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PROTOS TOPOS - The Theatre of Motions

Authors:

Abstract

This work was conceived as if it were an imaginary path proper to a compositional act in the context of acousmatic music. Before travelling this path I dwelt on some personal considerations about the identity of the listening space, the perception of it and the role that loudspeaker orchestras assume in the listening space. On the basis of Umberto Eco's concept of the openness of a work of art and including also examples from the past, I have considered the perception of works of art as subjective and in the case of music, open to infinite interpretations by the composer, the performer, the audience and the listening space. In this sense, I have assumed that the perception of a sonic event can never be objective even in anechoic listening spaces. Furthermore, I have stressed the importance of the composer's encounter with the listening space in an acousmatic situation and have considered such a phase as a moment in which the composer encounters “spatiality”. Here, and taking my cue from Deleuze's poststructuralist ideas which focus on the concepts of virtual and actual, I have considered this proactive phase as a virtualization phase, since the listening space and the combination of elements within it, offer the composer the potentials to establish a relationship with his or her own archetypal images. In this sense I believe that, in the context of acousmatic music, the listening space is the incipit of the compositional act as well as the explicit since it is also the ultimate space wherein the virtuality is actualised. Therefore I have focused, where and when it is not possible to work in situ, on the importance of experiencing the space itself by imagining and consulting the mapping of the listening space. Going forward in my imaginary path, I have written about the profound relationship between sound material and the composer, and this I have called "the first act", which is then followed by the phase wherein the composer judges his or her own work. The latter, defined by Horacio Viaggione as “perceptual feed- back loop” is a constant cycle, in which the composer judges his or her own action and the perception of it. This path has therefore led me to the next phase, which is the phase of structuring the material. Here, I focus on the structuring of music according to the processes of motions. These concepts were coined for the first time by Denis Smalley in his article "Spectromorphology" to underline the inadequacy of traditional concepts of rhythm, which were first explored by him from an aural perception point of view and then later by other authors from a creative- technical and analytical one. Motion processes have been defined by Smalley, Maurizio Giri and Alessandro Cipriani as both spectrally and spatially applicable. Their statements however, made me consider a different way of understanding spatial motions and, in this regard, I found Trevor Wishart's research fascinating, who unlike the above-mentioned authors, considers spatial motions as independent expressive music parameters, which I will deal with in the last chapter of this text. My intention has been therefore to shed light on this ongoing research precisely because I believe that an awareness of the concepts of motions at a spatial level can be useful to the acousmatic composer. This need arises from the fact that even today, space as a compositional parameter is difficult to transcribe and often the indications given to the interpreter are approximate. As Alvise Vidolin rightly noted, this attitude is determined by two factors: the need to experiment and to find new expressive possibilities linked to the identity of a listening space, and the fact that in placing tight constraints on the listening space the difficulty of the realisation of the work may reduce the possibilities of its circulation. Thanks to this research I have understood that before approaching the compositional phase of structuring and organizing music, and in the case of acousmatic music or in music(s) where space itself is a parameter of composition, it is necessary to experience the listening space. I have for this reason entitled this work "Protos Topos". In particular, "Protos Topos" from the Greek, meaning 'primary space', was chosen to emphasise that in acousmatic composition the primary role that the great Greek musicologist Aristoxenus had assigned to the primary Tempo calling it "Protos Chronos", is no longer “Primary Tempo" but "Primary Space". In this sense I felt the need to consider the listening space as the Protos Topos - the theatre of the motion of sounds.
Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler” Berlin
PROTOS TOPOS
The theatre of motions
Giovanni Verga
September 2020
Contents
Introduction..........................................................................................3
Space and Spaces..................................................................................5
Space of Spectacular Fiction and Artificium: The Baroque Environment... .7
Identities of Listening Spaces.............................................................8
Multi-Interpretative Opportunities...........................................................10
Set Up!............................................................................................... 13
The First Act of Composing: The Act........................................................15
Motions...............................................................................................19
Another perspective: Alessandro Cipriani and Maurizio Giri...................26
Pierre Couprie: An Analytical Methodology.........................................27
Spatial Gestures...................................................................................32
Conclusion...........................................................................................37
Bibliography.........................................................................................40
Introduction
This work was conceived as if it were an imaginary path proper to a composi-
tional act in the context of acousmatic music. Before travelling this path I dwelt
on some personal considerations about the identity of the listening space, the
perception of it and the role that loudspeaker orchestras assume in the listen -
ing space.
On the basis of Umberto Eco's concept of the openness of a work of art and in -
cluding also examples from the past, I have considered the perception of works
of art as subjective and in the case of music, open to infinite interpretations by
the composer, the performer, the audience and the listening space. In this
sense, I have assumed that the perception of a sonic event can never be ob -
jective even in anechoic listening spaces. Furthermore, I have stressed the im-
portance of the composer's encounter with the listening space in an acousmatic
situation and have considered such a phase as a moment in which the com-
poser encounters “spatiality”. Here, and taking my cue from Deleuze's post-
structuralist ideas which focus on the concepts of virtual and actual, I have
considered this proactive phase as a virtualization phase, since the listening
space and the combination of elements within it, offer the composer the poten-
tials to establish a relationship with his or her own archetypal images. In this
sense I believe that, in the context of acousmatic music, the listening space is
the incipit of the compositional act as well as the explicit since it is also the ul -
timate space wherein the virtuality is actualised. Therefore I have focused,
where and when it is not possible to work in situ, on the importance of experi-
encing the space itself by imagining and consulting the mapping of the listen-
ing space.
Going forward in my imaginary path, I have written about the profound rela-
tionship between sound material and the composer, and this I have called "the
first act", which is then followed by the phase wherein the composer judges his
or her own work. The latter, defined by Horacio Viaggione as “perceptual feed-
1
back loop” is a constant cycle, in which the composer judges his or her own ac-
tion and the perception of it. This path has therefore led me to the next phase,
which is the phase of structuring the material. Here, I focus on the structuring
of music according to the processes of motions. These concepts were coined
for the first time by Denis Smalley in his article "Spectromorphology" to under-
line the inadequacy of traditional concepts of rhythm, which were first explored
by him from an aural perception point of view and then later by other authors
from a creative- technical and analytical one. Motion processes have been
defined by Smalley, Maurizio Giri and Alessandro Cipriani as both spectrally and
spatially applicable. Their statements however, made me consider a different
way of understanding spatial motions and, in this regard, I found Trevor Wis-
hart's research fascinating, who unlike the above-mentioned authors, considers
spatial motions as independent expressive music parameters, which I will deal
with in the last chapter of this text.
My intention has been therefore to shed light on this ongoing research pre-
cisely because I believe that an awareness of the concepts of motions at a spa-
tial level can be useful to the acousmatic composer. This need arises from the
fact that even today, space as a compositional parameter is difficult to tran-
scribe and often the indications given to the interpreter are approximate. As
Alvise Vidolin rightly noted, this attitude is determined by two factors: the
need to experiment and to find new expressive possibilities linked to the iden-
tity of a listening space, and the fact that in placing tight constraints on the
listening space the difficulty of the realisation of the work may reduce the pos-
sibilities of its circulation.1
Thanks to this research I have understood that before approaching the com-
positional phase of structuring and organizing music, and in the case of acous-
matic music or in music(s) where space itself is a parameter of composition, it
is necessary to experience the listening space. I have for this reason entitled
this work "Protos Topos". In particular, "Protos Topos" from the Greek, meaning
'primary space', was chosen to emphasize that in acousmatic composition the
1 Alvise Vidolin, Suonare lo spazio elettroacustico, 03.05.2001
2
primary role that the great Greek musicologist Aristoxenus had assigned to the
primary Tempo calling it "Protos Chronos", is no longer “Primary Tempo" but
"Primary Space". In this sense I felt the need to consider the listening space as
the Protos Topos - the theatre of the motion of sounds.
