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François Pachet, Active Listening : What is in the Air

François Pachet, Active Listening : What is in the Air

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FrançoisPachet,ActiveListening:WhatisintheAir?SonyCSLinternalReport,1999.1
MusicListening:WhatisintheAir?
FrançoisPachet
SONYComputerScienceLaboratoryParis6,rueAmyot75005Paris-Francepachet@csl.sony.fr
Abstract
TheXX
th
centuryisfulloftechnologicalinventionsthatmadetheveryideaofalisteningdevicepossible,fromtheearlygramophonestothelatestportableminidiskplayers.Whatevolutionscanwepredictforthelisteningdevicesofthefuture,andhowtheseevolutionswillchangethewayweaccessandlistentomusic?Inthischapter,wesuggestthatlisteningdevicescanbegreatlyenhancedbyprovidingnewformsofuser
controls
whichprovideuserswithsemanticallypreservingvariations.Thesecontrolsareintendedtoallowlistenersdifferentmusicalperceptionsonapieceofmusic,byoppositiontotraditionallistening,inwhichthemusicalmediaisplayedpassivelybysomeneutraldevice.Theobjectiveisbothtoincreasethemusicalcomfortoflisteners,and,whenpossible,toprovidelistenerswithsmootherpathstonewmusic(musictheydonotknow,ordonotlike).ThischapterillustratesthisideaonafewexamplesofactivelisteningprojectsconductedatSonyComputerScienceLaboratory,Paris,basedonthenotionofconstrainedexploratoryspace.Theseconstrainedspacessuggestthattheclassicalboundariesbetweencomposing,listeningandmixingmayberedefined,therebyassigningnewrolestocomposers,soundengineersandlisteners.
1.FromButtonstoExploration
Weproposetheideaofexploratorylisteningenvironments,asanaturalevolutioninthehistoryofmusicalcontrols.Wefirstsketchabriefhistoryofmusicalcontrols,andthenintroducethenotionofsemantic-preservingmusicalexploratoryenvironment.
1.1HistoryofMusicalControls
Eachtechnologicaladvancehasbroughtwithitnewformsofcontrols.Theoriginsoflisteningmachineswithmass-producedmusicalmaterialsmaybetracedbacktothePhonograph,inventedbyThomasEdisonin1878,whichusedtinfoilcylinders,andshortlyaftertheGramophone,inventedbyBerlinerin1888,whichusedflatdisks.Inthesedevices,therewasnocontrolintentionallygiventotheuser(se,e.g.Read&Welch,1976).Therewas,however,anunintentionalcontrolintheGramophoneinthatthehorncouldbe
turned 
around,therebyinfluencingthedirectivityofthesoundsource.Electricitysoonbegantobeusedforlisteningdevices,bothwithradioand
 
FrançoisPachet,ActiveListening:WhatisintheAir?SonyCSLinternalReport,1999.2withnewelectricallyrecordeddiskplayersinthe20s.Theuseofelectricityalsointroducednewcontrols:the
volume
buttonandthe
treble/bass
button.Juke-boxeswereintroducedin1927,allowinglistenersto
select 
explicitlymusictitlesfromagivencatalogueofdisks,usingvarioussortsofpushbuttons.Thenextbigtechnologicaladvancewastheinventionofbinaural(stereo)recordingmethodin1931.Thecorrespondingcontrolwasthe
 panoramic
buttonallowingtocontroltheamountofsignalinoneloudspeakerortheother.Finally,digitalformatforaudiointroducedmorecontrols,e.g.ontheequalizationofsound.Inallthesecases,technologicaladvanceswerefollowedbytheintroductionof“technical”controls,i.e.controlsoperatingdirectlyonthetechnology(seeFigure1).
Figure1.APhonograph(Edison,1978,left);aGramophone(Berliner,1988,middle),aRock-Ola120-selectionJuke-Box,andaMinidiskplayer(Sony,1997,right).Advancesintechnologydonotnecessaryimplymoreintelligentusercontrol.
1.2AMatterofSemantics
Theverynotionofmusicalcontrolraisestheissueof
semantics
.Theissueofmusicalsemantics-doesmusichavemeaning?-hasbeenlongdebatedbymusicologists,leadingtodifferenttheories,whichusuallyparalleledthetheoriesofsemanticsforlanguages.Oneofthemaindistinctionmadebytheoristsistheoppositionbetweenso-called“referentialists”and“absolutists”.Referentialistsclaimthatmusicalmeaningcomesfromactualreferencesofmusicalformstooutsideobjects,i.e.musicmeanssomethingwhichisexternaltomusicitself.Forinstance,aparticularscaleinIndianmusicmayhaveareferencetoaparticularhumanmood.Absolutists,e.g.Strawinsky,claimonthecontrarythatthemeaningofmusic,ifany,liesinmusicitself,i.e.intherelationsentertainedbymusicalformstogether.Althoughthesetwoviewpointsarenotnecessarilyexclusive,asnotedbyMeyer(Meyer,1956),theyleaveopenmuchofthequestionofmeaning.EugeneNarmourelaboratedamuchmoreprecisetheoryofmusicalmeaningbasedonthepsychologicalnotionofexpectation(Narmour,1992).Inthistheory,meaningoccursonlywhenmusicalexpectationaredeceived.Ontheotherhand,Rosenargues(Rosen,1994)thattheresponsibilityofpreservingthemeaningofamusicalpieceliesonlyintheperformeritself,whohastochoosecarefullyamongainfinitesetofpossibleinterpretationswhichoneisclosesttotheone“intended”bythecomposer.Withoutcommittingtooneparticulartheoryofmusicalmeaning,wecannotethatmeaning-whateveritmeans-hastodowith
choosing
amongasetofinterpretationsthe“rightone”orthe“rightones”,i.e.thoseintendedbythecomposer.Asecondremarkisthatthecontrolsgivenbythehistoryofsoundrecordingtechnologyhave
 
