new spectacular life (in the same sense as Hebdige’s spectacular subcultures).

Production and Luxury – the consumption of energy

As we saw, in the appropriation of techniques from other musics, they are often augmented with either external objects (such as the use of the ‘false chords’, distortion pedals, and augmentations to the drum kit such as the double kick pedal), or an augmentation of the technique used to perform on the instruments which results in an excess of energy.  This excess, like life, must be discarded in order to make room for new growth as “neither growth or reproduction would be possible if plants and animals did not normally dispose of excess.”[13] This discarding or squandering is forced to takes place as “real pressure…puts unequal organisms in competition with one another” and “the unevenness of pressure in living matter continually makes available to growth the place left vacant to death.”[14] (Bataille pg 33)

For myself, this resonates with the creation of new musical technologies – such as Les Paul’s prototyping of guitar pick-ups which in turn allowed for the creation of the electric guitar[15]. These sonic identifiers found in extreme music techniques, are modified according to specific cultural terms and allow for new sonic possibilities – taking what they need/want and throwing away the rest. The distortions of techniques are intersubjective, purposely distorting cultural norms to create a personalized sound, forming new boundaries that help define who, what and why they are, through a relational negation of what they are not and they cannot be. The death of the older forms, brought on through competition to occupy space, makes room for the new forms to grow. Due to the violence inherent in the act of distortion, the new forms become exaggerated and spectacular.

The Miraculous – the unknowing

When bands or artists within these extreme musics are involved in this filtration process that I have labeled as distortion, it is often what George Batailles names as the miraculous, also described in his other writings as a state of unknowing. This ‘miraculous event’, takes place when a new form is excreted without conscious knowledge of past cultural appropriations for an authentic new form of music. New techniques that reflect new sub-genres of art, subconsciously take symbols that they have appropriated and filter them through personal preference and intersubjectivity, creating a new sonic badge or symbol. These techniques are not taught in an academy or place of higher education, but by rote, by listening and imitating. In this sense, “[c]onsciousness of the moment is … not sovereign, except in the unknowing. Only by cancelling, or at least neutralizing, every operation of knowledge within ourselves are we in the moment.”[16] To be within the moment of unknowledge, is not unlike “the burst of laughter or tears that stop thought.”[17]

And so it is not that the knowledge accumulated by the subculture is sovereign, but in that moment of creation, where all other knowledge is subconscious, allowing for the moment such as the burst of tears or laughter, where true unknowledge is used to filter the creative activity, allowing for a truly original expulsion of previously appropriated material. In this sense, a true re-creation through the process of death may only take place within this uncontrolled moment of the present, when we let go of our past memories and projected future, living solely in the moment, when the distortion of materials is a truly honest creative moment that allows us to formulate new art and artistic practices.

Bibliography

Attali, Jacques. Bruits:  Essai Sur L’economie Politique de la Musique. France:      Presses Universitaires de France, 1977. Pg. 33

Bataille, Georges. “Consumption” taken from Volume 1 of The Accursed Share.             Translated by Robert Hurley. (New York: Zone Books, 1991), pg. 25–6.

Bataille, Georges. “The History of Eroticism”, taken from Volume II of The Accursed    Share. Translated by Robert Hurley. (New York:  Zone Books, reprinted in   1995.

Berlioz, Hector. A Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration. Translated by Mary Cowden Clark, edited by Joseph Bennett. (London and New York:  Novello, Ewer and Co.) 1882.

Carcass. “Carneous Cacoffany” from the album Necroticism:  Descanting the       Insalubrious. Earache, Relativity Records. Recorded and Released 1991.

Case, Alexander U. Sound FX: Unlocking the Creative Potential of Recording Studio         Effects. Taylor and Francis Publishing Group, 2007. pg 96.

Cross, Melissa. http://www.melissacross.com/press_detail.php?pressID=13. Last       accessed June 28th, 2012.

Hegarty, Paul.  Noise/Music:  A History. New York:  The Continuum International       Publishing Group Inc, 2007.

Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health,   Seventh Edition, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. 2003.

Moeller, Sanford A. The Moeller Book (1954). Ludwig Music Publishing. Last   accessed February 17th, 2009.

Rubenstein, Ben. “How to Properly Stress Your Vocal Chords with Screaming.” In      Wikihow (blog)Last accessed on January 21st, 2012.             http://www.wikihow.com/Properly-Stress-Your-Vocal-Chords-With-   Screaming

Rubin, Dave. Inside the Blues, 1942 to 1982. Hal Leonard Publishers, 2007. p. 61.

Stark, James. Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press.        2003.

Voices from the Smithsonian Associates. Les Paul, Musician and Inventor. Archived at www.archive.org. Last accessed July 20th, 2012.

[1] Carcass, “Carneous Cacoffany” from the album Necroticism:  Descanting the Insalubrious, Earache, Relativity Records. Recorded and Released 1991.

[2] Dave Rubin, Inside the Blues, 1942 to 1982, Hal Leonard, 2007, pg. 61.

[3] Alexander U Case, Sound FX: Unlocking the Creative Potential of Recording Studio Effects, Taylor and Francis Publishing Group, 2007 pg 96.

[4] Jacques Attali, Bruits:  Essai Sur L’economie Politique de la Musique, France:  Presses Universitaires de France, 1977, Pg. 33

[5] Paul Hegarty,  Noise/Music:  A History. New York:  The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2007.

