From Hyperreal Sonic-Images to Phonographic Sound: A Portfolio of Original Compositions

  • David Bird

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This composition portfolio explores disembodied phonographic sound through nine original works;
    ‘Tidal Streams’, 'PLAY', ‘Tryst’, ‘Everyday Mimesis; Grey Day’, ‘Vivified’, ‘Thoroughfares’,
    ‘Tempest in a Teacup’, ‘Tacet’ and ‘Empire Drive’. From the outset of this creative journey,
    phonography was applied as a compositional resource, and used foremost as a mechanism for
    generating musical (and compositional) pathways. The early compositions born from exploring this
    process were developed through devising contextual frameworks, utilising the mimetic-aural1 and
    surreal2 characteristics of recorded sound. As the body of work developed over time, the
    implementation of phonographic process became more significant to the compositional
    methodologies explored, changing the focus of the kinds of musical languages (or sonic images)
    organised, which went on to centre more around the framing of place, time and space. This
    development materialised through exploring multichannel processes in octophonic (speaker and
    microphone) arrays and through spending time considering the parameters ofthe medium from both
    the perspective of a composer and a listener.

    In an attempting to document the creative pathway outlined, this three part commentary is
    structured thematically rather than chronologically. This reflects the developments in the
    compositional approaches taken and the methodologies explored. The commentary is not
    formulated to provide a detailed account of every compositional decision, device or process
    considered and employed; it is foremost used to document the personal journey whilst attempting to
    provide insight into the final compositions and the train of thought which prevailed at the time. It is the case that what resonates with me will not resonate with another listener, but as a composer that is a risk that has to be taken.

    Chapter 1 provides a general introduction to the work by identifying the areas, ideas and themes
    that were visited and contemplated over the period of research. The discussion compares the
    experience of listening to recorded sound with the experience of listening to sound whilst physically
    experiencing an environment. This discussion identifies the unique characteristics that arise when
    exploiting disembodied recorded sound as a compositional resource. For example, the parameters
    and stylistic traits inherently involved when creating musical languages from (disembodied)
    recorded sound are identified. Existing theories, practices and practitioners have been discussed
    with a view to providing a context for the body of work in the portfolio. This involves a brief
    discussion around the influence of theoretical work from Denis Smalley and Simon Emmerson, and
    goes on to discuss the influence of approaches explored by Chris Watson, and perhaps most
    relevantly, Francisco Lopez and Bill Fontana. The compositional methodology section provides a
    brief insight into some of the consistent characteristics in the approaches explored. This discussion is intentionally general as the specific methodologies are outlined in relation to the relevant works, although more detailed information and instruction on the 'Sequential Spatialisation1 technique and the ’Multi-Device Recording Methodology’ as this was applied in a number of the works. The
    elaborate spatialisation and recording processes attempt to create more spatially complex and
    acoustically accurate sonic-images (or sound fields) from stereophonic sources over the octophonic
    speaker array; ’Sequential Spatialisation’ allows stereophonic images to be systematically spatialised over an octophonic speaker array, and the Multi-Device Recording Methodology' utilises
    independent arrays of up to eight microphones (or four stereo pairs) at variable distances, enabling a
    number of portable recording devices to be synchronised in unique configurations and patterns
    during the act of field recording. The opening chapter closes by identifying the original contribution to knowledge, which relates to the ‘Sequential Spatialisation’ and ‘Multi-device phonography’ techniques.

    Chapter 2 elaborates on the increasing influence of phonography over the compositional processes
    explored, focusing on the compositions that were born out of the platform afforded by the
    phonographic process, that frame a specific place, time and space. The opening discussion attempts
    to compare the growing impact of phonography over the approaches explored, which developed the
    kinds of sonic-images produced and the overall pathways pursued. Through expanding the sound
    collection processes, and in extending the application of phonography, different methodologies were created to devise spatially animated hyperreal sonic environments, without the need for sound abstraction and metaphoric representation (e.g. Thoroughfares'). The following written commentaries focus on the works that heavily involve phonography, namely 'Everyday Mimesis; Grey Day', 'Empire Drive', 'Vivified', 'Thoroughfares' and 'Tacet'.

    Chapter 3 focuses on hyperreal works that are highly influenced by contextual factors, putting the
    emphasis on the studio-based compositional processes involved with creating hyperreal sonicimages through organising recorded sound. The discussion attempts to provide a general insight into the reasoning behind pursing phonographic representation through the practical work, which is realised through reflecting on the experienced gained from working with musical languages built from (disembodied) recorded sound. The commentaries discussed in this Chapter relate to
    compositions that rely heavily on contextual boundaries and metaphor to create the hyperreal sonicimage devised, i.e. 'Tidal Streams', 'Tryst', 'PLAY and 'Tempest in a Teacup'.

    Date of AwardJul 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorPaul Wilson (Supervisor)

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