Joshua Fineberg: Fictional Voices: the epi-phenomenology of illusory sounds

Wed, 04/17/2013 - 5:15pm - 7:00pm
CCRMA Classroom, The Knoll 2nd floor, Rm 217
Event Type: 

Fictional Voices: the epi-phenomenology of illusory sounds

Over the last ten years or so, a big focus of my work has been on creating the sense within a piece of music that the work is not just a concrete acoustic/perceptual object, but is a kind of sonic fiction. That is to say, the work is an acoustic perceptual object that is overtly and constantly being shaped and manipulated by authorial and interpretive voices in order to produce specific affects. Even though this might seem true for all music, I would argue that once this fictional frame becomes overt, acknowledged and an actively manipulated parameter of the piece, things start to change. It is this change that I have been seeking in my recent works. I want to get past many of the old arguments about form or content, affect or structure, and find a perceptual framework that allows one to have it both ways. In this talk, I will focus on two works: my “imagined opera” based on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita from 2008 for actor, dancers, video, ensemble and electronics; and a new piece for string quartet and electronics called La Quintina, written for the Arditti Quartet. Both works attempt to make this new kind of framework explicit and readable. These pieces involved extensive work on spectral envelope modification and hybridization (in real-time for La Quintina) to create sounds with ambiguous and variable mixtures of properties. The research and development took place in collaboration with IRCAM, the GMEM and the ExperimentalStudio in Freiburg.


American composer Joshua FINEBERG began his musical studies at the age of five; they have included - in addition to composition - violin, guitar, piano, harpsichord and conducting. He completed his undergraduate studies at the Peabody Conservatory with Morris Moshe Cotel where he won first prize in the bi-annual Virginia Carty de Lillo Composition Competition. In 1991, he moved to Paris and studied with Tristan Murail. The following year he was selected by the IRCAM/Ensemble InterContemporain reading panel for the course in composition and musical technologies. In the Fall of 1997, he returned to the US to pursue a doctorate in musical composition at Columbia University, which he completed in May 1999. After teaching at Columbia for a year, he went to Harvard University where he taught for seven years and was the John L. Loeb Associate Professor for the Humanities. In September 2007, Fineberg left Harvard to assume a professorship in composition and the directorship of the electronic music studios at Boston University. In 2012 he became the founding director of the Boston University Center for New Music. He has won numerous national and international prizes and scholarships and is published by Editions Max Eschig and Gérard Billaudot Editeur. In 2011, Fineberg was named an Artist Fellow of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Fineberg’s works are widely performed in the US, Europe and Asia. A monographic CD of his music recorded by the Ensemble Court-Circuit was released in 2002 as a part of Unviersal France’s Accord/Una Corda collection, another CD recorded by the Ensemble FA was released by Mode Records in June 2009 and in 2012 a CD with his complete works for Piano, performed by Marilyn Nonken, was released by Divine Art/Métier. Major recent projects include an ‘imaginary opera’ based on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for actor, dancers, video, ensemble and electronics realized in collaboration with JOJI; Speaking in Tongues, a concerto written for Les Percussions de Strasbourg’s 50th anniversary tour and Objets trouvé written for the ensemble Court-circuit.


Besides his compositional and pedagogical activities, Joshua Fineberg actively collaborates with music psychologists and computer scientists in music perception research and helps develop tools for computer assisted composition, acoustic analysis and sound modification. He has been involved in working with performing ensembles and as producer for recordings of many ensembles and soloists. Joshua Fineberg is also the issue editor for two issues of The Contemporary Music Review on "Spectral Music" (Vol. 19 pt. 2 & 3) and for a double-issue featuring the collected writings of Tristan Murail in English (Vol. 24 pt. 2&3). From 2003-2009, he served as the US Editor for The Contemporary Music Review, where he still serves on the editorial board. His book Classical Music, Why Bother? was published by Routledge Press in 2006.


Joshua Fineberg’s music has been described as a music of paradoxes: at once turbulent and contemplative, simultaneously active and reflective. The sound world is colorful and seemingly decorative, yet rigorously constructed and the consequence of careful acoustic observation and research. Fineberg belongs to the second generation of composers influenced by the so-called ‘spectral’ school of Frenchmen Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail. In his music, however, the relationship between acoustical models and the resultant music is more elusive and sophisticated. Fineberg considers the use of models fundamental to his entire compositional approach. They may be poetic models as much as concrete technical ones – indeed the two may be directly related to each other.

Open to the Public
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