[6] James Stark, Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy, University of Toronto Press, 2003.

[7] Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health,             Seventh Edition, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. 2003.

[8] ibid

[9] Rubenstein, Ben. “How to Properly Stress Your Vocal Chords with Screaming.” In Wikihow (blog)Last accessed on January 21st, 2012. http://www.wikihow.com/Properly-Stress-Your-Vocal-Chords-With-   Screaming

[10] Melissa Cross, http://www.melissacross.com/press_detail.php?pressID=13. Last accessed June 28th, 2012.

[11] Hector Berlioz, A Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration, translated by Mary Cowden Clark, edited by Joseph Bennett, (London and New York:  Novello, Ewer and Co.) 1882.

[12] Moeller, Sanford A. The Moeller Book (1954). Ludwig Music Publishing. Last accessed February 17th, 2009.

[13] Georges Bataille, “Consumption” taken from Volume 1 of The Accursed Share, Translated by Robert Hurley, (New York: Zone Books, 1991), pg. 25–6.

[14] Bataille, Consumption, pg 33.

[15] Voices from the Smithsonian Associates. Les Paul, Musician and Inventor. Archived at www.archive.org. Last accessed July 20th, 2012

[16] Georges Bataille, “The History of Eroticism”, taken from Volume II of The Accursed Share, translated by Robert Hurley, New York NY, reprinted in 1995, Pg 203.

[17] Ibid

 

Thesis Proposal: Transgression, Repulsion and the Grotesque

The dissertation that I am proposing to write is inspired by the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. The story is a linear and systematic descent into the degradation of humanity in which the central characters of the book known as the libertines have already experienced nearly every taboo and may only gain pleasure through further acts of transgression. In order for new pleasures to be held, new boundaries are required for them to transgress. To accommodate this, the libertines create an elaborate system, which begins as rigid and controlled, then gradually and systematically removes these strictures in order to heighten the pleasure of taboos.
To represent the systematic transgression in 120 Days, the structure of the proposed dissertation will be determined by the opposition of two poles of urban musical style and instrumentation that, through the use of indeterminacy, systematically will lose their identifiable characteristics and become absorbed into one another. By transgressing the compositional process and performative techniques in a manner that moves them towards each other, the two poles live within a grotesque liminal space. Transgression, the movement beyond set boundaries, will permeate nearly every facet of the work including: style; text; methodology; materials; and aesthetics. The materials, being the instrumentation and performance practice or the particular style, will originate from the following genres: extreme/death metal; and improvised experimental timbral music/noise music. The methodology employed to transgress these styles will be similar to techniques found in the western art music avant-garde canons, specifically sound organization and aleatory. By systematically breaking down boundaries between each group and placing them into a common liminal space, a grotesque common ground is found where the sonic and cultural fabric is richer and more complex. The paper will be an accompaniment to the musical work and act as a description of the methods. These aspects will be presented, analyzed, and contextualized with philosophical writings on transgression that have informed my aesthetic during my time at the University of Alberta.
In the first chapter I will explore the different definitions of transgression used to critique art, specifically theories of noise and the grotesque. For a general overview of transgression, I will be using definitions from Anthony Julius’s book Transgressions: The Offences of Art, and explanations on its nature from George Bataille’s article In Defense of W.A.F. Sade. To explore the manner of transgression as it relates to musical practice, I have chosen to look at theories of noise, particularly those found in Jacques Attali’s Noise; and Paul Hegarty’s Noise/Music A History. Ann Hallam’s Screening the Marquis de Sade; and Gilles Deleuze’s Coldness and Cruelty: Masochism, are in depth analysis of the works of the Marquis de Sade, and will be used to contextualize the text I am working with. Much of the text and the music will deal with the theory of repulsion, of which the authors Aurel Kolnai and Carolyn Koorsmeyer are the most salient. For a look at how the transgression of materials creates a structure that is grotesque, I will use Madeline Schecter’s article Defining the Grotesque: Towards an Aesthetic of Liminality; and Mikhail Bahktin’s Rabelias and his World.
The second chapter, Materials, will be divided into several subsections, each dealing with specific performance aspects in detail. In particular, I will describe the normative/idiomatic compositional and performative techniques of the instruments, and how they will be disrupted through extended techniques which will be related to the theory of ‘noise’ as presented by Attali and Hegarty. Following this, I will be looking at my choice of text, giving a brief history and outline, and how the text will be disrupted through techniques of indeterminancy. The third chapter, will describe the structure of the work, and how through the use of aleatory and sound organization a sonic grotesquery is created. For a clearer understanding of how these tools will be used, I will first give a brief outline on the history of sound organization and aleatory in western art music. Following this, I will give a brief description of each movement of the proposed work, and how their character is shaped by the use of sound organization and aleatory.
The next chapter will focus on notation. For this, I will use examples of the notation to be used, taking into account the idiosyncratic nature of each instrument. The fifth chapter will describe my thoughts on the final performance, In particular the venue and what kind of affect this has on the audience.
I Literature Review
In Anthony Julius’s Transgressions: The Offences of Art, he traces the use of the word transgression in the English language back to the 16th century. In its initial secular appearance, to transgress was to “describe disobedience of the law.” Later in the same century, the definition of transgression becomes one that describes an assault, such as the transgression of discourse and/or style, including profane language, flatulence, or to cause a disruption to an otherwise smoothly operating system. Through a survey of the history of the word transgression, Julius gives us four basic principals that we may be able to utilize as context for the ways in which my proposed project will transgress musical norms:
The denying of doctrinal truths; rule-breaking, including the violation of principles, conventions, pieties or taboos; the giving of serious offense; and the exceeding, erasing or disordering of physical or conceptual boundaries

