3 Hildegard Westerkamp’s Beneath the Forest Floor (1992)
4 The Contributions of Charles Dodge’s Speech Songs to Computer Music Practice
5 The Musical Imagination of Knut Wiggen
6 Exploring Compositional Choice in the SalMar Construction and Related Early Works by Salvatore Martirano
7 Invisible Influence: An Analysis of Bülent Arel’s Fantasy and Dance for Five Viols and Tape
Margaret Anne Schedel with Taylor Ackley
8 Nuo Ri Lang by Zhang Xiaofu
9 Seeds and Mutations: Connections and Divergences in the Materials of Unsuk Chin’s Xi
Kerry L. Hagan
10 The Collaborative Process of Re-creation: Anne La Berge’s Brokenheart (2007) for Performers, Live Electronics, and Video
11 Taras su tre dimensioni by Teresa Rampazzi: Documenting the Creative Process
12 Luciano Berio and Cathy Berberian’s Visage: Revisiting Late Modernist Composition and the New Vocality
List of Illustrations
Figure 1.1 A timeline of the sections in Same Sun.
Figure 1.2 Album art for Same Sun, released by Flaming Pines in 2016.
Figure 1.3 Screenshot of interactive Tiny Portraits website designed by Arash Akbari.
Figure 2.1 The first 60 seconds of the “Ice Creek” section of Ice Creek.
Figure 2.2 Fundamentals of each section of Ice Creek: (A) “Ice Creek Low”; (B) “Ice Creek High”; (C) “Ice Creek.”
Figure 2.3 Almost perfectly palindromic bass in “Ice Creek Low.”
Figure 2.4 A comparison between (A) register-based motif writing in Debussy (excerpt from Claude Debussy, “La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune,” Préludes Book 2, 1913) and (B) register-based writing in Young.
Figure 3.1 EAnalysis sonogram image of Beneath the Forest Floor.
Figure 4.1 Block diagram of the speech synthesis system used by Dodge, showing (right) the signal chain and (left) control sources for the various stages of signal processing. For songs 1 and 2, the series of three resonant filters was replaced by a single higher-order recursive filter whose coefficients were computed using LPC analysis.
Figure 4.2 An analysis, using the Praat software package, of five repetitions of the phrase “when I am with you,” showing five analyzed formant center frequencies.
Figure 4.3 Exposition of song 3, as pitches and rhythms extracted from the first sung occurrence of each syllable of the poem. Annotations above notes show where the syllables were found in the piece. Notated rhythms are approximate.
Figure 4.4 Rendition in Pure Data of the phrase “A man, sitting in the cafeteria,” from song 1, 0:25–0:30.
Figure 5.1 The EMS control console. Photo source unknown.
Figure 5.2 Musikmaskin I: an exposed, vertical column of circuit boards. Photo by Pressens Bild.
Figure 5.3 This screenshot shows the entire score for Sommarmorgon as it appears in the current version of MusicBox. The section on the left is where the raw material is shaped, and the single events are created in the section on the right.
Figure 5.4 The pulse train is routed to an If box at the top and to a Deter box at the bottom left of this portion of the score. Screenshot from the current version of MusicBox.
Figure 5.5 A document from Wiggen’s archives that illustrates his ideas for covariation. Author’s scan from the National Library of Norway.
Figure 6.1 The SalMar Construction setup for a concert at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Martirano gave this picture to the author. The photographer is unknown.
Figure 6.2 Martirano’s hand-drawn initial conception of the overall system design for the SalMar Construction (from Martirano 1971).
Figure 6.3 A violin line from Contrasto for orchestra, characteristic of the meandering chromatic lines that were typical of Martirano’s style, copied from Martirano (1960).
Figure 6.4 A sudden burst of reorchestrated triplets with jagged leaps and close interval clusters from Octet (Martirano 1963).
Figure 6.5 Martirano’s drawing from his Progress Report #1 showing the row divided into trichords and the matrix from which the combinations of trichords are drawn.
Figure 6.6 Sergio Franco’s system block diagram for the final SalMar Construction design (Franco 1974).
Figure 6.7 David Rosenboom’s live electronic performance setup in 1969–1970, shown here ready for a concert at New York’s Electric Circus on a multimedia series called The Electric Ear. Photograph by the author.
Figure 6.8 David Rosenboom playing the SalMar Construction at UIUC in 2004. Photographer unknown.
Figure 6.9 Sergio Franco’s block diagram of a sound module showing the concept of information steering (from Franco 1974).
Figure 6.10 The control panel for the SalMar Construction after the buttons and lights were labeled during the restoration. Photo by the author.
Figure 6.11 The SalMar Construction patch bay as it appeared in 2014 at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at UIUC. Photo by the author.
Figure 7.1 Album cover of Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center recording featuring Arel’s score for Stereo Electronic Music No. 1.
Figure 7.2 The Buchla 200 at Stony Brook University on its custom stand. Taylor Ackley found the upper modules in storage and added them to the system at a later time. Photo by Margaret Schedel and Kevin Yager.
Figure 7.3 Waveform image of Arel’s complete Fantasy and Dance showing sectional divisions.
Figure 7.4 Close-up of the five-step sequencer, with the block between the fourth and fifth steps turned off. Photo by Margaret Schedel and Kevin Yager.
Figure 7.5 Detail of tape part of Fantasy and Dance for Five Viols and Tape clearly showing stereo separation.
Figure 8.1 Nuo Ri Lang, with one percussionist (Thierry Miroglio), dancers, projections, and lights, 2016 (Photo: Zhang Xiaofu).
Figure 8.2 Nuo Ri Lang. First two systems, 1996.
Figure 8.3 Nuo Ri Lang. First system, 2018 version for one percussionist.
Figure 8.4 The first five percussive events on the tape of Nuo Ri Lang, measured in seconds (y) and their respective number (x).
Figure 8.5 Nuo Ri Lang. Transition to section “Vanishing Bells” at around 13:04.5.
Figure 8.6 Nuo Ri Lang. Transition to the “Vanishing Bells” section of the 1996 score.
Figure 8.7 Nuo Ri Lang. Rhythmic progression of the cymbal strokes. Time is measured in seconds.
Figure 8.8 Ending of the 1996 version of Nuo Ri Lang.
Figure 8.9 Nuo Ri Lang. First system, 2016 version for three percussionists.
Figure 9.1 The stage diagram from the premiere of Xi (courtesy of EIC).
Figure 9.2 Six-channel track assignments.
Figure 9.3 Proportions of Xi.
Figure 9.4 Chin notates a flutter with a slashed grace note, a tremolo as traditionally notated in strings, and a pulse as regular rhythms in the fixed-medium part (Chin 1998, 16).
Figure 9.5 The notated pulses of section C, transcribed to scale. Dotted vertical lines indicate measures.
Figure 11.1 Taras a [sic] 3 dimensioni, handwritten manuscript, three small pages, dated December 1982, enclosed inside source 1, quadraphonic tape (Teresa Rampazzi Collection, University of Padua).
Figure 11.2 Taras su 3 dimensioni, quadraphonic version (source 1); channel from top to bottom: LF (left front), RF (right front), RR (right rear), LR (left rear) (Teresa Rampazzi Collection, University of Padua; digitization by Laboratorio Mirage, Udine).
Figure 11.3 Taras su 3 dimensioni, stereophonic version (source 2) (Teresa Rampazzi Collection, University of Padua; digitization by Laboratorio Mirage, Udine).
Figure 11.4 Part I of Taras su tre dimensioni, from 0:02 to 1:12.
Figure 11.5 Part II of Taras su tre dimensioni, from 1:12 to 3:03.
Figure 11.6 Part III of Taras su tre dimensioni, from 3:03 to 5:16.
Figure 11.7 Part IV of Taras su tre dimensioni, from 5:13 to 8:01.
Figure 11.8 Part V of Taras su tre dimensioni, from 8:01 to 10:03.
Figure 11.9 Part VI of Taras su tre dimensioni, from 10:03 to 11:06.
List of Tables
Table 1.1 Principles of soundscape composition (as articulated by Barry Truax) compared to those of narrative soundscape composition
Table 11.1 Audio sources for Rampazzi’s Taras su tre dimensioni
Table 12.1 Intersecting elements of the compositional components of Visage
Table 12.2 Comparison of Visage and Gesang der Jünglinge
List of Boxes
Annex to Source 1 [my translation from Italian]
Annex to Source 2 (Rampazzi’s handwriting; the original is in English)
We assembled this book to make space for musicians to write about electronic music they feel is undervalued. The European tradition and (doubtless) others obey an inexorable process of sorting and sifting in a process of canonization. We want to look beyond this music. We limited each author to a single piece by their chosen musician in order to put the focus squarely on the music itself. We didn’t curate the music at all—only the contributors. The premise of this volume is to grant underrepresented musicians the privilege of in-depth analysis and discussion in a generalized text.
It is traditional in introductions to give a tour of the chapters. Inventing a narrative structure from 12 autonomous choices would be artificial. Nonetheless, in this chaos, we found connecting threads that tied various chapters together.
In chapter 10, Pamela Madsen shows how Anne La Berge shares the responsibility of composing with her performers; in chapter 12, Juliana Snapper details how Cathy Berberian contributed more to Luciano Berio’s composition than Berio acknowledged; and in chapter 11, Laura Zattra depicts how Teresa Rampazzi willingly shared credit with the creative collective, but her colleagues are now attributing the work Taras su tre dimensioni to her.
