Microsound : a portfolio of original compositions

  • Gerard Gormley

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This portfolio of six electroacoustic compositions and accompanying thesis present an investigation of microsound through a variety of lenses.

    Microsound is defined as both sound particles consisting of extremely short transients, and also sounds containing low amplitude levels. In this research I investigate how considerations of microsound can influence and shape compositional decisions, and show how this influence can be traced within my own compositional approach. The six compositions that comprise the portfolio explore different aspects of dynamic and temporal microsound, as well as microsound in relation to concepts of noise. The compositions are: Surface (2010), a two-channel piece for tape that examines microsound in relation to soundscape and listening and recording spaces; Testure (2011), composed for a combination of two and five channels, investigates microsound via an exploration of masked audio contained in instrumental sound sources; Bunker (2012) and Odessa (2012), interconnected compositions composed, respectively, for eight and sixteen channels, examine short transient audio fragments in the context of noise and rhythm; Mochorel (2013), a two-channel piece, which proposes the idea of 'noisescape' as a merging of soundscape composition and noise; and finally ParkerSuite (2013), a work for GPS-enabled mobile phones that was created in the context of an umbrella project, Belfast Soundwalks, in which compositions are mapped to real- world environments using mobile app technologies. This last composition explores naturally occurring microsounds within the environment, e.g. birdsong.

    The six compositions in the portfolio are linked thematically as well as through the application of different microsound compositional techniques. The thesis shows how each composition developed both as a standalone work and in relation to the larger portfolio, and demonstrates a strong connecting thread between the different works. The commentary further explores in-depth the concepts and techniques explored in the portfolio, and situates these ideas within an historical context. Historical influences range from Futurist ideas of noise to John Cage's concept of 'small sounds'; the compositional ideas and methods of Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Morton Feldman, Jakob Ullman and others; and musicological and theoretical concepts put forward by Curtis Roads, Dennis Smalley, Kim Cascone, Joanna Demers, R. Murray Schafer, and others. Through the different compositional investigations and associated discussions I conclude that microsound offers a rich avenue through which to explore contemporary ideas and methods in electroacoustic music, and show how these ideas can be effectively applied in a variety of ways.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorPedro Rebelo (Supervisor) & Paul Wilson (Supervisor)

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