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Changes Over Time: Practice

A portfolio of collaborative electroacoustic works demonstrating the heterogenous reapplication of jazz improvisational and time-feel techniques and models.



Portfolio Contents

Compositional Notes 1. Hidden Music 2. Extended Solo Instruments 3. Reworked Ensemble

4. Research Output (Performances, Recordings and Events)

5. Ongoing and Upcoming Projects



This portfolio comprises seven CDs and five DVDs from which several representational extracts are compiled (CD 2 Core Works). Although there are many compositional mechanisms and themes in common among all the works, the selected pieces have been separated into three main categories. These are: 1) Hidden Music. Acousmatic electronic works that employ the mapping of external physical phenomena to generative quasi-improvisational - M-Space and expressive contour – systems: Primal Sound (2004, 2007), Head Music (2004, 2007), Bloodlines (2005), Microcosmos (2006), Dendro (2009) and Membrane (2009). 2) Reworked Ensemble. Works for a variety of mixed ensemble, employing electronics alongside traditional instruments, M-Space modelling and progressive interactive improvisational strategies. Selfish Theme (2006) and extracts from the Rat Park Live (2007), 11th Light (2008), Rumori (2008) and Jazz Reworked (2010) projects. 3) Extended Solo Instruments. Pieces for solo instruments and live electronics involving a range of improvisational elements and technological extensions to the instrument: String Theory (2006), Event Horizon (2007), Omnia 5:58 (2008), Assini (2009), Dark:Light (2009) and Blue Tension (2010). This categorization allows for a more logical narrative through the works while maintaining a chronology within each category. References are also made to other pieces in the portfolio and ongoing projects. Score notation is not often used in these works, and on the occasions when it is, its chief function is usually as an aide memoire, concealing a range of concepts born from collaborative dialogue in rehearsal and implicit stylistic mechanisms - not unlike those found in a jazz chart. Many pieces in this portfolio were


conceived - and are performed - with little, or no, use of notation. Graphic representations, electronic flow diagrams and software screenshots of some works are used here as illustrations of compositional approaches. However these are often a form of post-hoc illustration of compositions that originated in well-defined but unwritten compositional ideas, technological experimentation or collaborative improvisation; and are rarely made before the work is performed or recorded. Even the idea of a completed piece is somewhat nebular; pieces are often reworked and include major improvisational elements, electronic systems are transplanted and spliced into other works, and no identical, or even ‘ideal’ performance of any work exists. The work itself, borrowing terminology from M-Space, may be seen as a higher-level field grouping a myriad of varying, but related, possible performances. In this way, the composer in these works migrates between roles, from the traditional conceiver of the entire conception of the piece, to a facilitator deferring various portions of creative responsibility to performers, random input and external physical phenomena. Within this portfolio, ‘jazz composer’, Varèse’s notion of an ‘organiser of sound’ and ‘generative sound artist’ are all roles that contribute in varying measures to that of the traditional composer. The commentaries of each work vary in the level of detail and particular technical focus so as to introduce compositional techniques in a logical sequence, maintain a narrative and avoid unnecessary duplication of similar material. The works have been selected in order to present a range of compositional approaches and musical contexts, which may be explored more deeply across the whole portfolio at the examiner’s discretion. Following the compositional notes on is a list of performances, research events and exhibitions that feature works from the submitted portfolio, and a survey of ongoing and upcoming creative research projects.


