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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