High-fidelity: faithful to what, exactly?

What is noise? Surely, it is all around us, but the way our minds interpret sounds that we hear is such that we only interpret the sounds we are paying attention to, especially if its surroundings are comprised of sounds expected of that environment. For example, when listening to a conversation whilst on a bus, our minds concentrate on the words being spoken rather than the sound of the motor and the surrounding traffic. However, sounds such as these are rarely found in recorded music, and as such are considered noise by many. For example, recordings of Glenn Gould playing the piano were always accompanied by him singing along to the melody, which many listeners found distracting initially, but has since become accepted as another of his trademarks. Therefore, when the group was briefed on the Noise and Fidelity Project, we first had to identify what noise was. The only conclusion I could personally draw is analogy to the definition of a weed – an unwanted plant. In the context of this project, noise is simply an unwanted sound. But unlike the majority of recorded music, we set out to draw attention to these sounds – to give them as much attention as the subject of the recording, if not more so. Ali Maloney, the actor who kindly recited Gertrude Stein’s If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso in front of our microphones is barely audible in some of the recordings, but amongst the sounds of the environment lay sounds which could easily be musical, in either rhythm or pitch. For example, one recording was made under a railway bridge, during which we were lucky to have a train pass over it. The sound of the train passing over the points created a natural regular rhythm, whilst the sound of the metal wheels against the tracks created a high pitched singing tone, both of which were used in the final composition. And of course in the age of digital audio, music can be created from virtually any sound one can think of. One such example of this is the work of Matthew Herbert, who recently released an album entirely made from sound recordings of the life of one pig, from its birth to rearing to slaughter, and finally to its consumption. However, all of the sounds were heavily processed, presumably using techniques such as granular synthesis, which we purposely tried to avoid.

Some of the sounds in the piece have been processed to a certain extent, but not so far as to make them indistinguishable from the original recordings – it was generally agreed that only a certain degree of deviation from the original recordings was appropriate – in other words, we had to remain faithful to them, showing them as they are: naked and raw. This is much more like the approach of Chicago blues singer Willis Earl Beal, who after living a life of poverty for many years released his first album, Acousmatic Sorcery last month. It is made up of recordings he made before his success – playing makeshift and broken instruments into very poor recording devices. The result is an album of unusual tones, strange noises and copious amounts of tape hiss, but at the same time, it is artistically mesmerising, largely because of these factors. Beal could have gone into a proper studio to record this, but instead he chose to keep his ‘demos’ as they were; their raw, unprocessed and naked sound giving an insight into the life he was leading at the time.

By the widely accepted definition of ‘high-fidelity’, Beal’s album falls short of the title. But examining at what fidelity actually means might prove otherwise. The literal meaning of fidelity is faithfulness, but in sound, what is high-fidelity being faithful to? Beal is simply being faithful to his surroundings at the time of the recording, as we were trying to do in this project, so high-fidelity does not mean a lack of noise, but more properly worded, it means a lack of unwanted sound characteristics.

We know that every single microphone has a different sound characteristic, as does every cable, every component and recording device; and therefore we used a wide range of equipment to record the same event from a variety of positions to a variety of mediums. Further to this, we also know that each pair of speakers in every room sounds different – but most stereo systems refer to themselves as ‘hi-fi’, but that only applies to the previous link in the signal chain, in that it gives the listener all the information that is passed into it, but in its own way. Therefore, each recording made in a take became a unique perspective of that event, and montaging them was a key part of the journey we aimed to take the listener on when listening to this piece; knowing that every journey will be ever so slightly different, because as I said in the opening sentences of this article, we only interpret the sounds we are paying attention to, which in a piece of so many layers and perspectives is bound to be different for each individual listener.


Glenn Gould: Bach: The Goldberg Variations, Sony Music Classical, 2004.
Matthew Herbert: One Pig, Accidental Records, 2011.
Willis Earl Beal: Acousmatic Sorcery, XL Recordings, 2012.

From the recordings to the ideas: a compositional approach to sound art.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was going to craft when the project started. I was simply caught by the elegant title Noise & Fidelity (which probably we all tended to see more in terms of contrast rather than complementarity; perception that radically changed in due course). Creating a piece only from field recordings, just with non-musical material (although John Cage would argue that “Music is sound, sounds around us whether we’re in or out of concert halls […]” [1]) was definitely something that struck my mind and went against all my previous conceptions of music and sound composition.

