Music

The unintruding beauty of Ambient Music

neither-back-nor-forth

“…I ask Eno how long he’s been in this space. “All night,” he says. If that’s true — it’s 10:30 in the morning — he looks remarkably fresh. I clarify: But for how many years? “All night for the past 22 years,” he deadpans. The room’s appeal is obvious; it feels like an oasis. A few tree branches are faintly visible through the skylights, silhouetted against February’s slate-grey sky. The city feels far away.” (Philip Sherburne in conversation with Brian Eno for Pitchfork, 2017)

“Here it is…”, you’re probably thinking. Another bustling piece of writing praising the beauty of Music For Airports and celebrating the uniqueness of Ambient as the stress-alleviating genre for excellence.

And you may be thinking right.

Still, whilst I regard the statements above to be true, I feel the need to analyse and reason my beliefs as a way to challenge my personal take on the subjects I write about. Therefore, before start arguing why Ambient music does and will always matter, it is worth shifting our attention to the concept of ambience.

That which surrounds

It is fundamental to reflect on the abstraction of the term ambience — especially for those in the creative works — since its understanding could influence the way we engage with our surroundings both in our “daily and aesthetic lives”¹.

Ambience refers back to the Latin ambiens (“a going around”) and ire (‘to go’): to go around².

Through his research project, The Ambience of Ambience Luke Jaaniste “expands upon a mode of being that has been hinted at within creative practice and intellectual thought” which he calls “the ambient mode”. It alludes to the pervasion of space and “deals with how we exist in our surroundings”¹. According to Jaaniste, ambience is not just “somewhere within a surrounding”, but widespread, evenly diffused in a place. Anything that stands out is divergent, “salient”¹.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines salience as “the fact of being important to or connected with what is happening or being discussed”³. The concept of salience “has been studied with respect to interpersonal communication, persuasion, politics, and its influence on mass media”⁴.

By desisting salience while still remaining deeply connected with it, Ambience implies a political statement. To make art that incorporates the concept of ambience is to create something that is neither-back-nor-forth — articulating a belief in how things exist together, in our surrounding, and in society.

Ambience in the arts

Around the mid-1970s artists began to embody ideas relating to ambience in their works. New practices originated, not only in sound but also in screen-based, literature, architecture, and performative domains.

Anthony McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light (1975) is a work of “Expanded Cinema” exploring “the ambient materiality [becoming] vital part of the aesthetic experience”¹. McCall’s Long Film came at the end of a series of works in which McCall was stripping back cinema to its absolute minimum — light, time, and human experience/perception.⁵

Anthony McCall. “Long Film for Ambient Light” (1975). Installation view at Idea Warehouse, New York, 2pm, June 18, 1975. Photograph by Anthony McCall.

Ambient video is video not to be distracted by, intended to play in the backgrounds of our spaces. The most well-known ambient video trope is the venerable “yule log”, which has been burning in video screens on television sets since its introduction at WPIX New York in 1966.⁶ It also involves the long-take slow-changing video works of Andy Warhol, Michael Snow and Yoko Ono.¹

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My relationship with Ambient Music

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in ambient music. I haven’t been listening to it for long and obviously haven’t listened to every ambient record out there. However, most of my time is spent listening to ambient. I have a special relationship to the genre as it has helped me get through some rough moments in life. Ambient music has pervaded the empty rooms I’ve been living in with a strangely suffused sense of calm — that calm that makes you feel connected to the ground and helps you find new clarity.

It is difficult not to mention the Eno’s coining of the term when talking about Ambient Music. He is not only a leading personality in modern society but also the “chief figure in any discussion of ambience”¹. Ambient music, however, has an important anthology that traces back decades before Eno and is still developing outside Eno’s studio through the work of others artists to this very day.

Erik Satie’s Musique d’Ameublement (1917) is probably the earliest example of ambient music ever composed. No, it does not sound anywhere close to sweeping synths and ringing bells of Eno or Harold Budd , but I still find Satie’s work to be way ahead of its time. Despite his natural extravagance posing him at the centre of scandals and litigations, with pieces such as Musique d’Ameublement and Gymnopédie No 1 Satie demonstrates to be the minimalist and ambient precursor par excellence.