Kerry L. Hagan and Marc Battier show how two Asian composers choose to belong (or not) to Western music and to embrace (or not) their Eastern heritage. In chapter 9, Hagan looks at the music of Unsuk Chin, while in chapter 8 Battier does the same for Zhang Xiaofu.
In chapter 3, Leigh Landy studies a soundscape composition by one of the founding composers of the World Soundscape Project, Hildegard Westerkamp, and in chapter 1, Yvette Jackson coins a new phrase, narrative soundscape composition, to describe the way Jacqueline George has extended the practice. In chapter 2, Valentina Bertolani describes how Gayle Young makes instruments from the natural soundscape.
David Rosenboom (chapter 6), Jøran Rudi (chapter 5), and Margaret Schedel (chapter 7) show how three composers anticipated algorithmic composition in combinations of analog and digital domains. In many chapters, we hear how the technologies, some new for the time, created the sound of the work. That is most evident in chapter 4, by Miller Puckette.
The diverse backgrounds of our authors result in widely varying terminology. Rather than police definitions between chapters, we embraced the differences between the authors and in their subjects. Nevertheless, the authors tend to use the term electroacoustic consistently to describe the music considered in this text, with minor variations. This usage does not refer to a genre or style but rather to any music mediated by electronic means or speakers. We the editors, however, tend to use the word electronic for general purposes, and we had the final say on the book’s title.
This book is intended for composers, musicologists, and students of music technology, electronic and computer music, and related fields.
Miller Puckette and Kerry L. Hagan
1 Narrative Soundscape Composition: Approaching Jacqueline George’s Same Sun
Yvette Janine Jackson
This chapter introduces narrative soundscape composition as a method for analyzing Jacqueline George’s Same Sun, a stereo recording released in 2016. I will define and discuss the development of narrative soundscape composition before introducing Jacqueline George, a composer and sound artist who uses field recordings from her Cairo neighborhood to explore and share place with a worldwide audience. Listening to, contextualizing, and reflecting on Same Sun are the bases for investigating how the personal experiences of the composer and the listener contribute to a meaningful interpretation of electroacoustic music. Analyses delving into narrative and emotional responses to electroacoustic composition did not find their way into academic discourse until recently (Emmerson and Landy 2016, 15). Narrative soundscape composition is one approach to remedying this oversight.
What Is Narrative Soundscape Composition?
Narrative soundscape composition is a multifaceted term I developed to describe a subgenre of electroacoustic music, a method for pivoting between creative activity and investigative research, and a practice for engaging social issues through sound. It unifies a range of compositional styles that include anecdotal music, concrete melodrama, text-sound composition, and interactive audio games containing narratives that fall anywhere along a spectrum from concrete to abstract. Toward the concrete end, one finds compositions resembling radio drama, wherein voice is used to communicate text related to the plot, sound effects are added to help the listener visualize the location and action, and instrumental music supports the emotional contour of the events that are unfolding. The audience is inclined to have a shared understanding of the story being conveyed. At the abstract end, all elements along the acoustic continuum of speech, music, and soundscape may be manipulated beyond recognition of a coherent story. For example, responding to an abstract composition that shares the same source materials as a radio drama, the listener may be able to identify many of the sounds but be unable to state “This is a story about x, y, z” and therefore have to work harder to make sense of the sonic experience. Personal experiences and attributes play a role in how an individual interprets the narrative in works that are situated toward the abstract end of the spectrum.
I use the word narrative broadly to mean a series of events that create a story. In soundscape composition, these series of events or facts may receive a linear or nonlinear treatment; the sonic elements may be presented in any order, condensed, expanded, or overlapped. The composer may imply a story via the composition’s title and the choice and organization of sonic material, while the listener may be an active participant in the construction of the narrative by engaging their imagination. Jon Appleton uses the term drama to explain these narrative accounts as “any series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, or striking interest” or “[conveying] a rather specific mood, [giving] rise to laughter or fear” and suggests that the outcome (e.g., change in emotion or mood) is as important as the sequence of events (Appleton 1996, 68). The composer is able to transport the listener from one place or state to another.
R. Murray Schafer brought attention to the concept of the “soundscape” in The New Soundscape (1968) and The Tuning of the World (1977). Schafer encouraged listening to the world as a macrocosmic composition, and his ideas influenced and developed alongside other participants in the World Soundscape Project (WSP) at Simon Fraser University, including Hildegard Westerkamp and Barry Truax. The WSP, which flourished throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, was established as an interdisciplinary research group, whose combined efforts propelled the field of acoustic ecology. The group’s activities and educational goals progressed from archival site-specific documentation to creative recordings and compositions. Schafer spearheaded the group’s first major study of locale, The Vancouver Soundscape (1973), which focused on source material recorded in 1972 and 1973 around the Vancouver area. This idea was expanded under the direction of Bruce Davis and Peter Huse into a cross-Canada recording endeavor in 1973, and eventually to European villages in Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, and Scotland, resulting in over three hundred tapes for the archive. The 10-part series Soundscapes of Canada for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired in 1974, and in 1996 a companion album to The Vancouver Soundscape was released (Truax 2016). The World Soundscape Project was initially focused on bringing awareness of the environment and mitigating the negative impacts of our changing world.
At the outset, students were enthusiastic about bringing awareness to the soundscape and environmental issues but were becoming cynical and displaying a “fatalistic attitude that nothing much could be done” (Truax 2012). To counter this mind-set, Truax promoted soundscape composition as an alternative, positive approach to addressing concerns about pollution and the environment. The initial intention of soundscape composition “was to document and re-present recordings of various sonic environments to the listener in order to foster awareness of sounds that are often ignored, and hence to promote the importance of the soundscape in the life of the community” (Truax 2012). Narrative soundscape composition departs from the WSP’s objectives by using the process of composing and the resulting composition to create a dialogue between the composer and listener centered on historical events and social issues. It shares the goal of the WSP “to promote the importance of the soundscape in the life of the community” but expands beyond the environmental focus and places greater emphasis on the social aspects of community. The original soundscape composition principles as articulated by Truax (n.d.) appear on the left-hand side of table 1.1.
Principles of soundscape composition (as articulated by Barry Truax) compared to those of narrative soundscape composition
WSP’s Soundscape Composition Principles
Narrative Soundscape Composition Principles
• Listener recognizability of the source material is maintained
• Moves freely along all points of the acoustic continuum of speech, music, and soundscape
• Listener’s knowledge of the environmental and psychological context is invoked
• Carefully incites the listener’s imagination, awakening the theater of the mind
• Composer’s knowledge of the environmental and psychological context influences the shape of the composition at every level
• Engages strategies of immersion to help suspend the listener’s disbelief within the narrative
• The work enhances our understanding of the world, and its influence carries over into everyday perceptual habits
• Engages strategies of immersion to help suspend the listener’s disbelief within the narrative
From its origins as an environmental movement based on listening to the world as a composition, Truax’s vision of soundscape composition is a heuristic means of acoustic design that encourages participants to learn from noise and imagine the possibilities of a healthy soundscape. Salomé Voegelin asserts that soundscape composition is based on “poetic intention and educational drive. … [It] evokes a listening somewhere in-between the aesthetic fantasy … and the aesthetico-political demands of sound lobbying for a world heard” (Voegelin 2010, 32). Narrative soundscape composition has the potential to motivate the composer and the listener to learn from one another, engage in dialogue, and become proactive about the possibilities of soundscape as a form of activism.
I have synthesized the World Soundscape Project’s tenets with various ideas from composers of programmatic electroacoustic music into the four narrative soundscape composition principles that appear on the right-hand side of table 1.1.
Kay Kaufman Shelemay applies “soundscapes” to ethnomusicology as a framework by which students examine music in culture by focusing on sound, setting, and significance (Shelemay 2015). This method acknowledges sound as the initial sense that informs the listener’s understanding of the composition but demands that other information be collected in order to better comprehend the recording. This holistic approach encourages a multisensory interaction with the composition. Through repeated listening, increasing details can be gathered about the sounds or source materials used by the composer and perceived by the listener. Beyond the acoustical properties of the music, Shelemay’s concept of setting takes into consideration the performance venue and behavior of the participants. The significance or meaning of the composition is shaped by both the composer’s and the listener’s personal and cultural backgrounds.
I employ narrative soundscape composition as a pedagogical tool in order to facilitate students’ investigation into the ways identity and the intersection of identities can be expressed through sound and music technologies. This approach to ethnographic research uses composition and reflection to develop theses related to class, race, gender, and sexuality. Composition as a means for advancing research is not a new idea. John Levack Drever recommends soundscape composition as ethnography because it can help soundscape practice progress “in a relevant and socially functional way, which reflects the complexities of today’s cultures. … This could mean a greater reflexive mode of operation for the composer, questioning and divulging what he or she may previously have regarded as givens” (Drever 2002, 25). Rather than centering on aesthetic components of analysis, an ethnographic approach to soundscape composition shifts the focus to the “making of representations and consequently power relations” (Drever 2002, 22). This methodology suppresses any aesthetic and artistic tendencies in favor of social and political ones; narrative soundscape composition celebrates the creative act because of its power to be in dialogue with the technical and the political.