Space and Spaces
“Electroacoustic music is not limited to spatial reality, and the composer can, for example, jux-
tapose and rupture spaces, an impossible experience in real life.” (Denis Smalley)
"Space" is a very complex term in the context of electroacoustic and acous -
matic music, it refers to many different things that can often be discussed as if
they were separate entities. For Denis Smalley a possible listener's appreci-
ation of spatial perception depends on the relationship between the composed
space and the listening space(s). For composed space I refer to that space
which is composed on to recorded media while for listening space I refer to the
space where music is heard. In the case of electroacoustic and acousmatic mu-
sic intended for diffusion on multi-channel systems, listening spaces are almost
never the same and very often traditional halls have strong acoustic charac-
ters. Over the years the need for an anechoic space has always been invoked.
In his article “Musik im Raum” Stockhausen already explained how a listening
space can be used to explore “sonic space” by describing the different dimen -
sions of sound as pitch, duration, timbre, dynamics, and location, and explain-
ing how dynamics and location are the most affected by the listening space. In
the same article Stockhausen states that his preferred form to guarantee a
spatial perception is the spherical form.
The debate is ongoing and there is still a lot of talk about the inadequacy of
the listening spaces. However, a creative compromise, in my opinion, is repres-
ented by the role of loudspeaker orchestras in a listening space. Since 1974
many such orchestras have been developed. Most of them are unconventional
3
in the sense that the loudspeakers are not identical. Unlike Ambisonics or
Wavefield systems where the loudspeakers are the same, in some of these or-
chestras the non-identicity gives each loudspeaker its own individual character.
Loudspeaker orchestras are intended to perform several different pieces and
often in different listening spaces. Therefore, it is a good habit for the com-
poser who is preparing to perform his or her work for these type of orchestras
to consult and study the mapping of the listening space as well as the types of
loudspeakers used and to consider the disposition of the loudspeakers in the
hall. In most of these orchestras, the loudspeakers are positioned around the
hall. However, the criteria for positioning the speakers can vary from orchestra
to orchestra and according to the composer's needs. While in standard sur-
round systems the main purpose is the pure “immersion” of the listener with
the sound, here an important feature is to ensure a "dialogue" with the space.
It is worth to noting though, that in such a system it is not possible to guaran-
tee the same spatial perception of listening for all listeners. This depends on
the position of the listener in the room. Unless the listener has the opportunity
to compare different listening conditions, the perception will never be the same
as that of another listener. The perception of a sound phenomenon is the inter-
action of many different phenomena (both physical and perceptual) that occur
on many different levels, some of them are:
the physical level of the vibration of the medium and the propagation of
the sound wave
the physical-physiological level of the interaction between the sound
wave and the ear
the physiological level of signal transformation by the perceptual system
the physiological-psychological level of recognition, signal cognition, and
its related emotional states
We can thus deduce that, even in dry and acoustically treated environments,
we cannot aspire to a fully equal level of perception for everyone. The different
spatial perception of a work for a loudspeaker orchestra is not necessarily a
4
problem that should worry the composer. Spatial perception is subjective, it is
guaranteed for each listener and although it is not the same for all listeners, in
most of the cases it is simply different for everyone.
Space of Spectacular Fiction and Artificium: The Baroque Environment
In the Baroque era, in a certain sense we have already witnessed a shift of the
perception from objective to subjective given precisely by the predilection for
allegorical reading and the emotional involvement of the spectator. In a
Baroque visual art work, for example, the play of full and empty, of light and
darkness, curvature, the unseen, the imaginary, the illusory, never makes a
primarily frontal, ordered and defined vision. This leads the observer to con-
template the work of art from every point of view. He or she will be able to
move, contemplate and observe the work in new ways, as if the work were al-
ways in constant mutation. The poetics of amazement, wonder and metaphor,
typical of Baroque art, like colours or expression pedals that, instead of offer-
ing us relations linked to the idea of beauty, deceive us by arousing mystery.
The object transmits a mystery and precisely because of the mysterious es-
sence of the mystery (and therefore not definable), the observer will objectify
it according to his or her subjectivity. In this process of objectification lies the
subjective interpretation of the work of art.
What is described above is a concrete example brought by Umberto Eco in his
book "Opera Aperta". Eco, however, does not dare to discover in the baroque
work a "conscious theory of the open work" but he points out how dynamism
and openness represent the advent of a new scientific awareness:
“....attention is shifted from the essence to the appearance of architectural and
pictorial products. It reflects the rising interest in a psychology of impression
and sensation, in short, an empiricism which converts the Aristotelian concept
of real substance into a series of subjective perceptions by the viewer. ”2
The 17th century is the century of wonder and amazement, in which Galileo,
2 Umberto Eco: Opera Aperta p 50
5
Newton and Keplero revolutionized the world view, shaking deep-rooted reli-
gious beliefs. These changes obviously spilled over into all aspects of human
life, including art, architecture and nature. Consider the Baroque garden where
architecture and architectural elements move and blend with natural elements
to create artificial spaces which are open and full of paths where stairs and
slopes lead the visitor from one terrace to another. These versatile environ-
ments become a place of recreation, populated by sculptures of varying
shapes, from topiary to masonry, even to innovative statues that move with
hydraulic systems. The spaces that are created are very different. In addition
to those spaces suitable for parties and performances, in intimate spaces such
as secret gardens or caves, one can admire flowers or enjoy the coolness dur-
ing the summer days. In the garden, the owner of the villa demonstrates his
importance, inserting imposing plants and creating menageries in which to
keep even exotic animals, such as elephants and lions.
And it is not just a case that in the 17th century the taste for illusion and en-
chantment also came to the theatre. Baroque theatre does not only involve a
theatrical form of expression, but above all scenic forms and real stagecraft.
We have witnessed the true birth of the art of scenography. In this context, as
never before, it is quite appropriate to use the term "spectator", because the
Baroque environment is essentially a space of spectacular fiction and artifici-
um: a new vision of perceptible space for the spectator in which the boundar-
ies between the real and the virtual disappear.
Identities of Listening Spaces
It is curious to observe how today the acoustic perception of space is the main
object of numerous research projects. Despite the different existing formats,
techniques, projection devices and software tools, it is basically unresolved
what the listener perceives. I will not deal with psychoacoustics in this text, but
considering the results of such research raises a question. If the nature of spa-
tial perception is subjective, then why invoke the need for an anechoic space?
Is electroacoustic music experiencing its own classicism? Electroacoustic music
6
is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the case of listening spaces and in par-
ticular in the context of so called acousmatic music, reproducibility meets the
art of diffusion. And if it is the “art” of diffusion, why doesn't it continue with
the listening space by exploiting its own identity?
There is not yet a real syntax of “listening space”, and many experts have
provided their own definitions. Alvise Vidolin, for example, classifies various
types of listening space into acoustic, electroacoustic, virtual and generative.
According to Vidolin:
The acoustic space is the traditional listening space in which the perform-
ance takes place with voices and instruments without the use of elec-
troacoustic devices.
Electroacoustic space is when the acoustic space is expanded through
the use of electroacoustic technology. Through the loudspeakers, it is
possible to separate the sound diffusion from the source, to concentrate
the sounds of several sources in a single point, to distribute the same
source in different points of space and to split the different components
of a single sound into several places in space.
Virtual space is a completely synthetic space, where better listening oc-
curs in absence of acoustic space. It is not possible, therefore, to create
a virtual space without the aid of electroacoustics: from the loudspeak-
ers, however, not only the primary sounds come out, but also the sec-
ondary acoustic information through which our perceptual system recre-
ates the sound space in which the sounds are virtually placed or made to
move. This virtual space in no way coincides with the physical space in
which the listening takes place. Instead, it coincides with the composer's
idea of space, which can be imitative of real spaces as well as fantastic
situations. The virtual space can be used in particular rooms (acoustically
treated with sound-absorbing materials) or in binaural listening through
headphones or in individual listening posts at very close range.