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Of the many — but not all — records labelled as Ambient I have listened to, there are some that I particularly enjoyed at times only for their musicality, others for their ability to inspire my practice as a musician. A short sample of those is presented below in no particular order. Only need to mention that some of this music, while sonically close to Ambient is often re-labelled by the media belonging to a range of disparate sub-genres — including new-age, ambient-techno, drone, chill-out, space music, IDM, and others.

  1. Seefeel — Quique
  2. Alessandro Cortini — Avanti
  3. Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto — Vrioon
  4. Ryuichi Sakamoto — async
  5. Andy Stott — Faith In Strangers
  6. Brian Eno — Ambient 1 / Music for Airports
  7. Brian Eno — Apollo
  8. Dedekind Cut — $uccessor (ded004)
  9. Deru — 1979
  10. Surfing — Deep Fantasy
  11. Stars of the Lid — And Their Refinement of the Decline
  12. Oneohtrix Point Never — R Plus Seven
  13. Max Richter — Sleep
  14. Global Communication — 76:14
  15. Heathered Pearls — Body Complex
  16. Terry Riley — In C
  17. Huerco S. — For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
  18. Luke Abbott — Wysing Forest
  19. Mark Pritchard — Under The Sun
  20. Tim Hecker — Haunt Me
  21. Aphex Twin — Selected Ambient Works 85–92

References:


  1. Jaaniste, L. 2003–2007. Approaching the Ambient: creative practice and the ambient mode of being. PhD Project Doctoral Research. Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology.
  2. Etymonline.com. 2018. ambience | Origin and meaning of ambience by Online Etymology Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/ambience.
  3. “Salience”. 2018. Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge University Press. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/salience.
  4. “Salience (Language)”. 2018. En.Wikipedia.Org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salience_(language).
  5. Ihlein, Lucas. 2012. “Attending To Anthony Mccall’s Long Film For Ambient Light”. University of Wollongong, Australia.
  6. “Ambient Video”. 2018. Ambient Video. https://ambientvideo.org/.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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Lo-fi & Glitch

The enticing aesthetic of errors

According to tradition, music and noise are consirered opposite. For decades, composers and musicians have striven for the perfection of form and “purity” of elements. Malfunctions in such environment were to be avoided and corrected where possible.

However, with the rise of underground rock and hip-hop, as well as the availability of cheaper workstations in the early 90s, more and more artists started to produce music. While never saturating the market, less pristine-quality recordings and experimental works began to make their way into the mainstream. Such music was defined in retrospective as belonging to the lo-fi, noise, and glitch aesthetics. Genres that saw the light of the day at different points in the 1990s but are all connected through conceptual vectors.

Kyuss’ “Blues For The Red Sun” (1992) is as fascinating as it’s poorly recorded. An ingenue but genuine example of lo-fi, before “lo-fi”.

Lo-fi, in particular, refers to the lack of technique and technology regarding the recording and mixing of music. It is the natural antithesis to high-fidelity. Ground noise, buzzing, and other imperfections in the recording are magnified and veneered. Because of their capacity to add layers of “grain and dust” to otherwise clear recordings, the produced effect is a sense of nostalgia and a moodiness that is characteristic of many contemporary lo-fi releases.

Similarly, glitch describes the failures and in a flow of communication. Sonically-characteristic errors (glitches) are organised in the arrangement as if they were instruments, becoming central elements in the composition. Glitch music is about pushing the tools available to you as a musician to make something never heard before.

Failures at the centre of attention

My appreciation for music falling under the umbrella of lo-fi & glitch has often been challenged by musicians attempting to appropriate themselves of a sound only to meet the needs of an audience. At the same time, there have been scenes that have thriven, and some still do, for their unprecedented music production skills.

It is difficult, however, to label electronic music and restrict its sound to a specific press-ready niche. The obviously biased list of artists and music presented below is by no means exhaustive inventory of every lo-fi or glitch release ever, but only a short sample only meant to exemplify what a piece of lo-fi or glitch music could sound like. Neither am I, with such a subjective take, trying to designate the artists as belonging only to that particular genre and musical scene.

Well-sounding malfunctions

A visionary album that got me into the genre of glitch — that with hip-hop references later renamed as glitch-hop — is edIT’s Crying Over Pros”. One of Planet Mu’s most overlooked releases struck a chord with me because I’ve never heard any hip-hop producer use their tools in such a way before. edIT used techniques that were only sometimes found in experimental electronic music before, but nowhere near hip-hop. It was a record ahead of its times.