Jacqueline George: A New Voice of Egypt
Egypt’s position as one of the birthplaces of electroacoustic music traces back to 1944, when the “father of electronic music,” Halim El-Dabh, made his wire recorder piece Ta’abir al-Zaar (The Expression of Zaar). Four years before Pierre Schaeffer garnered attention for conceptualizing musique concrète in Paris, El-Dabh applied similar techniques using recorded materials as the basis for his compositions. El-Dabh borrowed a portable magnetic wire recorder from an independent local radio station and gained entrance into a women-only healing ceremony known as zaar. His field recordings of women chanting during the exorcism were electronically manipulated into a 25-minute electroacoustic composition that was presented in an art gallery in Cairo. This landmark composition using recordings from the zaar, which at the time was a ceremony practiced in parts of North Africa and the Middle East, places the listener in a village outside Cairo. The two-minute excerpt of this composition survives as the “Wire Recorder Piece” on which ethereal and reverberant chanting voices can be heard. El-Dabh utilized the studio as an instrument, orchestrating source materials manipulated in an echo chamber and rerecording room with machinery that allowed him to control various parameters, resulting in new timbres (Bradley 2015). His use of the wire recorder technology to capture sounds in and around Cairo for compositional purposes predates the use of the phonograph and magnetic tape in Schaeffer’s work. The significance of Ta’abir al-Zaar in the context of its place in electroacoustic music history was not recognized at the time and is slowly finding its way into revised, inclusive histories.
El-Dabh was thinking like a narrative soundscape composer, making connections between his creative exploration of sound and the interconnectedness of people, land, and music. This interdisciplinary approach was encouraged by his family’s agriculture-related businesses in and around Cairo. In preparing to join his family business, he attended Cairo University and earned a degree in agricultural engineering, which led him to spend time in nearby villages. During this period, he realized the importance and ubiquity of music in the life of the villagers, and his attention to the sounds in relation to his environment began to transform his ways of listening, leading to a career in composition and ethnomusicology. His upbringing, life experiences, and interest in exploring location and culture resonate with the types of socioenvironmental questions raised by narrative soundscape composition. El-Dabh, feeling creatively isolated in Cairo, headed to the United States in 1950, where he eventually held academic positions until his death in 2017.
In this chapter, I do not attempt to draw a direct line in the musical genealogy connecting Halim El-Dabh to Jacqueline George, but I do wish to highlight how the Cairo soundscape is inseparable from George’s composing, and I consider her a new voice of electroacoustic music emerging from Egypt. Both composers are listed in Peter Holslin’s “A Guide to the Underground Electronic Scene in Cairo, Egypt” (Holslin 2018). Jacqueline George was born in Cairo in 1988; living and working in the region is integral to her creative work, which is focused on identity and social issues. She defines herself as a sound and visual artist, and her music incorporates field recording, creative coding, and a focus on human sounds. Her stylistic influences reflect her academic training and cultural identity. George studied at the Faculty of Art Education in Cairo and received a master’s degree in artist’s digital games, where she concentrated on digital games as an art medium. Her mentors included Shadi El Noshokaty, with whom she studied early in the new millennium, and Ahmed Basiony, whose life was taken during the revolution in 2011. Basiony introduced her to the concept of the “artist as a researcher,” and during this period she began experimenting with visuals, comics, performance art, and the art of sound. He raised her interest in “expression through sound and how to see it” (George, e-mails to the author, 2018–2019). Workshops on human rights studies supplemented George’s academic training; her compositions can be read as a social act. The principles of narrative soundscape composition align with George’s philosophy and the goals of artist-researchers.
George’s prolific output includes improvisation, multichannel and Ambisonic performances and installations, mixed-media composition, visual art, and other solo and collaborative projects. Her live experimental music is programmed in various venues around Cairo, and her live and fixed-media music garner attention in Europe. Works from her repertoire have been presented in workshops, created for radio, and distributed through online platforms. Several of her projects feature girls or women, including the Egyptian Females Experimental Music Sessions (George, e-mails to the author, 2018–2019).
I chose Same Sun for this analysis after encountering George’s multichannel work at the Borealis Festival in 2017 at the MULTI concert scheduled at Lydgalleriet in the Østre venue in Bergen, Norway. George’s Happening Now was one of three premieres in an evening of five works heard through the 24-channel speaker rig set up by Trond Lossius, the curator for the event. The fixed-media composition was “inspired by searching for the invisible reality of Cairo” and contained field recordings from Cairo. George diffused an immersive experience for the concert attendees, who were free to seat themselves in any relation to the speakers they desired.1 Multichannel concerts and sound installations are the ideal venue for being transported by George’s narrative works; however, Same Sun was selected for this chapter because the recording is available online and easily accessible to readers.
With Same Sun, George’s usual strategies of immersion, realized through multichannel or multimedia concerts and installations, are distilled into a single stereo track that was released on the Flaming Pines label in 2016 as part of their Tiny Portraits series. The project features sound artists from five continents and was developed by Kate Carr, who hoped “the small personal, story telling [sic] nature of these pieces [would bring] a sense of slowness and consideration to thinking about difference and culture, the ways the world connects, and also does not connect, and the different ways we exist and interact with ideas of home, place, and sites of significance” (Ede 2016). Each composer in the Tiny Portraits series was given the same assignment by the label: “to dwell on these connections and disconnections between sound and place, representation and invention by starting somewhere small, somewhere overlooked or obscure, and to interrogate this site using sound.” For George, the site of interrogation is Shobra, a Coptic district in Cairo. Listeners with little knowledge of the region might recognize footsteps, car horns, pitch-shifted and muffled voices, machinery, traffic, urban beat-based music, rain, children’s voices in recitation, reverberant voices recalling religious chants, low rumbles, rioting in the streets, machine-gun fire, silence, and layers of female voices condensed into an experience lasting 10 minutes 24 seconds. It may be impossible to grasp the form or meaning of the narrative soundscape composition upon initial exposure.
George describes her methods of composition for Same Sun as “partly complicated” because of the series of manipulations that take place at the micro and macro levels of manipulating her source materials; therefore, there is no score, official transcription, or Ableton Live session files available for the purpose of study (George, e-mails to the author, 2018–2019). Having knowledge of the composer’s tools might make it possible for the listener to reconstruct how the composition was assembled by recognizing certain processing techniques or other means of reverse engineering, but most listeners will only be concerned with the resulting composition as a whole and will not have access to information about the compositional process. Without access to visual representation of the composition, there is a logical incentive to center this analysis on listening, which is congruous with narrative soundscape composition’s emphasis on listening. The composer’s intent or expectations may be irrelevant to a fruitful analysis. “The intellectual challenges and emotions experienced by the composer are ‘independent’ from those of the listener” (Roads 2015, 29). We will consider the listener’s perspective through macroscopic to microscopic engagements with the soundscape composition.
This analysis prioritizes the perspective of the targeted audience, which is presumed to be outside academia. A distinction is frequently made between academic and commercial music. Listeners often regard the former as inaccessible because it challenges expectations of how meter, rhythm, melody, harmony, or instruments should behave. These “plastic” categorizations result in “fixed barriers to appreciation, understanding or learning” (Ramsay 2016, 229). Discogs (2016), a crowdsourced database and marketplace for audio recordings, lists the genre of Same Sun as “non-music” and its style as “field recording,” exemplifying the difficulty some audiences may have identifying it as a music composition. Flaming Pines promotes and distributes its Tiny Portraits album series primarily through its website, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud, and a wider audience may discover Same Sun via social media, blogs, online magazines such as The Quietus (Ede 2016), and search engine queries by those seeking information on the composer, label, or Tiny Portraits series.
Listeners wishing to engage Same Sun actively as narrative soundscape composition may perceive how the piece is organized more clearly through the process of mapping out the music as I have done. Although the average lay listener may not be motivated to make the effort, producing a visual guide of the recording has the potential to enhance analytical listening; a combination of ears and eyes affords an increasingly nuanced interpretation of the overall meaning of the composition. I have divided Same Sun into four sections, A through D, that are characterized by a fundamental sonic layer on top of which other layers are successively added (figure 1.1). The composer’s choices are governed by a unique set of rules that shape the arc within each structure. In section A, after the initial sound bed is established, new layers of sonic material fade in, one at a time, until the section ends abruptly. Section B borrows the same formula that governs section A but introduces a new set of sounds. It crossfades into section C, which presents a variation of the same process, but, after it reaches its maximum density, the layers are subtracted until only the initial sound bed of the section remains. A brief silence announces section D, in which three new layers are introduced before reprising sounds from section A. It concludes with the decaying effects of new and reprised materials until they slowly decrescendo.
The first 90 seconds of Same Sun are anchored by a fundamental pulse established by a flanged snare drum pattern that is looped. The two hits of the drum create an off-kilter rhythm that is the harbinger of the rest of the composition. The tempo can be heard as a brisk march at 120 BPM (beats per minute), the default tempo for an Ableton Live session, or as a slow procession at 60 BPM. Read as a march, the snare drum evokes the military, but at the slower tempo, the composition can be felt as a somber procession or protest. Five sonic layers are progressively composited over the drum, each fading in and crescendoing to its peak loudness. A low rumble and footsteps enter promptly, followed by the whine of machinery and intermittent beeping that resembles the timbre of pizzicato strings. About halfway through this opening sequence, a collage of artillery is heard, alternating between single pops and machine-gun spray, and blasts tucked underneath the section. Section A concludes with a rhythmic sequence of honking cars, and in the last six seconds, the passage ends with the guttural sound of a male voice, an unintelligible snippet of speech. The section stops abruptly.