Each of these definitions has a place in describing the nature of the proposed work, and is general enough that it may be molded to fit my purposes here. The first two definitions speak to a refusal of the violence that accompanies reasoning and law. “The denying of doctrinal truths,” and “…the violation of principals,” are transgressions that come naturally to societies, and especially their evolution. George Bataille, the avant-garde French philosopher and fiction writer in his article In defense of W.A.F. de Sade, explains how society, through the progression of our material life “leads humanity to a disagreeable and terminal stagnation.” To avoid this ‘stagnation’ Bataille wants us to enjoy our excess, to move beyond the simple limits imposed upon us from the outside in order to avoid the herd-mentality that is in danger of halting true progression. For “the revolution by which the masses liberate force with a long restrained violence is as much the practical raison d’être of societies as it is their means of development.” If we follow this line of thinking, change is necessary, and a part of evolution.
The manner in which the proposed work will transgress the “doctrinal truths” and violate “principles, conventions, pieties or taboos” is by way of a destructive transformation created through the disruption of a normative state of a sound or object, subverting its origins. The disruption spells the end of the original identity, and yet, “despite the death it contains, noise carries order with itself; it carries new information.” Through my research, I have found an appropriate philosophy to explain this method of transgression called noise, championed by writers such as Jacques Attali, Paul Hegarty, and Dick Hebdige. In engineering, the signal-to-noise ratio looks at the amount of residual interference in communication, or how much of the original signal is being transformed and disrupted by the noise. This definition of noise itself is malleable and transferrable to different modes and systems both as a representation of transgression and a method to measure it.
In Paul Hegarty’s book Noise/A History, the term noise is used to describe the manner in which music has transgressed sonic societal norms, tracing the western musical history from Luigi Russolo and the Futurists, through to the dada-ists, punk-rock, industrial and Japanese Noise music. This book is an important landmark as it utilizes musical and creative techniques as representations of noise. Hegarty has created specific categories to demonstrate the diversity of the term, pairing them with important evolutions in our musical history including: inept, glitch, improvisation, and other facets of musical transgression that have the ability to negate socially accepted musical practices. This book is especially useful for me as many of my instruments are transgressed throughout the work, losing their original identity only to formulate a new one through improper playing technique.
The third of Julius’s definitions for transgression, “the giving of serious offence,” will be important to the role of the text. For the proposed work, I have chosen text from the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. In Lindsay Ann Hallam’s book Screening the Marquis de Sade, she takes the works of de Sade, focusing particularly on 120 Days of Sodom, as a means to explicate the style, atmosphere and philosophy of transgressive films, placing the body and sexuality into the central role: “The human condition in Sade is essentially a bodily one…exploring the limits of the body in order to tell us something about the human condition as an embodied condition.” In Hallam’s book, she creates tools to enable an analysis of Sade’s work in terms of transgression, and allows for comparison with other mediums of art.
Gilles Deleuze, in his book Coldness and Cruelty: Masochism, explores and contrasts the literary styles of the Marquis and Sacher Masoch. Through his analysis of de Sade’s novels, Deleuze demonstrates how the cold and calculated presentation of offences by the ‘heros’ in 120 Days exemplifies the inherent violence in reasoning: “In Sade the imperative and descriptive function of language transcends itself towards a pure demonstrative, instituting function…” The mechanistic and repetitive approach to writing is what creates the ultimate excess in Sade. Each atrocity, must be reasoned and afterwards transgressed, creating a numbness that can only be overcome with more atrocities, until no thrill is left, and we must be satisfied with excess as an end. In Korsmeyer’s text Savoring Disgust – the foul and the fair in aesthetics, the author takes an in depth look at the aesthetics of disgust. In particular, this book will be useful to explain the allure of disgusting objects and their place in aesthetics and the arts. Through these texts, 120 Days of Sodom will be used to express how compounding transgressions creates an excess, which in turn leads to a search for greater transgressions in a never ending loop.
The transgressions mentioned here are not merely systematic ways of breaking the rules, or giving offence, but as “the exceeding, erasing or disordering of physical or conceptual boundaries,” being the space in which borders have been stretched or erased, allowing objects to live in between. The term grotesque, much like transgression, can come to mean a multitude of definitions. Originally, the term grotesque was meant to describe a decorative style of painting that was popular in Italy in the 15th century. In the 16th century, the term came to define a “rule for organizing the experience of those works of art that cannot be classified in accordance with canonical or traditionally accepted Western…aesthetic categories, which are basically the classical ones.” In more modern discourses, the term has come to be known, as Madeline Schecter points out, as
1) a naturalist or symbolic representation of a physical-psychological state of some natural deformity; 2) a verbal and…a visual form of ambiguity; 3) a figurative embodiment of an ontological principal, such as a clash of the opposites; 4) an exemplification of a kind of logical incompatibility, such as a contradiction in terms.