The generative space is an acoustic space which through electroacoustics
7
or informatics produces or influences the generation of the sound events
that constitute the musical work. The concept is based on the considera-
tion that every acoustic space is a resonator and as such amplifies cer-
tain frequency zones before others, which, on the contrary, are mitig-
ated. Likewise, the spectral analysis of the acoustic space and how it re-
acts to different sound stimuli, can become an effective control system
for generative processes in real time. The resulting compositions are
strongly related to the acoustic space in which they are performed and at
the same time highlight its characteristics. 3
The classification of Vidolin seems to consider virtual space as still a possible
listening space (be it binaural or anechoic). I will consider a virtual space as a
space which exists only at a theoretical level because in the moment in which it
is empirically experienced, it is actualized and therefore loses its virtuality. In
this sense I consider all the listening spaces as “devirtualizers”, containers
which in the absence of a perceptual system are passive interpreters of virtual-
ity. I will explain this aspect in the next chapters.
Multi-Interpretative Opportunities
“Neither composers nor listeners are fully in control of what will be perceived” (Luke Windsor,
Through and around the acousmatic: the interpratation of electroacoustic sounds)
I believe that the acousmatic composer should well consider the listening space
before working in studio. Ideally it would be appropriate to work in the listen-
ing space. But obviously this is not always possible. But in imagining it is, a
correct approach could be to make the music composed in the studio sound as
close as possible to the listening space and not the other way around. For ex -
ample, if the same piece will be performed in different places and without the
presence of the composer, the perception of the piece by the listener will be
3 Alvise Vidolin , Suonare lo spazio elettroacustico, 03.05.2001
8
different and subjective anyway. This will not change the meaning of the piece
itself since the perception of a piece is always subjective. The formally organ -
ized musical material will then be entrusted to the performer who will perform
and interpret the work. But let us dwell for a moment on the concept of inter-
pretation. What is interpretation in music?
Literary interpretation is the expression by the performer of the understanding
of the part or parts he or she is playing. This "dictionary" definition is however
reductive. Interpretation in music can also concern composer, performer, audi-
ence, listening space and more. In an acousmatic situation, for example, the
composer considers the listening space and interprets it; the listening space in-
terprets the composed space, virtualizes and then actualizes it; the performer
deconstructs the material, interprets the material and interprets the listening
space; the audience then receives the music and further/also interprets it. As
we can see, the process of interweaving interpretations here leads to a mul-
ti-interpretative level. A work of acousmatic music (and we can extend this
concept to contemporary musics and arts) offers itself to its interpreters by un-
folding its nature in the multiplicity of possible interpretations: “the listening
situation is, in and of itself, an affordance”. We owe the concept of “affordance”
to John Gibson. The concept has also been adopted by Eric F. Clarke who
defines it as "the affordance of an object are the uses, functions or values of
an object - the opportunity that it offers to a perceiver."4 I would extend this
concept by saying that an object affords the perceivers its multi-interpretative
opportunity. The listening space/situation will be the container, hence a passive
interpreter of a reciprocal game of multi-interpretative interweaving. Its
fruition affords the interpreters to become an active part of it in order to give a
lively form to the work. The musical phenomenon supposes a partnership
between the composer, the performer and the listener.
An interesting example is the piece "Schallarchiv" composed by Thomas
Kessler. This work from 1971 was conceived as a performance concept and was
premiered for the first time in December 2019 at the Akademie der Künste in
4 Eric F. Clarke, The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, Chapter 9 Music and
Psychology
9
Berlin as part of the EM4 series. Here, the composed space of the piece con-
sists of different recordings of individual sound events, such as footsteps, mo-
torcycle engine sounds and breaths, but also situations of soundscapes, streets
in big cities, autumn in the forest, and so on. These recordings were assembled
by Kessler into a radiophonic acoustic piece, which was also broadcast as such.
In the version of 2019, performed at ADK, the original audio piece was rarely
heard by the audience and it was only indirectly accessible to them through the
spoken description of Desirée Meiser, who was the only one performing on
stage and who could follow the piece directly via headphones and the diffused
additional recordings of 6 other listeners, who had previously listened to the
piece and recorded their own interpretations. The concrete sound material fa-
voured an interpretation of a descriptive and associative nature by the inter-
preter/performer and the additional recorded interpreters. All the interpreters
sometimes felt the need to integrate the transitions of the original recording
with vocal sounds, breaths or casual words. The multiplicity of different inter-
pretations observed by the audience showed their pertinence and at the same
time their partiality. The interpretations were endless but at the same time
they never exhausted the meaning of the material by translating it metaphoric-
ally, suggesting a reading around it and encouraging the audience to formulate
their own.
We can trace a change of direction towards the reception of music also in re-
cent musicological studies which in particular have invested the field of analyt-
ical musicology. If this branch had, since the beginning of the century, been
concerned with the understanding of compositional processes emphasizing the
objective value of a theoretical model, more recent studies would have also
considered the recipient of the work of art.5 One example is Carl Dahlhaus,
who no longer sees the work of art as closed in its time and “marxistically
linked to its own historical period as a macrostructure of an economic
process”6. According to an aesthetic of reception, for Dahlhaus a work of art is
projected into the future and into the history in which its life takes place, offer-
5 See Enrico Fubini, “L'estetica musicale dal settecento ad oggi”, pag. 383-384
6 Ibid, pag. 384
10
ing itself to interpreters (performers or recipients) and unfolding itself in the
multiplicity of possible interpretations. This tendency of historiographical in-
terest towards the history of reception, is considered by Dahlhaus as a turning
point which follows the crisis in which the concept of the work was closed in its
art and in its own theory.7
Set Up!
In the process of designing the “set-up” in an acousmatic context, loudspeak -
ers should take over the following two play functions: represent locations and
create spaces. In the 'Kleines Handbuch des Lautsprecherorchesters' and in the
context of a loudspeaker orchestra's setup, Wolfgang Heiniger distinguishes
soundspaces “Klangräume” from soundlocations “Klangorte”. According to the
author, “if a sound can be assigned to a clearly definable real location in or out-
side the performance space, we speak of a sound location (Klangorte”)”. “Com-
bining several sound locations that complement each other in their sonic signa-
ture and/or spatial signature generates a sound space (Klangräume)”. 8 Consid-
ering the possibilities of the Klangörte provides an adequate awareness of how
to generate Klangräume and spatial movements as well as to manage the ex-
pressive potential where desired. In a nutshell, it is the first step where com-
posers encounter and conceive “spatiality” (I use the general term “spatiality”
to refer to the possible effect of space, actions, interactions, entities and social
value). The complex combination of these elements (spatiality) are the poten-
tials offered to the composer and establishes a relationship with his or her own
imaginary archetype which lies ante rem the idea. This personal archetypical
space is not static and it is populated by ‘pure’ potentials to become, “with no
pre-defined template determining what they might become, or how they might
become”.9 This proactive phase is a virtualization phase if we accept the
7 See C. Dahlhaus, “Grundlagen der Musikgeschichte” (translation It., Discanto, pag.187)
8 W. Heiniger, Kleines Handbuch des Lautsprecherorchesters
9 Hillier Jean, Abrahams Gareth. Deleuze and Guattari - Jean Hillier in conversation with
Gareth Abrahams. AESOP YOUNG ACADEMIC NETWORK
11
“meaning” of virtual provided by Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze introduces us to the
realm of the virtual by insisting on its generative and real nature. Taking my
cue from his concept, I consider the virtual in this phase not actual but real
since potentials move in this archetypical imaginary space: it “possesses the
reality of a task to be performed.... and in the course of being actualized, it is
inseparable from the movement of its actualization. Deleuzian's point of view
focuses on the multiplicity of this process which occurs simultaneously. He op-
poses the dyad One/Many, in all its forms, with Multiplicity. Through movement
the real is actualized at the same time when the fluxes are multiple and simul -
taneous.
Initially treated as an esoteric distinction of interest only to specialists in the
field of ontology, since the advent of computer games, and more specifically
the Internet, the distinction between real and actual has become very import-
ant because it allows that which is seen or experienced on screen to be real,
even if it isn't actual. If we think that electroacoustic and acousmatic music de-
pend on loudspeakers as they are mediums, we can therefore assume that
technically, the reception and perception of the music occurs through the qual-
ities of the loudspeaker and the possibility of sound projection in the listening
space. But, the listening space is also the ultimate space where the composer's
virtuality is actualised. A medium in fact is not a separator but a projector.