The next two and a half minutes are unified by a sound bed of machinery. At the start of the section, a female voice can be heard asking in English, “What are you doing?” In Arabic, the male voice responds. For listeners not fluent in the language, the intimacy detected in the tone of the conversation in conjunction with the mechanical sounds stimulates the imagination. One might visualize being inside the workshop of a man who is being visited by a young woman curious about what he is constructing. The sound of the machinery and low-frequency hums increase in loudness, and car horns signal light traffic outside. Voices of young women and music emerging from a sound system move us to an exterior location, the streets of Shobra. The urban rhythms that provide a pulse for this section could be coming from a storefront or a parked car. A thunderstorm triggers emotional tension, and the gradual processing of the rain transforms the sound into something ambiguous that could be interpreted as fire. The voices of children enter and slightly mask the previous sounds. Are the children reciting text in school or playing a game? The listener’s imagination and knowledge of the region, landscape, and culture inform this interpretation. The final layer of the section, a chanting male voice, swirls in a reverberant delay. Section B has situated the listener in several spaces, juxtaposing interior and exterior worlds: a workspace, urban streets, a storm, a classroom, and a Coptic church. There is a brief pause in the persistent machinery sounds, and at 3:56 the composition crossfades into section C.
Section C is sustained by Coptic chanting by a male choir. The voices continue as a low rumble blasts into the soundscape, quickly followed by whistles and cheers from people in the streets of Cairo. The kick and high hats of dance music sneak in, providing a muffled rhythm. The voices in the crowd seem to grow more populous as the reverberation and delay are gradually increased. The last high hat strikes just before 6:19, returning the focus to the interior chants from the start of the section, as the outdoor cityscape fades out. The chanting stops, and a few seconds of silence usher in the final section.
A moment of silence marks the end of all that has come before. The final section of Same Sun begins with a heartbeat-like pulse, symbolizing new life. The heartbeat sounds like repurposed microphone breath noise. The first instance is heard as two beats and then continues as an irregular three-beat pattern. The granulation resolution of the first female voice is altered in order to create rhythmic artifacts by shortening the transient envelope to create a gating effect. Additional layers of female voices singing and chanting are added and gradually result in polyrhythms. The pulse of the heartbeat can now be detected oscillating from the left to the right speaker, bringing attention to the stereo field. At 7:43, there is a reprise of sounds from section A—first, the marching footsteps and low rumble. The reverberation and delay times applied to the fundamental vocal layers begin to increase. The familiar snare returns, followed by honking car horns. The crescendo of the soundscape grows over the next 30 seconds. At 9:01, sibilance in the vocal layers is heightened and creates a rhythmic pattern. Finally, the machine and pizzicato beeping return. The car horns fade out and the mechanical sounds end at 9:27, leaving the delayed voice and footsteps to linger. At this point, we are listening to more of the vocal effect than the original sound source introduced at the start of the section. The listener is left with decaying effects and footsteps, which steadily become quiet until the composition ends.
The timing of the sections and the major events within them are as follows:
Section A (0:00–1:34)
two flanged snare hits looping and building to a crescendo
a looped rhythm evocative of marching footsteps accompanied by a low rumble and high hiss
machinery (bandsaw or table saw) and a two-pitch pizzicato pattern
honking car horns
male vocal snippet
Section B (1:34–3:56)
table saw, conversation, outdoor ambiance
young female voices and music on the streets
thunder and rain
male Coptic voices, delayed
Section C (3:56–6:28)
Coptic chanting, multiple reverberant male voices
low rumble, chaotic voices, music
return to Coptic chants only
Section D (6:31–10:24)
voice, gated effect
reprise of footsteps
machinery, pizzicato pitches
return to vocal dominance
machinery and pizzicato beeps fade out
female vocals begin slow fade-out
slow fade-out of footsteps
Transcribing the sonic events in Same Sun creates a visual guide that allows listeners to see the grammar George uses to organize the composition; these rules may be difficult to intuit by listening alone. The composer may not even be cognizant of these rules while composing as she “creates a pattern of acoustic sensations in the form of a code [which] organizes the sensations into meaningful structure” (Roads 2015, 29). Within a composition, the composer’s grammar affects the emotional contour of the listener’s experience. Across compositions, George’s grammar may be used to establish a distinct style that helps the listener distinguish her output from that of other composers. For example, in 2016, George composed Insect Party for the “One Minute Symphony” online project for the Spanish label Endogamic. The album, subtitled Apologíade los insectos, contains 134 contributions of 60-second compositions evoking insects. Insect Party begins with a two-chord electric guitar riff with a cymbal crash on the second chord. This repeats as the foundational bed and is layered by a rhythm created out of a buzzing insect seven seconds in. At 0:23, a second, thinner insect-buzzing rhythm is added to the two repeating layers, and the guitar gradually fades out. Around 0:38, a sound evocative of marching slowly fades in. This footstep rhythm is from the same source material that enters at 0:16 in Same Sun, although it has been mixed differently. The pace of layering and the choice of source materials are part of George’s signature aesthetic. In another example, similar grammatical characteristics are detectable in Death Proofs Eternity, George’s “multimodal experimental music performance” that was composed for “environmental recordings, cello, oud, violin, and flute with visual and movement interaction about the concept of death in Copts philosophy” (George, e-mails to the author, 2018–2019). She composed a score for the multiple performers, and the work premiered in 2018 at the Goethe Institute, Cairo. The performance exhibits many of the markers common to George’s other compositions—the Cairo soundscape, Coptic references, and a social message grounded in cultural philosophy.
Soundscape composition calls for the recognizability of the source material to be maintained. While repeated listening to Same Sun allows the structure of the composition to become more apparent, I become less confident in the accuracy of my identification of the source materials; the repetition causes the recognition of some sounds to become increasingly ambiguous. George’s use of effects processing and layering is applied to sounds along all points of the acoustic continuum of speech, music, and soundscape, and her techniques sometimes make it difficult to separate sources. As we are exposed to the Shobra soundscape, the voices in private conversations or chanting, punctuated by dance music, coalesce. The listener continues to build and refine a narrative that emerges each time the composition is played back. My personal experiences and imagination bias my perception. Is it possible to listen to Same Sun without creating a narrative? When the listener is presented with two sounds, the mind will work to make sense of these sonic events in relation to one another and begin to form a narrative. Curtis Roads states that only one sound is needed, however, for this phenomenon to be realized: “A drone invites internal reflection and meditation. A doorbell alerts a household. An obnoxious noise provokes immediate emotional reaction. Silence invites self reaction. An intense sustained sound commands attention” (Roads 2015, 319). As the narrative is formed in the mind of the listener, what is heard may begin to change. For example, in section B of Same Sun, what sounds like rain can also be heard as fire, giving new meaning to the composition as a whole. The transformations of sounds take something recognizable and reposition the sound’s meaning through reverberation, delay, gating, and other effects. George has shared that Same Sun contains “recordings from Cairo streets, a revolution acclaim, Coptic praise and writings recorded by voice” created using Ableton Live (George, e-mails to the author, 2018–2019). The final text in section D is spoken by the author and translates as follows:
I am the eternal child
I’ll tell him I’m younger than him
Bigger than, Younger than, Who can be sure?
Listening to Same Sun as a narrative soundscape composition requires participation from the audience, who must draw from individual preexisting knowledge, previous experiences, and their imagination in order to engage with the work. The listener may not be able to rely on heuristic knowledge, as with melodic or tonal music, in order to understand and anticipate what will happen next (Huron 2007, 92). Interpretation of Same Sun may be further affected by the audience’s varying degrees of understanding of the Arab Spring movement and the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 and by exposure to the Tiny Portraits series, Jacqueline George, and her other compositions. A passive listening experience is not likely to convey significant meaning; narrative soundscape composition raises awareness of social issues by leading to discussion and sometimes activism, although that may not always be the explicit goal of the composer. In Listening to Noise and Silence, Voegelin points out that “listening is not a receptive mode but a method of exploration, a mode of ‘walking’ through the soundscape/the sound work. What I hear is discovered not received, and this discovery is generative, a fantasy: always different and subjective and continually, presently now” (Voegelin 2010, 4). For each listener, these combinations of sound sources will generate different images in the theater of the mind. The juxtaposition of source materials in Same Sun provokes a specific image of Cairo, suggesting urbanity, violence, and revolution but also humanity and possibility. The sounds of the snare drum, marching, voices speaking, Coptic chants, and machine-gun blasts call to mind the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, which took place just five years before the track was released.
In soundscape composition, the composer presents a series of sonic events that alter the listener’s mood from one state to another, and the listener contributes to the experience of the composition by connecting these elements in order to create a story. Jacqueline George is “looking for creative potential inside Cairo’s noise, fascinated by how noise carries ideas and mental images” (George, e-mails to the author, 2018–2019). Narrative soundscape composition attempts to activate the theater of the mind, motivating the listener to envision scenes as the sounds play. The potential for creating a vivid spectacle is influenced by the imagination as well as by the way the listening experience is mediated. Listening to Same Sun via the Tiny Portraits website will likely direct attention to the text and images on the screen rather than affording a purely acousmatic experience. Some listeners might find that a listening environment devoid of visual stimuli fosters a more conducive setting for igniting the visual imagination.