Portfolio Contents

CD 1 CD 2 CD 3 CD 4 CD 5 CD 6 CD 7 CD 8 CD 9

Audio Examples (Supporting audio material) Core Works (Selected works from the portfolio 2004-10) Hidden Music (Lucid 2008) 21st Century Bow: New Works for HyperBow (RAM 2007) SPEM (CoffeeLoop 2007) Tensions (Electronic works for harp, cello and guitar 2004-10) Jazz Reworked (DeWolfe 2010) Terminal (Mute 2010) Nexus (Selected ensemble works 2004-9)


Martino:Unstrung (Feature-length documentary, Sixteen Films 2007) Microcosmos (Video installation, Wellcome Trust 2006) Wake Up And Smell The Coffee (Planetarium Movie, SEEDA 2009) Rat Park: Live (Live ensemble performance, Lucid 2006) Organisations of Sound (Selected performances from UK, USA, Sardinia, China, Japan)


Compositional Notes

1 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

Hidden Music Primal Sound Head Music Bloodlines Microcosmos Membrane

2 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5

Reworked Ensemble The Selfish Theme Rat Park Live 11th Light Rumori Double Back

3 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5

Extended Solo Instruments String Theory and Event Horizon Omnia 5:58 Assini Dark:Light Blue Tension


1. Hidden Music
Electronic quasi-improvisational works guided by external physical phenomena

1.1 Primal Sound (2004-7)
Artist & sculptor Angela Palmer has received much acclaim and publicity for her science/art crossover works, which include MRI images of an Egyptian mummy, a public exhibition of felled Amazonian trees in Trafalgar Square and a photography exhibit of the most, and least, polluted places on earth (Palmer 2010). She approached the author in January 2004 with a particular project in mind; having been introduced to a piece of writing from Rainer Rilke’s Ur-Geräusch (1919, p 1085-1093) which set out an irresistible challenge. The coronal suture of the skull (which should now be chiefly investigated) has let us assume a certain similarity to the closely wound line that the needle of a phonograph cuts into the receptive, revolving cylinder of the machine. Suppose, for instance, one played a trick on this needle and caused it to retrace a path not made by the graphic translation of a sound, but self-sufficing and existing in nature – good, let us say it boldly, if it were (e.g.) even the coronal suture – what would happen? A sound must come into being, a sequence of sounds, music…Feelings of what sort? Incredulity, awe, fear, reverence yes, which of all these feelings prevents me from proposing a name for the primal sound that would then come to birth? Ur-Geräusch (Rilke 1919, p 1087)


Palmer hoped to commission a piece of music inspired by this text, to be used in a gallery exhibition alongside the skull of an unknown Victorian woman (Figure 1.1.1).

Figure 1.1.1 Image of the coronal suture of an unknown Victorian woman, source material for Primal Sound’s expressive contours (©2004 Angela Palmer).

The translation of physical shapes to musical parameters, or millimetrization, has been explored in composition, perhaps most famously by Villa Lobos in New York Skyline Melody (Frey 2010), and the idea of melodic contour in general is well-researched (Adams 1976). Rilke proposes something unusual in the field by suggesting that a physical shape could represent amplitude - rather than Villa Lobos’s approach of melody - against time. With the resources available, a simple ‘phonographic’ rendering of this contour alone did not provide enough complexity for a piece of any significant length, so the decision to map its shape to a variety of parameters was made. This may be thought as a form of reverse engineering of the expressive contours concept (see Changes Over Time: Theory 1.6 p 56-68). As opposed to many contours emerging as spontaneous gestures during a jazz improvisation, in this scenario one particular contour is employed to manipulate a host


of parameters. This concept may be termed isokinetos (‘equal gesture’) (see Changes Over Time: Theory 1.4 p 20) and allows in this case the creation of a quasi-improvisational work, whereby compositional decisions are deferred to a physical pattern. Although the types of relationships between gesture and particular parameters are determined by the composer, the bulk of the resulting musical outcome is not known. There is a sense of discovery in this compositional process quite unlike the experience of tinkering at a skeletal melodic concept, for example. Rilke’s mapping was achieved electronically using Max/MSP to inscribe a virtual record groove with a scan of the suture (Figure 1.1.2 shows a mapping together with an electron microscopic image of a record groove for comparison). The resulting sound, though short, is rather effective (CD1.47).

Figure 1.1.2 ‘Phonographic’ translation of the coronal suture in Figure 1.1.1 shown above an electron microscopic image of a record groove (lower image ©2005 Chris Supranowitz, University of Rochester). The resulting audio is played 3 times on CD1.47.