And, the projection is not a "becoming" but an actualization of the real. In
short, the projection is the stage where virtual reality transforms itself into an
object itself.
From the encounter with spatiality to the set up decisions, to the first composi-
tional act, to the realization of the virtuality, to the organization of the material
through spectral and spatial motions, to the deconstruction of the composed
space, to the interpreters (performer, audience and space), this process of
transformation from real to actual takes place on different multiple levels be-
fore virtuality actualizes itself in the listening space. We have seen so far the
first encounter that can happen with spatiality, assuming that a composer ex-
periences this moment before the creation of a piece. We have considered the
12
listening space as an incipit (as well as being the “explicit” as devirtualizer/ac -
tualizer). Nevertheless, rarely experiencing this incipit takes part in the com-
positional process. Many logistical difficulties can in fact prevent one's own
awareness of the listening space. The mapping of the listening space can cer-
tainly give an idea but it will certainly not be able to imprint those potentials
proper to the listening space itself. So, without such potentials, what other po-
tentials will the pure potentials of the composer's imaginary space relate with?
The First Act of Composing: The Act
It has been generally thought that creating can be a “becoming” of chaos, or a
process that in some way brings order to the disorder of chaos. But throughout
the last century the concept of chaos has been reconsidered both scientifically
and philosophically. Henry Bergson, in asking himself the question "order is
certainly contingent, but in relation to what?"10, states that it is not a matter of
order versus disorder, but rather of one order in relation to another. As we
know from Xenakis' stochastic method, chaos and chances have been calcu-
lated by mathematical models determining much of his music. On the other
hand, John Cage showed us how to leave to chaos and coincidence the faculty
of affirming themselves without any attempt from him as composer to bring
order or to determinate improvements in creation. Gilles Deleuze and the psy-
choanalyst and psychiatrist Félix Guattari conceive creativity as an attempt to
make a cut in chaos, tearing from it a portion of order.
The list of authors who have dealt with chaos is very wide and it is not my in-
tent here to trace a history of chaos theories. What emerges, however, is that
although the consideration of chaos has concerned different methodologies of
approach with it, dealing with chaos is probably the starting point of the con -
ception of a work of art. Recalling the idea of Deleuze and Guattari, I will here
consider chaos as “... a void that is not a nothingness but a virtual, containing
10 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, p. 232
13
all possible particles and drawing out all possible forms, which spring up only
to disappear immediately, without consistency or reference, without con-
sequence.11 It is the artist's faculty to be able to make this cut in order to cap-
ture a portion of order. Just as the painter Lucio Fontana in the 50s impresses
cuts on a blank canvas, the composer in his or her first stage performs this op-
eration on a virtual level. The faculty of an artist lies in relating the virtual
emptiness of himself or herself with the virtual emptiness of chaos. A faculty
which lies in conceiving without forms or structures, but conceiving intended as
a pure real expression of the shapeless. In other words, the ability to empty
oneself is to make one's own, a “body without organs”, just to recall this mem -
orable term introduced by Antonin Artaud in the radioplay “To Have Done With
The Judgment of God” broadcast in 1968:
“When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have de-
livered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true free -
dom.12
This concept will play a central role in Deleuze and Guattari's thought. A body
without organs is a virtual body devoid of organized forms and permeated by
unstable, moving and unformed matter which flows at various speeds and in
various directions. It is the virtual dimension of the reality in which different
tensions move and oppose each other, determining desire. In a certain sense a
body without organs is the unconscious, the removed of the body and its virtu -
al potential from which an actual body is composed. It is the "virtualized" de-
prived of its habits, stable forms and desires imposed by structures on the ac-
tual body and which often arrest the productive and creative capacity. By giv-
ing an almost sublimating value to this condition, the two authors will go fur-
ther assuming that only through experimental practices can we make ourselves
a body without organs. Furthermore, anything can be a body without organs:
“it can be an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic
corpus, a social body, a collectivity”.13 The body without organs of an artist in
11 G. Deleuze/F. Guattari, What is Philosophy?, p.118
12 Antonin Artaud. "To Have Done with the Judgment of God", written and read by Antonin
Artraud. BROADCAST: KPFA, 15 Oct. 1968.
13 Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights
14
relation to other bodies without organs perhaps is an expression, an abstract
“real” expression of this process of sublimation. A body without organs is what
the painters of “informal” movements or the composers of indeterminacy have
showed us. Imprinting the informal (for example dripping on canvas, automatic
writing on paper or flipping coins on pentagram), is actualizing a primordial ex -
pression; and not for nothing this tendency that has characterized the first
movement of the United States and reached an international influence for
many avant-garde artistic movements (Fluxus, Gutai group, Informal Art, Arte
Povera, up to others still current today), has been labelled as “abstract expres-
sionism”. An expressionism that no longer screams or rebels with emancipated
dissonances, but thanks to the emphasis placed on spontaneous, automatic or
unconscious creation, actualizes itself in a non-formalized form: matter.
In the case of electroaccoustic and acousmatic music, the relationship estab-
lished between sound and composer is of a particularly transcendental nature.
Here, the infinite variety of sounds to be drawn from, in the compositional
phase, is pure matter itself that offers the stimulating potential to be stimu-
lated. Whether it is a sophisticated patch, a modular synthesizer, or a micro-
phone that records sounds, the function of sound generating instruments is
certainly to generate sound material that will enter into relation with the com-
poser: “electroacoustics separates the act of sound generation from sound, the
sound itself becomes a thing, an artefact that can be moved arbitrarily in space
and time”14. The morphological identity of a generated sound is its own articu -
lation determined by its length, the shape of its attack, decay, sustain, release,
timbre, dynamic, pitch and so on. The electroacoustic or acousmatic com-
poser's artifice in the compositional phase, can accept its articulating proper-
ties or can refuse them to deconstruct them and then redesign and reconstruct
them. Compositional act in this sense, and in this case, can be considered as a
deconstructing/constructing process or, if we like to say, a “decomposing/com-
posing” act. A meticulous operation and again a moment of profound relation-
ship with the sonic generated matter since, perhaps, there is no creation
Books, 1988), p. 127.
14 Wolfgang Heiniger, “About Machines, Priests and Dogs”, Notes on Post-Digitality in
Electroacoustic and Multimodal Music
15
without destruction. The articulating parameters of a single sound generated
make the motion within the spectrum of the sound possible15, and the de-
cisions regarding the possible design of the motion relate to the relationship
that the sound matter has with another sound matter (even if it comes from
the same generated sound matter). The organization of the material can bring
to light attractions and contrasts of the materials and the composer's art lies in
interpreting and constructing/deconstructing them. The internal motion of the
spectrum of a single sound construct, once generated and or not designed, will
have its own micro-identity and will be ready to encounter, attract, contrast
and relate with other sound constructs (micro or macro) and with their own
features.
Spectromorphology is concerned precisely with explaining the shape of sounds
and mainly this "descriptive tool" developed by Dennis Smalley, is intended as
an aid to listening.16 As the author also specifies, Spectromorphology can influ-
ence compositional choices and methods once “the composer becomes con-
scious of concepts and words to diagnose and describe...17 Smalley also never
gives technical indications, but in proposing this “tool” it is as if he aspires to
educate "the composer's ears" distorted by a technical and reduced listening18.
He writes: “How composers conceive musical content and form their aims,
models, systems, techniques, and structural plans is not the same as what
listeners perceive in that same music. What the composer has to say (in pro-
gramme, notes, talks, sleeve notes) is not unimportant, and it undoubtedly in-
15 Clearly, a sound or a single parameter does not move per se. By motion in this case and
throughout this text, it is intended to mean the evolution of the internal trend of its
parameters.
16 Dennis Smalley affirms and specifies several times that Spectromorphology is neither a
compositional theory nor a method but a “descriptive tool”. DENIS SMALLEY (1997).
Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. Organised Sound, 2, pp 107-126
17 Ibid, pag. 107
18 Pierre Schaeffer distinguishes between two types of listening: ordinary listening and
repeated listening. The second type includes reduced listening, which is a tool to shift the
listening attention intentionally from the context to the intrinsic features of a sound.
Smalley considers this kind of listening dangerous as well as useful. “Firstly, once one has
discovered an aural interest in the more detailed spectromorphological features, it becomes
very difficult to restore the extrinsic threads to their rightful place. Secondly, microscopic
perceptual scanning tends to highlight less pertinent, low-level, intrinsic detail such that the
composer–listener can easily focus too much on background at the expense of foreground.,
Ibid, pag 111
16
fluences (both helping and impeding) the listener’s appreciation of music and
musical ideas, but it is not always perceptually informative or relevant.19 His
tool, substantially dedicated to acousmatic music, embeds Schaeffer's theories
while refining the perceptual approach. Smalley has suggested a new way of
listening based on aural perception and in a certain way, spectromorphology is
related to the action-based theories of perception.20
As Horacio Vaggione noticed, in electroacoustic music composition the key
components are interaction and “perceptual feedback loop”. The latter is a
constant cycle, in which the composer judges his or her own action and the
perception of it, is constrained by real time and real space, and so, in consider-
ing a macrostructural level, his or her own multiple virtualities are realised in
that reality. From micro(s) to macro(s) to real, composers are able to experi-
ence the real which is not a cut out from the past, but a present which shows
the past and intersects again with their recollection and perception converging
again to virtuality. It seems significant at this point to quote Bergson:
“...whenever we are trying to recover a recollection, to call up some period of
our history, we become conscious of an act sui genesis by which we detach
ourselves from the present in order to replace ourselves, first in the past in
general, then in a certain region of the past-a work of adjustment, something
like the focussing of a camera. But our recollection still remains virtual;”21
Motions
Structuring of music according to motion and growth processes is a point of
contact for many electroacoustic and acousmatic composers. These concepts
were theorized, categorized and considered appropriate metaphors for elec-
troacoustic music by Denis Smalley. He coined these terms precisely because
19 Ibid, pag 107
20 In psychology the perception-action cycle is the continuous flow of information and action
between the brain and the world around it.
21 Henry Bergson, Matter and Memory, Chapter 3
17
he thinks that the traditional concepts of rhythm are “inadequate to describe
the often dramatic contours of electroacoustic gesture and the internal motion
of texture which are expressed through a great variety of spectromorpholo-
gies.22
Before we go deeper into this topic, we have to take a step back to the IV cen -
tury BC when Aristoxenus in the treatise "Elementa Harmonica" distinguishes
the “moto topico” (topic motion) of the voice in continuous and discontinuous.
If in the continuous motion the voice seems to travel the space without inter-
ruptions and without stopping till it comes to absolute silence, in the discon-
tinuous motion the voice moves in a different way: during its course the voice
jumps from one grade to another grade, stopping and then ignoring the inter-
mediate spaces of the grades leaving only them only perceptible. In the dis-
continuous motion the voice does not stop moving only in silence (as the
speech does).23 The continuous motion characterizes the speaking voice while
the discontinuous one is a singing voice:
The first figure shows the continuous motion of the speaking voice, while the
second shows the discontinuous motion of the singing voice. An act performed
by the interpreter who rhythmicized the melody. The discussion of the type of
motion involved by the voice and/or the musical instrument in the sound emis -
sion is always the starting point of the study of music. It is Aristoxenus' merit,
however, to have brought an absolute novelty in the theoretical formulation of
rhythm and in particular by correlating the concept of "rhythmic agōgē, (anda-
mento ritmico or rhythmic trend)" to the concept of “primary tempo”. 24
22 Denis Smalley, Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. Organised Sound, 2, pag 115
23 See Paolo Emilio Carapezza, Le costituzioni della musica, pag. 22-23
24 See Eleonora Rocconi, Il tempo musicale nelle fonti dell'antica Grecia
18
The "Protos Chronos" (the primary tempo, minimum perceivable unit of
rhythmic measurement of the musical execution) for Aristoxenus is an abstract
principle that can have different accomplishments. In its concrete realization, it
is related to the syllable of the text, to the length of the melody and to the
movement of dance: “...there seems to be the three rhythmic things: diction,
melos and movement...25
Aristoxenus feels unsatisfied with the Platonic and Aristotelian theories that
saw the syllable as a unit of measurement of the Protos Chronos. The musical
rhythm does not depend on the metric rhythm but on this relation between it
and the rhythmables. The Protos Chronos is nothing but the minimum and indi-
visible metric unit and in a musical performance there can be infinite tempi if
infinite will be the rhythmic agōgai. Rhythm, Aristoxenus says, occurs when the
rhythmized material (speech in poetry, tones in music, movements in dance) is
divided into parts that are, again, knowable, and so produce the special kind of
determinate arrangement of temporal durations that qualifies as rhythmic. This
requires (among other things) that the upward and downward motions of each
foot be mutually commensurable: that each of them be an integral multiple of
the Protos Chronos, which is therefore their “common measure”. Such a foot is
rational. “Irrationality” occurs when that is not the case. But this is not irration-
ality in the proper mathematical sense: it is not that the lengths of the arsis
and theses have no possible “common unit. Rather, Aristoxenus calls a foot
“irrational” when the common measure of its up and down motions is a dura-
tion shorter than the perceptually indivisible Protos Chronos. Such a duration
is, simply for that reason, “arrhythmic, and all such irrational feet are not
proper to the nature of rhythm itself. 26 In his treatise Elementa Rhythmica, he
considers the rhythm and the rhythmable as elements that belong to each oth-
er as the figure to the figurable27. He defines υθμιζ μενον (rhythmizómenon),ῥ ό
the particles of matter (sounds, syllables, gestures) susceptible to rhythmic or-
ganization. Just as matter takes on more sensible aspects, so each of the
rhythmables takes on more forms not according to its own way of being, but
25 Aristoxenus’ Elementa rhythmica, 268 edition by G. B. Pighi (Bologna: Patron, 1959)
26 Ibid 268
27 Ibid 268
19
according to that of rhythm. The three rhythmables (diction, melody and
movement) neither move continuously, nor dwell, but move and dwell between
each other.
What Aristoxenus tells us seems almost to anticipate Deleuzian thought, which
as discussed earlier in this text, sees the movement of multiplicities as the
principle according to which the real is actualized simultaneously. For the Greek
philosopher this relationship between rhythm and rhythmable indicates motion.
A motion (rhythmic agōgē) that generates a certain number of tempi based on
the sensory ability of the listener to continue to perceive its agōgē as such:
“...the rhythm depends on the intentionality of the listeners and not on the
way of being of the rhythmic matter”.28 The musical realization of a certain
rhythm (rhythmopoiia), also emphasised by Aristoxenus, must not to be con-
fused with the rhythm itself. Western music in a certain sense has had the
tendency to rhythmize the whole rhythmable, and probably only from Webern
onwards, as Franco Evangelisti wrote, we see a dislocation of grades that show
us how the interval (and I would add spatial motions as well in the case of
electroacustic and acousmatic music) is (are) conceived as a full space in it-
self.29 The Smalley's intuition, starting point of this consideration, about the
traditional concepts of rhythm being “inadequate” to describe the often dra-
matic contours of electroacoustic gesture and the internal motion of texture, is
absolutely relevant and perhaps owes a lot to the Aristoxenian careful distinc -
tion of the elements that make up the rhythm.
Electroacoustic music has been defined by many experts as “free rhythm mu-
sic”. Nevertheless I think that in the case of a lot of electroacoustic and acous-
matic context, rhythmicity lies precisely in proposing the rhythmables as
autonomous and dislocated motions in the listening space. The tempi in an
electroacoustic and acousmatic context can be as infinite as the rhythms and
the perception of them. In such a context, the container of these temporal
structures is the listening space which we could perhaps also define as "Protos
28 See Paolo Emilio Carapezza, Le costituzioni della musica, pag. 97
29 See Franco Evangelisti, Verso una composizione elettronica. in "Accademia di S. Cecilia.
Annuario 1969", Roma,
20
Topos" - the theatre of the motions where the rhythmic or moving material
(rhythmables or spatial motions) is the body and the Protos Chronos is the
Protos Topos itself. Temporal structure is spatial structure in its projection and
this is why, recalling Smalley, we can consider the processes of motion and
growth adequate concepts.