According to The Quietus, “In [an] exploration of sound, space and political, religious and cultural geographies, [George] has composed a piece plotting a journey in the Shobra district of Cairo, which presents the different ways commercial, religious and political agendas compete for sonic space in the streets.” For the composer, the exercise of exploring home for the purposes of the Tiny Portraits series forces self-reflection about identity, home, and how and what to convey to a wider audience. George is able to transmit sociopolitical ideas to the listener that prompt dialogue or further action.
Interpreting the Extramusical
The title, program notes, album art, production methods, and events contemporaneous with the time in which Same Sun was composed provide contextual information that sways the interpretation of the narrative, in many cases before listening to the recording has taken place. The title is a programmatic clue to the meaning of the composition. The words “same sun” evoke the image of the sun in the sky, daytime. For some, the title might conjure specific thoughts related to humanity, difference, and living together in harmony under a common star. If we have heard the recording or read the program notes, the title places us on the streets of Cairo on a bright day, possibly hot. The title implies unity of people, places, and things under a powerful celestial entity. Our relationship on earth to the sun equalizes our position under its dominion. From the title, we may begin to think about how we are all connected.
Program notes introduce additional text that explicitly reveals the composer’s intentions or suggests how the listener should experience the piece, whether read before or after listening. George’s notes for Same Sun are inserted into the CD-R packaging and are available on the Tiny Portraits website and Bandcamp page:
Shobra is the largest and most populous neighborhood of Cairo. It is a Coptic word which means “the manor or village.” Muhammad Ali Pasha created it in 1809 and it was not originally part of Cairo, but today it is in the heart of the city and replete with people and stories, life and pain, noise … rapid and maybe fickle change, education, action, soul, killing time, presence.
Jacqueline George, Cairo, Egypt
As we listen with these words in mind, we can see the streets filled with people. We may begin to imagine the faces that accompany the intimate voices in the machine shop in section A or put smiles on the faces of the children heard in section B.
The album art functions as an implicit program note. It has the power to set the emotional tone or evoke location or story through the use of color, images, text, and fonts. In figure 1.2, Same Sun’s brownish-green shapes atop a black background suggest a Coptic church adjacent to an apartment building with colorful clothes hanging from a balcony. In the upper right, red Arabic text rests at a diagonal. Dark green text displays the album title and the featured country, while the composer’s name, district, and city are in white. The text and imagery work together to set expectations that the listener should anticipate an experience related to the urban environment of Cairo. The buildings depicted indicate location, but the people are hidden and only heard in the recording. The album cover’s designer, Kate Carr, worked with each composer spotlighted in the Tiny Portraits series, asking them to photograph their neighborhood streetscape. Documenting the streets presented safety concerns for George, so she curated online images of Shobra to send to the designer (Carr, e-mail to the author, 2019). George’s agency in choosing the images selected to represent her home are as important as the source materials chosen for the composition. Tiny Portraits exists as an interactive website (see figure 1.3) created by Kate Carr and Arash Akbari exploring “small renderings of place in memory.”2
Akbari designed and programmed a multimedia experience that features artwork influenced by Google maps. Visitors to the site are greeted by a blue globe floating in a darker celestial blue representing space. The globe can be rotated and magnified to reveal glowing red dots placed around the world. Carr envisioned an interactive platform that would allow users to take a sonic tour by following points along the globe to create a route to explore. Attached to each dot is a blue box with white text displaying the title of a soundscape composition. Using a mouse to hover the cursor over the box, the visitor can see the name of the neighborhood, city, and country where the composition was recorded. Clicking on the title box initiates an animated swipe to a new page, which autoplays the selected track. The eye is drawn to the top of the screen, which has the album art designed by Carr. Below the artwork is the composer’s name in a large font, followed by the name of the piece; below that is the location and, in a smaller font, the corresponding latitude and longitude. The composer’s notes about the piece are placed at the bottom of the page.
The London-based Flaming Pines label is focused on experimental ambient music. Their distribution outreach is primarily through the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, supplemented by their website, which links to their releases on Bandcamp. Their discography of 83 releases includes a series of digital albums called Tiny Portraits, featuring artists from Scotland, Japan, Canada, England, Sweden, Russia, Greece, Iran, Latvia, France, Italy, Croatia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Australia, and Hungary. The Tiny Portraits albums are primarily released as a series of single soundscape compositions but are also available in compilations featuring up to four composers on an EP. The packaging of the individual albums as a curated collection provides an incentive for the consumer to discover new composers and to connect fans of one composer to another composer. George receives both a “track by” and “mastered by” credit on the label’s Bandcamp page. The project was released as a limited edition batch of one hundred handmade, numbered three-inch CD-Rs with an insert, plus unlimited streaming on Bandcamp of Tiny Portraits—Jacqueline George, a “high-quality” download in MP3, FLAC, and other digital formats. The Tiny Portraits website invokes Voegelin’s viewpoint of soundscape composition as “occupying a site ‘between preservation and invention’, an attempt by the composer or field recordist to retain the essence of a site inevitably results via the processes of recording, composition and listening in the creation of somewhere new.” The label wants us to consider these very important questions: “In what ways is sound actually able to capture and convey place? Is place something to be captured at all?”
George’s field recordings were gathered discreetly using her phone and a portable recorder (George, e-mails to the author, 2018–2019). The recordings, like the images for the album cover, focus on one street from the Shobra neighborhood (Chuter 2017). The source materials were then processed in multiple stages using Ableton Live and then further manipulated during the composition phase of organizing the sounds into a cohesive narrative. Knowledge of the tools used to create a new work might allow listeners who have experience with the same or similar tools to imagine the composer’s process, but many active listeners will be satisfied to engage the composition without caring about how it was made. Reflecting on the production tools and processes used to create the piece might lead to a litany of questions. What is lost by Same Sun being intended as a two-channel fixed medium rather than a live performance or a multichannel experience diffused to immerse the listener in the soundscape? In what way does private listening, whether through computer speakers, headphones, or beamed to a stereo system via Bluetooth, enhance the meaning of the organized sounds? Does poietic leakage of the composer’s intentions interfere with the listener’s experience? More importantly, how does the composer transmit her intentions to the listener?
Julian Rhorhuber writes about the exchange of knowledge in networked music, but the ideas translate well to understanding how George’s music can impact the listener:
Sound in general, and voice and music in particular, have often played a key role in cultural techniques of transmission and knowledge exchange, as well as in the reflection about conversation and enquiry. On the one hand, sound is associated with the notion of immediate connection between phenomena, and the experience of being affected over distance. On the other, it forms a basis for the transmission of signs, and therefore listening is also related to an activity of decoding, to the extraction of meaning that is based on a convention or protocol. Thus the same sound can be perceived in two different ways: as a direct effect of a more or less remote sound source, or as a message encoded into the sound, and left to a listener’s interpretation. (Rhorhuber 2017, 138–139)
George fosters an immediate connection with the listener through soundscape composition by imparting her memory and associations of home. The activity of coding and decoding is powered by the reciprocity of imagination from each participant. Although the code carried via the sounds in Same Sun remains the same each time it is played, the way the setting and significance of the composition is decoded will shift as the listener becomes more familiar with the recording itself and its related extramusical information.
Jacqueline George represents a new generation of electroacoustic composers emerging from Egypt. Portable recording and production tools make it possible for her to transform her soundscape as she imagines it. “Given the portability of recording and production technology, how will electronic music reflect local and even transient cultures? Does the ease of production imply a healthy democratization of the aesthetic of electronic music or perhaps its corruption” (Schedel 2017, 25)? With a mobile phone, laptop, and digital audio workstation, George is able to experiment with field recordings and text in a way that does not conform to institutional standards. Same Sun demonstrates George’s effort to use technology to communicate a compositional style that permits her to transform the soundscapes from her Coptic neighborhood in Cairo into an ethnographic investigation. Narrative soundscape composition frames Same Sun as a subgenre of electroacoustic music that has the potential to engage the social and invite listeners to contemplate cultural identity and place. Because narrative soundscape composition requires cooperation between the composer and the listener, the potential for the composition to excite the imagination, raise awareness about historical and social issues, and provoke discussion is dependent on the listener’s level of participation.
2 Analysis of Gayle Young’s Ice Creek (2018)
There are very few Canadian composers (and composers in general, I daresay) who have been as influential to the international electroacoustic scene as Gayle Young, at least in the last four decades.1 From 1987 to 2006, she was the editor of Musicworks, a publication she collaborated with as far back as 1978. She has also been a member of the editorial board of Leonardo Music Journal (Austin 1991). She was secretary of the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology from 1996 to 1999 and a member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. In particular, as the editor of Musicworks, she interviewed and reported on dozens of composers, anticipating a very inclusive gaze on the world of experimental music. Her extensive research on Canadian electronic composer and inventor Hugh Le Caine resulted in the book The Sackbut Blues (Young 1989).
Since her first compositions in the late 1970s, Young has experimented with a wide variety of sounds and ways of composing and musicking. She has composed dozens of pieces, including music for videos and films; been active with installations and site-specific creations and performances; created her own percussion instruments, the columbine and the amaranth; been a performer of her own compositions and an improviser; performed pieces by Yoko Ono and John Cage, among many others; and was one of the first to earn a Deep Listening® certificate for learning Pauline Oliveros’s practice. The list of her achievements could go on. Her work has been presented internationally, and she has participated regularly in festivals and residencies around the world. Her compositions and research have been funded by prestigious Canadian and international organizations, both public and private.