The deformities, ambiguities, clashes and incompatibilities listed here are what I seek to reveal in my proposed work.
By transgressing the compositional process and performative techniques in a manner that moves them towards each other, they live within a grotesque liminal space. The reason why this space is not only liminal, but also grotesque, is that they are always becoming. In Bakhtin’s analysis of Rabelais’s literature, he describes the nature of the carnival in the medieval and Renaissance times as grotesque:
The grotesque image reflects a phenomena in transformation, an as yet finished metamorphosis, of death and birth, growth and becoming. The relation to time is one determining trait of the grotesque. The other indispensible trait is ambivalence. For in this image we find both poles of transformation, the old and the new, the dying and the procreating, the beginning and the end of metamorphosese.

The poles, as Bakhtin names them here, are opposing forces, in a state of movement towards each other. What is also apparent here, is the lack of stability, and therefore ambivalence. If the two opposing forces were to actually complete their movement into the other, the object could no longer be grotesque, as it would have a definitive shape. By traversing the liminal space between the two poles, the object remains unnamable, ambivalent, and therefore grotesque.
Each of these theories relate to transgression in a specific sense, allowing the word itself to be malleable and plastic, reflecting its own identity. Most importantly though, transgression is shown as a moving beyond set boundaries and taboos, living in a new space where new definitions are required to understand them.
II: Materials; Noise; Instrumental Transgression; and Text
The second chapter will utilize the theory of noise as presented by Paul Hegarty and Jacques Attali to explain how the materials of the proposed work will be transgressed through a disruption of their sonic identity. The materials and methods of transgression will be placed in context of other works written and performed in the canon, and how my work over the past several years has progressed towards this style.
The instrumental timbres chosen for this work will be placed into two groups, which represent opposing poles, and are then transgressed, thus disrupting and transforming their sonic identity. The first group is a quintet of instruments taken from the death metal genre: drum-kit; two electric guitars; electric bass guitar; and vocalist (bel-canto and false chord styles of singing). The second group is based on an experimental improvised music genre: sound clothing; sounding floor; resonant containers; tools; and pieces of glass and metal.
By first creating a timbral division between the two groups, I am able create a pure state of idiomatic performative and sound organization within that group which can later be subverted through the systematic disruption of those techniques until they are rendered unrecognizable.
Extreme Metal, like most other major styles of modern metal, first appeared in the early 1980’s, strongly influenced by bands like Motorhead and Iron Maiden from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Reactions to this scene were diverse, resulting in a heterogeny of the metal genre. From this split four majors styles emerged that continue to this day: Grindcore; Black Metal; Thrash Metal; and Death Metal. Death metal, is a sonic blend of the first three, taking pieces of sound and technique that were deemed desirable to that particular subculture, and removing portions that were unsuited. From Grindcore and Black Metal, the aggressive guitar tone and drum-kit blast-beats were taken. From thrash metal, a superior playing technique with complex songwriting and virtuosic passages were appropriated.
The death metal quartet is an instrumentation that I have been working with for several years with works such as The Eternal Hate Machine and the sound installation Brutally Dismembered created for my second year directed study. The drum-kit, guitars and bass – for the most part being in a heightened timbral state of distortion – are cultural signifiers of transgression, as they are seen as belonging to groups outside of the superculture, and therefore perfect for my work. The techniques that I have discovered through my use of these instruments in both composition and improvisation will be used to disrupt and extend the techniques normally used in this style.
Many of the techniques I am mentioning can be found in my past compositions. For example, the piece Framed Transients for electric guitar quartet utilizes an allen key in place of a plectrum to create an unstable whining sound; also, rubbing the strings with the palm of the hand in combination with distortion to create a textural sound similar to a cement mixer. The distortion to be used with the electric guitars and bass for the proposed work is readily available on most modern solid-state or valve amplifiers or distortion pedals. The equalizer on the amplifier should be set in a manner that reflects the sonic style of death metal, meaning fairly high bass and hi frequencies, and the middle range frequencies dropped to half-way or slightly below.
Example of guitar techniques in Framed Transients:
• http://soundcloud.com/danielbrophy/framed-transients-demo