Smalley says to us that there can be multiple types of motions and growth pro-
cesses and these are diversified according to the type of directional tendency.
As we can see from the figures, motions can be:
unidirectional, which could be explained as a motion that could surprise
or it may do what we expect particularly. These type of motions have a
gestural nature and no textural interest.
reciprocal and cyclic/centric where the movement in one direction is bal-
anced by a straight movement. Or, where there is an impression by the
listener that there is a movement in relation to a central point
(cyclic/centric which in this case can also be associated with growth).
They are common in acousmatic and electroacustic music due to the
“dramatic possibilities of varying duration, velocity and spectral energy of
the outward and return journeys”. They can give an impression of struc-
tural stasis as well as they can be strongly directional, vortical and spiral.
These kind of motions can be achieved by spectromorpholgical variation
alone, but they are very commonly aided at a spatial level.
Growth can be bi- or multi-directional, they create expectations and
“...most have a sense of directed motion”. “...they can be regarded as
having both gestural and textural tendencies”.
21
Motion and growth processes:
In the next figure Smalley shows us seven characteristic motions. Some of
them are specific to certain types of motions. For example, rootedness mo-
tions “are more likely to be earthbound (push, drag), while others are not
rooted to a solid plane because there is no bass anchor or fundamental note to
secure the texture. Thus analogies with flight, drift and floating can be com-
mon”. The launching motion can be various and can be considered “as self-con-
tained events with gesture-based, pressured onsets (drag, throw, fling) while
others could be thought of as emerging as if they had always existed (flow,
float, drift)”. Others refer to the direction and the energy of motion through
spectral space. Some motions are “inherently slow or evolving (flow, drift,
float), needing time to establish themselves, while others imply rapid energy–
motion trajectories.” Most of the motions need an internal consistency “in order
that the type of motion may remain coherent.
Seven characteristic motions:
22
Smalley also shows us how the nature of most multidirectional motions implies
texture change. In the next figure we can see how the qualifiers of texture mo -
tions may vary in “internal consistency”. The left column shows four ways in
which internal components of a texture may collaborate in motion through a
type of behaviour.
For Smalley in acousmatic music, “the invisible freedom of spectromorphologic-
al content and motion creates a much wider and more variable pool of behavi -
oural references”. For example, concerning the temporal dimension of the be-
haviour, he says that if in tonal music the behaviour concerns synchronicity,
then in acousmatic music the behaviour lies in the relationship that spectro-
morphologies have in their character and motion which exist simultaneously in
the same space. In motion passage (or in a spatial movement) for example, a
voluntary continuum expresses how one event shifts to another.30 He also spe-
cifies that these concepts are valid both at spectral and spatial level emphasiz-
ing how spectromorphological contents are bound up with a discussion of
space. He will deepen this aspect in the article "Space-form and the acousmat-
ic image" dedicated to Spatiomorphology. This term coined by the author indic -
ates the change of the spatial perspective where sound spaces can outline a
reality or create imaginary spaces. Spectromorphology becomes the means by
which space can be explored, but spatial details are unstable because they de-
pend not only on the composed space, but also on the relationship between
30 Denis Smalley, Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. Organised Sound, 2, pag
116-118
23
the composed space and the listening space. At the end of the article, Smalley
provides an interesting glossary from which you can see a correlation between
space itself and what it produces. These two aspects cannot be separated and
show an "ecological" approach, as he acknowledges. He doesn't build a proper
investigative methodology of spatial forms because he is “no longer happy with
relying primarily on an investigative process that elaborates a taxonomy of
spectromorphologies, and then proceeds to try and work out how they are re-
lated and act over time. Such a methodology is based on inherited traditional
assumptions handed down from tonal music”. However he doesn't deny the
traditional method “as it can yield perfectly valid insights particularly with re-
gard to time experienced over various stretches of duration”. He just considers
how many acousmatic works resist segmentation because rather than “on firm
identities and consistent hierarchies, they are built on multifaceted typologies
that so readily change guise and merge with others, defying morphological
boundaries and resisting categorical labelling.31
Another perspective: Alessandro Cipriani and Maurizio Giri
Alessandro Cipriani and Maurizio Giri, starting from Smalley's ideas, propose a
different perspective on the topic which can be seen as an application of spec-
tromorphology, as they openly state: "….from our perspective, motion pro-
cesses are not merely considered from a listening point of view, but also for a
technical-creative one..."32
They propose a pedagogical perspective and a technical approach which offers
for the composer a methodology to create sounds exemplified by the various
categories of movement. To give an example: "an unidirectional motion does
not simply represent an audibly recognizable increase or decrease in fre-
quency, but rather a general increase from lower to higher values (or vice-
versa) in different perceptually relevant domains, such as frequency, duration,
amplitude, etc. In this sense unidirectional motion can be understood in the
31 Denis Smalley, Space-form and the acousmatic image
32 Electronic Music and Sound Design Chapter 8 "The art of organizing sound" pag. 465, A.
Cipriani, M. Giri
24
broadest possible terms: transversal movement in relation to its parameters."33
I report here the categories suggested by Cipriani and Giri. It should be con-
sidered, however, the great humility of the two authors who have no preten-
sion of wanting to build a real theory:
Simple motion: resulting from changes in the values of just one paramet-
er of one sound. Simple motion includes unidirectional, reciprocal (which
can be symmetric or asymmetric motion) and oscillatory motion (sym-
metric, asymmetric or random) of a single parameter of a sound and this
motion can be linear, exponential, logarithmic and continuous or discon-
tinuous.
Complex Motion: a sound made up of several kinds of simple motion or
even built from other types of complex motion.
Compound Motion: motion characterized by changes in the values of the
parameters of several sounds (could also contain simple and/or complex
motions).
Motion Sequences: series of motions which relate to one another (could
contain any type of motion).
The comprehensive chapter on the subject in their manual “Electronic Music
and Sound Design Volume 2” dedicated to motion processes continues with a
series of examples and technical-practical indications very useful and valid for
the composer who wants to think of music(s) in terms of motion. However,
these processes are always considered at a spectral level and, as they state,
can be valid also at a spatial level.
Pierre Couprie: An Analytical Methodology
Another interesting perspective is the one provided by Pierre Couprie. The
French musicologist and analyst has dedicated himself for years to the repres-
33 Ibid
25
entation of acousmatic music by developing software useful for analysis, rep-
resentation and transcription of non-written music. An example is 'Eanalysis'. If
a standard sonographic representation displays the traditional time-frequency
view, Eanalysis adds other analytic parameters such as sound objects, spectro-
morphologies, language grid, space, and so on. In addition, users can also
draw their own parameters, group them into lists and share them with others.
Another interesting software developed by Couprie is 'MotusLabTool' dedicated
to the recording and analysis of live acousmatic music. Through this software
(which can use up to 4 filming webcams), it is possible to record the motions of
the mixer’s faders and the audio distributed to the multichannel systems by
the interpreter. In his article "Espace du son III", Couprier expresses his in -
terest in characterization and analysis of space in acousmatic music. His ana -
lytical methodology for representation is based on other criteria in addition to
the criteria of analysis intended in the “traditional” sense.
These are:
Criteria that concern graphic representation as an iconic representation
in which the relationship between graphism and musical and sound para-
meters are understandable.
To ensure that the recipient of the representation can understand the dir-
ection taken by the analyst.
The distance between the work and its representation needs to be
between a nearby object that will clarify listening to it with a certain im-
mediacy and a distant object whose role is to provide reference points
only or provide an interpretation relatively far from the play.
