FIRST LISTENING REPORT

Due on April 11, 2011. 300 words minimum. Click "add new comment" to submit your text under this thread.

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Title: Eight Studies for

Title: Eight Studies for Automatic Piano
Performed at CCRMA: 04/06/2011
Composer: Seth Horvitz

I was not at all familiar with Seth Horvitz, aka Sutekh, until last Saturday, but I was glad to see two sides of his musical personality in such quick succession. Compared to his DJ set at Modulations, which expanded outwards from Detroit Techno foundations, these works were far more classical in nature, calling to mind Conlon Nancarrow's approach to the player piano, as well as the sort of structural creations of early Cage and Ligeti, with their almost Baroque-like considerations of symmetry, Xenakis, in their geometrical and architectural motivations, and Reich, in quasi “phasing” ideas. The first piece concentrated on the uppermost 8 notes of the instrument, and grew from simple, familiar-sounding pianistic meanderings, to more coordinated jolts and juxtapositions that almost seemed to cause the instrument to resonate with “illusory” timbres. The piece climbed in intensity towards chiming, alarm-like sounds, presumably from the interplay of close relationships in the uppermost register. This theme was a common thread throughout the eight pieces – an attempt to illicit the uncanny from the familiar in terms of timbre. 

The second piece was probably the most accessible of the works, since it focussed largely on the white keys (for visual purposes), creating lush extended harmonies from the symmetric approach to the keyboard; stacked thirds and fourths that are so prevalent in Jazz harmony and Impressionism made the aural cascades as exciting as the visual cascades on the keyboard. This piece best translated Horvitz's compositional procedures into music; the composers lateral thinking and visual approach was clearly seen in the piano's keys, normally obscured by a performer, to give some sense of the structure. At first, I was a little skeptical of this visual approach, especially when it was simply the result of a creative approach to Logic's piano roll editor. However, the diagrams that he presented the work with showed a deeper approach to the structure than just trial and error with copy and paste tools, and the composer admitted omitting the pieces where this careful visual positioning did not create aurally cohesive works. 

Further elements at play in the following works included a similar approach to rhythm and polyrhythms that saw the creation of multiple interwoven lines. Where typically polyrhythms evokes a sense of five against four, for example, the composer talked about dividing individual beats into multiple subdivisions, for a more condensed approach somewhere between these typically larger units and Ligeti's intense micropolyphony, although this approach created a similar sense of “clouds” and dense forms. Further timbral irregularities were explored via the automated approach – allowing “impossible” manoeuvres and a degree of precision beyond the range of a human performer. Overall, the colloquium was really insightful, and it was fascinating to hear such different sounds coming out of the piano.

Listening Report

 Programming Bells



Title: Bells
Year: 2011
Composer: Seth Horvitz

 

A piano concert with the pianist observing with the audience, controlling the piano from afar. A piano whose programmed intricate scale intonations could sound from a fantastical, instrumental reinvention of the (vintage yet futuristic) steampunk era.  Such was the recent performance of artist, electronic musician, designer and composer Seth Horvitz. Horvitz is a part of a movement that optimizes composition, based upon digital algorithmical and geometrical formations, turned player-piano rolls, turned music. 

 

The song of his that I have chosen to analyze, is entitled “Bells”. The song opens with a single fixated note that is soon accompanied by a faltering echo.  Between the basic notes that open the piece, a fuller sound begins to form out of the sympathetic vibrations throughout the piano, impacting the select piano strings. This begins to form a union of notes that sound increasingly organic. The notes seem to reverberate off one another, back to back, but never overlapping like an intricate sonic weaving. 

 

According to Horvitz, the song was composed with a direct emphasis upon the systematic filling and folding of octaves. This becomes especially apparent later on in the composition.  At that stage, one hears the first individual chords of the song. According to Horvitz, “each chord maintains its own sound and remains mostly disconnected from the other.” This audible weaving allows for “reduced listening benefits” as one cannot help but to disassociate the  nearly indiscernible tone from the piano. From the midpoint, to the conclusion, I found it nearly intuitive to detach the musical intonations from their source, the Klavier. In fact, the notated projections on the piano became so dense midway through the song, it can be perceived that no solo pianist could emulate the patterning. The general sound took on such eclectic tones,  that one audience member commented saying, “It doesn’t even sound like a piano anymore” this comment stood as a pointed recognition that the composer took as a great compliment. 