The actual possibility of letting the sound material speaking for itself and “suggesting” you what to do, in which direction to go, has been a fascinating experience that will always influence my approach towards sound creation in the future. However, this awareness didn’t come immediately. It took some weeks of work, only when we were faced with the limitations of self-imposed structural rules that are more common in a traditional music composition approach, in what Wishart calls “lattice-based music” (Wishart 1996).

During the first weeks we were struggling with the fundamental issue of how giving structure to a piece made only of “uncontrolled” and, often, unpredictable field recordings. Additionally, at that time, we didn’t have them ready yet, so approaching something so new to us (to me at least) without a preconceived outline seemed really risky, especially because we were six people with different experiences and ideas about the same project. Hence, we commonly agreed of drawing a score (following John Cage’s ideas) with pre-set elements that will have become our main compositional parameters and vocabulary throughout the whole process. However, in the moment we started creating the first sound sketch, everyone took a different and individual approach. We tested our compositional personality in order to understand towards which direction we could have gone as a group. Personally speaking, I tried to stick as much as I could with the score we created because, in my mind, it seemed the most logical method, but I was wrong. Surprisingly, even not following the score, each individual test had a really good outcome, so much that we understood that by abandoning it and using the material itself to inspire the nature of the piece (from its macro structure to all the tiniest details) we would have achieved better results.

What really fascinated us was the apparent simplicity with how the piece came to life from its own elements. Each recording had a personality, a specific sound signature that inspired each group member to explore different sonic features. After this first attempt, we defined some new basic and intuitive rules about what we really wanted to incorporate into the final piece and what was better avoiding; moreover we started conceiving the general shape of the macro-composition. It is interesting noticing that, compositionally speaking, a sound piece made only from a “limited” number of material can really put many boundaries in terms of originality and progression inside the piece itself. For instance, one of the first issues we came across was that we all tended to use the same sections of the same recordings. The reasons behind this are essentially two. The first is a matter of the locations where we recorded. Not all of them were equally interesting in terms of sound textures and, on the contrary, there were others that were even too “universally” inspiring. Secondly, because we gave Ali enough freedom of interpreting the poem, he ended up repeating mostly the same parts without actually going through all of it every time. This last aspect is probably what influenced the most our composition. It was somehow an interesting limit that forced us to experiment with different variations of text’s sections, and, additionally, with more soundscapes rather than spoken voice. Therefore, the original question of “noise & fidelity” clearly became a question of intelligibility or non-intelligibility of the poem inside an evolving soundscape of noise and “silence”. That’s why, after having giving us complete freedom of exploration, we put again some more general rules to give coherence to the composition. From these limitations we found a way to bend the material we had and create a long and evolving piece that, despite having been created from 6 shorter and personal interpretations of the same, has a proper and unique identity.

I believe that having embraced this compositional approach since the beginning, letting each member, singularly and collectively, feeling where the original material was driving the piece, has helped very much the group working in the way it has been described in the group report.

[1] (Wishart 1996:1, Schafer 1969:1)

Two short meditations on the project

Cubism and perspectives

I will start with my simplified and purely descriptional definition of cubism in order to reflect in which sense its characteristics can be found in other media which, unlike painting, unfold in time, and to show how the adaptation of this term can only be metaphorical in these other forms of art. Def.: A cubist painting 1. involves the simultaneous juxtaposition of multiple discrete perspectives of object(s) in an 2. abstract and/or reductionist geometric manner.

A poem (a text) cannot include simultaneity, so Stein’s solution to imitate the cubist technique is to concatenate different units of a subject’s thought processes (which can be interpreted together), and by repeating parts of these units (or include units of sole repetition). This way, multi-perspectivity arises only as a cognitive construction in the reader throughout and after the piece.

A sound piece, however, is capable to represent simultaneously different spaces and sonic events with differring proximity. Yet what is unable to be produced through sound is the manner of geometric abstractions characterising cubist paintings, due to the difference in the very physiological nature of the two forms of perception. As Fogarasi (2010) points out: when Chowning says auditory perspective is not a metaphor of the visual perspective, but rather a phenomenon which presumably follows a general rule of spatial perception, he not only highlights the over-laps of the two, but also emphasises the differences between them. While they can share the notions of size or proximity in the models built to investigate these two perceptions, there cannot be an unambiguous translation between the two.

