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:
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:
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.
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.
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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