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Amber by Autechre is another recent discovery dear to me despite its now 24 years since its release date. Blurring genre-labelling, but often defined by the press as belonging to IDM and Glitch, Amber presented an “entirely electronic and entirely instrumental” soundscape that could still compete with most modern productions.

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Deliberate degradation

Teen Suicide (band, now known as American Pleasure Club) is maybe the most representative of the noise-pop and lo-fi aesthetic. Their ingenuity and quirkiness, paired with a deliberate lack of recording-quality — especially with their early releases — is effective as it’s catchy.

[embed]https://youtu.be/V2KSoCXDQPo[/embed]

In contrast, Lo-fi House, be it borrowing from the indie-rock/lo-fi aesthetic or creating a sound of its own to stay distinguishable in the dance arena, has experienced a disproportionate growth during the past 5 years. Thegenre quickly evolved “from an online community of fresh-faced producers into a palpable underground phenomenon”¹.

With its wide sound palette and extensive DJ experience, Ross From Friends is the “leading figure” in the lo-fi movement and an always favourite of mine.

[embed]https://youtu.be/WnedjxcMgIE[/embed]


References:

  1. Mixmag. (2018). Ross From Friends is the emotionally-charged house producer making an Impact. [online] Available at: http://mixmag.net/feature/impact-ross-from-friends.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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Confronting noise in music

What is noise depends on what we are listening for

I ever so often find myself questioning the etymology of genre names in music and their development leading to what we know them as today.

Some genres, however, do not only represent a musical style, but also carry on their shoulders a considerable anthology in history and philosophy. Noise is one of those. Once we start researching beyond the formalisation of noise intended as an auditory phenomenon, we discover a realm where noise “resists” erasure and “persists” in time — because it cannot be reconfigured or recontained¹ — challenging the limits of its very own definition

The etymology of the word noise traces back to the Latin nausea, ‘seasickness’ — word that could have developed a sense in Vulgar Latin of “unpleasant situation, quarrel”, meaning a “loud or unpleasant sound”.²

The Oxford English Dictionary gives us two main definitions of noise:

a. In scientific and technical use: random or irregular fluctuations or disturbances which are not part of a signal (whether the result is audible or not), or which interfere with or obscure a signal; oscillations with a randomly fluctuating amplitude over a usually continuous range of frequencies. Also in extended use: distortions or additions which interfere with the transfer of information.…

b. In non-technical contexts: irrelevant or superfluous information or activity, esp. that which distracts from what is important.”

Both “scientific” and “mundane” ideas of noise presuppose a flow of information passed between to vectors which noise can interrupt or disturb. Fundamentally, then, noise not only defines anything that is unwanted, but also everything that is admissible. As Paul Hegarty writes, “[noise] does not exist independently, as it exists only in relation to what is not”³. For Hegarty, to be deciphered, noise needs a listener — someone able to tell the difference between what is necessary and what not.

But how far does objectivity go? What one person can perceive as disturbance another might perceive as intended message. For example, whilst during a phone call we are (almost) all able to tell the eventual disruption from the message of the person speaking, it isn’t as easy to individuate noise presenting itself in other forms and media.

The sound of noise

While in white-bread culture, the acceptance of restlessness and disruptions has always been inadmissible, noise has often thriven in the minds of creatives. Noise in the arts is, in fact, everywhere: music, photography, visual-art, film-making, writing, theatre, fine art. They all share a passion for merging the “noisy” with the “pure”.

“Noise is a judgment, a social one, based on unacceptability, the breaking of norms and a fear of violence”⁴ (Hegarty, 2018)

Yet, noise is too often associated with a sentiment of revolt or sometimes with an idea of destructive power. The artist, in one way or another, becomes the politically revolutionary creator, even when their use of noise is conceptually non-destructive and “peaceful”.

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How would you describe a piece of “noisy” music (not noise music) ?

Thunderous guitars and bone-shaking drums? Or high-pitched sine tones and shattering glitches?

The further we try to label noise, the more problematic it becomes. By doing so we would only end up with a bunch of disparate examples of what noise in music could sound like. On the other hand, it would be too easy to mention the gritty noise rock of Sunn O))) or the harshness of Merzbow’s “Japanoise” to exemplify this concept. Noise in such music is blatantly presenting itself though heavily processed and distorted sounds lacking any identifiable expression. Examples like these represent what we would imagine noise music to sound like — achieving their purpose of committing to the label of “noise music”, but giving us little to reflect on.