Turning our attention towards a more general comparison of visual and aural reception, perhaps the most significant difference between the two is due to the current state of technology. Sound reproduction today allows us to shrink the difference between the real and virtual, creating immersive soundfields. Yet currently it seems unlikely to achieve anything similar to decieve our vision in the near future; proximity in images still works as difference in magnitudes on a surface, and the true sense of depth that could be reached using 3D holographic projections remains in the literature of science-fiction.

Attention, listening, acceptance

What I find in common in listening to field recordings and pieces involving acousmatic techniques is that it always involves a shift in attention. To fully appreciate the sonic events one has to listen deeply (Oliveros), without expectations and presuppositions. This involves a sense of acceptance, and acceptance has characterised the project in many ways.

It was the process of listening to the recorded material that suggested us to abandon the idea of composing to a given, randomly drawn graph. Bending the material to the rules and timeline of the graph was too limiting, and would have shaped the overall composition in a generally incoherent way. It was always the inner quality of a given segment of a recording that suggested the ways of manipulation as well as the trajectories and possible routes to progression.

Listening and acceptance was crucial for the group-work as well. I believe the efficiency and the fact that the co-operation lacked serious conflicts had two main reasons. First, it was due to the setting of the individul rights and competences: that it was a non-hierarchical collaboration where everyone felt the same level of ownership and responsibility for the overall outcome. Secondly, it was because each of us listened to the others’ works and didn’t take offence when the majority decided that some parts of what he did should be altered for the sake of the composition.

After the presentation I realised the piece itself is acceptive. Fogarasi (2010) distinguishes two forms of the instrumentalist conception of physical spaces from a compositional point of view. One is the oppression and expropriation of the space by the material to be received, the other is to make prevalent the acoustic parameters of the space. A third or interim category might be when the environment of the performace space is allowed to interact with the received event (Cage). While our piece obviously belongs to the first category (we composed it in stereophony and I still believe the ideal listening situation should be a silent environment with a pair of speakers or headphones), I’ve found surprisingly wonderful how the noises from outside, especially the traffic sounds entered into discourse with the piece.

Finally, nothing showed me more that our piece works than the reaction of the audience, whose attentive listening was perceivable throughout the piece, and during the almost one minute long silence afterwards I felt everyone was listening to that silence.


Fogarasi, Hunor (2010). Aurális fordulat (?). Balkon, 2010/No. 4. p. 36-41. and 2010/No. 5. p. 32-36.


Our final sound composition for the digital media studio project is a work characterised by many interesting features. In my opinion, one of the most interesting is the involvement of many people in the compositional process. In fact, the composed piece is the result of the collaboration of six composers, always working at the same level and on all the compositional issues. This is something very unusual, if not unseen, both in the lattice1 and electro-acoustic music compositional practice. Many might argue that a collaborative compositional practice would require excessive coordination and common aesthetic background to actually work. Nonetheless, our attempt got to the wanted result and there are many reasons to why. It is certainly thanks to the fact that the group members were all aiming to create a unique piece, which founded its aesthetic concept in multi-perspective sonic representation. As a matter of fact, because of the cubist nature of the poem, its sonic portraying required a balanced intervention of different aesthetic visions to achieve an overall coherency. However, what I think was even more important, was that during each compositional step we agreed on a set of rules on how to collect the sonic materials and on how to compose with them. For example, at the beginning, we did not have a common efficient vocabulary to speak about the sonic materials we were working on. Hence, we conformed to the same sonic evaluation parameters. Then, from there, we approved additional terms, which would define even better what we were dealing with and how we wanted to work with the sounds we had. Indeed, a good use of terminology is fundamental to communicate between colleagues to avoid misunderstandings and to obtain more quickly the common aim. However, we never imposed each other a rigid set of terms, but we tried to use them naturally to communicate efficiently and develop, in a negotiated way, what to do. In fact, an important lesson I learnt from this experience is that group rules should always be flexible. Everybody adapts to rules differently, as they are not always useful to everybody in the same way. Hence, we would easily stop following imposed conditions if we found them to be more an obstacle than a useful guidance or expedient for an efficient workflow. We could actually say that all the work developed by trial, discussion and reworking. What more, this flexibility to rules actually made it possible to evolve our aesthetic criteria as the piece was developed. In fact, each rule change and re-iteration of the trial-discussion-rework methodology opened new ways to progress the concept and it didn’t make us change remarkably our aesthetic goals. Indeed, the topic of noise and fidelity, which we were dealing with, is something vast and complex and has many hidden issues. Thus, one can really discover and understand them only if he chooses to explore them freely with a multi-perspective vision and not by following a single predetermined path.


