THE COLLABORATIVE COMPOSITION OF A FIXED SOUND PIECE

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.

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  1. Pingback: Tod Machover’s Toronto Symphony an unusual experiment in collaborative composition | Musical Toronto

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