 

 

Tyler Brooks - First Listening Report

 

Title: Introducao a Pedra
Year: 1989
Composer: Rodolfo Caesar

Rodolfo Caesar’s “Introducao a Pedra” sounds like an exploration of spatiality and depth. I had a keen sense of left and right while listening because of the recording’s extensive use of panning effects. The revving engine-like sounds would sometimes alternate between full stereo and a ping-pong between both ears; granular sounds of sand and pebbles “fell,” such that I became curious what height these sounds that were “hitting the ground” were coming from.  I was immediately disoriented by this concert of sounds with unknown sources upon the recording’s opening and thus (almost instinctually) I listened with the intent to find the sources of these sounds in space. The more I listened, the more able I was to posit myself in the space being outlined by all of these sounds—the more I tried to orient myself. Most helpful was Caesar’s use of “dry” and “wet” sounds in correlation with the sound’s foreground and background. The use of “dry” sounds (e.g. the revving engine-like sound, sandy and granular sounds, etc.) always occur in what feels like the “front” of the recording. These sounds hardly had echo or reverb and their short decay time created the sense that silence meant that they and their respective virtual sources were “gone.” “Wet” sounds were often more distant—echoes of strange watery sounds that seemed a mixture of something viscous and something metallic, kalimba and vibe-like sounds with deep and resonant vibrations. I even felt a sense of width from with some of these more vibrant sounds; whereas these sounds were a lot like soundscape, other sounds were just sound points-in-space that moved in one as opposed to multiple dimensions. For example, the whooping, reversed wind-like sound seemed close when loud and distant when close, but it was not a sound that defined the background or foreground of the piece. Rather, this sound and other sounds like it simply reinforced the more resonant, echoic background sounds by coming from or leaving into those spaces.

“Introducao a Pedra” is a rich piece of sound and space. This piece, nonetheless, is very transparent in its intent and exposition in that it deliberately prompts listeners to question sound and space (or sound in space) rather than musical effect and musical relationships between sounds (rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, timbral, etc.). I wonder if we listen to the musical dynamics of sounds more differently when we couple them with spatial dynamics—when we “image” harmonies and when melodies “fall” not just in pitch but virtually, in space!

 

 

 

Charlie Lannin - Klang

Klang
1982
Jonty Harrison
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           When analyzing electroacoustic pieces, listeners are forced to make a distinction between the analytical metrics that are only appropriate for traditional compositions and those that maintain some relevance despite atypical compositional structure. More specifically, traditional analysis involving melody, rhythm, and harmony has no place when discussing pieces like Jonty Harrison’s “Klang”. In this way, “Klang” and other similar pieces support the practice of reduced listening, or an approach by which listeners isolate the experience of sound from any particular cause, context (which is inevitably based on the individual’s background knowledge) or other association. Under conditions of reduced listening, a sound may become a singular sound object, standing alone, dissociated from a particular song or experience.

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            “Klang” exhibits a unique combination of the styles promoted by both the musique concrete movement in Paris from the 1950’s. In musique concrete, acousmatic sounds, or those isolated from the visual of their source, are used are compositional resources. This may include samples from sources other than traditional musical instruments, such as Harrison’s use of pots. Though the source of his sounds appears to remain the same throughout the piece, he changes the way the sounds are manipulated.

            How exactly does Harrison incorporate sound objects from both acoustic samples and electronically generated sounds into a unique composition? “Klang” starts with a single, ambiguous sound object, forcing the listener into reduced listening. As more sounds enter the piece, Harrison juxtaposes strong initial attacks and lingering resonance of some samples with the strong final attack of others, where it sounds as if a pot lid is being closed. After several minutes of acclimated listeners to an organic soundscape, Harrison introduces a crescendo of electronic sounds, after which the sound of the composition transitions into a variety of electronic manipulations of acoustically generated sounds. Though the initial tones in the second half of the song come from the same source (pots) as the first half, the electronic resonance that follows each is not dissimilar to the resonance from the acoustic vibrations of the original source. This effect creates a collective theme throughout the piece, despite the drastic changes in sound. At roughly 7:30, the listener is returned to the original acoustic array of sounds, and the composition ends with a final sound object, just as it started.