To create more material, this same contour is also rendered as a microtonal melody. CD1.48 plays the musical translation, of the sample indicated in Figure 1.1.3, as a sine wave following the contour within the frequency range indicated.

Figure 1.1.3 The coronal suture in Figure 1.1.1 rendered as a microtonal melodic expressive contour (CD1.48).

In order to form a harmonic backdrop, a just intonated scale (Pythagorean A Lydian) is mapped against a tracing of the suture (Figure 1.1.4). This slow translation introduces single sine-wave tones that split as the loops of the contour curve away creating a gradually converging and diverging harmonic texture. The musical translation that emerges from the sample indicated in Figure 1.1.4, with its characteristic beating frequencies, becomes a recurrent motif in the piece (CD1.49).

Figure 1.1.4 Sine waves released by the coronal suture as it hits predefined trigger points, forming a harmonic texture (CD1.49).


Musical events in Primal Sound are created - and also organized structurally according to systems guided by the coronal suture itself. For example, new events are triggered by each looping point of the contour, as illustrated in Figure 1.1.5 (many of the events have been omitted on the figure for visual clarity). The pan position of the triggered event is determined by the vertical position of the loop point, moving through the stereo field until it is faded at the crossing of the central line. Since, on occasion, adjacent loops occur on the same side of the central line, multiple musical events may coexist.

Figure 1.1.5 Compositional structure of Primal Sound. Musical events are triggered at loop points at the pan positions determined by their vertical position (many trigger points are omitted for visual clarity). The suture is employed forwards, and then backwards, following a complete circumnavigation of the skull to form a continuous piece.

The initial commission of Primal Sound was for an art installation piece (running in one exhibition for five months continuously at the Royal College of Surgeons) and so its ‘loopability’ needed to be considered. The compositional structure was determined by following the coronal suture over the top of the skull, and back around the inside to end at the starting point for the next repetition of the piece. This is represented in Figure 1.1.5 by the mirrored contour, reflected at the midpoint of the piece.


All visual-audio translations were created using MAX/MSP and Jitter, and recorded into Logic 7 for compositional structuring, panning & mixing. Some modulation effects, using fragments of the suture as automation data, was also incorporated. An audio extract of the piece appears on Core Works (CD2.1) and the complete work on Hidden Music (CD3.1). Primal Sound is essentially an isokinetic expressive contour study, and a demonstration of the extensive use of tightly limited musical material (See Changes Over Time: Theory 1.4 p 17-24). However, despite its specificity, it has been employed successfully in contexts divorced from its aesthetic origin - most notably in Martino:Unstrung (DVD 1) where the piece was requested by both director Ian Knox and Pat Martino as a representation of Martino’s geometrical musical vision and prolific creativity. A complete list of its use in art installations and soundtracks, along with the other works from the portfolio, appears in Section 5 (Research Output).


1.2 Head Music (2004, 2007)
Primal Sound represented the first in a series of compositions employing biological phenomena as source material. Head Music (2004), another commission by Palmer, was written to accompany an exhibition of works created from MRI scans. Palmer’s ingenuous art works were produced by inscribing MRI images of the human head on to a series of glass tiles. MRI imagery is performed in multiple cross-sectional ‘slices’ which are consolidated to form a three-dimensional model. Similarly, the stacking of multiple inscribed glass tiles would recreate the three-dimensional model of magnetic resonances. When underlit in a darkened gallery, a ghostly sculpture would emerge, making permanent the transitory resonances engendered by a momentary brain state (Figure 1.2.1).

Figure 1.2.1 Self-Portrait. MRI images inscribed on a series of glass tiles and underlit (©2004 Angela Palmer).