Yet, notwithstanding her undeniable contribution to the contemporary discourse on and in music, almost no secondary literature has been written on her music. The breadth of her work is such that it can barely be encompassed in this book chapter. By focusing on a recent composition, Ice Creek (2018), I hope to spark analysis of recurring aspects of her production that are pertinent to the piece at hand and to initiate a discourse on Young’s complex and multifaceted sonic world.
Ice Creek (2018)
Young divides her electroacoustic compositions into three groups: “1. Compositions that include synthesized sound, or sound treatment, played live or in pre-recorded format; 2. Compositions that include combinations of pre-recorded sound, such as multi-tracking, but with no changes other than volume envelopes to the sound of the original recording; 3. Compositions in which pre-recorded sound is treated by filtering and resonance” (Young 2019). Ice Creek belongs to the second group, as it is written for piano and prerecorded sounds. The piece was composed in 2018 as part of a triptych of compositions for piano and electronics commissioned by pianist and researcher Xenia Pestova with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. It premiered on June 1, 2018, as part of the New Works Calgary season. The prerecorded sounds are recordings of tuned resonators placed “inside holes in the ice that covered a small waterfall, imparting pitch to the sounds of the water” (Young 2019). The prerecorded sound is not treated other than with volume envelopes. Instead, the piano plays overtones of the bass formed by the resonator recordings. A text describing the setting and the recording process is provided by Young and inserted in the score for use by the performer. Ice Creek is about 16 minutes long and is composed of three sections: “Ice Creek” (about eight minutes), “Ice Creek Low” (about four minutes) and “Ice Creek High” (about four minutes). The sections, each of which should be played once, can be played in whatever order the performer prefers. In the performance notes, Young commented that 2018 was the centenary of Debussy’s death, and she acknowledges “the influence of his explorations of piano resonance and the harmonies he built based on his observation of higher overtones barely audible in the piano” (Young 2018b).
Young has been using long tubes as resonators since the 1990s. These tube-shaped resonators were initially built for site-specific sound installations such as Les Tuyeaux Sonores [The Sonic Tubes] (1994), but since 2002 Young has used recordings from these resonators in compositions as well. In 2002, she composed Fissure, where, similarly to Ice Creek, she used resonators to isolate pitches from a small stream, a waterfall, and the oceanside fissure of the title, a cavelike opening between shoreline rocks with ocean waves slowly washing in and out. For sound in Tree (2006), a film by Shelley Niro, she used resonators to isolate pitches in traffic, and in the multichannel installation Toronto, Hamilton, and Buffalo (2008), she used resonators to record train sounds. In 2018, the same year Ice Creek was released, she premiered Water Falling at the Visiones Sonoras Festival in Mexico, combining resonators isolating pitches in waterfalls and the pitches of the strings of the allium, a nine-string instrument she created. Possibly Young finds these resonators so versatile because her experience in building her own instruments leads her to think about them as peculiar musical instruments that need amplification. Without amplification, their use would be impossible because the sound produced would be too feeble (Young quoted in Belair 2019b).
Young discovered resonators to amplify otherwise barely audible environmental sounds in 1994 during an artistic residency in the Lac Saint-Jean area in Quebec, while she and her collaborator, visual artist Reinhard Reitzenstein, were exploring areas for possible outdoor installations:
As we were watching and listening to the waterfall, it occurred to us that the sound had a resonant low pitch reminiscent of an organ tone. … We tested our perception of the pitch, each quietly humming the note we thought we were hearing, then getting loud enough for the other person to hear: the pitches turned out to be the same, so that we believed the pitch was actually sounding in the environment. This experience became an important influence in the development of Les Tuyeaux Sonores: we wanted our installation to bring attention to the sounds of the water. (Young 2002, 123)
This was done using PVC tubing of the kind used in construction and maintenance, cut at half the length of the wavelengths of pitches they wanted to present to people listening through the resonators. In Les Tuyeaux Sonores, groups of resonators were assembled at three sites in the area, and at each site people were encouraged to wander from resonator to resonator to explore the amplified frequencies. As Young explained, “This was an installation where people would go up to an assembly of resonators, and actually put their ears against the open ends. There were different lengths of tubing, all in lengths related to just intonation pitch ratios, so you could make your own melody by moving from one opening to another” (Young in Belair 2019b).
The resonators amplify small sounds otherwise inaudible or submerged in louder splashes or roaring sounds of the waterfall. Indeed, Young notices how this type of listening “prompts a sense of intimacy, a personal relationship with the site” (Young 2002, 125). In particular, the need to pause and listen introduced to the spatial and site-specific installation not only a time element but also a direct invitation to slow down, which was appreciated by conservationists. Young recounts that, “The director of the historical site at Val Jalbert expressed appreciation for the role of the installation in slowing people down so that they experienced the place over a period of time instead of rushing up the lift … to the top of the mountain, taking a picture, and immediately coming back down to drive to the next tourist attraction” (Young 2002, 126).
When these resonators are used in compositions, a microphone is placed within the tube to record the sound. The recording is then used to create prerecorded multichannel tracks. Even though this might seem a more composer-centered approach, some of the relational aspects promoted by listening through resonators and explored in the site-specific installation are still recognizable and maintained when used as a compositional technique. For example, the main relational aspect that is preserved in the composition is the invitation to slow down to listen and explore the sonic event in its fullness.
The need for slowing down derives from the need to have a full appreciation of the sonic phenomenon that is happening in a harmonic way rather than from a textural point of view. This need to slow down sonic phenomena, so to speak, was also the main driver that led Young to build her percussion instruments:
In my last year [1976–1977], in David Rosenboom’s composition class, we studied Harry Partch and Iannis Xenakis. I studied their work in quite a bit of detail, and the problem … was that it is so complex that you can’t really hear what’s going on. That was my initial impetus to build the metal percussion instrument, Columbine: so I could hear what was going on. At that point I didn’t even know if it mattered, or if I could hear the difference. What if you switch from a C major chord where the fifth is perfectly tuned to a D major chord where it’s not perfectly tuned? Could you tell the difference? I’ve concluded that you can’t tell the difference if the sound is not sustained long enough. (Young in Belair 2019a)
The pianist interacting with the prerecorded multichannel tracks created with the resonators in Ice Creek may respond similarly to the participants in the site-specific installation. It will become clear that the performer is required to do a very similar action, that of listening and picking their melodic path among the gamut of overtones assigned in relation to the recorded pitches from the resonators—an action that requires time to inquire into and react to (or explore and respond to, as suggested by Young in a personal e-mail exchange with the author in July 2019).
It is interesting to briefly explore the desire to maintain a harmonic sense rather than a textural one. Young is very explicit in her disinterest in traditional Western harmony, or at least in the dichotomies that structure traditional Western musical syntax (major/minor, dissonance/consonance, etc.). She even avoids the term “resolution,” as it would suggest the resolution of a tension between dominant and tonic. Instead, she expresses interest in continua and alternative pitch organizations and what “lies in between.” As she puts it, “My habits of perception aren’t that different from anyone else’s. I still hear all the major/minor, V/I that everyone else does. But I like to also elucidate the possibilities of a continuum between extremes rather than go back and forth from one to the other. To hear the less-defined in-between sounds, that might form a connection between the easily-labelled extremes” (Young in Belair 2019a).
Thus, the harmonic structure that one might expect from Young’s music in general, and Ice Creek in particular, is not a horizontal sense of harmonic resolution but rather a relational exploration of a bass and its overtone formations in ways that resemble melodic investigations rather than clusters. Young argues that we should not even try to listen to pitches qua pitches but just as a property of sound in time: “Frequency unfolds over time, so if I start with one group of frequencies, they would shift to the next group over a period of time. All the vibrations themselves take place in time—440 vibrations a second vs 880 per second—it all happens in time. A lot of the time we’re not aware of that. We have ways of describing music like high notes and low notes which are actually fast and slow” (Young in Belair 2019b).
Text Communicating Musical Parameters
Another element displayed in Ice Creek that is an original recurring element of Young’s work is the creative use of text in her scores. The first fully text-based composition was Along the Periphery (1993) for solo violin with electronic treatment. As Young describes it, “Pitches of overtones played on the strings are indicated in the score, but no rhythmic notation is indicated. Instead the musician creates his/her rhythmic playing from a text shown in the score” (Young 2019). In an earlier piece, Usque Ad Mare (1981), for four synthesizers, texts describe “changing timbres to be set and then implemented by the performers” (Young 2019).
Young’s first food-based (“recipe”) piece was Black Bean Soup (1994) for any combination of 12-tone and 19-tone instruments, premiered by Critical Band with 19-tone electric guitar (John Gzowski) and violin (Malcolm Goldstein), performed in Toronto and at the Newfoundland Sound Symposium in July 1998. Her recipe pieces are based on written descriptions of methods and variations of food preparation (thus acknowledging that their realization will be a little different every time). She has penned texts that are placed under the staff for the performers to see. These texts provide a varied pool of details.