FrançoisPachet,ActiveListening:WhatisintheAir?SonyCSLinternalReport,1999.3neverhadanyconcernaboutmusicalsemantics:whatdoesitmeantoraisethesoundlevelofarecord?toshiftthesignaltotheleftloudspeaker?toincreasethebassfrequency?Aretheintentionsofthecomposers,orevenofthesoundengineers,preservedinanyway?Fromthisremark,wesuggestthat“interesting”musicalcontrolsshouldpreservesomesortofsemanticsofthemusicalmaterial,i.e.preserveintentions,wheneverpossible.Wearguethatmoremeaningfulcontrols,inthecontextofmoderndigitalmultimediatechnology,amounttoshiftingfromtraditionalbutton-basedtechnologytomusicalexplorationspaces.
1.3MusicInteractivity
Aswehaveseen,technologicalbuttonsbearnosemantics,becausetheyaredirectlygroundedonthetechnology,withoutanymodelofthemusicbeingplayed.Butwhatcanbesuchamodel?Interestingapproachesinmusicalinteractivityarethemusicnotationsystems,inthecontextofannotationofmusicdocuments,asintheworksofLepain(1998),orintheAcousmographsystem(INA-GRM).Inthesesystems,theprimaryissueaddressedisnotmusiclisteningperse,butrathermusic
notation
,i.e.howtorepresentgraphicallyamusicaldocument(thedocumentitselfortheperceptionofthedocument),orhowtoinferamodelofthemusicwhichcanbenotedorrepresentedgraphically.Anotheranswermaybefoundinthenotionof
openform
,initiallydevelopedinliterature(Eco,1962),whichhashadmuchimpactonmusictheoryandcomposition(Stockhausen,Boulez).Theideaofmusicalopenformisthatthecomposerdoesnotcreateaready-to-usescore,butratherasetofpotentialperformances,whichcanbeseenasa
model
ofscores,asexplainedby(Eckel,1997):“Musicisnotanylongerconceivedinformoffiniteunitsbutintermsofmodelscapableofproducingapotentiallyinfinitenumberofvariantsofaparticularfamilyofmusicalideas”.Theselectionorinstantiationoftheactualscoretobeplayedisdelegatedtotheperformer.Inrecentincarnationsofopenform,itisthelistenerhimselfwhoinstantiatesthemodel,asforinstanceinthe
Cave
(Cruz-Neiraetal.,1993)or
CyberStage
(Eckel,1997).Inthesecases,theuserisimmersedinarealisticvirtualenvironment,andhasthecontrolonhispositionandmovementinavirtualworld.Hismovementsaretranslatedintovariationsinthemusicalmaterialbeingheard.Theseapproachesmaybeconsideredasradical,inthesensethattheuserhasagreatdealofresponsibilityinmakingthemusic.However,theissueofsemanticsisnotdirectlyaddressed,sincethemodelinprincipleisunder-designed,i.e.allpossibleexplorationsarealways“licit”,whatevertheymaybe.Inthisrespect,thereisastrongrelationbetweenopenformvirtualenvironmentsandprogramminglanguagesformusiccomposition,suchas
OpenMusic
(Assayagetal.,1997),
CommonMusic
(Taube,1991)or
 Elody
(Orlareyetal.1997).Intheseapproachesindeed,thegoalistoproposetheusertoexplorespaceswithasmuchfreedomaspossible,andnotconstraintheuserinspecificareas.
1.4ActiveListening
ActiveListeningreferstotheideathatlistenerscanbegivensomedegreeofcontrolonthemusictheylistento,thatgivesthepossibilityofproposingdifferentmusical

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