MRI imagery uses a strong magnetic field to align, and rotate, the hydrogen atoms in an object. The resulting magnetic fields of hydrogen nuclei will differ for the various constituent soft tissues. In effect, tissue consistency is translated into patterns of light and shade, and are captured by Palmer as art works. A parallel translation process was performed to create the accompanying music. Slivers of the original MRI images were employed as expressive contours and a translation system (using Max/MSP/Jitter programming) mapped these to various musical parameters. Whereas Primal Sound


employed just one flat contour, this work has three dimensions of material with which to work providing countless contours for musical mapping (Figure 1.2.2). Expressive contours were derived electronically by translating a range of lightness values (0-127) for each sliver into settings for 1) LFO (low frequency oscillator) frequency, 2) Cut off frequency for low-pass filter parameters, 3) a pitch and rhythmically quantized ‘lattice’ melody, 4) pan position and 5) gliding microtonal monophonic melody. The derivation of the first three of these expressive contours is illustrated in Figure 1.2.2. The melody in contour 3 is formed using a ‘Villa-Lobos lattice’ with only a few allowable rhythms and equal tempered scale notes. Melodic fragments like this appear at 3:09 in the piece (CD2.2 and CD3.2), and this process also forms the long skeletal notes at the start of the piece to which LFO, filtering and pan position contours are applied. The microtonal glides may be heard from 0:34 on CD2.2.

Figure 1.2.2 Illustration of expressive contour derivations from three-dimensional slices of MRI images in Head Music (CD2.2 and CD3.2). The top image is a scan of Pat Martino’s head, from which a reworked 2007 version of the piece was derived (Image ©2007 Sixteen Films).


The LFO frequency contour provides a special case in its treatment of time. Whereas most contours simple follow the absolute level of a musical variable, LFO frequency determines the rate at which a parameter is altered – in this case the amplitude of a synthesized note. This process may be heard from the start of CD2.2 (and CD3.2) together with image-derived filtering and panning contours. At 1:40-2:00 the effect of a dark area of the image is heard with a very slow rate of amplitude modulation. Multiple contours and mappings for various three-dimensional slivers were combined and overlaid, and an intuitive mixing and focusing was undertaken in real-time, guided by the listening experience. Head Music has been performed within the context of Palmer’s exhibitions and, as a purely audio work, in scientific and musical conferences and events. In 2007, it was reworked using the startling MRI images of Martino’s devastating head trauma, and appears on the soundtrack of Martino:Unstrung (DVD 1).


1.3 Bloodlines (2004-5)
While undergoing treatment for leukaemia in an isolated ward at Charing Cross Hospital in 2004-2005, the author underwent daily tests for a range of blood cells types. These were monitored closely for signs of infection, relapse and immunity level. This close inspection revealed patterns of population growth, and the idea of mapping these to a musical composition formed quickly. Primal Sound and Head Music used relatively few contours in order to create multiple musical layers, but the 14 blood cell types in Bloodlines allowed for a parallel approach, with each contour controlling just one 14 consynchronous musical elements (Figure 1.3.1).

Figure 1.3.1 A screenshot of blood cell tests, part of the source material for Bloodlines, with expressive contours derived from their changing values. CD2.3 and CD1.48 play audio extracts from two versions of the work with, and without, guitar respectively.

These contours are derived in a variety of ways from fairly simple microtonal interpretations (white blood cells) and MIDI pitch translations of values (platelets) to


complex mappings of digits to audio samples. For example, haematocrit (HCT) testing of red blood cells was provided in the form of four digit numbers, each digit calling up one of ten samples (0-9) for each semiquaver subdivision of a beat. Each day of treatment is translated into one second of music, and the undulations in health can be heard musically as the piece progresses. In particular, the prominent microtonal swell can be heard to descend as the white blood cell count starts extremely high due to the leukaemic cells, and is massively reduced by chemotherapy until the body reaches a vulnerable neutropaenia (0:30 – 0:40 on CD1.50). The ‘autobiological’ nature of the work engenders an emotive response and memory of the journey through treatment. This human response was later added into the piece itself with a completely improvised guitar part, responding to the memories of each point in time as it progresses through the work. In this way, the contours of each blood cell type and the improvised responsive ‘human’ expressive contours coexist. Extracts of the 2005 version with guitar appears on CD2.3 and CD3.3, and from the purely electronic version on CD1.50. Bloodlines has been disseminated at conferences, used in exhibitions, and the guitar part improvised live in concert (see section 5 for details).