Texts can be highly evocative of related outdoor experiences and rich with environmental details as in Ice Creek, or As Trees Grow (2015) for piano and electronics, also premiered by Xenia Pestova. In the latter, the texts describe six food-bearing trees in Umbria, the Italian region where Young was working for six weeks during a composer fellowship with Civitella Ranieri Foundation in fall 2014. Regarding this composition, Young states: “I would use the pitch curve of the spoken text—the intonation—when writing the notes, and that curve would show the phrasing. The scores are not specific about the rhythm, and the overall phrasing is shown in the shape—the melodic contour. The rhythm develops from the way the musician hears the words in the text” (Young in Belair 2019b). Texts can also be about more prosaic actions and highlight more consumerist aspects of our lives, as happens in Black Bean Soup, where the text is a recipe for a soup with references to brands such as Kraft and Campbell’s (Sutherland and Acord 2007, 130).
Text scores used as frameworks of interaction, similarly to the recipe pieces that Young produced, have a long-standing tradition, and they can also be called “event scores,” “verbal notation,” and “action scores,” among other descriptions. These scores have been widely used by composers whose work is connected to Young’s (e.g., Pauline Oliveros, Yoko Ono, Annea Lockwood, and R. Murray Schafer).2 Also, the very concept of a “recipe” to indicate a framework of interaction is not unusual. The term is often used by dance and theater scholar and dramaturge Pil Hansen in her dance case studies (for example, Hansen and Oxoby 2017). Working on various recipe-like scores, she developed the very useful concept of “performance-generating systems”:
[Performance-generating systems are] rule- and task-based dramaturgies that systematically set in motion a self-organizing process of dance generation. When creating such a system, the focus is not on the completion of a choreographic composition of movements, phrases, series, and interactions with fully set muscle intentionality, tempo, and markers of what takes place where and when in space and time. The choreographer and dramaturg are also not creating frames for improvisation of movement that are based on the dancers’ impulses. Rather, when creating a performance generating system, the aim is to arrive at a set of shared tasks and rules that both divides and sharpens the performers’ attention, while limiting their options and challenging them to make movement decisions in the moment. (Hansen 2014, 256)
The concept of a performance-generating system will become handy shortly. However, it is important to notice that while some of Young’s compositions make partial use of text scores and can be assimilated into recipes or performance-generating systems, her notational use of text is very different from the examples mentioned. Indeed, as well explained by Sutherland and Acord, “What is new here is the use of textual algorithms for musical parameters (rhythm, phrasing, timbre, dynamics, etc.). Within the score, performers find pitch groupings over text—a recipe for black bean soup. The performers create rhythm and phrasing based upon that of the text itself” (Sutherland and Acord 2007, 130).
Analyzing the Score of Ice Creek
The notation and indications used are in a fashion that recently has been used consistently by Young, for example in her composition As Trees Grow (2015).3 The score has the piano part in the top four staves, and the bottom two staves notate a four-channel prerecorded track created by using the tube-shaped resonators. The two sets of staves are divided by a text composed of eight verses (see figure 2.1): four for the “Ice Creek” section and two verses each for the sections “Ice Creek Low” and “Ice Creek High.”
The text describes the environment and the actions of the recording:
From the trail above the waterfall we can barely hear the rushing water,
falling between the steep-stepped rock face and layers of frozen splashes, new drips quickly freezing, ice growing from the edges.
Layers of rippling glittering ice face the morning sun, almost cover the creek, leaving only small dark breathing holes in the centre.
We position one end of a fifteen-foot length of tubing under the ice and listen from the other end to the interior waterfall world.
“Ice Creek Low”
A low hum emerges, louder than the noise of the water, and we gradually notice higher bands of tone, shadows of flickering melodies.
High-pitched splashes tune themselves inside the tubing. In this tiny ice-cave the sounds of the surrounding forest are absent.
“Ice Creek High”
Removing sections of the tube, one at a time, we listen through each shorter length, to a new tone, a higher step in a growing melody,
that carries its own cascading tones and hisses, rhythmic rippling, splashing and dripping, between the ice and the flowing water.
As an additional note to the performer, Young wrote:
Ice Creek (8 minutes): The pre-recorded audio begins on low E-flat and F, later expanding to include A. Repeated shorter-duration E-flat and F tones build in density at four minutes, followed by the introduction of semitones outside the whole-tone pitch set implied by the E-flat, F, and A. An augmented triad on E-natural is established, then expanded by the addition of whole-tone pitches. The piano part at first replicates pitches in the pre-recorded audio, then gradually expands to whole-tone pitch sets throughout the piano register.
Ice Creek High (4 minutes): The pre-recorded audio consists of cross-faded additive sequences of recordings from five tube lengths that form a whole-tone pitch set. Pitches in the piano part are related to overtones of the pre-recorded pitches. Slow pedal tones are combined with the 7th, 9th, and 10th overtones. Paired with these are 14th to 20th overtones notated in higher registers as overlapping groups of four-note and three-note whole-tone clusters.
Ice Creek Low (4 minutes): The pre-recorded audio juxtaposes the three lowest tube sounds, E-flat, E, and F. The piano part shows pairs of pitches in evolving sequences that match the overtones of the pre-recorded audio and those between the piano pitches, shifting among the 14th, 15th, 17th, 18th, and 19th harmonics. Pitches can be played in alternation, in unison pairs, as clusters, and in different octaves. (Young 2018b)
Given all the details described so far, it might seem bizarre that this analysis focuses exclusively on the score for a composition, especially given that the composition has a projected electroacoustic and prerecorded part; the prerecorded part is derived from natural elements that naturally escape writing; and has nonnormative, nonprescriptive notation, so that the written music does not reflect what happens in the performance. Indeed, it might seem that by focusing on the score, I want to erase these elements of uncertainty to inscribe Young’s work within the glorious tradition of believing that the score is the sole (or at least the principal) repository of musical knowledge. However, I focus on the score because there is presently no satisfactory audio document that clearly captures the interactions between the prerecorded tracks and the piano part.4 It is also a choice derived from the very nature of Young’s scores, which are places of exploration and dialogue. I therefore hope to identify some decision-making processes, negotiations, and constructed affordances that will make clear how this score is not merely a composition but is instead something between an installation with resonators and a composition. It is indeed a system that generates performance or, quoting Pil Hansen earlier, a shared set of tasks and rules that challenge the performer into making choices in the moment.
For Young, the score is a moment of encounter and attunement among peers. It is indeed a moment of real exchange of information, skills, and even opinions, viewpoints, and experiences. Young’s scores reject in a very effective way the traditional hierarchy between the composer and the performer. This becomes clear in a statement by Young cited by Sutherland and Acord: “My recipe pieces provide alternative ways of making use of classical training, on one hand, and alternatives to the usual composer/performer roles, on the other. The concept/method expands the levels of creativity that performers can bring to their playing, and they become co-creators in bringing their versions of the pieces into being. Many different approaches are possible, as so few details (tempo, for example) are pre-established (Sutherland and Acord 2007, 130).
As Sutherland and Acord note, “Young challenges the knowledge of music as embodied in a final product and the relational roles of composer and performer. Musicians approaching these works cannot rely on familiarity with institutionalized symbols and cues. Performers must step outside this, drawing upon wider contexts” (Sutherland and Acord 2007, 130). Indeed, in a personal communication with Young, she expressed to me the need to move on from previously used notational strategies that were very normative toward the performers of her music. Instead, she made explicit her compositional need to introduce performers of her music to the liberating experience of improvising her music and to live her performances in a nonnormative way.
In this context, it is not a surprise that pianist and scholar Xenia Pestova is becoming increasingly involved with Young’s music. Pestova has analyzed her approach to the score and score studying at length. In particular, she extensively analyzed what the performer’s challenges are in various performance setups, including an electronic part to the performance (Pestova 2018; Pestova 2009). Such an inquisitive approach to the act of reading and exploring the score and its affordances is a huge advantage when it comes to performing pieces such as Ice Creek.
Prerecorded tracks The prerecorded track is projected using four channels and uses pitches recorded at one end of a tube-shaped resonator, the other end being placed inside a hole in the ice that covers an almost-frozen waterfall. The resonator is four inches wide and has been cut at different lengths to isolate different pitches. This is also suggested in the text, where in the “Ice Creek High” part the way to isolate higher pitches is described as follows: “Removing sections of the tube, one at a time, we listen through each shorter length, to a new tone, a higher step in a growing melody” (Young 2018a). The lowest fundamental is a low E-flat, produced when the resonator is 15 feet long. The three sections are differentiated by different sets of fundamentals explored in the prerecorded track (see figure 2.2).
Not only is the range of resonators used very variable, going from the wider range presented in “Ice Creek,” to a whole-tone collection of five pitches in “Ice Creek High,” to the range of a tone in “Ice Creek Low,” but each prerecorded section is also constructed in very different ways. “Ice Creek Low” has a bass line with long, resonant tones presented one at a time. “Ice Creek” presents a richer melodic structure that also has superimposition and pitches presented at the same time. “Ice Creek High” has two intertwined melodic lines. The composer differentiates the two melodic lines through notation: one is written with white notes, the other with crossed white notes. While the two melodic lines use the same collection of pitches and very similar intervallic movements, they are treated differently. The one in white notes has an overall upward trajectory, while the one in crossed notes presents a downward trajectory. This structure of two intertwined different yet related melodies through upward and downward motion resonates with the structure of the resonators’ part in “Ice Creek Low.” This section is supposed to last around four minutes. Each bar lasts for about 30 seconds. The prerecorded sounds, as noted by Young, explore exclusively the three lowest recorded pitches: E-flat, E, and F. These frequencies are sustained. Except for the last two bars (repeating a final E and then silence), the melodic line these frequencies form is an almost perfect palindrome (see figure 2.3), the only irregularity being the two notes leading to and following the central E, respectively an F and an E-flat.
