Curation notes for Further Research & Contextualisation

December 2, 2008 at 9:09 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

All entries are relevant to my projects development. My discussion paper was particularly useful in helping me developed different perspectives on analysing sounds, and hence my compositional approaches. More research would have been carried out on the technological aspect, but I’ve have to schedule this in to the next unit due to the circumstances.

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Discussion Paper

November 24, 2008 at 4:39 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

Sound Analysis; Perspectives on Compositional Modes of Listening

In this discussion paper I will be situating my methods of listening to and understanding sound material in relation to several composers affiliated with electroacoustic music. I will also discuss how these various perspectives on analyzing sonic behaviour can be used to form meaningful relationships between sounds, and how this compares with my own compositional approaches and methodologies. I have chosen to focus on composers associated with electroacoustic music because I share with them a common belief in ‘the inherent musicality in all sounds.’ (Smalley. 1986: 61) At the heart of the genre’s oeuvre lies a questioning of the traditions of Western music; a vernacular dominated by ‘metrically organized harmonic and melodic relationships.’ (Smalley. 1986: 61) This questioning arose in conjunction with the advent of new technologies, which not only expanded the palette of sound made readily available to composers, but also provided them with different means of manipulating this sonic material. (Teruggi. 2007) Technology became a catalyst for the development of new methods of listening, analyzing and composing with sound, and it is these methods that I will discuss in this paper, beginning with French composer Pierre Schaeffer.

Pierre Schaeffer, founder of musique concrete, was interested in developing ways of perceiving sound once it had been removed from its context via recording and playback over the loudspeaker. He used the term sound-object to describe his approach of apprehending sound ‘without seeing the causes behind it.’ (Schaeffer 1966: 91). This method, which he called reduced listening, sought to draw the listener’s attention to the intrinsic properties of a particular sonority (e.g. its texture, timbre and temporal transformation). (Wishart. 1996)

Reduced listening is an extremely useful technique that I’ve learnt to incorporate into my compositional practise. There are simple ways to initiate this mode of listening, such as closing ones eyes and auditioning a sound numerous times until any imagined connection to its source disappears. For me, reduced listening is a method that strives towards a more objective way of perceiving sonic behaviour; away from causality one can really focus on the inner detail of a sound and begin to form links between different sound-objects based on these intrinsic qualities. Whilst linking materials in this way is certainly a valid approach to the creation of a coherent sonic discourse, I feel that disregarding the source of a sound completely can eliminate the possibilities of utilizing the potential meanings inherent within its extrinsic features (e.g. the representational, associative and symbolic). In addition to this, a sole focus on the intrinsic features of a sound perhaps ignores the way people naturally respond to sound, since ‘studies of behaviour and aural physiology would suggest that our mental apparatus is predisposed to allocate sounds to their sources.’ (Wishart. 1996: 129)

Trevor Wishart developed a compositional aesthetic that integrated the Schaefferian analysis of the sound-object, as well as bringing the extrinsic features of a sound into play. He used the term sound-image to explain one of his methods of composition: transforming the visualization of a sound in the minds eye and making use of its extrinsic features to form symbolic links between these evoked images. In his piece Red Bird (1978) he transformed the voice of someone saying ‘Liss….’ (from the word listen) into birdsong (a metaphor for flight), allowing the voice to ‘take flight’ and suggesting a ‘metaphorical link with the concept of ‘imagination’’. (Wishart.  1996: 166)

I try to use a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic methods of understanding sounds when I begin working on a composition. In my piece Window Music (2008), I was initially drawn to the intrinsic qualities of the sound of construction work taking place across the road from my house; rich metallic timbres randomly struck in isolation, accentuating the acoustic character of street. Once I had spliced the recording into singular ‘strikes’, I began thinking about how to approach the material from an extrinsic point of view. The thunderous clanging of pipes and girders were the result of scaffolding being constructed, sonic signifiers of a new material structure forming piece-by-piece. I tried to reflect this in my additive approach to building a rhythmic structure with the construction strikes.