Instead, it is interesting to notice that in the history of fixed electro-acoustic music the compositional practice is always associated to one single person, even when assisted by technicians, as they are not usually considered aesthetically significant. This is probably due to the fact that the conception of the art product has been seen as a reworking of past compositional practices matched with the intuition and taste of one single individual. The sonic artist conceives his work by himself and, so, the result becomes the expression of his individuality and of his artistic ideal. Thereafter, one might consider the composer as someone banally egocentric. However, I would like to make a few considerations. First of all, researchers consider the phenomenon of artistic individualism to have come to an extreme only during the last century. In fact, most lattice music or contemporary compositions, for which performance has an important role, have been giving people other than the composer the freedom to change the sonic result of the composition in an relevant way. Instead, the practice of historical electro-acoustic fixed music and, also, of a few performed contemporary pieces has made the figure of performers less noteworthy. In fact, they had, above all, the aim of making sure that the technical requests of the composers were being respected rather than adding meaningful value to the overall musical result. Hence, one might easily argue that these kinds of musical compositions, like acousmatic music, are not only expression of individualism, but are also not socially involving. In fact, the weakening of musical intermediation compromises the fundamental relation between composer, performers and audience. Consequently, it undermines the social meaning music usually has. However, we must not forget that this way of relating to the artistic work is actually coherent with the structuralist mentality, which was very popular within artists from after the Second World War. Structuralists believed that the artist didn’t have to worry about the social repercussions or reception of their works, as these implications would come by natural necessity. In a similar way, these composers probably didn’t see the problem of not involving others in their music conceiving or at least in the sonic performed result. On the contrary, they might have perceived it as a menace to their artistic integrity. Notwithstanding, we must bear in mind that, since the birth of fixed-sound composition, the role of the electro-acoustic performer has become more important. In fact, they usually take aesthetically relevant decisions, like the spatial re-disposition of the composed materials.

I believe that our compositional effort has a similar intent, but with a different direction. It kind of changes what was something strictly individualistic into something connoted by social meaning. People with common aesthetic, and a predisposition to evolve their workflow can really collaborate for a common goal and create something that is expression of the individuals and, at the same time, of the group. All the same, one might argue that during the fruition of this sound-piece one does not necessarily perceive its social significance, as the audience does not directly experience the composers’ aggregation. Therefore, either the audience is told so or they should perceive, via the audition of the sonic result, the multi-perspective attitude towards the use of sonic material. We leave that for others to decide.

1Lattice is a term used by Trevor Wishart in his book “On Sonic Art” to define the music, which came before electro-acoustic music practices. These past musical practices differed in many aspects. For example, Lattice compositions  usually give more importance to pitch organization than to that of timbre.

Working with the Text and with the Voice Artist: The Influence of Interpretation and Direction on the Composition

Getrude Stein’s If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso has been described, and with good reason, as a powerfully rhythmic piece of poetry. However, this perception, taken in conjunction with Stein’s own rendition, which could be described as neutral, can lead to an overemphasis on the staccato-like, the fast-paced, and the abstract, in short, to an overemphasis of what one might call the obviously rhythmical, in works based on or interpreting her poem. The Nederlands Dans Theater’s Shutters Shut choreography provides a compelling example of one such instance.

I do not doubt that this is one legitimate way of working with and from the text. Indeed, with its repetitions, variations and permutations of phrases, the poem appears to invite mathematical analysis, and perhaps formal translation into complex patterns or algorithms. However, to focus solely on the overtly rhythmical, and the neutral, abstract or mathematical aspects of Stein’s poem is to miss out on other layers of meaning, and other possible, more subtle rhythms and moods that this rich text also contains. Other than the formally organized, hermetic play of language, what else of essence might this poem be about?

On the surface the poem can be read as Stein’s poetic I musing how the addressee (Picasso) would react to being told the poem, whereby he is referred to (perhaps not without irony) as “Napoleon”. One can see why Stein might have thought it apposite to draw a comparison between the two men: one The Great General, the other The Great Artist: both undisputed, singular masters in their field, both conquerors (the one, political and martial, the other, artistic and amorous), both similar in stature (not only in the sense of their achievements but also physically – both were short men), both of dominating force of will and determination. And yet of course Napoleon’s hubris was exposed as he met disaster, from which he was never to recover, in something far greater than himself, namely the vastness of Russian space (exactly like Hitler 130 years after him, incidentally).