Notwithstanding the differences among the three sections, the strongest unifying element is the centrality of the E resonator. All three sections have their resonator parts ending in E, even though in “Ice Creek High” it is two octaves above the two others, but E is present in a central position in both “Ice Creek” and “Ice Creek Low.” In the latter, the melodic line and its cancrizans structure revolves around E, which is the beginning, the end, and the pivotal element. Similarly, in “Ice Creek,” the central bars (at 4:00 and 5:00) are an ostinato alternation of E and F at an interval of a ninth.
As described by Young, the piano pitches are overtones related to the prerecorded bass pitch isolated with resonators from the waterfall recording. While the electroacoustic part of the piece is prerecorded and fixed, the piano part is to be played according to certain indications. For example, in the case of “Ice Creek Low,” the piano part includes the fourteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth overtones of the pitch isolated by the resonator. Among the overtones written in the score, the performer can choose to play the pitches, according to Young, “in alternation, in unison pairs, as clusters, and in different octaves.” Even with the freedom granted to the performer, having only five overtones might seem very limiting, especially in “Ice Creek Low,” where the bass line is composed of only three pitches and only a semitone apart from each other. Yet the piano material is rather rich. First, the overtones on top of the various bass pitches are rather different. Of the eight different low Es in “Ice Creek Low,” each one is given a different set of overtones the pianist can perform with (see table 2.1).
14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th [D-flat, not an overtone]
15th, 16th, 17th
15th, 17th, 18th
16th, 18th, 19th
17th, 18th, 19th
16th, 18th [C not an overtone]
Variations are obtained by changing which overtones are played over the same bass (as table 2.1 shows) or by changing the bass with the same set of overtones as in bar 1. In fact, in the first 30 seconds, the same set of pitches (D-flat—E—F—G) is played over an E (sixteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth overtones, with D-flat not an overtone) and over an F (fifteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth overtones, with D-flat not an overtone).
Also, the sixteenth overtone, four octaves above the fundamental, is not listed by Young, but it can be used (maybe considered just as an octave doubling of the fundamental). An interesting element is the use of D-flat in the first 45 seconds of the section. D-flat is not an overtone of E or F but only of E-flat, which appears only in bar 2, after about 45 seconds. Thus, D-flat in the piano part works as a sort of anticipation.
In table 2.1, I treated overtones similarly to pitch classes, following Young’s indications that they can be played at any octave. Thus, I played into this freedom suggested in Young’s indications. However, there are visual and conceptual cues that if not undermining this suggested freedom at least ask for a moment of reflection before action—a sort of moment of exchange of extra information between the composer and the performer. I would like to call this process a moment of attunement between the different performative and creative experiences between the creator and the performer. These elements that help foster an exchange of experiential knowledge are notational details and the use of the text.
Experiential Attunement between the Composer and the Performer
The way in which the score is written communicates to the performer aspects of the composer’s ideas in ways that are not normative and add some personal nuance to the verbal score indications that fall more generally in the tradition of indeterminate music. In fact, the way in which the score is written suggests a closeness to the actual overtone series. For example, G and G-flat are mostly (even though not exclusively) indicated in the central octave, while E and E-flat are mostly (even though not exclusively) indicated in lower octaves.
Moreover, while there are no specific rhythmic indications, there are hints at gestures. For example, while “Ice Creek Low” might suggest a ribattuto gesture, “Ice Creek” and “Ice Creek High” suggest at times arpeggios and arabesque gestures. In this sense, the way in which piano pitches are notated is one of the most Debussian aspects of the piece (see figure 2.4). For example, in “Ice Creek” there are groupings suggesting different textures in different registers, a trademark of Debussy’s music (see, for example, Parker 2012; Parakilas, Tucker, and Chanan, 2001, 293).
Another aspect that can recall Debussy’s style is the whole-tone bass used by Young in “Ice Creek High.” It might recall the even-spaced scales used in gamelan ensembles that were appreciated and used by Debussy (Parker 2012).
I call this a moment of attunement between the performer and the composer rather than a direct parameter or indication given by the composer to the performer because it seems to me a more nuanced form of communication. It communicates a different form of knowledge—the experiential knowledge that the composer has of Debussy. This reading of Debussy might or might not be the experiential knowledge that the performer has of Debussy. In deciding how to play the overtones and how to creatively listen and attune the action of the piano produced by the performer to the sound of the prerecorded track fixed by the composer, the performer can also engage in a more intellectual form of attunement by engaging their experiential knowledge to fill the space the hints and prompts provided. This is very similar to what is noted by Sutherland and Acord about Young’s Black Bean Soup:
To “know” this piece performers must call upon traditional music conventions such as tuning and pitch notation but must also utilize wider cultural conventions including language, gastronomy and even consumerism (Campbell’s and Kraft). Ultimately Young metaphorically highlights the changeability and experiential nature of music itself; as with a recipe, it never turns out the same way twice.
Knowledge is no longer located solely in relations of black notes on a page; it is a wider interaction of varying, individually distinct, socio-cultural contexts. It exists in the interactions of webs of shared meaning and affordance structures, resulting in various configurations, work created together by composers, performers and audiences. [In an email to Sutherland, Young] speculates, “perhaps it is like listening to the poetry of a language you do not understand.” (Sutherland and Acord 2007, 131)
These “suggestions” embedded in the notational strategies are paired with another suggestion that works similarly: the text. The text is another element to consider, as it provides possibilities to respond to things in two ways: as an idea of what to do (steps) or as rhythms and assonances in the text. The text is partially used to help the performer achieve a more varied and uneven phrasing and rhythm for the piece. However, when Young read the text to me during a Skype call in May 2019 to make me understand how the text could be read, the sounds contained in the text and the meaning contained in the text merged, giving clear cues that the performer could use and work on (literally or creatively) to make their performance decisions. For example, in “Ice Creek Low,” Young recited the beginning “a low hum emerges” particularly slowly compared to other parts of the text. “Louder” and “water” were stressed in comparison to “than the noise of,” which instead was read calmly, evenly, and more plainly. Similarly, the word “flickering” was said faster, as the meaning also suggests. Yet reading and language pronunciation are forms of a very personal cue. Regional and foreign accents might influence the reading, and certainly, by reading the text to me, Young did not mean to tell me how to read it. She was just sharing how she would read it in that moment. Her personal viewpoint or interpretation is actually offering another possible occasion for a moment of attuning.
Inside, Outside, and the Space of the Performance
A score that can be read as a performance-generating system (i.e., as a sort of recipe that offers clear indications and yet is expected to yield a different result every time) and affords possible moments of attunement between the performer and the composer during the live performance puts on stage a rather intimate situation. That situation is an encounter (and even the possibility of clashes) between different individual and sociocultural contexts and backgrounds, as noted. As we saw at the beginning, resonators were initially used for site-specific installations and were later applied, with little modification, to musical composition. However, the analysis of when and how moments of attunement are created allows us to draw a deeper connection between the initial performative work in installation, in which, as I said earlier, Young was actively trying to create an intimate relation between the listener and the space, and the relationship created between the performer and the composer in her composition.
The installation Les Tuyeaux Sonores uses listening as an epistemological and analytical tool to explore the space of possible reactions that listeners could have when invited to spend time with the resonators and their isolated frequencies, by creating their own melodies wandering around from one pitch to the other. Ice Creek provides a similar situation for the performer. Rather than having to fulfill a quantitative task—being in time while performing live against a nonflexible prerecorded tape—the relationship to the electronic element in the performance is reversed. Young is asking Pestova or future performers not to rush toward the perfection of the tape and its inflexibility. Rather, she asks them to stop, listen, and make informed decisions on what aspects of what they are hearing they would like to underline with their performance. Similarly to the tourists who stop rushing to the top, taking a picture, and driving away, the result of Young’s action is a slowed-down process that allows mindful decision-making and full-body presence in the space and in the time of the present action.
As much as this composition is a hybrid of elements belonging to composition and to site-specific installations, and as much as the score is a meeting place for the composer and the performer, the performance is a meeting place for the audience, which is taken to a place that is neither indoors nor outdoors. In fact, the outside element is brought into the concert hall for people to experience. Yet the piano, with its history and its delicate structure that would be ruined in the outdoor setting from which the recording is taken, invites a commentary and interaction with the outside world. This interaction is deeply rooted in an indoors-only music history (the legacy of Debussy and his indoor rendition of outside elements such as the sea, the wind, architecture, and bucolic landscapes and scenes). The performance practice of this interaction is developed from an outdoor, site-specific form of listening to the natural elements. The result is a personal form of attunement to all these parameters that listeners have to experience and negotiate.
Overall, listening to the microsounds and single frequencies of a waterfall in Les Tuyeaux Sonores is a mediated and constructed way of listening to the environment, as those sounds would in normal circumstances be drowned out and made inaudible by the loud noise of the mass of water. Similarly, the experience and space of Ice Creek is a fantasy and a cultural construct. It is best met with personal and individual listening as an epistemological tool. This tool informs us about the composition just as much as listening to the composition informs us of our specific modes of listening: How comfortable are we in listening to overtones? Can we connect them to the bass, or do we perceive them as disconnected and not tonal? Are we inside? Are we outside? How was it? What will our next listening action be?
I wish to thank Gayle Young for her generosity in offering guidance, help, and time during the writing of this chapter.