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What if we consider noise to be a synonym of randomness?

Plenty of more examples would then add to our already lengthy list. However, it is important to remember that noise and randomness do not always represent the same concept. Thoughtlessly merging the two definitions can result in inaccurate assumptions. As defined by Wikipedia, randomness is the lack of pattern or predictability in events.⁵ It refers to the impossibility of predicting some events than an unwanted, while sometimes unpredictable, disruption in a two-way flow of information (as in noise).

In the most electrical-engineering of definitions, Noise is an audio signal consisting “of an accumulation of sine waves of all the possible frequencies in the hearing range and with all possible amplitudes and phase relations.”⁶

No sound is ever entirely void of noise. The act of filtering noise from a signal is itself known to produce unwanted artefacts, e.g noise. Virtually all sounds can be situated on a continuum based on their inherent “noisy” component. On the one end of the spectrum, we would find extremely simple sine tones, on the other totally unpredictable sounds such as white noise.

A cardinal example of what noise on the latter extreme of the spectrum sounds like is Luigi Russolo’s Futurist work on his “Intonarumori” — a set of experimental instruments build between 1910 and 1930 to recreate different types of noise.

[embed]https://youtu.be/IC3KMbSkYNI[/embed]

Whether the Italian Futurists were actually good at what the did or not, their pseudo-academic research in sound and their courage to perform such findings in public despite the general lack of appreciation, have shaken the public ground and let several doors open to many experimental musicians to come.

Luciano Chessa’s “Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners” (2009) brings to life the work of Russolo featuring “16 crates with cranks and levers” performing original scores and compositions for the Intonarumori.

In this world of often extremely organised sounds, even silence can become noise. In fact, to an extent, silence in many media is perceived as unpleasant — something to be filled. For example, room noise is usually used by audio editors to fill in the silent gaps in-between the edits of a voiceover. Here, noise is used to replace silence as if they were interchangeable. In the same way, a fine layer of noise (grain) is sometimes added to pictures shot on a digital camera to help blend the sharpness and textural aesthetic of non-analogue pictures by many photographers.

Taking this same concept to the extremes, could we define John Cage’s 4′33″ as a work of noise music? Its lack of information is replaced by the “noisy” and inherently randomised mutter of the audience. As Mitch Renaud suggests “Cage opens the site of music to indeterminate sounds [as he] shifts the production of music from the site of utterance to that of audition”⁷

Noise injected into the composition is what fascinates me the most. Not the aesthetic of noise in sound, but the concept of noise and randomisation of the sounds’ behaviours and of elements in the arrangement. The work of Robert Henke is probably one of the best examples to describe the use of noise as I like to mean it as an integral part of his audiovisual practice.

[embed]https://vimeo.com/224755623[/embed]


References:

  1. Hainge, G. (2013). Noise matters. Bloomsbury.
  2. Etymonline.com. (2018). noise | [online] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/noise.
  3. Hegarty, P. (2013). Noise/music. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
  4. Hegarty, P. (2018). Noise and music: an eternal conflict of sound. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2008/nov/10/squarepusher-paul-hegarty-noise.
  5. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Randomness. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randomness.
  6. Rhordijk.home.xs4all.nl. (2018). Noise, randomness and chaos. [online] Available at: https://rhordijk.home.xs4all.nl/G2Pages/Noise.htm .
  7. Renaud, M. (2015). Tracing Noise: Writing In-Between Sound. Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Department of French, the School of Music, and Cultural, Social, and Political Thought. University of Victoria.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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Rejecting Complexity

Why cold minimalism is still an undefeated force in contemporary art

The never self-proclaimed artistic movement for excellence and one of the most influential styles since the1960s, Minimalism identifies works of abstract art usually lacking any decorative ostentation and striving for extreme simplicity of form.

Minimalism is chiefly American. It originated in New York in the late 1960s as a practice-in-progress among creators disavowing recent art — especially 1950s’ Abstract Expressionism — which they considered stale, pretentious, and too personal. Not-yet-defined minimalist artists turned to its head the idea that art creation should be an emotional and existential act, as exemplified by Action Painter Jason Pollock, by creating extremely simplified art that would not refer to anything other than itself.