Stein wrote the poem in 1923/24, at a mid-point between the catastrophe of WWI and the even greater catastrophe of WWII, for which the seeds had by 1923/24 already been sown. In light of the historical context, could we not be tempted to read the voice in the first section of the poem not as Stein’s, but as Picasso’s, wondering in an inner monologue how Napoleon, the Great General would respond if he, the Great Artist, were to tell him something? And what is it that he might tell him?

At the very end of the poem we find the lines “Let me recite what history teaches / History teaches”. There is an empty space after the last word, a sudden loss of words, a sense of incompleteness. A blankness. A silence. The gap that opens here invites thought, questions, rumination. What does history teach? Is this the Artist telling the General he has not learned from history? Or is it the Artist wondering whether an artist’s agency could make any difference in the world of Generals and politics? Arrays of possible questions appear through the gap.

Thus, the blank space at the end of the words of the poem, could be perceived as being at the centre of meaning in Stein’s poem. From this vantage point, we can now re-read sections of the poem as a thought process, that is questioning, doubtful, ruminative in nature. Question, doubt, thought and rumination however, are not necessarily fast, staccato-like and neutral in tone. They are altogether slower, drawn out. They are pensive, searching. We might recall that the opening lines of the poem are indeed questions: “Would he like it if I told him? Would he?” repeated in permutation after permutation. This suggests an obsessive orbiting of a conundrum by a mind.

Taking the notion that there is also the presence of a questioning mind in the words of the poem into the second round of making field recordings for our project, I felt it would be important to allow for the searching, questioning tone discovered to find a place in the sound-composition as well. We had already collected ample energetic and fast-paced rhythmical performances of the text, and in order for the piece to have balance, and not to become one-sided, a more subtle tone was, I felt, required, and also justified by the nature of the poem itself.

We find, for instance, a compelling example of the potentially questioning, searching tone identified, in the line:

“Was there was there was there what was there was there what was there was there there was there”.

Read quickly and without expression, the tone of this line could be easily missed. Read carefully, this line can be rendered in at least two different ways. Firstly, as: “Was there? Was there? Was there what was there? Was there what was there? Was there? There was, there!” – First questions, finally a positive confirmation. But then, looped back onto itself, the doubting question arises anew. These lines can then endlessly loop back onto themselves, orbiting a conundrum, analogously to the opening lines of the poem. But the same line can also be emphasized and thus rendered a little differently: “Was there? Was there? Was there? What was there was there! What was there was there! There was, there!” The variation is subtle, but the balance between doubting and re-affirming now shifts to an equilibrium (3 expressions of doubt, and 3 of reassuring affirmation). The essential looping character of question/doubt and reassurance/confirmation is maintained, but there is a nuanced variation, allowing for interpretative play in the vocal rendering of the line.

As our piece was made from sound recordings, the nature of the recordings we made would have a strong bearing on the outcome and character of the finished piece, and, as the carrier of the voice, the voice artist Ali Maloney’s performances of the text would have a central role in determining the compositional options later on in the process. Directing Ali to apply the different types of tone and thought processes identified, through the interpretation of the text, to his renditions of the poem on location, was therefore in effect a directly compositional act. Thus, the form of the poem ended up having a strong impact on the formal structure of the piece, though not exclusively through the sense of permutation, repetition and variation or through rhythmical dynamics alone, but also through the meaning-making discussed above.

At the centre of our sound-piece, as at the centre of meaning in Stein’s poem, there is a blank space. Translated into sound, that would be a silence. As it happens, in our piece, the silence occurs immediately after a turbulently rhythmical passage that ends with the very last line of the poem shuddering, stuttering, finally falling to pieces, the rhythm collapsing, the words barely intelligible because of distortion and granulation – signifying a loss of words, a failing, a breakdown of language. And after the silence, the piece becomes quieter, more spread out, pensive, searching. Searching, for instance, for the musical possibility in the screeching sound of train wheels on tracks – Was there [music] there? Was there? Was there? – [Yes] there was, there! – or in the searching of a library archive for a record that might resemble the memory, drawers repeatedly being drawn open and shut, auditory scenes opening out and closing again with the drawers. And so it is, finally, that the theme of opening and shutting and shutters opening and shutting (played on so compellingly by the Nederlands Dans Theater), are very much present in our sound-piece also, though more subtly – through the back door, if you will, and not to the exclusion of an alternative lyricism that exists in the deeper strata of Stein’s work. [s1141037]

Lost in Fidelity

The Final Scene of Lost In Translation as an Argument For Infidelity

Fidelity is clean and to the point.  Record the sound of a squeaky chair into an expensive sound recorder through an expensive microphone, and out the other end you’ll get… the gloriously well recorded sound of a squeaky chair.  Fidelity is 1+1=2.  Boring.