The normative technique for drum-kit will also be disrupted by use of rhythms that have no linear shape such as ‘’blast-beats ; and non-idiomatic timbral playing technique, which treats the individual drums and cymbals of the drum-kit as colours and timbres.
The placement of the bel-canto vocalist is transgressive as the sound is culturally known in both the contemporary concert music and extreme metal scenes. Throughout the work, the idiom of the voice will be disrupted, moving from a classical bel-canto style, through extended techniques to a more timbrally based sound. Examples of this compositional and performative style can be seen by groups such as Gorguts, Unexpect, Ion Dissonance and others originating from the avant-garde metal genre.
An important evolution to the art of improvised timbral music, is the live rendering of sounds. Originators of the style such as Derek Bailey of Company and Keith Rowe of AMM were able to move their music past the structures of instrumental idioms, and move into pure sound known as free improvisation. Japan has been heralded in this style as an important influence, most notably the music of Masami Akita. Highly influenced by Kurt Scwhitters work “The Merzbau,” in which the artist dramatically transformed the interior of a home with found objects and pieces of junk. Masami decided to appropriate the name for his projects as it was an accurate reflection of his aesthetic.
The transformation of recycled found objects into sonic instruments for timbral improvisation has become one of my passions through my doctoral degree. For the proposed work the found objects I will use are: a metal garbage can; small and large metal spikes; broken glass; small pieces of metal; a hammer; a drill; an electric knife; and other assorted objects. Each of these elements will be amplified by use of contact microphones and localized condenser microphones.
When listening to groups such as Wolf Eyes, Merzbow, Otomo Yoshihide and others, there often is a lack of repeatable rhythmic figures or phrases, or recognizable melody and harmony. This lack of ‘musicality’ in the western sense allows for a discovery of new sounds and is part of the cultural boundaries that define this style. This hands-on approach creates a “kind of empiricism that musique concrete tries to remove.” In order to bring this interesting facet of improvisation to light, the presence of dictated rhythm; duration; and gestural phrases will become more accurately depicted as the proposed work moves backwards towards the beginning. Through the organization of the instrumental timbres, the purity of the style becomes disrupted in the opposing sense of the extreme metal group.
Another aspect of composition that has become increasingly important to my aesthetic is instrument building. Through the class 645 DIY electronic instruments instructed by Scott Smallwood, I developed techniques to ‘bend’ amplifier circuits and electronic toys. From empirical testing, I have created two different types of instruments that enable interesting results. The first I have named sound clothing, with contact surfaces attached to a piece of clothing that react to skin contact. Much of the creative process in creating these items of clothing has been spent collaborating with movement experts Gerry Morita and Jeannie Vanderkerkove, who will be the performers of these instruments. The other instrument, named sounding floor, which will also be performed by the dancers, is an instrument that creates feedback with bent-amplifier circuits, speakers and contact microphones attached to sheets of copper.
The initial compositional phase of instrument building includes the gathering of materials that are aesthetically appealing and creating instruments from them. Once the instruments have been built, the performers are left to make the remainder of the decisions, forcing the composer to relinquish their authority over the final result. This style of composing is reminiscent Nicolas Collins, whose instruments are “difficult to control precisely – the sounds the audience heard were more the byproduct of the performer getting to know an instrument, rather than articulating a predefined result.” In this sense, a transgression of the composer’s authority is reflected in the difficulty of control of the instruments, sharing expression with the performer who is learning the limitations of the instrument in real time. The following links are examples of the mentioned instruments:
Soundclothing:
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h60f8EurZo&list=UUt5_pIzNDBtDY28MgROB8Fg&index=3&feature=plcp
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqSEcuJuY4Q&list=UUt5_pIzNDBtDY28MgROB8Fg&index=12&feature=plcp
Sounding Floor:
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5bf6cZDbIM

For the text of the proposed work, I have chosen the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. De Sade has a special place in literature, as his work is simultaneously controversial and regarded amongst scholars such as Deleuze, Bataille and others, as creative, transgressive, and critical. The cold, pragmatic style in his writing reveals the violence in the reasoning and laws of the enlightenment era, and of the self-indulgence of the 18th century French Bourgeoisie. This novel in particular, “explores, in detail, bodily behavior that is prohibited by law and by social taboo.” Through the exploration of taboos, 120 days looks at limits and taboos imposed on social behavior through law and reasoning, and our nature as animals to move beyond them.
The transgression of the text will be perpetrated in a cold, pragmatic and systematic manner, reflecting the prose found in the novels of Sade. Deleuze explains that for the Sadist:
“violence must not be dissipated under the sway of inspiration or impulse…but it must be exercised in cold blood…the coldness of demonstrative reason…[It is] the pleasure of negating nature within the ego and outside the ego, and negating the ego itself. It is in short the pleasure of demonstrative reasoning.”