1.4 Microcosmos (2007)
A 2007 Wellcome Trust grant provided the opportunity to explore yet more complex ‘hidden’ musical concepts in a large scale work, and with scientific collaboration. Microcosmos (DVD 2) is an audio/video installation that presents highquality images of bacterial colonies (shot by photographer Steve Downer (Blue Planet)) set to an original 4.1 surround sound track. Scientific supervision of the microbacterial colonies and collaborative discourse was provided by Dr. Simon Park (University of Surrey). The project’s aims included the construction of an electronic compositional system that could create a satisfying sound design from overt visual aspects of the video material (colour and form) as well as hidden source material (DNA sequences, protein production and sound grains). Rather than impose an anthropocentric ‘emotional’ film score to the video footage, there was an incentive to design a system that would automatically respond to video and biological data in a way that was both aesthetically satisfying, complex and not distractingly predictable. The sound design aimed to mirror aspects of the growth of microbacterial colonies: emergent large scale structures from the interactive behaviour of simple components. The electronic system designed for the work became absolutely integral and indispensable to the sound design (the interactions being far too complex to be undertake ‘manually’) and once constructed, allowed for a virtually ‘hands-off’ compositional process. The translation of colour, shape and DNA sequences into musical material in Microcosmos is centred around the concept of M-Space mapping: the superimposition of a set variables (e.g. the red, green & blue content of a pixel on screen) on to a set of musical parameters (e.g. cut-off frequency, resonance & effects modulation). However, unlike Bloodlines where physical parameters controlled coexisting 18

yet independently generated musical layers, Microcosmos constructs a complex interrelationship between variables. This interdependence of parameters does not set up a simple one-to-one response between one particular input value and one isolated musical event. Small changes in one colour can pass a tipping point and trigger a series of non-linear events in a way that feels improvisational, reactive and unpredictable. The core of the compositional system is dependent on patches written in Cycling ‘74’s MAX/MSP 4.5 and Jitter 1.6 (What’s The Point? ©2007 Mermikides and Gene Genie ©2007 Mermikides). Ableton Live 6 was also used in synchronization with Max/MSP for audio synthesis and manipulation. Recording, editing and mastering was conducted with Logic Pro 7, an Audient Mixing Console and an M&K 5.1 monitoring system. IMovie and DVD Studio Pro were employed in the finalising process. The installation was first exhibited in the Lewis Elton Gallery, University of Surrey 6-23 March 2007 as part of the Guildford International Music Festival using a Samsung 52” plasma screen, four Eclipse TD Monitors and an Eclipse sub-bass speaker. It was later shown (as large scale projections) in the 2008 Digiville event (Brighton), a 2008 York Gate research event (Royal Academy of Music, London), Dana Centre (London Science Museum) - as part of the 2008 Infective Art series - and the 2010 Art Researches Science conference (Antwerp, Belgium). Here follows a comprehensive technical description, followed by an illustrative representation of the compositional system of Microcosmos. The complete video installation (in surround format) used in performance is found on DVD 2 An audio extract of the work appears on Core Works (CD2.4) with the full 19 minutes of audio on Hidden Music (CD3.4). Audio examples in this commentary are found on the Audio Examples CD (CD1.51-58). The sound design is divided into four layers namely: 1) The DNA Code Layer