Whilst the sound-object and sound-image are both useful perceptual techniques, my compositional thinking integrates a sense of sound as being specific to a location as well. R Murray Schafer coined the term sound-event to describe this perspective: a sound that ‘occurs in a certain place during a particular interval of time.’ (Schafer. 1994: 131) Schafer was the founder of the World Soundscape Project, a collective of sound artists and composers who ‘drew attention to the sonic environment through location recordings and environmental advocacy.’ (Cox & Warner. 2004: 29) Together they defined an area of study called Acoustic Ecology, which was concerned with how the acoustic environment (or soundscape) impacts the behaviour of the creatures living within it. (Schafer. 1994: 271)

My practise incorporates the locational aspect of studying sound from a fixed position (as in Window Music), but also the transitional, by journeying through an urban environment in order to study the soundscape. The latter could be seen as a sonic interpretation of the Situationist ideas of Psychogeography and Dérive, an approach to understanding urban space through physical exploration, whereby the individual lets himself be ‘drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.’ (Debord, 2006: 50) In my Big Ben Composition (2008) I used a combination of fixed and transitional approaches, making two separate studies of the soundscape around Westminster Bridge, before finally amalgamating them both within a single composition. For the transitional study, I developed certain rules for my journey around the area, based on the sonic activity of Big Ben over the course of an hour. This dictated what material I collected, as well as the way I organized the sounds when composing. With the fixed study, I recorded 30 minutes of activity from one position (the bank opposite Big Ben), later analyzing and selecting the three key sounds present in the soundscape to compose with.

As I began working on different mutations of these three key sounds (seagulls, police siren and Big Ben’s gongs), some interesting concerns arose regarding how much I should manipulate them. I used two stages of processing on the three sounds. The first stage involved subtle shaping of the sounds using EQ and re-sampling techniques in Logic, leaving them relatively ‘raw’ and still recognizable in terms of their source and behaviour. The second stage involved random pitch and amplitude manipulation in MaxMSP, which on occasion removed them quite far from their causality. Since I was trying to retain a sense of place, I had to reassess the degree of processing at the second stage; it obscured the source of the sound beyond recognition and hence severed the connection to location as well. Pierre Schaeffer highlighted the perceptual ambiguity a particular sound can take on through technological manipulation in Trois Microsillons d’Examples Sonores (1967), stating that one sounding body ‘“may supply a great variety of [sound] objects whose disparity cannot be reconciled by their common origin.”’ (Cited in Schafer. 1994: 130)

If listened to in isolation, the various forms taken by the seagulls, police sirens & Big Ben’s gongs in the final version of my composition, lie somewhere in between having ambiguous and recognizable sources. However, since the variations of these sounds are repeated at regular intervals in the composition and occur at the same time through layering techniques, I believe a sense of their source is still conveyed, and thus location as well. The repetition breeds a familiarity with the individual sounds in their different guises, whilst the layering allows them to establish a link to a certain place through the contextual recognition of their source; though one particular sound might initially be perceived as an unrecognizable form, its source may obtain clarity through its juxtaposition against the other two sounds and the setting implied by their synchronized occurrence. (Wishart. 1996: 150)


In this paper I have situated some of my compositional modes of listening in relation to three alternate perspectives on studying sound: the sound-object (intrinsic), the sound-image (extrinsic) and the sound-event (specific to time and place). I have explained how these three ways of understanding sonic behaviour can lay the conceptual foundations from which to build meaningful relationships between sounds, and how this compares with my own approaches to composition. Whilst these various perceptual methods and compositional strategies are certainly important to the electroacoustic composer, articulating their use is sometimes problematic. For example, creating the sense of location sonically in my Big Ben Composition is not only reliant on the apprehension of source, but also the familiarity the audience may have with this material. A Londoner may be able to link these three sounds to Westminster Bridge and grasp the symbolic associations with the material, whilst someone who’s new to the City may not. That said, perhaps the visual element accompanying transitional study in this piece perhaps counteracts this problem, as well as the use of repetition and contextual recognition in the sonic element of the locational study.