He provides us with four examples of how to represent space: panoramic rep-
resentation, representation of sound planes, representation of motions, repres-
entation of the diffusion space.34
34 For insight, see “Espace du son III”, Pierre Couprie
26
1. Panoramic representation:
This is a representation of panoramic movements of a fragment of Luc Ferrari's
Hétérozygote. Here we can see that each sound unit has a different analytical
parameter in the vertical axis: the grey half-sphere at the beginning is the
spectral domain, the thick horizontal line above is the sound background, the
thin, wavy line attached to the small white and grey objects in the center of
the representation is the displacement of a sound in the panoramic.
2. Representation of the sound planes:
In the representation of De natura sonorum-Ondes Croisées by Bernard
Parmegiani, Couprie shows the dynamics, the colours of the sound categories
and the colour grades of the transformations. Note that the lighter tones rep-
resent reverberation effects. In this sense, this example shows us how to in-
tegrate into a bidimensional graphic representation a reverberation effect by
positioning the sound in a second “plane”.
27
3. Representation of motions:
The representation we see here has been made by Stephan Dunkelman for his
work "Rituellipse". This is one of the few examples of representation of sound
movements. As Couprie himself explains, although acousmatic music is mainly
composed of moving sounds, it seems extremely difficult to systematize a rep-
resentative technique for the whole of a work. The figure above simply shows a
movement that combines space, spectrum and dynamics with graphic forms
that evolve in a plane space.
4. Representation of the diffusion space:
In the case of multi-channel works, Couprie states that the representation of
movements is constrained by the diffusion space. For this reason, such a rep-
28
resentation must consider the recipient's limit in not being in the listening
space and therefore an analytical representation can never be completely ef-
fective. Nevertheless, it may suggest an imagination based on the memory of
the previous auditory experience. The figure shows a representation of
Xenakis's Bohor, a work composed on 8 tracks (4 recorders) but almost never
performed in concert. Most listeners only know the version published in stereo.
The work contains few variations and moreover the mixture made by Xenakis
for the stereophonic version, seems to little convince Couprie. In this sense, in
the Couprie's representation the distribution spatial sound disappears in favour
of a uniform magma and to show a spatial structure of the work. These few ex-
amples provided, show us some capabilities of the analytical system proposed
by Couprie. In addition, in several articles Couprie has also exposed the many
difficulties of a three-dimensional analytical system representation. He says to
us that a 3D representation is very useful in order to create an additional rela-
tionship between a dimension of graphic depth and sonic distance. Thus, it is
easier to graphically render impressions of distance or movement. But, one of
the main problems is the absence of a time window. If in a bidimensional rep -
resentation, we still have in front of us the sounds that have just been heard
and those that are going to be heard, according to Couprie, this important as -
pect is almost lost in a 3D representation.35
35 Pierre Couprie, Dessin 3 D et système immersif pour la représentation de la musique
électroacoustique. Electroacoustic Music Studies Network, Jun 2007, Leicester, Royaume-
Uni. ffhal-01258371f
https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01258371/document
29
This picture shows the complexity of 3D representation, which could confuse
the readability of the analysis. However, here the time is in the depth dimen -
sion and the sounds appear from the bottom to disappear into the foreground.
This representation presents an additional complexity by the fact that it is an -
imated. Nevertheless, it allows for a better rendering of the movements and
space figures. However, it seems clear that Couprie prefers a 2D representa -
tion. And, although a two-dimensional one can represent three or four para-
meters at the same time, in the software Eanalysis, Couprie provides a mul-
tiple-view system which through simultaneous use of several types of views,
allows one to view the properties of an event from different points of view.36
Spatial Gestures
As Smalley tells us, if in the case of instrumental played music, musical ges -
tures are proprioceptive in the sense that are concerned with the physical
activity of the player (tension/relaxation of muscles, effort, resistance), in
acousmatic music it seems clear that sources and causes of sound-making are
detached from the visual and therefore from the known. However, in acous-
matic listening situation all the audible is not only audible since the listening
space allows the motion of sounds to involve other senses by evoking images
and arousing one's own sonic experience. Smalley considers musical gestures
and textures as forming principles of composition. For the author, musical ges -
ture is “an energy-motion trajectory which excites the sounding body, creating
spectromorphological life”. Texture, on the other hand, is more about interior
activity, the patterns inside sounds, about encouraging the ear to contemplate
inner details; a structural state in which the elements are balanced. The weak-
er the gestures, or the longer or more slowly evolving, the more the ear tends
to concentrate on the internal details, on the textural plane. Gesture and tex-
ture can coexist in balance also or there can be a predominance of one or the
36 See: Pierre Couprie, Methods and tools for transcribing electroacoustic music
30
other, thus creating different contexts.37 Gesture and texture on a structural
level concern the processes of motion and growth and can also be extended to
a spatial level. In particular, Trevor Wishart in the chapter “Spatial Motion” of
his treatise “On Sonic Art”, considers the different typology of spatial gestures
and how the spatial motion of one sound might relate to the spatial motion of
others in order to build up “a concept of counterpoint of spatial gestures.....so
that gestural articulation in space might develop an articulate contrapuntal mu-
sic”.38 He provides us with a real taxonomy of spatial movements based on an
analysis of a situation with nine different positions and where the listener is
sitting in the centre of the listening space. This simple type of grid, although at
first glance it may seem reductive, was chosen by Wishart in order to provide a
qualitative analysis that can allow a distinction between the various types of
spatial motions as well as the starting and ending points of a motion. Moreover,
as he says, our spatial perception is not as refined as, for example, our percep-
tion for pitch is. As is clear, we need at least three sound sources to generate
space and therefore a situation with nine positions is more than enough to
generate motions in order for the author to elaborate a proper analysis.
In addition, this analysis through this configuration is provided taking into ac-
count the nature of the orientation of the space around the listener which is
obviously front, rear, right and left. While from a geometrical point of view the
spatial symmetry of this configuration should not prefer any particular direc-
37 See Smalley, Denis. “Spectromorphology: Explaining Sound-Shapes”. Organised Sound 2,
no. 2 (1997): 107-126
38 Wishart, Trevor. “On Sonic Art”, edited by Simon Emmerson: 1996
31
tion, Wishart sharply notes however that certain directions have different psy-
chological implications from listener to listener.
If the space around the listener is symmetrical, our auditory and visual appar-
atus is not. The lack of an eye in the back of our head generally makes all
sound events that come from behind mysterious, even startling. We can also
trace a social connotation to this. In fact, we speak in front of each other, we
attend concerts in front of the ensemble and everything that comes from be-
hind or that we don't see causes us anxiety and a sense of mysterious courios-
ity. An example, is given by Kafka's tale "The Burrow" where the protagonist (a
creature that possesses both human and animal characteristics) one day be-
gins to hear a strange sound, which he describes as a hissing sound inside the
burrow. He tries to find the source of this unusual never before heard sound
which could be caused by small animals living in the nearby or parallel burrow.
He then begins to dig exploratory tunnels in order to find the source of that
sound; but the hiss does not stop and the search for the protagonist becomes
increasingly obsessive so that he decides to devote his energy to the identifica-
tion and elimination of its source. Although that “invisible” sound in Kafka's
tale doesn't exactly come from behind, not locating it causes obsession.39
The perception of the front/back makes a sound event more differently per -
ceivable than right/left or left/right perception and as many acoustic tests have
39 Brian Kane in his book “Sound unseen acousmatic sound” provides an accurate analysis of
the Kafka's tale
32
shown, a right-handed person is more inclined to direct the perception of high
frequencies to the right side of the head and low frequencies to the left side.
However, from an aesthetic point of view, if a sound moves from right to left or
left to right, according to Wishart, it does not cause implications for our sound
experience. But, “the distinction will only be of significance where we have dif-
ferent sounds placed or moving in the same space. Then, for example, a
movement from left to right may be counterpointed with a movement from
right to left”.40 As for the up-level-down dimension and the human capacity to
distinguish and perceive such directionality, it has psychological implications
linked to the properties of our planet earth. Since we are bound to the earth by
gravity, every event coming from above will be perceived as something falling
while on the contrary, from below, as something flying upwards. And of course,
such directionality is open to suggest associative and metaphorical implications
which will enter in our aesthetic experience of sound.