Of course, I’m being deliberately provocative.  The goal of perfect fidelity in audio recording, or any other medium for that matter, is admirable and follows in the footsteps of mankind’s greatest achievements.  And I must admit that the aforementioned squeaky chair recording is indeed something I would take great pleasure in listening to.  But it is a utilitarian pleasure.  It is awe and wonder at the clarity of the representation; an involuntary smile at the fact that I can hear even the subtlest brush of wood on wood.  It sounds great, but it doesn’t tell me anything, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel anything.

In the same way, sound art and music created with the goal of magnificence in fidelity, either to the source (the singer’s voice, the slamming door in an electro-acoustic piece, &tc.), or the content (lyrics, poetry, conversation, &tc.) often falls prey to the same utilitarianism.  Life is not clean.  It is the sonic filth pit of the trillions of organisms, machines, objects, and forces that make up the world around us.  So, to listen to a composition whose layers are derived solely from audio that is pure as the driven snow, the ear immediately balks.  I get the idea, I can hear what the artist is doing, but it doesn’t sound right.  There’s no mess.

Photo by Vincent Fournier

Art can’t be created in a vacuum. Acoustically speaking, the closest thing we can come to a vacuum is an anechoic chamber. Walls covered in perfectly calibrated treatment result in the most perfect possible acoustic fidelity. No reverb, no comb-filtering, just the sound source as the sound source actually sounds.  But these places – the quietest on earth – are also amongst the world’s most unnatural, disorientating, confusing, and downright uncomfortable places to step into.  The near-absolute lack of environmental feedback simply feels wrong.  We need noise.  Noise is the context in which and from which we derive the meaning of a work of art, and indeed from everything in life.  Art, being the so-called mirror of life, therefore cannot be composed of materials made in the environmental vacuum that is an anechoic chamber.

The final scene of Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is case in point.  You watch the entire film, and just as you get to the end, the most important bit of dialogue in the whole thing, and you can’t hear it.  You can of course hear that something is said, but more than 9 years after its release precisely what is said is still a mystery.  This is arguably the moment that makes the film truly great.  The act of obscuring the last major line of the film leaves the ending open.  It gives room to the audience to speculate, and thereby the movie doesn’t end.  It dissolves into the wash of life.

Screenshot from Lost in Translation

That ostensibly meaningless whisper is actually the most meaningful moment of the film.  It’s a defining moment, the point at which the entire nature of the preceding narrative slides away from a decided plot line with a definite message and becomes something else.  The beauty and power of it is that that single moment gives the audience the ability to decide for themselves what the ending is.

It is the noise that Coppola willfully introduced into her film that makes it so powerful.  On the one hand it’s narrative noise, and on the other it’s sonic.  The narrative noise is the introduction of an indeterminate end.  The fixing of a point in time and space, a causal event from whose indeterminacy every possible effect grows rapidly out in an unfathomable number of directions.  The sonic noise is the deliberate obscuring of the words so that they are effectively pushed down into the background sound of the scene.  As a result, the ending blooms, re-contextualizing everything you’ve seen so far.

What’s my point?  My point is that that prima facie simple act of blurring the meaning of a single line of dialogue then obliges a second watch.  Not just of the particular scene, but of the entire film as a whole.  The audience is forced to question what they’ve seen, to return to it, re-experience it, and reconsider it from a completely different point of view.  The withholding of information then, instead of obscuring and obfuscating the enjoyment of a piece of art, actually enhances it.  It sets up a context into which the audience is happily obliged to delve.  Every level of the piece is then opened up for scrutiny with a smile.

As a bonus there is also that the addition of this element obliges the artist to give thought to the entire foundation upon which the subject is placed.  By obscuring a crucial part of the obvious message it then falls on the shoulders of the underlying content to convey a piece’s meaning.  It is the complexity, or lack thereof, of these backgrounds into which the audience will delve to find the meaning they seek, so it behooves the artist to ensure that those backgrounds are as carefully considered and well crafted as the foregrounds.

If the artist is successful in this, then we find one of life’s rare situations in which everybody wins.  The audience has a multifaceted work of art into which they can delve and explore; every listen or watch or look unearthing new delectable delights; and the artist knows that her work is as complex and engaging as she wants it to be, and can revel in the satisfaction of having produced a work worth paying attention to.