When implementing the three perceptual methods discussed in this paper, I must bare in mind that I can only obtain relative objectivity towards sound because of the gap between my perception and that of my potential audience. In addition to this, I must consider that these compositional methodologies may be slightly flawed, since ‘Sound-objects do not suggest their own montage in an objective way! There lies, above the process of aural choice advocated in this approach, a set of beliefs as to what it is that ‘sounds right’ in any given situation.’ (Emmerson. 1986: 21) To some artists, such as Francis Bacon, these instinctive reactions to material are paramount in regards to composition; ‘“If you manage to do something following your instinct as closely as possible, then you have succeeded…”’ (Archimbaud. 1999: 80) I feel I must endeavour to find a balance between my instinctual reactions to sound and more analytical strategies to perceive it. In this way I can form a dialectical approach towards composition that allows the various electroacoustic notions of sonic behaviour to play off my own individual understanding of sound and its compositional possibilities.


Archimbaud, M. (1999) Francis Bacon in Conversation with Michel Archimbaud, London: Phaidon Press Limited
Brougher, K. Mattis, M. Strick, J. & Zilcher, J. (2005) Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900, London: Thames & Hudson
Cox, C. & Warner D. (2004) Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music London: Continuum
Dann, T. (1998) Bright Colours Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge, New Haven: Yale University Press
Debord, G. (2006) Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, In: Knabb, K. Situationist National Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, AK Press
Emmerson, S. (1986) The Language of Electroacoustic Music, London: Macmillan Press
Harrison, J. (2001) Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing, Oxford University Press
Nyman, M. (1999) Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd Edition Cambridge University Press
Schaeffer, P. (1966) Traité des Objets Musicaux, Paris: Le Seuil
Schafer, R. M. (1977) The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment & the Tuning of the World, Vermont: Destiny Books
Smalley, D. (1997) Organising Sound, Cambridge University Press
Teruggi, D. (2007) Technology and Musique Concrete: the Technical Developments of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales and their Implication in Musical Composition, Cambridge University Press.
Wishart, T. (1996) On Sonic Art, London: Routledge

Music / CDs
Wishart, T. (1996) On Sonic Art: Accompanying CD, London: Routledge

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R Murray Schafer and the Vancouver Soundscape Project

November 10, 2008 at 10:16 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

The Vancouver Soundscape Project was released as a double CD and booklet which charted the growth of the City via locational sound recordings, short interviews and artistic interpretations of acoustic environments. The project was realised as a comparative study of the soundscape at two different points in time. The first in 1973 and the second in 1993; locations revisited and keynote sounds reassessed in light of the new sonic environment. The study itself sought not only to ‘expand listeners’ horizon towards Vancouver’s soundscape and raise consciousness about its quality, but it also wants to raise questions such as: how do we listen and behave acoustically in everyday life; how can we acquire a “sense of place” and belonging from our soundscapes; are there ways to design liveable soundscapes in urban environments?’ (

Their objectives have a huge cross-over with my project. Within my compositions I wish to draw the audiences’ attention to London’s soundscape as a means of encouraging them reflect upon the emotional and physical effect it has on their experience of the City. I am striving to find a balance in my compositional approach which lies in-between portraying the soundscape ‘as it sounds’ (e.g. leaving sound material in a relatively ‘raw’ state) and presenting a more personalised view of the soundscape which is perhaps more explorative and individual; drawing attention to particular sounds that I feel are important (e.g. The bird/insect in my Window Music piece). In this particular composition I used this method to reset the imbalance between natural and man-made sounds observed during the study. This falls in line with sound artist Hildegard Westerkamp’s view of urban development severing the bond we have with nature.

I wish to raise the listeners’ awareness of the plight of natural sounds within the soundscape, instigating the feeling of tranquillity one often associates with natural phenomena. I also want to my work to be a catalyst for the audience to reflect on their relationship with man-made sounds that they might instinctively block out or deem as unpleasant ‘noise’. For example, on the tube people generally mask the sound present with their iPod, but perhaps if they listened they might even appreciate the wide variety of textures, rich rhythm and wonderfully intense timbres. On the other hand they might conclude that the sounds present are thunderously loud and too intrusive. Either way I want the listen to use their ears to decipher their emotional response to spaces and this is my reasoning for the dominance of sound in my audio-visual compositions.

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PGPD essay

October 25, 2008 at 3:00 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

*note: this is the incomplete version, the final version is on my stolen computer – there may be mistakes!

How does the relationship between music and image making in the works of Kandinsky and Klee compare to composer’s working within the medium of Electroacoustic music?