The method of transgression is similar to that of sound organization, comprising of first a search for lines of text based on rhythmic structure and/or imagery. The text is then further removed from its original source through the disruption of phrasing, punctuation, words, syllables and regrouped into phrases which I find aesthetically suited to the work. Each movement will further remove the text from its original form, accumulating an excess of destruction. This method is reminiscent of John Cage’s work with James Joyce’s text “Finnegan’s Wake” in the piece The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, in which text is systematically disrupted through deletion of punctuation, and the placement of all the text in capital letters. In this proposed work, similar techniques will accumulate over the course of the piece into an excess, in much the same manner as what Korsmeyer points out as “surfeit, the overindulgence in sensation.” In the next chapter, further transgressions of the proposed work will be explored in form and structure.
III: Structure; The Grotesque; Aleatory and Sound Organization
The third chapter will explicate the possibilities offered through the self-destructive and re-constructive acts of transgression, placed into context of theories of the grotesque. Musically, these transgressions will be represented by sound organization and aleatory, and applied to the structural and compositional methodologies in the work. These techniques will then be placed in context of works already existing in this canon, and how my work over the past several years has moved towards this style.
In Richard Domek’s article “Some Aspects of Organization in Schoenberg’s Book of the Hanging Gardens,” the formal aspects of musical organization in Das Buch are brought to light. Most important, is Schoenberg’s use of ‘Developing Variation’ – where the lack of genuine repetition taken from Schoenberg’s Style and Idea is explained as restatements of characteristic sonorities either with the exact pitch material or transposed. In my proposed work, this style of developing variation, which I will be referring to as sound organization, will be used to create continuity within the work. The re-organization of these sound objects will be handled in specific manner, ensuring that the final result will be grotesque.
The experimental acoustician, phoneticist and information theorist Werner Meyer-Eppler, who helped establish the electro-acoustic studio in Cologne, first used the term ‘aleatory’ as a noun to mean “determined in general but depends on chance in detail,” but was translated into English mistakenly as an adjective, creating the word ‘aleatoric.’ The manner in which Lutoslawski’s works Prelude and Fugues for 13 strings, and his String Quartet utilize aleatorism to create an audible complexity has been especially influential in my works. For the proposed work, each movement will utilize a specific mode of aleatory that will help to define its sonic identity, and to separate it from its original source, or respective pole.
The overall form of the proposed dissertation will be based directly on the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. The story is a linear and systematic descent into the degradation of humanity in which the central characters, known as the libertines, abduct children from their homes and keep them in a remote castle in order to fulfill their carnal desires. The libertines have already experienced the transgression of nearly every societal taboo and have become numbed by their excesses. Due to this excess, new boundaries are required for them to transgress in order for new pleasures to be held. To accommodate this, the libertines create an elaborate system, which begins as rigid and controlled, then gradually and systematically removes these strictures in order to heighten the pleasure of taboos. As the libertines move towards an abandon of humanity, they reveal their true desires, being a state of indiscriminate animalistic carnal lust where social taboos no longer exist.
To represent the systematic transgression in 120 Days, the structure of the proposed dissertation will be determined by the opposition of two poles of urban musical style and instrumentation that, through the use of indeterminacy, systematically will lose their identifiable characteristics and become absorbed into one another. By transgressing the compositional process and performative techniques in a manner that moves them towards each other, the two poles live within a grotesque liminal space. The reason why this space is not only liminal, but also grotesque, is that they are always becoming. The poles, described by Mikhail Bakhtin in his book Rabelais and his world as “the dying and the procreating, the beginning and the end of metamorphosese” are opposing forces, in a state of movement towards each other. The first pole will be written using the urban instrumentation and performance practice of death metal; and the opposing pole will utilize the instrumentation and performative style of experimental improvised timbral music. Each of these styles has a radically different approach to composition and performance developed through intersubjective boundaries. Death metal is a meticulous, exacting form of music with rigid structure, memorized melodic and rhythmic patterns that are repeated verbatim for each performance. The music is usually written by one person with the remainder of the group contributing to the creative process during rehearsals through embellishment. The exacting nature of this music will be transgressed as the work moves towards its termination, subverting all of the repeatable factions of typical death metal music such as pitch, melody, rhythm, tempo, and pulse to create indeterminate harmonies, moments of un-unified pulse, and grating sounds through extended techniques.
Experimental improvised timbral music, on the other hand, is comprised of loose boundaries of control and repeatability, where the only constant between performances are timbral attributes, and elapsed duration. The lack of accurate repeatability and rhythmic accuracy of this aesthetic will be challenged through the institution of repeatable rhythmic figures and pulse at the beginning of the work, that systematically moves towards its original aesthetic of free improvisation as it moves towards its termination. In this sense, the work moves from meticulous and exacting nature to loose and improvised, reflecting the libertines descent into their natural states of transgressive behavior.
Each of the two poles will be representative of a set of characters found in the novel 120 Days of Sodom. The characters in the book are split between two diametrically opposite ends: the libertines; and the victims. In the libertine’s camp, we have the libertines themselves (the heroes of the story), their male fuckers (men hired to sodomize the libertines), and the storytellers (prostitutes who recount their experience). The victims of the story are also separated into two groups: the wives and daughters of the libertines; and children abducted their homes. The death metal pole will be representative of the libertines and fuckers, while the soprano will represent the character of the storytellers. The communication of the musical parts to the performers will be custom designed. Death metal groups do not normally learn from notation, but more often ‘by wrote’ or by ear. In order to accommodate this, the parts will be presented as a combination of tablature (with rhythmic stems) or rhythm scores, video and/or audio recordings, and live coaching from myself. The drum-kit performer will have more freedom than the rest of the band, as this is normative behavior for the death metal style. The drummer will be given a basic ‘beat’ with specific accents, and will be expected to inject their own personality into the part through embellishment and style. The drummer will also play a set of recycled instruments, being custom-built instruments from found objects. The appearance of the recycled instruments will become more salient as the work progresses, reflecting the transgressions of the libertines.
The soprano hired for this work will be Caitlyn Treibel, a fellow extreme music enthusiast and soprano vocalist. Due to her training, it will be appropriate to notate her part according to normative practices of western art music including extended techniques that will be notated in a similar manner to Luciano Berio’s work Sequenza III for solo woman’s voice and Chaya Czernowin’s Shu Hai for orchestra, solo voice and electronics, in which timbral changes through mouth and palette positioning are marked by the international phonetic alphabet. As an accompaniment to the written description of the work, I have attached a rough ‘map’ of its structure at the end of the paper.
The victims in the story begin with no voice, being prodded and poked in silent humiliation. As the story escalades, the victims grow voices through refusal (whether purposeful or not) to follow strict rules and are subsequently punished by the libertines, which increases in violence as the story moves forward. The dancers, who represent the victims, will increasingly become enveloped by the surrounding chaos and become musical instruments themselves – reflecting how the victims in 120 Days become nothing but instruments of pleasure for the libertines. The communication of the choreography will be a combination of pictures, video, and diagrams. Gerry Morita, movement expert/choreographer, has agreed to prepare her own choreography, which will be developed collaboratively through a discussion of both the dissertation and the 120 Days of Sodom.