Minimalism in architecture: Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Cascais, Portugal, 2008 designed by Souto de Moura

Minimalism is linked with conceptual art, which also saw a rise in the mid-1960s. Conceptual art is similarly concerned with how the audience experiences a work of art rather than with the need to express the artist’s personal emotions through art-making.

In music, in particular, minimalism was the single most important idea of the last century, the one that made possible virtually all that we now listen to and hold dear […]. Minimalism wasn’t just a movement, it was a paradigm shift: it brought about a sea change in the way that sound is made, heard and thought of. (FACT Magazine, 2010)¹

However, simplicity in the art has for long been pursued prior to the minimalist period. In music, examples of moderation and minimalism can be found in works such as Debussy’s early “Préludes”, Erik Satie’ s “Gymnopédies”, Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier’’ and in plenty of other compositions written well before the “minimalist era”. As composer and conductor Jonathan Sheffer suggests, minimalism was in fact invented in the 18th century. Sheffer advocated that is important to include the works of composers such as Handel and Bach alongside those of Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, and John Adams when mentioning minimalist music.(Griffiths, 2018)²

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In the early 20th century, composers including Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg began to abandon traditional melodies and scales, posing the basis for all experimental musicians to come. “Minimalist musicians looked to the east as no one had done before, and also embraced the new noise of the 20th century. Classical music up to this point had shut its doors firmly on the sound-world of the streets in order to conserve the pure sound of acoustic instruments. Minimalists did the opposite, flinging open the concert doors and letting in a panoply of new sounds and remixed them alongside acoustic instruments to create a new sound order.” (Hazlewood, 2018)³

It is important to remember that minimalist composers were the firsts to compose using, simultaneously, multiple experimental techniques — such as delay and tape manipulation — as well as musical elements from non-Western culture. African, Indian, and Indonesian music were often notable points of inspiration.

What we now would define as minimalist music has undertaken a development that began somewhere in the 18th century, was fine-tuned in the 1920s, and reached a peak in the 1960s via the works of Riley, Reich, Glass, La Monte Young, Pärt, Adams, as well as others. Of all of them, I have a special relationship with the music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Their art has been a constant inspiration since finding my way into minimalism a couple of years ago. So much that I managed to watch 1hr and 26mins of “Koyaanisqatsi” twice, despite its inherent lack of content — aside from the shattering Philip Glass soundtrack. Reich’s Electric Counterpoint and Music for 18 Musicians are probably some of my favourite works. His use of dynamics and perpetually-shifting repetitions is still unmatched in contemporary composition.

Terry Riley’s “In C” is another foundational work of musical minimalism. Composed in 1964 it was meant to be performed with unspecified instruments by an indefinite number of players.

Musical score for Terry Riley’s “In C”

“It was total disruption of time as we knew it. It was like being in a time capsule and floating out in space somewhere waiting for the next event to happen. And I enjoyed that kind of waiting.” Terry Riley about “In C”

Modern minimalism in music is still breathing in the works of many aspiring composers as well as those who have already successfully repurposed minimalist ideas to produce new works: Brian Eno, William Basinski, Harold Budd, and Max Richter only to mention some.

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References:

  1. FACT Magazine (2018). A brief history of Minimalism — FACT Magazine: Music News, New Music. [online] Available at: http://www.factmag.com/2010/02/01/a-brief-history-of-minimalism/.
  2. Griffiths, P. (2018). Minimalism as an 18th-Century Idea. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/24/arts/minimalism-as-an-18th-century-idea.html .
  3. Hazlewood, C. (2018). Adventures in motion and pitches: how minimalism shook up classical music. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/mar/02/minimalism-music-revolution-charles-hazelwood.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

website| twitter | instagram | linkedin

The Voice as Music

Much more than a musical instrument

Kanye West is a leading figure in contemporary pop music. He experiments with voice used an instrument. Source Image: Jason Persee.

Music and the human voice have always been in a good relationship. Since ancient Greece, words were taken and set to music. “[Without music,] even with words alone, something was missing. For the Greeks, the lyric in lyric poetry was literal: the verses were composed to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre.”¹

The majority of contemporary popular music is characterised by the use of voice as the main, leading, instrument. Besides, the ability of the human voice to “articulate, communicate ideas, create beautiful melodies, and translate human emotion into sounds is unmatched”.² There are almost endless ways in which the voice can be articulated — in terms of duration, rhythm, and pitch — to produce always new results.