The aesthetic of the Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), was greatly influenced by his sensitivity towards music throughout his life. In his seminal text Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky constructed a treatise for composition that aspired to cause vibrations in the viewers soul, stemming from the expression of the artists ‘inner need’; an art that rejected the ‘outer’ materialism of the times through the purely representational. (Kandinsky. 1977) For Kandinsky, these ‘vibrations’ could ‘…only be achieved through a visual language independent of the forms of reality.’ (Dabrowski. 2003: p79) He perceived music as one such language, capable of reaching an abstract form of expression that could resonate deep within the listener’s being.

Kandinsky greatly admired the works of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, whom he befriended shortly after attending a concert of his works in 1911. (Wasserman. 2003: p23) Schoenberg rejected the traditions and rules of harmonic resolution (consonance) within the western tempered scale, and thus developed the chromatic scale, a 12-note system that freed dissonance from its obligation to be resolved. His controversial ‘emancipation of dissonance’, which removed the recognition of the key of a piece of music, sought to breakdown the hierarchy of notes within traditional tonality. This was something Kandinsky could understand and relate to within his own work. The use of a ‘single pictorial key’ in Composition V (1911) rendered ‘in muted greys with only a few touches of brighter colors [sic]’ could be seen as a move by Kandinsky to disrupt any hierarchical relationship between the colours. (Dabrowski. 2003: p90)

Kandinsky and Schoenberg shared similar compositional objectives in their respective arts; exploring new relationships between colour and form away from the traditional languages of expression. Schoenberg’s early atonal pieces, based on his theory of emancipation of dissonance, allowed him to treat timbre, texture and the colour of tones as equally fundamental to music as pitch (Ronsen. 1975: p107). Likewise, Kandinsky integrated ideas of harmonic dissonance within his oeuvre, in compositions such as Impression III (Concert) (1911). Based on one of two sketches made during a Schoenberg concert, Kandinsky’s piece may be viewed as a visualisation of dissonance. The lurid discord of vibrant yellow juxtaposed against the abstracted form of the black piano morphs ‘the instrument that created the sound into an embodiment of the sound itself.’ (Wasserman. 2003: p23)

Soon after the concert Kandinsky wrote a letter to Schoenberg, empathising with his work. Kandinsky praised his treatment of sonic forms saying that the freedom inherent in ‘“…the independent life of the individual voice in your compositions, is exactly what I’m trying to find in my paintings’”. (as cited in Wasserman, 2003: p.25) Perhaps this individual voice that Kandinsky relates to his own work is the voice of colour and form; the constituent parts of composition that he attempted to free from representation through his development of an individual abstract language. (Kandinsky. 1977)

It has been documented that Kandinsky was able to visualize colour and form vividly whilst listening to music. One account of this was his description of experiencing Wagner’s Lohengrin in 1896: ‘“I saw all the colors [sic] in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.”’ (as cited in Dabrowski. 2003: p83) Some attribute his overt sensitivity towards sound to synaesthesia, a neurological condition that takes the input of one sensory experience and translates it into another. For example, a synaesthete who has ‘colour hearing’ may respond to certain spoken words (auditory information) by seeing a specific colour. According to case studies in the book Synaesthesia: the Strangest Thing, this seeing is not necessarily an image in their mind’s eye, but rather the feeling or sense of that image. True synaesthetes develop a strong idiosyncrasy with their stimulus trigger (e.g. the name Lucy) and their particular linked response (e.g. the colour blue). This link never changes and many synaesthetes describe having had these links as far back as they can remember. (Harrison. 2001) It’s possible that Kandinsky did have the colour hearing, as hinted at in Concerning the Spiritual in Art. He forms strong relationship between sound and colour in terms of frequency and timbre; linking low frequency tones, like deep bass to darker colours and high frequency tones, such as a shrill trumpet-note to brighter colours like lemon yellow. (Kandinsky. 1977: p49) Kandinsky’s sensitivity also extended towards ‘the haptic (prickly versus smooth) and thermal (cold versus warm) properties of colour’ (Dann. 1998: p56), as seen in his schematics within the chapter The Language of Form and Colour. All these compositional approaches sought to propel his work towards an abstract fusion of the senses in visual form, modelled on music’s non-material ability to express inner need:

Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul” (Kandinsky, 1914: 52)

Paul Klee (1879-1940) was another painter who, like Kandinsky, explored a compositional approach that stemmed from ‘the condition of music.’ (Kagan, 1983: p155) Originally trained in music, Klee had aspirations of becoming violinist, which he later abandon in favour of visual art. (Hall, 1992: p5) Music was still very important to him though, citing composers of the classical tradition, like Mozart, as a great influence. During his time teaching at the Bauhaus he developed a visual language that reflected upon ideas of musical harmony, polyphony and rhythm. (Zilcher, 2005: p55) He termed the coin ‘structural rhythm’ to describe how several parallel lines can function together to create patterns and attempting to ‘translate temporal elements (rhythms) from music into painting.’ (Duchting, 2002: p35) In a study of Bach’s Sonata No. 7 in G Major he made a schematic for the registration of pitch. He used this as a means of explaining music’s ‘structural’ functionality (larger units that could be divided due to repetition without variation) and ‘individual’ functionality (irregular units that don’t repeat), ideas that he then incorporated into his painting. (Duchting, 2002: p36)

He also developed the idea of polyphony (multiple voices) within works such as Three Subjects, Polyphony (1931). To my eyes, the three overlapping visual forms seem to build a harmonized relationship like a chord in music. However, it seems as though their relation to one another needs time to unfold. The interweaving lines, shadowed in brown and pink help to define a more complex form of ‘endotopic’ and ‘exotopic’ space, which Hall (1992: p.92) equates to the time needed to understand the harmonic relationships and overall timbre of the notes that make up a chord.

Kandinsky and Klee appropriated different schools of musical thought into their visual language; the former finding an analogy between visual abstraction and atonal music, and the later incorporating the rules of harmony and rhythmic structure into his image making. However, it could be said that in both cases, their musical understanding was confined to the traditions of Western tonality; a vernacular comprised of ‘metrically organized harmonic and melodic relationship.’ (Smalley. 1986: p61) Even though Schoenberg rejected traditional notions of tonality, he still utilized an intuitive approach to harmony, leading to a music whose harmonic tension was still reminiscent of tonal music. (Wishart. 1996: p40) It wasn’t until the later developments of experimental music in the 1950’s, that musical understanding moved away from its traditions within tonality. Influenced by Zen Buddhism, composers such as John Cage attempted to free music from the constraints of its heritage simply by letting a ‘sound exist, itself, in a changing sonorous environment.’ (as cited in Nyman 1999: p50)

This notion of liberating sound from causality was an idea later explored in the work of Pierre Schaeffer, the founder of acousmatic music. (Wishart. 1996) Schaeffer’s oeuvre strove to draw the listener’s attention to the intrinsic properties of sound through the method of reduced listening, ‘the apprehension of a sound without relation to its source.’ (as cited in Wishart. 1996: 129) Schaeffer treated sounds, once removed from their context through recording and played back over the loudspeaker, as sound-objects and developed an approach that explored the intrinsic (e.g. textural, timbral and transformational) possibilities of sound within musical composition. (Wishart: 1996)

These new methods of analysing the ‘life’ of a sound, were later adopted in the compositional approaches of composers working within the genre of electroacoustic music, who recognized ‘the inherent musicality in all sounds.’ (Smalley. 1986: p61) A wider palette of sounds had become relevant and readily available to these composers through technology and a new aesthetic approach to music was developed. Electroacoustic composer Trevor Wishart, incorporated the Schaefferian notion of the sound-object into his music. (Wishart. 1996) However, Wishart and other composers within the genre, felt that solely focusing on the intrinsic characteristics of a sound was too narrow, since most peoples natural response to hearing a sound is to relate it to its source. (Smalley: 1986) This lead Wishart to develop a method of using the extrinsic (e.g. the cultural, metaphorical and associative) aspects of sound along with the intrinsic. (Wishart. 1996) He coined the term sound-image to describe his compositional approach; transforming the visualization of a sound in the minds eye and utilizing its extrinsic features to create symbolic links between these conjured images. In his composition Red Bird (1978) he transformed the voice of someone saying ‘Liss…’ (from the word listen) into the sound of birdsong (a metaphor for flight), allowing the voice to ‘take flight’ and suggesting a ‘metaphorical link with the concept of ‘imagination’’. (Wishart: 1996: p166) Though Wishart concentrated on the metaphorical links between evoked sound-images in Red Bird, the wider aesthetic electroacoustic music was to explore ‘how the imagery evoked interacts with more abstract aspects of musical composition.’ (Emmerson. 1986: p7)