Based on these assumptions, the acute analysis of Wishart's spatial motions
offers in my opinion, one of the few examples of research aimed at under-
standing the vocabulary of motion in space. As we will see from the examples I
have chosen and summarized below, Wishart looks on spatial motions as if
they were musical gestures which can be used independently from other mu-
sical parameters or in a way that they can complement or contrast with other
features of other musical gestures giving rise to spatial counterpoint move-
ments. In a nutshell, Wishart seems to treat spatial motions as independent
expressive music parameters. Note that motion classes are presented in a two-
dimensional planar form, although they can be transferable to three-dimen-
sional, and in an ideal situation based on the grid described above with the
listener sitting in the centre. Furthermore, as the author admits, his analysis
does not include the up-down dimension, oscillating motions “which are so fast
as to produce amplitude modulation of the signal (the timbral effects of spatial
motion)”41, and analogies with the sphere of dance. In his treatise he distin-
guishes and defines direct motion, cyclic and oscillatory motion, double motion,
40 Wishart, Trevor. “On Sonic Art”, edited by Simon Emmerson: 1996 pag. 200 -235
41 Ibid, pag 235
33
irregular motion, time motion and frame motion. This vocabulary of spatial
movements, which can be further explored in the chapter, offers a great poten-
tial to establish counterpointed movements in the reciprocal combination of
motions. The author, in the same chapter provides us with considerations and
examples, some of which are worth mentioning in brief:
“Any directed aspect of a motion may be considered as a spatial ges-
ture”42 which can move independently, interact or trigger to another one.
In their gestural interaction motions rely “on the relative temporal co-
ordination of the gestures in time and their intrinsic qualities.43 For ex-
ample motions that have similar temporal structures but different spatial
ones, accelerating in a synchronized way will move differently in space.
Instead, the spatial interrelation between two or more symmetrical ges-
tures makes the gestures clearly perceivable and establishes a play
between the "parts". In this case the symmetries established between
the relative spatial positions of the sound-materials simultaneously help
to define the total space itself.
Gesture and transformation processes in space can emphasise or con-
trast other properties of the sound material.
In the case of asymmetrical motion, the sound materials released into
space will generate a sense of disorientation.
A cyclic motion can be considered as spatial ”resonance” which can have
a dividing or orienting role in the space.
42 Ibid, pag 231
43 Wishart, Trevor. “On Sonic Art”, edited by Simon Emmerson: 1996 pag. 231
34
Many motions, can be “spatially 'harmonised' with each other or at least
they set up a particular feeling or structuring to the space which is more
vaguely akin to an inharmonic resonance”. For example, considering two
sound materials moving on different paths where two paths circulate
around the space in the same direction, “they are in some kind of spatial
'harmony' with one another. If at the same time the cycle times are co-
ordinated so that, for example, they are both at the centre rear of the
acoustic space at the same time, a further temporal 'harmony' is
achieved between the two motions.44
Conclusion
Initially my idea in this text was to explore the processes of motion in space in
an acousmatic music context. But as I went ahead with my research, I realised
that there can be no discussion about spatial movements without taking into
account the listening space, the auditory and interpretative experience, and
more. This led me to imagine a path in the meanders of a compositional act.
44 Ibid pag 234
35
Such a path has been only a personal pretext of mine, a common thread of my
research, without intending to indicate a way or to limit the freedom of any
creative act.
Space assumes a unique aspect in acousmatic music, it is interdisciplinary and
can assume different meanings. It can concern acoustics, aural experience,
composition, interpretation and much more. However, when it comes to defin-
ing the spatial features of a sound, it is difficult to claim with certainty whether
they are intrinsic to the sound itself. Spectromorphology describes the shape of
sound but not of space. One question therefore arises: is there space within
sound? Probably yes, if one considers space within sound as a representation
of space. But, if we consider the internal movement within a sound, such
"moving" happens only in a temporal dimension and in practice what is defined
as "movement" of sound is produced by the internal trend of the parameters of
the sound itself and which one can see from its wavelength. This space is what
Smalley calls "Spectral Space", a space where actual physical motion is not in-
volved. Of course, as shown earlier in this text, a sound can suggest and rep -
resent a movement that is directional, undirectional, circular, oscillatory, irreg-
ular and if combined with other sounds can represent more complex move-
ments. If we take as an example a sound that presents in its spectrum a one-
directional motion in which the frequency increases or decreases, this kind of
motion can be clear only if emphasised in the listening space by a direct and
symmetrical spatial motion. For example, if the spatial gesture is dealing with
this one directional sound, it moves progressively and symmetrically from be-
hind towards the front (or any other symmetrical direction). But if the spatial
gesture distributes such sound in an irregular, atemporal and/or asymmetrical
way, such directionality will not be perceived as ascending or descending and
the meaning will be certainly different.
In my opinion, the concepts of motion processes can be valid at both the spec-
tral and spatial level, but just as concepts and not in the sense that their spec-
tral behaviour is necessarily the same as the spatial one (unless, again, the
gesture emphasises a certain directionality suggested by the 'spectral space' of
36
that sound). The art of acousmatic music is the art of generating space
through gestures and transformations and, as seen previously with Wishart,
gestures and transformations can emphasise, contrast or transform the proper-
ties of sound material. Acousmatic composition lives in its execution where vir-
tual spatial movements are spatial gestures which intersect generating an in-
terplay of articulations, spatial geometries and counterpoints within the "Protos
Topos" with its audience. Spatial motions are virtual movements and may arise
from the actual physical gesture of the interpreter, which is why perhaps in
acousmatic music the most important aspect of the interpretation technique is
the art of moving and transforming virtual movements in the 'devirtualizing'
listening space. The audience takes care of the rest...
37
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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The analytical discussion of acousmatic music can benefit from being based on spatial concepts, and this article aims to provide a framework for investigation. A personal experience of soundscape listening is the starting point, and uncovers basic ideas relating to the disposition and behaviour of sounding content, and listening strategy. This enables the opening out of the discussion to include source-bonded sounds in general, giving particular consideration to how experience of sense modes other than the aural are implicated in our understanding of space, and in acousmatic listening. Attention then shifts to a source-bonded spatial model based on the production of space by the gestural activity of music performance, prior to focusing in more detail on acousmatic music, initially by delving into spectral space, where ideas about gravitation and diagonal forces are germane. This leads to concepts central to the structuring of perspectival space in relation to the vantage point of the listener. The final section considers a methodology for space-form investigation.
To Have Done with the Judgment of God
  • Antonin Artaud
Artaud, Antonin. "To Have Done with the Judgment of God". Written and read by Antonin Artraud. BROADCAST: KPFA, 15 Oct. 1968
Of the Survival of Images. Memory and Mind
  • Henry Bergson
Bergson, Henry. "Of the Survival of Images. Memory and Mind". Chapter 3 in "Matter and Memory". Tr. by Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer. London: George Allen and Unwin 1911
Le costituzioni della musica
  • Paolo Emilio Carapezza
Carapezza, Paolo Emilio. "Le costituzioni della musica". Seconda edizione, edizioni Flaccovio 1999
¿Representar el espacio?". Original version in French "Espace du son III" in "Lien" magazine directed by Annette Vande Gorne, . Tr. in Spanish by Carolina Aguilar
  • Eric F Clarke
Clarke, Eric F. "Music and Psychology". Chapter 9 in "The Cultural Study of Music. A Critical Introduction". Edited by Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, Richard Middleton. Published in 2003 by Routledge New York and London Couprie, Pierre. "¿Representar el espacio?". Original version in French "Espace du son III" in "Lien" magazine directed by Annette Vande Gorne,. Tr. in Spanish by Carolina Aguilar. 2010 https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01258381
Suonare lo spazio elettroacustico
  • Alvise Vidolin
Vidolin, Alvise. "Suonare lo spazio elettroacustico". Collana "Quaderni di Musica/Realtà. N. 51". 2002
Grundlagen der Musikgeschichte
  • Carl Dahlhaus
Dahlhaus, Carl. "Grundlagen der Musikgeschichte", Translation It., Edizione Discanto 1980