The opening of 120 Days of Sodom, begins with the gathering of victims, the description of characters, and the institution of rules for the following four months. The first movement represents the highly descriptive and methodical opening through the sonic identity of death metal, being physical, precise, and meticulous. The music itself will be of a moderate tempo for this style (between 100 and 120 beats per minute), with melodic phrases executed with a tremolo technique, idiomatic rhythmic phrasing for this style, and the use of 5th chords (known in death metal as power chords) in the guitars and bass guitar. The drums will utilize mainly a technique called the blast beat (all limbs playing in unison repeated quickly) with accents derived from the melodic/rhythmic content of the guitars. The vocalist, playing the part of the storyteller, will begin the work with a small spoken word soliloquy, then moving into melodic/rhythmic phrases as the instruments enter. For the first movement, the dancers will be sonically silent, as the victims are silent during this period in the book. The movements of the dancers will be minimal, projecting an image of overwhelming terror.
The sound world of the second movement will be reflective of the first month of transgressions. Already, the acts of the libertines are despicable, but only certain taboos are allowed to be broken, resisting the urge to ruin any possible future pleasures. Sonically, the second movement will be slower in tempo, between 40 and 60 beats per minute, and for the most part will utilize rhythmic unison. This movement will take specific phrases and gestures of the material from the first movement and transgress them through indeterminate pitch, in much the same manner as Louis Andriessen’s Worker’s Union. The rhythm will be performed accurately, helping to maintain the ‘groove’ sought after in this particular style of the death metal song. The drum set, much like the guitars and bass, will also play the determined rhythms accurately, but the timbres chosen for the part will be left up to the drummer, asking that the drummer begins to include the recycled instruments into his sound. In this sense, the use of indeterminacy of pitch and timbre upsets the cultural aesthetic and creates a repulsive sound that begins to move against the accepted sound of death metal, moving towards the freedoms of improvised experimental timbral music.
The soprano will be treated in much the same manner as the death metal band for this movement, being given accurate rhythmic and gestural phrases with no pitch material. The tone of the voice will be of the bel-canto style, but the lack of central pitch between the vocalist and death metal band will be repulsive in its inherent dissonance. The text will be made up of sentences originating from different sections of the first chapter, reassembled for a new whole. As the victims in the story have already begun their routine abuses, the dancers will become more physically active on stage, yet maintaining in a state of oppression.
The third movement will be the quickest in terms of tempo, being played between 120 – 140 beats per minute. Being the central node of the work, it will utilize an equal amount of material from the first and final movements. In addition to this, an un-unified pulse will pervade the movement, meaning that each performer will play to their own internal pulse, purposely negating any homogenous downbeat between the players. The music itself will be quick, aggressive, and relentless, switching between fast paced death metal instrumental techniques such as hands apart blast beats (a rock n’ roll beat accelerated into a near blur) and timbral use of the drum set and recycled instruments. When played with the rest of the ensemble, the un-unified pulse will seem repulsive as the complexity of the beats, phrases and rhythmic groupings, creating an excess of beats and resulting in what Kolnai refers to as “[e]xcessive indulgences of the sensory pleasures” or as Menninghaus refers to as surfeit, being “the overindulgence in sensation.” The dancers take their place as instruments in this movement, activating the circuit-bent clothing. The confusion between the movements of the body and the sounds will distort create a grotesqueness through ambiguity. The treatment of the material for the soprano will also be grotesque as sound worlds of bel-canto and extended techniques will have equal presence, with the text deconstructed into separated words, reconstructed in a non-sensical manner.
By the month of January, nearly all taboos except that of death have been transgressed, with only traces of the original rules left for the libertines to break. To reflect this, the fourth movement will not make use of a tempo marking, but approximate time in seconds to measure indicated moments of sound creating a loss of beats and/or pulse. The moments of sound will be comprised of a-rhythmic gestures, taken mainly from the final movement, dealing more with duration and gesture than recognizable groupings of beats or phrases and will encourage the exploration of minutia in sound. The guitars and bass guitar will be pervaded by long-held sonorities, feedback, pieces of metal striking the strings, and the rubbing of strings with the palm of the hand. The drummer’s moments will be comprised of sounds derived mainly from the recycled instruments and some idiomatic drum kit techniques such as fills and cymbal crashes. As the libertines have nearly passed the point of recognizable humanity, the text at this point will be remnants of the original, separated by consonances and vowels, with much stuttering and slurring in its execution. As the victim’s bodies have been introduced to nearly every transgression imaginable, the dancers bodies will become sonic instruments at this point. The dancers will once again be wearing the sound clothing, but in addition, will begin to use some of the recycled materials such as stirring amplified pieces of metal. The lack of pulse, homogeny and distinct rhythmic phrases for this movement will the render the music unrecognizable and therefore repulsive (even offensive) to a death metal audience, yet normative for those more familiar with experimental improvised timbral music, reflecting the extreme behavior of the libertines in the second last month of 120 Days.
In the final month of 120 days, all societal taboos have been surpassed, and the final act of transgression is murder. In this final chapter, only the fuckers and half of the libertines commit these acts while the rest stay inside the castle and watch with anticipation. My manner of reflecting this in the final movement will be to structure the music in much the same manner as many of the experimental improvised works I have performed over the past several years. In this style, the general parameters given are the instrumentation and overall duration, but the local decisions, being in what order the instruments are being played, exact duration or phrasing or articulations are non existent. Half of the instruments of the death metal band and the soprano will be silenced for this movement, instead, proximity sensors will be placed in their vicinity, triggering sound files of harsh noise with every movement, reflecting the act of voyeurism in the chapter. The other half will trade in their normative apparatuses for recycled instruments. The dancers have also lost their original purpose of movement, becoming nothing but sonic instruments, triggering sounds with every movement. This will be accomplished through both the sound clothing, and the sounding floor – an instrument built from piezo microphones and speakers that feed into each other to create a feedback loop, reacting to the slightest amount of pressure and movement.
As the work moves towards its termination, the lack of control over local parameters will represent a move towards complete transgression of all taboos. The transgression is of the cultural values of predetermined and/or accurately repeatable music, leaving the determining factors of the work to be realized through experimentation and intersubjective decision making. Each movement then, reveals a different stage in the liminality of the two poles, creating a grotesque sonic result of perpetual growth and death.
IV: Notation
The notational aspects of this proposed work will be dealt with in a manner that will simplify the complexity that comes with use of electronics; extended techniques, outside modifiers, choreography; and non-traditional instruments. While searching for a method to transcribe directions for the modification of pedal effects for the electronics, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie was the most practical to borrow from. His scores are articulate and clear, often involving outside modifiers (such as electronic effects like filters); non-traditional instruments; extended techniques; and other various issues that warrant specially designed notation. In Mikrophonie, a special staff is created, so that more than one parameter may be viewed at a time, allowing for multitasking. In this work, the idea of a multistaff will be used for each instrument to allow for parameters such as electronic effects.
The multistaves will have a space for each important parameter of the sound. For the electric guitars and bass, these parameters are as follows:
i. Timbre: in this work, the timbres used by these instruments will be either clean tone (ie no effects), or gradations of distortion. This parameter will be situated above the notation. The timbral parameters will be notated through a table of numbers representing – level (volume); saturation (amount f distortion present in the tone); and equalization frequency. This parameter will be shown at the top of the staff
ii. Activator: in this work, there are various activators available to activate the sound of the strings – plectrum; allen-key; bottom of hand; and screwdriver. This parameter will be shown to the left of the notation staff.
iii. Notation: regular notation denoting pitches, duration, and dynamics.
iv. Modulating effect: affects that require modulation in time, such as the sweeping of a wah-pedal. The gradations will be notated in a graph below the notation. An increase in the width of the coloured portion is proportionate to the amount of modulation to be performed.