To me the ability of the Electroacoustic composer to visualise sound shares common ground with the work of Kandinsky and Klee. Electroacoustic compositions may explore a combination of representational and non-representational sound-images through intrinsic and extrinsic approaches to material. The piano in Kandinsky’s Impression III (Concert), could be seen as both as the extrinsic, representational form of the instrument itself (the source of the sound and it’s wider symbolic meaning), and a manifestation of the behaviour of the sound (the intrinsic). I perceive the piano as somewhere in between the two, since although it is an abstract form, it may still be recognised as a piano due to its contextual relationship to other forms. This mirrors some of Wishart’s ideas about giving clearer meaning to sounds of a more abstract nature, through the juxtaposition of more representational elements. (Wishart. 1996: p157)

In contrast, Klee’s piece Three Subjects, Polyphony, which plays off the functionality of rhythm and polyphony in tonal music, can be seen as an examination of the possible relationships between sounds in the creation of a chord. Rather than hinting at the source of any single sonority, as Kandinsky’s piano does in Impressions III, this piece uses the three interlocking lines to hint at the gestural movement of three separate tones over time. Klee’s approach to incorporating musical ideas in his painting seems more centred around structural and temporal relationships of music within the Western tonal tradition, with perhaps less of a focus on the intrinsic properties of sound. On the other hand, Kandinsky’s synaesthetic experience of music leads me to believe he did have an understanding of intrinsic properties of sound and how it can behave, as described previously in his response to Wagner’s Lohengrin.

Whilst Kandinsky and Klee used music as a catalyst for the creation of a new visual language, electroacoustic composers used the imagery evoked by sound to develop new approaches to musical discourse. Although the methodology differs in technique, what is central to both, is the objective of forming a new coherent language based on the relationship between sound and image.


Brougher, K. Mattis, M. Strick, J. & Zilcher, J. (2005) Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900 London: Thames & Hudson
Cavendish, M. (1975) A Popular History of the Arts, Severn Valley Press Limited
Cox, C. & Warner D. (2004) Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music London: Continuum
Costa Meyer, E. & Wasserman, F. (2003) Schoenberg, Kandinsky, and the Blue Rider London: Scala Publishers ltd
Dann. T (1998) Bright Colours Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge New Haven: Yale University Press
Duchting, H (2002) Paul Klee: Painting Music London: Prestel
Emmerson, S (1986) The Language of Electroacoustic Music London: Macmillan Press
Hall, D. (1992) Klee London: Phaidon Press ltd
Harrison, J (2001) Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing Oxford: Oxford University Press
Kagan, A. (1983) Paul Klee: Art & Music, Cornell University Press
Kandinsky, W. (1977) Concerning The Spiritual in Art, Dover Publications
Moritz, W. (2004) Optical Poetry: The Life and Works of Oskar Fischinger Indiana: Indiana University Press
Napier, E. R. (2006) Wassily Kandinsky: Sounds New Haven: Yale University Press
Nyman, M. (1999) Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond 2nd Edition Cambridge University Press
Ronsen, C. (1976) Schoenberg London: Marion Boyars
Schafer, R. M. (1977) The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment & the Tuning of the World Vermont: Destiny Books
Smalley, D. (1997) Organising Sound, Cambridge University Press
Wishart, T. (1996) On Sonic Art, London: Routledge
Whitney, J. (1980) Digital Harmony: On the Complementarity of Music and Visual Art, Kingstonport Press

Costa Meyer, E. & Wasserman, F. (2003) Schoenberg, Kandinsky, and the Blue Rider London: Scala Publishers ltd
Wishart, T. (1996) On Sonic Art, London: Routledge

Fischinger, O. (2006) Ten Films Centre for Visual Music

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Motion Tracking: David Rokeby’s “Very Nervous System”

October 8, 2008 at 11:12 am (Further Research & Contextualisation)

