Portfolio of electro-instrumental composition incorporating multilayered processes for automated live electronics
Subía Valdez, José Rafael
The music presented here expresses a deeply interconnected relationship between acoustic instrumental sound and computer-produced electro-acoustic material. Throughout this process of research, I was determined to investigate how I could craft an electronic music part, produced in real-time, that maintains counterpoint between the instrumental and non-instrumental sounds. To explain this relationship, the scores offer a graphic representation of the live-electronics that exemplifies the real-time sounds produced. This presents a “map” for the performers to estimate its behaviour, even though the real-time electronics is always subject to variation at each performance. A basic form of computerised sensitivity had to be designed in order to make live electronics performable even when the composer was not present. This helped to maintain a unique liveness of real-time processing and reinforce an open-access ideology in the music. The compositional process would have to somehow systematise, in software, how I utilise live audio input to create the electronic result. This initial idea was supported by the intent to produce a more egalitarian distribution of music. With easy-to-run software, freely accessible and clear scores, the possibilities enabling of performances without me there were increased. The technical requirements for realisation are not tied to state-of-the-art technology found in specialized centres of research, where this type of music is often produced, nor to the physical presence of the composer. To realise this, Open Source Free Software had to be embraced and understood in my own practice. I therefore expanded my research into alternative technical possibilities. Incorporating the use of technology that does not financially discriminate, and permits the use of common, old and sometimes discarded equipment to produce and play the pieces. The pieces of the portfolio show the different routes that I took in order to find the way of working that would suit me the most. It was during this time that I also deepened my skills in computer programming and other tools for the writing of the scores. I also successfully developed a platform to produce the electro-acoustic material in real-time. About a year into the Ph.D., I was given a very constructive critique of my work. It pushed me further into unknown areas of experimentation. I soon realized that the process of systematizing my writing ideas would be the best approach to expand my search. The freshness it produced came with doubt, but the security found in programming the techniques used allowed me to continue experimenting with different algorithms. Some of which are explained below. While writing “Dianoia” I was able to use the pdivide function in Slippery Chicken to produce a fractal formal division. Other algorithms were crucial for mapping melodic contours of recorded voice to specific sets of notes with Fibonacci transitions in “Long to Reign Over Us”. As I became better at using these tools, my conceptual ideas started to filter into my music and code. At the same time, this forced me to keep learning how to program more complicated ideas. Harmony, and the insistence of a particular arrangement of it, with variations of timbres or order of appearance, is governed by algorithmic procedures applied in the code. This is the compositional principal used in “Limoj de Mia Kialo”. The piece uses the “C2M” algorithm developed in LISP to create the main material for its construction. It was around this time that I realized how closely related the programming and the compositional process could be. This new sense of security, based on algorithmic facts, and new-found liberties experienced by this intellectual breakthrough, granted a solid base to start testing more out-of-theordinary ideas. This is when my curiosity honed in on finding conceptual and/or philosophical equivalents in my work and I could start to develop macro-musical ideas with philosophical abstract thoughts that could be “represented” with code, and used for the production of a piece. Ideas about society, economy, the world, and its current affairs have filtered into my music ever since I started composing. However, during this Ph.D. project I found better ways to integrate message, narrative, value, and my own individual thought. Utopic economic and social ideas were conceptualized, formalized, coded, and later integrated in the construction process of the musical phrases. The basic idea for the “C2M” algorithm came after thinking of alternative ways of achieving equal distribution of material. Another algorithm which I named “Harmonic Tunnel” came via reflections on the constant sway of the political pendulum. This was later applied in “Tessellations” and “Limoj de Mia Kialo” to produce fast melodic lines. Each piece is its own scenario, where inspiration based on economic ideas, social structures and thought processes, imagined by myself, are tested in different ways. This portfolio-based Ph.D. presented me with an opportunity to pro-actively search for the uniqueness in an artistic “language”. In the portfolio you are about to explore, you can hear my compositional voice shift in the following ways: - Style My style has evolved by distancing from my educational background and allowing space for a more personal exploration of ideas. The music presented in the portfolio is consequence of my welcoming of different schools of thought. My focus was mainly based in the desire to sound different. My biggest challenge was to accept that difference. - Writing My writing relates to the way the ideas are thought of. The production of, and the resulting scores are consequence of abstract ideas and their development. The written music is not only a way to represent sound. It is part of the thought process behind the idea itself. - Process Many of these changes are product of a new way of thinking music. I now allow time to develop and explore ideas through drawings, painting, and other manual-artesian activities. These practices sometimes are used for the final score, but its main purpose is to explore ways of observing a musical idea. My work now has more extra musical input for the performer/s. This has opened new doors for exploration including moments of improvisation in my pieces and electronic jam sessions. - Electronics With the development of my own tools, my electro-acoustic practice when composing the electronic part is now more flexible. Being able to custom make instruments and how I control them, has provided a richer palette of tools to work with. Allowing me to test different results, and “sculpt” the electronic part when composing it. As the project ends, I am satisfied with the result of this experience. Admitting it is the most difficult task I have ever set myself. The selected pieces in this portfolio represent the long and complex journey that took place in my intellectual self during the Ph.D. The level of growth that this process has amplified upon me is evident every day. It has taken me through difficult moments in my personal and professional life, and has been the cause of numerous instances of doubt and feelings of defeat. However, this process is not meant to be easy. It is hard not to be aware of the responsibility that academic researchers have when taking on this challenge. The doctorate is an intense and personal struggle that candidates go through with their own ideas and hypotheses. It is only through these stress tests that original thinking and new knowledge come to existence.