Harris Brown - First Listening Report

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Year: 1982
Name: Jonty Harrison

 

Comments On The Experience:

 

            Jonty Harrison’s “Klang” induced very mixed impressions on me.  Firstly, I was not expecting a piece like “Klang,” nor the other two selections. I can’t tell you what I was expecting or whether I actually had developed a reasonable expectation before walking into the listening room, but regardless, any piece resembling “Klang” was not it.  Secondly, I had never experienced the listening room before last week.  Therefore, this first listening session was an exhilarating experience for me.  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this first session.  I’m excited for our second listening session and interested to see how having more realistic expectations about the listening experience will affect how I listen to the next few arrangements.

 

Comments On The Piece:

 

I commented on this briefly following the session, but I’ll expand on this point for most of my response – I was intrigued by the structure of “Klang” (as well as Schaeffer/Henry and Caesar).  I write the last sentence reluctantly, as I don’t know if Harrison would be disappointed with a listener even contemplating the “structure” of a piece such as “Klang.” But anyhow, the piece sparked the following questions for me: Is there any sort of a formal structure to “Klang”? If so, what could that possibly be? In listening to “Klang,” is it antithetical to the piece’s purpose to even be thinking about a concept such as structure? If the answer to the last question is yes, is Harrison himself hypocritical (or ironic) for even trying to organize the noises he does into a piece?

 

After reviewing the lecture slides from the first class and attending our second class, I noticed that much of the last two lectures revolved around trying to define “music” and determining whether music is distinguishable from natural sounds or noises.  We described music as “organized noises,” the “organization of sound,” and a “fantastic world, superimposed on the real one.” All of these definitions infer some form of distinction between natural noises and musical arrangements.  Interestingly, “Klang,” in fitting with its Musique Concrete genre, seeks to make this distinction as slight as possible.  The “instruments” that produce the noises seem to come from both natural and unnatural sources with the goal of blurring the line between these for the listener.  Furthermore, the space, time, rhythm, and beat in between these sounds are haphazard and seemingly disjointed.  The noises made with the ceramics bowls, plates, and jars were the most natural of the entire piece and were combined with more indistinguishable screeches, buzzes, beeps, crackles, and scrapes throughout the nine minutes.  I found myself thrown-off by those sounds that I could not identify with an object or instrument, directly relating to the concept of “sound object” and “reduced listening” that we discussed in class last week.  I am interested to find out how my listening changes and (hopefully) becomes more focused throughout the quarter.

 

“Klang” has an overarching characteristic of precariousness to it, making it difficult to determine whether each placement of sound, rhythm, and beat are purposeful or randomly assigned.  In foreshadowing a personal theme for the rest of the course, I will be interested to see how my thoughts on this topic of purpose change.  In relation to any work of art, I’ve always been intrigued by the artist’s purpose, and whether or not this purpose should or should not matter in the listening and overall critique of the piece.  As was shown by Harrison’s “Klang,” I know that this premise will be challenged in Music 154. I look forward to it.

            

Linden Melvin - First Listening Report

Title of the piece: "Introdução à Pedra"  
Year of composition: 1989
Name of composer: Rodolfo Caesar  


The piece "Introdução à Pedra" by Rodolfo Caesar brought about several interesting questions regarding the nature of electronic music, especially in the context of traditional composition.