Examples of how voice can be controlled, played as an instrument, and let free, are many. Below I will present — a list in no particular order and by no means exhaustive— a few examples dear to me that exemplify the multitude of was voice is used in contemporary music.

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Trevor Wishart is a composer of orchestral and electroacoustic music whose fame is (partially) attributable to his innovative approach to composing with computers and the human voice. He is also a researcher on sonic arts, a developer, and a music educator.

“On the one hand the (human) voice is much more than a musical instrument. […] It reveals much about the speaker, from gender, age and health to attitude, mood and intention, and it also connects us with our Primate relatives. […] At the same time, apart from the computer itself, the voice is the richest sound-producing ‘instrument’ that we have, generating a vast variety of sounds from the stably pitched, to the entirely noisy, to complex rapidly-changing multiphonics or textures of grit and so on.” (Wishart, 2009)³

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Prolific Venezuela-born experimental producer, Alejandro Ghersi (aka Arca) has made a name for himself “producing for heavyweights including FKA Twigs, Björk, and Kanye West, and through formidable solo recordings”⁴. In his latest self-titled music venture, Arca unveils his singing and does it with uncompromising fluency and violence.

“Ghersi’s voice is not perfect, but rather than polish out any blemishes, he works the flaws. His voice cracks, he breathes sharply and his lips smack; at one point you can hear what sounds like someone taking a sip of water.” (Miles Bowe, 2017)⁵

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Examples obviously are not limited to Western culture. African music, and especially that of Pygmy groups, is mostly improvised over a “basic” tune. Pygmy music not only makes use of the voice as key instrument, but is characterised by a polyphonic “contrapuntal communal improvisation”⁶.

“The Mbenga [and Baka] Pygmy music is based on repetition of periods of equal length that each singer divides using different rhythmic figures specific to different songs. This creates endless variations not only of the same period repeated but of various performances of the same piece of music. As in some Balinese Gamelan music these patterns are based on a super-pattern which is never heard.” (Wikipedia)⁶

[embed]https://youtu.be/ISCEilPMNak[/embed]

“Defined by the pure vocals and confessional lyrics of singer/songwriter Justin Vernon”⁷, Bon Iver never fails to astonish the public with their multilayered use of vocals and intimate lyrics. Vernon’s voice has become one of the most recognisable instruments in indie music.⁸

In 2016’s “22, A Million”, his voice is taken apart, recomposed, stretched, repitched, autotuned — yet, it still manages to maintain its authenticity and musical power.

“ About a decade ago, when Justin Vernon was recording the songs that became the band’s début album, “For Emma, Forever Ago,” he realized that ranging just above his usual register made it easier to sing about memories that were otherwise too painful to recount. Vernon’s falsetto caused an obvious strain on his voice, making it sound weary and brittle. His recordings gave the impression of someone forcing himself to venture far outside his comfort zone; they communicated a sense of solitude and drift.” (Hua Hsu, 2016)⁸

[embed]https://youtu.be/E0TTd2roL6s[/embed]

Italian theorist, composer, musician, and teacher Luciano Berio is among the leading charcters in avant-garde music. “His style is notable for combining lyric and expressive musical qualities with the most advanced techniques of electronic and aleatory music.”⁹ Berio’s works on the human voice demonstrates boundary-pushing achievements in the way we perceive voice as music.


References:

  1. Mendelsohn, D. (2015). Hearing Sappho. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/hearing-sappho.
  2. McMahon, J. (2018). The Human Voice as an Instrument for Language. [online] Listenandlearnaustralia.com.au. Available at: https://www.listenandlearnaustralia.com.au/blog/the-human-voice-as-an-instrument-for-language/.
  3. Milani, M. (2018). An interview with Trevor Wishart — pt.1. [online] Usoproject.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://usoproject.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/interview-with-trevor-wishart-pt1.html.
  4. Mejia, P. (2017). After Collaborating With Björk and Releasing a Pair of Critically Acclaimed Solo Albums, Arca Finds His Voice. [online] Vulture.com. Available at: http://www.vulture.com/2017/04/bjrk-collaborator-arca-finds-his-voice-on-his-latest-album.html.
  5. Bowe, M. (2018). Arca finds his voice with an immaculate collection of grisly love songs. [online] FACT Magazine. Available at: http://www.factmag.com/2017/04/07/arca-self-titled-review/.
  6. En.wikipedia.org. Pygmy music. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmy_music.
  7. Margaret Reges, Rovi. Bon Iver. [online, Spotify bio] Available at: https://open.spotify.com/artist/4LEiUm1SRbFMgfqnQTwUbQ.
  8. Hsu, H. (2016). Bon Iver’s New Voice. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/03/bon-ivers-new-voice [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].
  9. Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Luciano Berio | Italian composer. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Luciano-Berio.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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Composing with Gesture and Texture