I wanted to look further into the possibilities of translating movement into sound using motion tracking via a video camera. I came across this work by interactive artist David Rokeby:

 I’m actually pretty blown away by the amount of gestural control he seems to have over the sound! It appears as though the music has some kind of linearity that only occurs when movement is detected. Individual sounds (or clusters of sounds) seem to be positioned at different points in the space and can be triggered when the body moves into that space; hence (in the second video) he repeats movements in a certain space, and the same sound occurs. The velocity at which the movement travels seems to determine the speed at which the sequence of sounds are played through – notice the big sweeping motions making large gestural sweeps with the sounds. However, I may be (completely) wrong! I will research further into this.


I was wrong (in part)! As Rokeby puts it:

“The installation is a complex but quick feedback loop. The feedback is not simply ‘negative’ or ‘positive’, inhibitory or reinforcing; the loop is subject to constant transformation as the elements, human and computer, change in response to each other. The two interpenetrate, until the notion of control is lost and the relationship becomes encounter and involvement.” (

Rokeby is describing a kind of intelligent system that alters the way it behaves as the user interacts with it more. I would like to find out in more detail how he implented this feedback mechanism. What amazes me is that this piece was created in 1986. The man is obviously a genius! Seeing this is really encouraging, as it highlights the possibility of me achieving (with enough work) the translation of movement through a space into sonic experience. I must research this further through practical work in MaxMSP and Jitter. I’m excited!

The theoretical concerns regarding user interaction are certainly interesting to me. I plan to research into this further as I get deeper into motion tracking. Through my practical work, I’ve decided that I want my interface to be hidden and intuitive like Rokeby’s. However, this is not completely set in stone. As I begin unlock the possibilities of motion tracking and MaxMSP and Jitter I may discover another solution.

In Very Nervous System, Rokeby’s reasoning for creating a dynamic, hidden and intuitive interface stems from a need to counteract the language of the computer:

“Because the computer is purely logical, the language of interaction should strive to be intuitive. Because the computer removes you from your body, the body should be strongly engaged. Because the computer’s activity takes place on the tiny playing fields of integrated circuits, the encounter with the computer should take place in human-scaled physical space. Because the computer is objective and disinterested, the experience should be intimate.” (

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Richard Long & Circles

August 25, 2008 at 7:09 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

I’ve been doing further research into artists who have incorporated the use of the journey into their artistic practise to inform my own methodologies.


“Art as a formal and holistic description of the real space and experience of landscape and its most elemental materials.”

The work of British born artist Richard Long involves the exploration of the landscape on foot as a means of re-engaging with the natural environment and investigating the ‘relationships between time, distance, geography and measurement.’ He often makes interventions in the landscape during his walks which he calls ‘landscape sculptures’. These are often constructed from natural materials such as stones and grass which he may collect enroute to his final destination. This idea of ‘walking as art’ is presented in three ways: in photographs, maps or text, each of which functions as a ‘distillation of experience’.


walking a circle in mist - Scotland 1986

Sometimes he embarks on very precise routes that have a straight or even circular trajectory, which then feeds directly into the sculptural works that he creates. Long views his landscape sculptures as occupying the space between two opposing ideologies, namely that of ‘making monuments’ and ‘leaving only footprints.’


Where my work finds common ground with Long’s is in the compositional use of materials gathered whilst journeying through an environment. In his work he uses or intervenes with the physical, material elements from a natural landscape to create his sculptures, whilst my work, in contrast, predominantly uses sound, the immaterial element collected from urban environment. However, there is a gap in the way in which the digital artist approaches the composition of ‘natural’ material gathered from environments. Whilst land artists, such as Long, have the ability to compose directly in the location their work is addressing, I will always have to return home to work on material. Perhaps reflecting on material during my journeys will fill this compositional void.

A strange parallel also begins to form between our individual works within the use of the circle. With my Window Music piece, my use of a cyclic structure was to reflect the endlessness of the soundscape, how one is enveloped within the sounds that inhabit a particular place until one decides to leave. For me, this feeling of being enveloped within sound, whether it be a piece of composed music or the soundscape, is a feeling I can only describe as completeness. I feel like sound is the one thing that grounds my experience of the world and without it I simply wouldn’t exist; it completes the circle of my being.