For the recycled instruments a similar notation is used, where a timbre is given with a table of values; activator; notation; and modulating effect (if any are used). The dynamics for these instruments enacted on two levels, each needing a separate staff for the sake of clarity. The regular notational portion of the staff is reserved for percussive hits. The portion below this notates the amount of pressure the activator is to be exerting upon surface of the instrument. The lowest portion of the staff is once again reserved for the notating of the modulation of an effect.

The vocals require a more traditional solution than the electronic and recycled instruments. To notate the extended techniques that transgress the text through the work, I will use a similar technique to Luciano Berio’s work Sequenza III for solo woman’s voice and Chaya Czernowin’s Shu Hai for orchestra, solo voice and electronics. The techniques to which I am referring are timbral changes through mouth and palette positioning, marked by the international phonetic alphabet; and the use of graphic notation for moments of indeterminacy. The combination of these notational systems allows for the maximal amount of accuracy and flexibility in both compositional and performative aspects.
In the same manner as Mikrophonie, the notation is liminal in its duality to allow for ease of reading and the multitasking that becomes necessary when dealing with electronics and non-traditional instruments.
V: Stage Performance
Although a final performance of the dissertation is not a requirement, for a project such as this, it becomes a strong indication of the validity of the project. The performers for the work have all been contacted and have agreed to perform the work in the summer of 2013, allowing plenty of time to write the music, notate the score, rehearse with the group, and advertise for the show.
The performance will take place in an urban environment such as a music club or bar in the Edmonton area. My desire for this type of venue is based on the sonic result of the music I am proposing to write, and the type of audience that I am hoping to attract. The style of music of the dissertation necessitates a loud dynamic. As a result of the loud dynamic, and the complex and technical nature of my writing style, a dry tone is preferred for the venue, such as a club or bar, allowing more detail to be heard at loud volumes.
The audience I am looking to attract is liminal, reflecting the nature of the work. The heavy metal, contemporary concert music, and experimental improvisation scenes in Edmonton are interconnected as several members often participate in multiple styles of music, creating a transgression within the scenes. In this sense, the performance of my work will explicate this overlap. The use of the dancers will be the one portion of the stage show that will seem ‘outside’ of the normative performance arena for the heavy metal, but will nonetheless create interesting reactions from the audience.
VI: Conclusion
Through the transgression of multiple niche-audience styles of music, the proposed dissertation will communicate with a broader audience base, allowing for interesting interactions amongst artist and audience alike. As an artist who has created ties to each of these communities, I feel that Edmonton is the perfect location for a performance of this work. By systematically breaking down the boundaries between each group and allowing them to exist in the common liminal spaces that divide them, a common ground is found where the sonic and cultural fabric is richer and more complex, resulting in a work that can only be described as grotesque.

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Zorn, John. Torture Garden Leng Tch’e. John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Fred Firth, Joey Baron, Yamatsuka Eye. Shimmy Disc Records, Recorded in Brooklyn, New York and Tokyo, 1989 – 1990.