The piece has a clearly delineated path: starting with only a few rock sounds that gradually grow and evolve leading to a more minimal middle section and a very climatic, “waterfall” ending. I found it interesting, however, that the creation of climactic moments was, largely, a result of rhythmic and textural intensity. That is to say, since this form of music has very littler melodic or harmonic content to move the piece forward, an emphasis is placed on the rhythmic development and manipulation of the piece along with a careful consideration to how “dense” the sound is. When the listener only hears one or two rock sounds with long pauses in between, the result is a more calm and transitional sound. However, when more rock sounds are added and overlaid, without altering the timbre of the sounds in any way, there is a naturally tendency to hear the music as more intense or climactic. In the same way, the rhythm of the sounds is largely responsible for moving the piece forward and creating a motor that propels the action and drama of the piece onward. When the sound of the rocks is sparse and undefined, the listener is free to assess where the piece is and where it might go. Once the rhythmic motor is added, a sense of direction and expectation reveals itself. Suddenly there is a clearly defined forward sense that was originally otherwise not present. These rhythmic and textural techniques are used in place of tools available in tonal composition.

Another important aspect of the piece and its construction was the waterfall sound created near the end of the piece. This effect not only created a feeling of direction toward the end of the piece but also embellished the motivic ideas presented throughout the piece. Just as tonal music uses harmonic and rhythmic motives, this piece played with sound objects as motives. That is to say, the sound of rocks became a central idea that was repeated, embellished, explored, and eventually resolved. The use of motives in the piece created a cohesive and exploratory feeling throughout. As the sound of rocks evolved from clanks and cracks, a rhythmic fabric began to lay the foundation for larger sounds created by collections of rocks. In a way, these motives continued to stack on top of one another until the end when the waterfall of rocks comes streaming down as the piece rushes to a close.

Listening to this piece in the Listening Room was truly an immersive and powerful experience. The sound was so pure and authentic that it created the illusion of a live performance of the piece. Throughout the listening session I was fascinated by how the sound became another person in the room; the teacher. Although there may be varying opionions about the piece, I found it to be completely captivating and musically rich. I touched on a few points in this paper pertaining to textural development, rhythmic creation, and motivic structure all in the context of traditional composition, and I sincerely hope that through Music 154, I will be able to expand my vocabulary, understanding, and appreciation for works of art like Rodolfo Caesar’s "Introdução à Pedra.”


 

BenZhen here_First Listening Report

 Title: Symphonie pour un homme seul
Composers: Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry
Year Written: 1949-1950


"Symphonie pour un homme seal" was very confusing to listen to. Not only did it feel as though it were packed with different sounds (many different voices, instruments, etc), hence a feeling of "busyness" and rapid, deliberate movement, it was also organized into twelve movements in a way which seemed very arbitrary; I couldn't tell why the silences between movements were located where they were and all the movements sounded pretty much the same. Still, the piece featured a great variety of timbres both human and instrument, which I liked. It was interesting, the way Schaeffer juxtaposed the human voice with the "voices" of instruments, as though to help the listener compare and contrast the two. In fact, more than once while listening, I found myself trying to interchange the two as sources of particular sounds I had heard. For example, if I heard a phrase that was clearly human, I tried to imagine and "rehear" it as though it were produced by an instrument. And when I heard something clearly coming from, say, a piano, I tried to picture a singer producing the note instead. This exercise made me curious about the notion of sound source and the relationship between this notion and acousmatic listening.

 

Acousmatic listening is when we treat sounds as sound objects, entities on their own, independent of contexts (which might give pre-determined meaning) and sources (which might also give pre-determined meaning). But I wonder if it is possible for sounds to be sound objects and totally severed from any other body, be it a visual, an idea, a meaning, or a sound production source. It seems to me that sounds must needs be associated with a source of some sort, whether it is a real, known source, or an unknown or pretend one. I feel that sound is always, consciously or not, perceived as one facet of another greater body. That is to say, sound is always attached to something; it is produced and because it is produced, it can never truly be independent. Independence is an illusion to help us forget the contexts and attached meanings in order to pay attention to details of the sound. But only given the existence of an other body from which the sound "comes" is it possible for the idea of gesture and movement in a piece; the gestures and movements we perceive - strong attacks, dynamic changes, sudden cutoffs, etc -  are simply the gestures and movements we imagine those invisible (or visible) sound sources are making. An analogy might be a mirage. Whether or not the object in the mirage is actually there, we perceived the mirage as an image of something. Not sure if I make sense, but this is an idea that really intrigues me.