Gestures and Textures are elements in a sound composition each performing a different musical function.

A gesture is an abstract motion. In the music domain, a sound that is going somewhere — say moving from point A to point B — can be defined as a gestural sound. It implies a movement expressed via a change both in the frequency and time domain — through spectral and morphological change of energy. Denis Smalley illustrates how gestures enhance the impression of time passing.¹

Gestural music is concerned with narrative and mostly deals with the spectromorphological consequences of a physical activity.

Spectromorphology is the perceived sonic footprint of a sound spectrum as it manifests in time. A descriptive spectromorphological analysis of sound is sometimes used in the analysis of electroacoustic music, especially acousmatic music. The term was coined by Denis Smalley in 1986 and is considered the most adequate English term to designate the field of sound research associated with the French writer, composer, and academic, Pierre Schaeffer. (Wikipedia)²

We use gestures to communicate. If we listen to a language that we don’t understand, we can sometimes still work out how the speaker is feeling (and perhaps even some of their message) by listening out for the gestures in their voice.³

A texture can provide a basic framework within which gestures act. If we think of a sound composition as an organised mass of elements, its texture would represent the patterning of such mass upon which gestures are “drawn”³. The word texture relates to parameters of sound such as density, layering, and timbre. Textures can be described in terms of their relative homogeneity, frequency range, and amount of notable randomness. They can be produced by layering recordings from similar or different sources, or from synthesising textural sounds. Both techniques can be also used in the same composition to achieve interesting results.

The experimental use of both texture and gesture in composition is the primary focus in electroacoustic music. Often, electroacoustic musicians make use of gestures to achieve the feeling of real-life motion through a dynamic change in the properties of sound. They do this by exploring the acoustic properties of materials, spaces, as well as various sound sources and loudspeaker systems.

As a musician my interest often lies in Textural music. I am fascinated by how textures can concentrate on internal activity at the expenses of changes over time. Rather than focusing on the narrative happening in the foreground, I make use of textures to enhance the spatial properties of sound permeating the surroundings— layering slight variations of the same element to achieve choir-like properties and adding depth by playing with effects modulated over time.


References:

  1. Smalley, Denis. “Spectromorphology: Explaining Sound-Shapes”. Organised Sound 2, no. 2 (1997): 107–126. doi:10.1017/s1355771897009059.
  2. “Spectromorphology”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectromorphology.
  3. “Composing Textures And Gestures”. Blog. Ears2. Accessed Feb 2018. http://ears2.dmu.ac.uk.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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Blending and rearranging

Merging styles in art

“The past is reinvented and becomes the future. But the lineage is everything.” (Philip Glass, 2015)¹

Saying that originality is nonexistent is recurrent these days. There is some truth to such statement. Artists have been cutting up, re-arranging, and mashing-up material created by others and claimed this as their own for decades. Not only music, but all art practices have developed through endless variations of what came before.

In his TED Talk filmmaker and writer Kirby Ferguson explores creativity in a world where “everything is a remix.”

“Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self made, we are dependent on one another. Admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness — it’s a liberation from our misconceptions, and it’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves, and to simply begin.” ( Kirby Ferguson— as cited by Jory MacKay, 2015)²

In music, new genres have developed completely or partially out the idea of variation, or remix. For example, rearranging music cut-ups, as a practice, is way older than hip-hop — the genre which brought it to the mainstream audience — itself. It developed amongst Freudian poets in the early 20s.

William Burroughs is the man who probably contributed the most to the expansion of the cut-up practice.