But why is the circle such a powerful symbol? I must find that Jung book!


“Dr. M.-L. von Franz has explained the circle (or sphere) as a symbol of the Self. It expresses the totality of the psyche in all its aspects, including the relationship between man and the whole of nature. Whether the symbol of the circle appears in primitive sun worship or modern religion, myths or dreams, in the mandalas drawn by Tibetan monks…. it always points to the single most vital aspect of life – its ultimate wholeness.” (Jung. 1964: 240)

For Long perhaps, there is a similar yearning for tapping deeper into the Self: ‘It is as if Long is looking to regain some insight into those lost recesses of primordial consciousness as suggested by his ritualized circles and spirals.’ (Morgan, 1987: 77)


All this thinking about circles is making me think more about my journeys, as well as making me go a bit loopy! There will be a defined start and end point to my explorations on foot, departing from a chosen bridge and ending at an unknown location. I will make a second journey from that same bridge heading in the opposite direction. Is there a way to link the two departure points and two unknown destinations? Perhaps my journeys really begin and end from home, completing the circle….

I will start to think about circles more whilst undertaking my practical work.



Jung, C.G. (1964) Man and his Symbols, London: Aldus Books Limited


Long, R. Artist Website: (accessed 24th August 2008)

Morgan, C. (1987) Richard Long’s Poststructural Encounters: In Arts Volume 61 (accessed 24th August 2008)

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Bill Fontana – Harmonic Bridge

August 3, 2008 at 3:14 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

Bill Fontana describes his work as existing “one foot in and out of contemporary music, one foot in and out of contemporary art, on the edge of some science, on the edge of philosophy. Sound enters so many different worlds.” (as cited in Licht. 2007: 274)

I decided to research his work, since he has created several sound pieces concerning bridges; transmitting sounds from one city in to another, sometimes even thousands of miles apart.

In one of his more recent works, Harmonic Bridge (2006), he amplified the sound resonating through the Millennium Bridge, transmitting it into the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern and also Southward Underground Station. For me this ‘relocation of sound’ creates a temporal link between separate spaces and structures.


I was lucky enough to experience the work when it was showing and it’s given me some interesting food for thought after listening to the composition again on CD recently. When I first heard the piece in the Turbine Hall I felt there was a slight lack of sonic clarity, due to the grand acoustics of the space. However, upon reflection this creates a more interesting dialogue between sound and space. He used powerful microphones on the bridge (accelerometers – vibrations sensors), which only pick up the physical vibrations of sound of the object or structure they’re attached to. We are hearing the internal structure of the bridge as defined by sound. The bridge becomes a giant resonating body, an instrument, being played by the wind and anonymous people walking over it. By transmitting the sounding into the space of the Turbine Hall, he is transplanting the internal structure of a sounding body (the bridge) into the physical space of another internal structure (the hall), and allows us to walk in between this synergised sound-space. The acoustics of the Turbine Hall redefine our final sonic experience, thus linking the sonority of two separate structures and instigating a reflection on the relationship between them.


I find this idea of translating and transmitting internal life of structures through sound inspiring. By using technologies that respond to vibrations we can access the hidden sonority of structures, making them audible. This makes me think of conversations with Andy in which we talked about sound as defining the spaces in between physical material structures (e.g. a buildings interior and exterior spaces). However, sound can also be used to explore the internal happenings of a physical structure itself – with the right technology of course!

Since I will be using bridges as my point of departure, I’d like to experiment with these technologies and hear what the results are like. Also, during my journeys I might come across other structures that may yield good results. I’ve used cheap contact mics before, but they’ve been fairly ineffective, so more research must be done…



Licht, A. (2007) Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories, New York: Rizzoli International Publications


Fontana, B. (2006) Harmonic Bridge, London

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Psycho Building’s

June 3, 2008 at 2:24 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

I went to see the Psycho Building’s: Artists take on Architecture exhibition at the Haywood recently.

It was fantastic. A visceral, physical experience, immersive, playful. It seemed as though a lot of Situationist themes were present, particularly utopias and ‘cities built for play.’




I will write more once I’ve finished this New Creative Ventures course, it seems to be eating up all my time!

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