First Listening Report

Title of the piece: Klang

Year of composition: 1982

Name of composer: Jonty Harrison

 

Unfortunately having missed the listening sessions in the actual Listening Room, I have chosen to discuss this piece after having listened to each on headphones at one of the CCRMA stations. This incidentally was very beneficial to me because I have slight hearing loss, particularly with higher frequencies. The ability to hear very distinctly where the sounds were located and pitched was one of the more fascinating elements to me and it clearly was one of the fundamental sonic aspects Harrison chose to explore with this piece.

The first “movement” of the piece, from the beginning to around 3'45”, appears to focus on the mixing of percussive scrapes and hits that resonate around a specific higher, decaying pitch. As I listened to this the first time, I recognized the sounds to be similar to Tibetan singing bowls (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgoJaQjq-KY) and then each subsequent listening I was able to focus more and more on how the sound was separate from the instruments. I was able to hear how Harrison “plays” whatever instruments he is using irregularly (or at least, uniquely) as opposed to any kind of musical form or rhythms. Similarly, as it reaches the first crescendo there are moments where all sound stops and there are filtering, panning and resonating effects that I believe cannot be natural. For me, this resulted in experiencing the sound as an increasing sense of chaos, delirium or nausea that fortunately seemed to ease off rather than climax.

This marks where I consider the second movement of the piece to start. After 3'45” there is the decreasing slope of the previous section's crescendo that moves into small chirps, silences and then a shimmering, high-pitched, cymbal-like pulse. This then continues over another lower and rougher oscillating tone. As with the first movement, I heard this as a long and smooth build into action and energy that utilizes more digital processing as it progresses. I also heard each of these sections as having an expanding number of sounds, whether through effects or otherwise, and this nicely contrasts with the return of the piece's opening sonic atmosphere that seems to consist of only one or a few different instruments. This ultimately was very fun for me to listen to; each time I started it over I was able to hear a new individual noise occur, a different instance of one sound being warped over time or another layer of contrast and similarity. These all combined to create something that felt like a cohesive series of "experiences" or "sensations" rather than purely auditory stimuli.


JP Wright - Music 154 First Listening Report

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Year of composition: 1982
Name of composer: Jonty Harrison

In looking at the Jonty Harrison piece, “Klang,” I was fascinated by the clanging sounds of what appeared to be a ceramic bowl. As discussed in class, the repetition of sound caused me to view the sounds in a different sense and I practiced reduced listening. Though at first, I was simply trying to place the origin of the clanging sounds, as time went on during the first section of the song I successfully ignored the origins and accepted it as the bass setting for the piece—something analogous to the smooth walking bass line of a funk song, or the instrumental drum intro of modern electronic dance song. The fact that the song returns to this monophonic clanging supports it as this sort of bass line.

            During the first listening, I found the clanging to be the ‘safe-zone’ of the piece. However, the piece diverged from this safe-zone shortly after the 3-minute mark, and the sound-scape and envelope of the piece expanded to encompass a wider range of textures and pitches. While listening, my imagination took me to the vast deep of outer space, and I envisioned the expansion of the universe, encompassing all alien sounds, stemming from the simple clanging sound object.

Thinking about the expansion of the sound-scape, I was fascinated by how my own perception as well as my approach to the acousmatic situation changed upon second listening. During second listening, I focused much more on the origin of the clangs because I was expecting the expansion of sound. With the expectation that the universe was about to expand from the simple clanging, I envisioned that this ‘Big Bang’ was bottled up inside a ceramic bowl, trying to escape and causing the lid to flutter around. It is interesting that expectation changed my listening of the piece.

Lastly, though there exists a human tendency to search for meter in music, I was unable to do so. Even so, the klanging bass line shared attributes with traditional forms of music in its simplicity, repetition, and lack of harshness. Duple and triple may not be the right words to describe meter in “Klang,” but in a sense, this piece flowed with the meter present in my own imagination. I was very happy with where my imagination took me during it.

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