Lost in Translation. Dir. Sophia Coppola. American Zoetrope, 2003.

lost in translation full ending scene + Just like honey 22 March 2011. Online video clip. youtube.com. Accessed on 12 April 2012. <www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bd2RE0OjyE&feature=youtu.be&t=1m4s>




Meeting Minutes 29/03/2012

The aim of this meeting was to present the work done so far to Owen and Sean and to go on from there.  Having received their notes we decided to use this time as a chance to try out the quadrophonic set-up of the piece in the Russolo room, so to understand any possible any advantages and problems that this presentation technique might offer.

We showed Owen and Sean only the transitions from the various parts and the beginning and the end, so to give them an idea of the overall piece.

They offered the following criticisms and suggestions:

We should be careful to control the presence and prevalence of the more psychoacoustically challenging high-mid range of the frequency spectrum (~1000Hz – 6000Hz. Sean pointed out that this was a particular problem (along with the low-end) during the transition between the 2nd and the 3rd sections of the piece.  He suggested that the audience might find this disturbing and/or distracting.

Owen then suggested that, in order to maintain the sonic detail during each performance, one of us should manually compensate the amplitude differences that would unavoidably occur in large spaces, like the one in which we will be performing. This should help us have more control on the overall dramatic result during the performance.

When they left, we listened to the whole piece to look for other possible issues. After the listening we discussed both our supervisors’ observations and what we noticed furthermore.

We started equalizing the most problematic parts, though argued that we shouldn’t focus on the eq totally, unless we agree on how sonically difficult the sections in question should be.
We decided that in order to better calibrate the “aggressiveness” and the “politeness” of the piece we ought to listen to the composition in bigger environments (e.g. the Atrium and the Sound Lab). In these listening sessions we should pay attention, also, to possible semantic issues regarding the continuous repetition of the same lines of the poem.  We also noted that, even though some of the amplitude, frequency and phase issues don’t require treatment for a speaker setup, we will have to make a different mastering for a radio performance that would possibly be listened to through headphones.

Since the apex of the piece still lacks some dramatic tension, both Giacomo and Iain proposed they will work on the their parts for the upcoming session which will take place on the 1st of april.

Meeting Minutes 27 / 03 / 2012

The aim of this meeting was to begin working towards assembling the final compostition.  This consisted of putting the smaller parts together in a single master session and listening to the resulting piece all the way through. This way we could understand how one part might flow into the next and where changes might need to be made. It also offere us the chance to quantify the sonic characteristics of each composition and qualify how each piece relates to the group as a whole.. This should eventually help us understand how to create the overall musical form of the piece.

At the previous meeting it had been decided that Daniel’s piece, feeling more like a beginning should be placed earlier, and Gervais’ being more of an ending should go last. The rest of the group were to bear in mind that their pieces would be placed somewhere in the middle.

When we listened to the various sections we asked each other who still continued to use the score as a blueprint from his composition. Most members of the said that they felt it more a constraint than anything, and as such decided not to use it. Therefore, we all agreed to abandon the score entirely. Further to the point, we agreed that the overall shape and quality of each piece should be determined by the sounds used therein.  , we agreed that the sounds used to compose the pieces had their own sense of drama and motion that the score did not take account of.  The means and manner of our forward compositional efforts should therefore be focussed on maintaining the already extant overall dramaturgy. As such, we decided that the new compositional paradigm would be to explore the different dramatic dynamic possibilities, and follow the inherent dynamic logic of the sonic material itself.

At a first listening we all noticed that Iain’s first attempt at the composition was more interesting than the one he showed today. From a compositional point of view, his first attempt stood in strong contrast to the rest of the group’s work, and because it was the only one to focus noticeably on a clear use of words as a compositional criteria. Also, we decided that it would be placed before Donato’s composition, which is characterized by a slow pace and abstract sound scenery. We asked Iain to do rework his composition, with an emphasis on further exploring the criteria he had followed the first.

The session continued with Gervais working in Pro Tools to make the overall montage and to try to interweave the first sections. The other members helped him with the process.

In the end, we decided that the final order of the compositions would be:

Daniel, Peter, Giacomo, Iain, Donato, Gervais

The first transition is between Daniel’s and Peter’s compositions. The first is characterized by the use of more abstract urban soundscapes while the latter has a more naturalistic feel. However, both made use of the same recording, though with different sound manipulations. Upon discovering this we discussed the aesthetic consequences of redundancy. In the end, we decided that it is possible, if not preferable to have repetitions of the same recordings as long as they are manipulated in such a way as to bring out different sonic aspects.  Nevertheless, we decided to make modifications, so as to create stronger contrasts between these redundancies. Accordingly, we refined the compositions to enhance specific details that show the identity of the sections and the contrast between them.

