Media and Contemporary Practices of Sound Art II

Machine music through the ears of the repairman by Morten Suder Riis/ In the Rear: Artistic Concept and Different Spatialisation Methods by Lidia Zielinska and Rafal Zapala/ The food side of sound aesthetics by Leandro Pisano/ Babble and Speech : approaches to technology and the spoken word in contemporary sound arts practices by Cathy Lane
Sunday, 18 September, 2011 - 17:00 - 18:40
Chair Person: 
Leandro Pisano
Morten Riis
Lidia Zielinska
Rafal Zapala
Leandro Pisano
Cathy Lane

Machine music through the ears of the repairman

by Morten Suder Riis

The traditional interpretation of music machines often regards technology in a symbolic sense that places the machine in a context where it is regarded as something that fulfils a predetermined task based on instructions mostly existing in a symbolic form such as code (text), notes or other symbolic representations of a desired functionality. 

The normal theoretical approach is built upon the symbolic possibilities that the machine heralds, but by examining this history of electronic and computer music through a comprehension of the machine as being something physical, something real, I propose a different understanding of the aesthetics’ of machine music, that furthermore points towards an alternative way of regarding the machine in a broader cultural sense. 

In the attempt to frame these fundamental elements of electronic music, I ascribe to a media archaeological method, in which I will propose a different understanding of today’s computer music by making an archaeological examination of mechanical musical instruments, resulting in alternative connections between these early music machines and the current artistic reality of contemporary electronic music. This is done by examining this history through the ears of the repairman, and listening to the voice of the machine itself opposed to the traditional “musical” melodic output. In the history of the mechanical instruments the notion of “machine sound” is as good as absent, but listening to these machines today, one clearly hears that these machines are indeed not a silent mediator of a symbolic musical representation.         

The theoretical foundation is derived from Wittgenstein’s account of the machine as symbol and its actions as symbolising a deterministic ordering, and also draws on the theory of Kittler and his technological heuristic reading of Lacan’s three orders.

Furthermore this paper should be seen as a theoretical reflection of the same topics that the music performance Steam Machine Music (submitted as artwork) deals with, thus executing the media archaeological method both as narrative text and multilayered artwork.

In the Rear: Artistic Concept and Different Spatialisation Methods

by Lidia Zielinska and Rafal Zapala

Composed simultaneously in ambisonic (live) and multichannel (fixed) versions, Lidia Zielińska‘s composition In the Rear (2010) is an acousmatic piece. The integrated system of different spatialisation methods was made by Rafał Zapała.

In the piece, piano keyboard becomes the interface between the inside of the instrument and accumulated experience of the listener’s life. The acoustic world inside the piano looks different to what we experience at a concert: it resembles the experience of a child sitting under the piano. The acoustic world outside the instrument is not only its real sound at concert, i.e. in specific acoustic spaces of different resonance, but also – or perhaps, above all – its sound in our long-term memory, in the tradition of piano literature, in various cultural codes and emotional reactions remembered.

The composition deals with sounds generated inside the instrument, at the back of the keyboard, so to speak: sounds of the instrument’s mechanics inaudible outside, as well as specific resonance inside the sound box. Symbolically, it also refers to what the instrument has experienced under numerous pianists’ fingers. The inside of the piano gets resized to the volume of a large concert hall, with all acoustic properties of the piano’s interior being preserved and intensified. Listeners experience resized sounds, as if they found themselves inside the instrument. Due to the scale shift, the aesthetic experience is accompanied by a more distinct physiological experience (increased changes of acoustic pressure). One also hears idioms of great historical piano literature reverberate; this, in turn, is the support structure on which musical memory of each individual listener rests. I also took the liberty of carrying out an experiment concerning our mental base. The piece originated in 2010, i.e. in F. Chopin’s Year, and had its ambisonic première performance at the "Warsaw Autumn" International Festival of Contemporary Music. Listeners expected references to Chopin, and – even though there were none – heard citations from Chopin’s works, instead of Brahms’, Rachmaninoff’s and Gershwin’s musical gestures quoted.

From the point of view of a composer witnessing performance of her composition, particularly important were observations of how different kinds of spatialisation influence perception of time and the piece’s dramatic quality. In particular, it is the middle episode of the piece, in which spatial dimension plays a very important role, whose stereo reduced version should require significantly shorter time proportions than the original ambisonic version.

In order to carry out the concept of sound space in full, a system of virtual devices had to be created. Their varied functions are generally subordinate to the ability to combine a number of spatialisation methods within one composition. Ambisonics proved to be the key feature: both in terms of coding the piano’s inner space to B-Format, and in terms of opportunity for the composer to compose-design “artificial” trajectories of sound object movements in three dimensions. Space is complete with “traditional” multi-channel projection of sounds ascribed to a particular place around the audience, with a possibility to adjust projection to any configuration of loudspeakers.

Rafał Zapała’s system incorporates modules and technologies elaborated by a number of research centres: Holo-Edit software module (GMEM Marseille), set of ambisonic objects for Max/MSP environment (ICST Zurich University of Arts), Jamoma Modules for Max/MSP.

Our paper shall present the method of integrating modules into one system, as well as conclusions drawn from our experiences during live sound projections at different halls and with different speaker configurations. Artistic reasons behind distributing particular sound layers by means of different spatialisation methods shall also be discussed.

The food side of sound aesthetics

by Leandro Pisano

In the last years, linking sound and food is becoming an interesting research topic both in the psychology of perception and new media art studies. The latest research is focusing not only on the key factors of hearing related to multi-sensory perception of food, but also on some vernacular expressions that are rising from a performance-oriented aesthetics research, analyzed through a multidisciplinary perspective. Every recipe, as a list of operations to be executed in a time interval, could be considered as a contemporary full score that is at the same time well-defined and unpredictable in its sonic development. The sound of food and its flavour can take us somewhere in the world through getting us in touch with different cultural traditions, giving us a local characterization, covering the distance and definitely mixing. If Heston Blumenthal once said food is especially evocative in conjuring memories, we could extend the meaning of his words, saying: food and sound. This conference session will discuss some case histories and concrete art/design examples related to sound/food topic, investigating the field bounded by performance art, sound art and research. Through comparing molecular gastronomy to experimental digital music and analyzing the connection among sound, food and new media as a way to re-design (and re-mediate) the identity of a rural territory (Click'n'Food - Interferenze new arts festival), I will be discussing how food/sound knowledge can add important levels of information in the "tasting" process, providing a deeper level of understanding of the "manufacturing" act and, more relevant, a much better conscious sensorial experience.

Babble and Speech : approaches to technology and the spoken word in contemporary sound arts practices

by Cathy Lane

This paper will investigate the work of a selection of contemporary artists whose creative practice is engaged with technology and the spoken word. Although they come from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds including music, sound art and performance poetry for each of these artists sounded language and the spoken word provides the materials and often the means by which they carry out their artistic investigations.

In the paper I will identify and discuss similarities and differences between the various cross-disciplinary approaches to playing with words which run through their works alongside a consideration of the technical approaches within the context of a variety of twentieth century sonic practices with language and the spoken word. I will also investigate technological approaches , and creative tools and current and possible future developments in the technologies that might be used or influence spoken word composition as a distinct area of creative practice and research within an interdisciplinary context.

The majority of the works referred to in this paper can be found on Playing with Words: an audio compilation (2011) freely available online at A double compact disc is also available from Gruenrekorder.