“Blending discrete genres isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Hip-hop came about from a heady mix of blues, jazz, reggae and soul. Rock and jazz techniques mixed to become prog rock.” (Rob Boffard, n.d.)³

However, there are movements (if they can be called so) in music, those of mash-up and remix, which have redefined the idea of creating through the use of others’ work. Even though those may be seen by some people as the laziest of music practices, the art of sampling and has clearly worked its way up the music charts and it is being accepted (and understood) by a vast section of the listening audience.

At the basis of the copyright clause authorised in 1787 is the protection of the interests of the creator. This does not take into account for any subconscious and conscious acts of inspiration and homage from an artist by, and to, another.

“These rights given to protect artists from copyright, illustrates how imitation is not considered the sincerest form of flattery to these creative minds but a threat to originality. […] The fashion industry on the other hand, avoids copyright restrictions. Designers take ‘inspiration’ from other designers, but in the fashion world this has no impact on the success of their work. In fact, it gives their work credibility and success.” (Giovana Picone, 2013)⁴

Creativity exists, and so does originality. That of ideas and not of source material. Just because our society is obsessed with ruling whether is acceptable or not to copy or be inspired by another artist’s work, it does not mean we should not seek to be innovative.

As Luc Godard once said “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to”⁵. Originality is not about reinventing the wheel each time we try to compose a new piece of music, or paint a new canvas. Originality is imposing our style and touch to the things that directly speak to our soul.


References:

  1. Glass, Philip. 2015. Words Without Music.
  2. MacKay, Jory. “Kirby Ferguson On Social Creativity And The Importance Of Sharing Your Work — Crew.Co”. Crew.Co. https://crew.co/blog/kirby-ferguson/.
  3. Boffard, Rob. “Aesthetica Magazine — Merging Genres”. Aesthetica Magazine. http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/merging-genres/.
  4. Picone, Giovana. 2013. “How To Steal Like An Artist: Nothing Is Original”. The Artifice. https://the-artifice.com/how-to-steal-like-an-artist/.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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What is music?

(And what isn’t)

Probably one of the greatest questions of all times. Especially for someone like me who has been in a loving relationship with music for about a decade now. A question which, in reality, rarely comes up. But when asked about it, no logical answer springs to my mind.

Is music only what an artist decides to call so? Is music really a universal language? Is it redundant to still address it as music, and not eventually as “just” art?

Well, [to me] music is an universal language. I listen to music actively, to understand it, to feel it. Music speaks to us without the need for any translation.

Probably the roughest and most intricate of arts. Music is raw and powerful. It can stimulate your brain as nothing else can (well, maybe VR and 3D visuals can go that far, but let’s not take such a tangent just yet).

Sound is an entity which we can’t seem to perceive. It exists without a form and it carries meaning well beyond the scope of its notation.

“When I hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking. And talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships. But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic — here on Sixth Avenue, for instance — I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I love the activity of sound.. .I don’t need sound to talk to me.” (Cage, 1991) (1)

[embed]https://youtu.be/V5s-KLGVcTI[/embed]

The composer as the ultimate sonoric artist.

I believe there should not be a formal distinction between music and art. The boundaries between the two have been crossed so many times that is it rather ingenuous to think of music as separate from art.

Should notation be considered music?

Sure — artistically, sound has its own cluster within which it flourishes and develops. But its creation and execution merge so seamlessly into other works of art — be it visual, stimulatory, etc. — that we should begin to look at sound just like we do with “art” itself.

But if everything can be music — What isn’t music?

When discussing about such a primitive and personal matter as that of music everyone’s personal taste influences a possible critical reflection about the boundaries of the existence of music itself.

To be called music, a sonoric event arguably has to possess some well-agreed characteristics. Music needs to develop over time, and present measurable frequencies — which can either translate into perceived or symbolic pitches. So, following these standards, noise and silence cannot be called music. But if these two elements are indeed a crucial component of music, why their presence alone should not be considered musical?

What I consider to be music — be it a musical preference of mine or not — is, most probably, different than what other individuals think as music.

It is also for this reasons that the threshold below which music can’t be considered as such anymore is still to be delineated. And it is why the question in the main title above will never find an answer we would all agree with.


References:

  1. Quote of Cage, in an interview with Miroslav Sebestik, 1991; in Listen, documentary by Miroslav Sebestik. ARTE France Développement, 2003.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

website| twitter | instagram | linkedin