I am a composer, I create using many mediums and many methods. Text, sound, code, graphics, soundscapes, requesting audience participation. We are all participating. So with this in mind, one of the easier ways to explain my interpretation of material, and specifically, sonic material, is as blocks, as ‘Audio Lego’, to build, copy, block, paste, and chop.
During my time working on the composition of various works for my practice based Ph.D. in Sonic Art at Queen’s University Belfast I remember thinking that some of the works were to be presented as linear media, designed to be broadcast on radio or performed in an installation setting. But, what about web presentation? Could it be a method to find new audiences? Could I create non-linear works by producing audio blocks, ‘audio lego’ that could be pieced together by the audience/participant in the online environment of a web browser.
This question led me to spend some time checking out the presentation practices of the Electronic Literature community. I discuss Electronic Literature in a previous post. FFDEAD (2013) was my first interactive work. I wrote a sonnet, recorded myself reciting the text, edited short fragments of audio files, and then developed the work in the game engine environment of Unity, writing scripts to control the behaviour of the audio files. I’ve included the link to the games score in the caption below the image and there is also a video available on YouTube. If you are accessing the game score the simply Left Click on the UI of the app. Every time you move the cursor it will trigger audio. If you leave the mouse still for long enough the work will return to silence.
There is an audio file uploaded to Soundcloud included below:
On time! I thought I could sink old lace.
It ran though my brain as a navajo-white.
Watching the memory hit the knowledge base
Was like witnessing a car hit a wall.
Stemming the flow was key to the trace,
Checking the system for a sprite in flight.
Finding the byte that was out of place,
Enabled that illusive conference call.
Here I am, in this imaginary place.
Watching, measuring, with geometric pace.
This is the moment with visible light,
So search it, find it, then reinstall.
Stop the run, take a seat, watch the show.
This is not the end, not by a long sight.
We Called It Dirt
I’ve been developing further audio works and game scores informed by the same ethic of producing blocks of sound to use in the game development environment of Unity. With each project I answered another compositional problem, progressing through the experience of completing works. We Called it Dirt (2013) was developed after a collaboration with the wonderful Electronic Poet, Dr. Michael Maguire. The deal was that I tidy up the audio quality of the interviews and he would approve my use of a number of files for the purpose of creating a sonic art work. We both benefited greatly from the arrangement because the interviews with John Pat McNamara are excellent. My aim is to expand the interview, a simple one-to-one chat, to become a room full of virtual conversations.
I’ve included the link to the game score in the caption under the image, but there is also a video available on YouTube. If you choose to go to the game score presentation, the controls are the computer keys: W,E,C,A,L,D,I,T,R, and SPACE. Your performance results from the simple act of typing the letters WE CALLED IT DIRT. The audio files can be repeatedly sounded to build up a fractured texture and a virtual space in an attempt to create an endless web-based narrative.
My next work, Look(FFEBCD) (2014), draws on the cut up technique of Christian Verdun, who follows the inspiration of the Burroughs Cut Up method. Look(FFEBCD) won the student prize at HearSay Festival in 2014. I had the help of nine wonderful participants who recorded a sonnet I wrote for the piece. Thanks to Brian Brennan, Robyn Bromfield, Brian Conniffe, Lynda Cosgrove, Dr. Eileen Leahy, Barry Low, Dr. Barbara Lueneburg and Marie McStay. The audio files are edited and imported into the game development of Unity. I then wrote a number of C# scripts designed to control the behaviour of the audio when the participant interacted with the computer keyboard. When creating this work I was inspired by N. Katherine Hayles “Language alone is no longer the distinctive characteristic of technologically developed societies; rather, it is language plus code” (Hayles 2005, 16).
I’ve included the link to the game score in the caption below the image and there is also a video available on YouTube. If you choose to access the game score presentation, the controls are the W,A,S,D, Arrow Keys, and SPACE. The SPACE key control will move the presentation between one of nine scenes. There are wide variations between the scenes and the work creates a work of web-based endless narrative.
There is also an audio file available on soundcloud included below:
Look, I'm sorry, I know it's beige.
It'll warm if you have time to gaze.
Think of it more as a blanched-almond,
Changing in hue with the light.
Try it now, up in hyperspace,
There's always the power given in backspace.
Trust the strength in its own understatement,
It'll sit with the line of sight.
This selection is straight from the database.
Fitting the dial and perfect in shortwave.
Alternative to the delicate hue
Is the thought that it will bring calm.
Giving out some gentle bright,
A glow that is good for the payment.
And The Birds Sang
And The Birds Sang (2016) is inspired by Cobra (1984) by John Zorn and Robert Morris Box with the Sound Of its Own Making (1961). I encourage the participant to listen and respond with their own interpretation of how the sound was produced for the soundtrack, and to improvise to the visuals displayed on-screen. And The Birds Sang has been performed by an Irish brass band, Drogheda Brass Band and a Swiss trio of synth, horn and cello called Retro Disco at Music Current in Dublin, 2019. I’ve included the link to the game score in the caption under the image. There is also a video on YouTube. If you choose to access the game score there is also a set of directions designed to be a reference for the score. The graphics I created are informed by Manuella Blackburns Sound Shapes and I produced icons that represent short onset attacks, repeated and buzzing articulations, among others.
The audio recording from Music Currents is included below:
Questioning The Elements
Questioning The Elements (2019) was commissioned and performed by SPIKE alternative cello festival in Dublin 2019, it was also performed live on RTE Radio One during Arena. My aim is to consider the sound-making elements of the cello and also, the methods used by the performer. I spent time creating reference sounds: bowing, scraping, knocking the cello at various points. I also asked for participants to record a couple of sentences describing their thoughts of the sound of the cello. Massive thanks to Mary Barnecutt, Anthony Fox, Martina Murray, Raven, Nicole Rourke, and Yue Tang for taking the time to record and send me your thoughts.
I’ve included the link the Game Score in the caption below the image, but there is also a video up on YouTube. If you choose to download the game score, please enjoy interpreting the sound shapes and text instructions on-screen. The computer keyboard also provides some extra possibilities, so test the keys, a lot of them will result in either hearing voices or moving the graphic icons.
The audio recording from the SPIKE performance is included below:
Tale Of A Great Sham(e)Text
Tale of a Great Sham(e)Text is an electronic text first inspired by the consideration of citizenship. I created a Twitter Bot, a SoundCloud account, and a Blog for this project, and eventually I will also be featuring podcasts alongside the game score. Check out the Blog because I will publish pages on pre-composition and on the continuing production. I’ve included the game score below and there is also a video version on YouTube. The instruments I envisage are Female voice(s), Brass Player(s), and Computer.
I’ll continue to blog about other works and progress of new creations on this WordPress site. The process of developing a compositional workflow using techniques drawn from electroacoustic music and electronic literature continue to provide me with much inspiration and I will enjoy observing the directions the creations are going.
Hayles, N. Katherine. My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago, 2005.