When Iain returned with his reworked composition we decided to work on it as a group with the aim to further emphasize the dramaturgy of the piece by using his strategies more noticeably. We all worked on the layering of various “shutters shut” recordings. However, with six of us trying to determine the shape of a single piece we found it lacking the qualities we wanted. We asked Iain to modify his composition even more, focussing particularly on points agreed upon by the group.  Iain’s piece is to be the climax point of the composition and should be the embodiment of the cubist, multi-perspective subtext of the poem.

We ended the session by working on the transition from Giacomo’s section into Iain’s.  The attempt being to maintain the tension built up in Giacomo’s section while moving imperceptibly into the more jagged texture of Iain’s.  In the end we decided to make this the focus of the following session.

Mini Composition: Second Draft

The Composition:

Another 3-5 minute piece following the guidelines below.

To be finished for Wednesday March 21st.

The Aim:

As we approach our second drafts we will each pick one specific technique to employ, and at least two limitations to explicitly avoid.  We needn’t necessarily be as strict as that, but the point is to think more concretely about the means and mode of constructing our compositions.

The Techniques:


Using a maximum of 3 layers, be they speech, ambient sound, or specific sounds (ie. car/truck passbys, footsteps).


No hard cuts at all, but gradual motion between sections.


No more than a single layer of the poem.  Either on it’s own, or mixed on top of or underneath other sounds.


Mixing a recording or a part of it with another in a way that it sounds as if both had been recorded at the same time, same place. Example is the first part, in the cafe, Ali’s voice is from a different take captured ith the tape rec, originally ha can’t be heard on that Café recording, but I tried to filter him in a way that fit in the crowd. I needed that to make longer pauses between his lines with the chopped parts of the closed up recording.


Juxtaposition of spaces.  Layering of small spaces into recordings of big ones.  Cutting between echos/reverbs, breaking of sonic locales.


Using several recordings from the same Take, introducing them in canon / using them as delay-effects / with non-pitchaltering time-stretch, making them slowly out of phase. Good for piling up roomtones and for clouds of partially or wholly unintellegible segments of the recited poem. See parking lot scene.


Introducing short segments from a recording on top of another, suddenly and abruptly, as obvious and distinguishable flashes, different from the layer on which they appear. Used in the last part with the “archive radio style” shots of the tape recording on top of the handheld recording of the same buzzing quartermile road take. Think of some Reich stuff, like Different Trains.

Using EQ to bring out musical, tonal qualities from the field recordings and using these to give form to the section; Looking for phrasing structures in the composition; Sculpting smooth, emergent transitions; Using the full dynamic range available; Counterpointing (i.e. long and short sounds)


Create distortion and so mp3 sparkling textures in the high end.


Use a foreground impulsive sound as an attack for a new sound environment.  For example, a kick introduces the cafe soundscape or the hitting of the spoon introduces the road soundscape….this way it should seem that the impulsive sound is “creating” the environment.


Show the presence of FI, FO and CF evidently on purpose to show that we are manipulating the soundscape.


Recall a previously heard soundscape to convey the idea that we are going back and forth in space and time.

The Limitations:

Pick one or two of these to specifically avoid, but also use the rest as points of consideration when putting the piece together.  Think in terms of how these limitations will relate to the techniques you are specifically implementing.

For example, if you are planning to use LOCALIZATION MISMATCHING, would it be more effective to cut sharply between recordings, or fade imperceptibly between them?  The question then becomes what you’re trying to convey by the spaces you choose to use.  Would using repeating sections “Now, and now, not now,” help to highlight the change of space, or make it too obvious and perhaps distract the listener’s attention?

  • Don’t tell the poem:  Ali should be there, but try not to reveal what he says.
  • No outdoor recordings
  • No indoor recordings
  • Don’t use any processing (subtle EQ being the exception)
  • No crossfades
  • No hardcuts
  • Don’t use “now, not now”
  • Don’t use “history teaches”
  • Don’t use “Napoleon”
  • Don’t link semantic with sonic: nothing what Ali says should have an auditory response, whether its the play with “now/not now”, “trains”/ train sounds, “he” and male speech, etc.