2) The Protein Layer 3) The Background Layer 4) The Grain Layer These four layers exist simultaneously and, though independent, are manipulated by a common set of parameters namely: a) The red colour content (R) of various ‘hotspots’ of the video (0-255). b) The green colour content (G) of various ‘hotspots’ of the video (0-255). c) The blue colour content (B) of various ‘hotspots’ of the video (0-255). d) The DNA coding from the 16s RNA sequence of the particular bacteria on screen. This is coded in strings of A,C,T and G. e) The protein manufactured by the correlation of three adjacent DNA codes (or one ‘codon’). This is one of the 20 common amino acids as determined by the codon’s particular sequence of codes. For example the sequence AAA produces lysine, while GAA produces glutamic acid. Some code sequences (e.g. TGA) sends a STOP message, which produce silence in Microcosmos. The process by which input parameters a-e are translated into each of the four musical layers is described below. DNA Layer DNA is a string of information comprising only four distinct units termed A, C, T and G (in RNA, the code U is used in the place of T). The video display a series of microbacterial colonies (their names are available on the ‘subtitles’ menu) and for each, the relevant 16s RNA sequence is employed. In this layer, these codes are translated into MIDI pitches via their ASCII code value (Figure 1.4.1). DNA Code ASCII MIDI Pitch A 65 F3 C 67 G3 T 84 C5 G 71 B3

Figure 1.4.1 Translations of DNA codes into MIDI pitches via ASCII (CD1.51).


These four derived notes are played on CD 1.50. DNA code is read in groups of three (code1, code2 and code3), which allows 64 permutations of ACTG. These are heard sequentially on CD1.52 at a fixed tempo. However, Microcosmos employs a variable tempo determined by the brightness of the central point in the screen, with brighter colours producing faster tempi (Figure 1.4.2).

Tempo (ms) = 1010 - (330*(R+G+B)) or Tempo (bpm) = 60000/(1010 - (330*(R+G+B)))
Figure 1.4.2 Tempo determination of DNA layer via brightness of centre point in screen.

Note length and velocity (0-127) of each code is also determined by colour data (Figure 1.4.3). CD1.53 demonstrates the effect of colour change on the permutations of CD1.53.
Code1: Note length(ms) = G Velocity = R/2 Code2: Note length(ms) = B Velocity = G/2 Code3: Note length(ms) = R Velocity = B/2 Figure 1.4.3 Note length and velocity determination of Code Layer (CD1.53).

The timbre of each code is a triangle wave but with a band-pass filter (+10dB) applied according to the rules of Figure 1.4.4, with an audio demonstration on CD1.54.

Code1 filter frequency(Hz) = 20+ (75 * R) Code2 filter frequency(Hz) = 20+ (75 * G) Code3 filter frequency(Hz) = 20+ (75 * B)

Figure 1.4.4 Timbral filtering of Code Layer in Microcosmos (CD1.54).


The three codes are positioned around the four speakers in a triangular configuration, which is slowly rotated until it reaches its starting point at the next repeat of the video sequence (Figure 1.4.5).

Speaker 1

Code 1

Speaker 2

Code 3

Code 2

Speaker 3

Speaker 4

Code 1 Surround angle Code 2 Surround angle Code 3 Surround angle

Video position (seconds) * 2.91 120 + (Video position (seconds) * 2.91 (mod 360)) 240 + (Video position (seconds) * 2.91 (mod 360))

Figure 1.4.5 Spatialisation of Code Layer in Microcosmos.

Protein Layer

In nature, every group of three codes (or one codon) produces a specific amino acid. The 16s RNA coding of each bacteria is decoded into a series of amino acids (of which 20 are used) – the specific amino acid that is produced may be checked against a codon usage table. An analogous process is constructed in Microcosmos where each amino acid is represented by a specific chord, and a codon usage table is employed in the electronic system to select automatically one of a library of 20 chords. Codons that in biology


produce a STOP message, here, create no chord. These ‘protein’ chords are manipulated timbrally by RGB parameters from a continuously definable ‘hotspot’ on screen, which allows the viewer to track the centre point, or representative colour of a bacterial colony. The Protein Layer uses an additive synthesis program with parameters controlled by RGB colour content (Figure 1.4.6).

Low Pass Filter Frequency (Hz) Low Pass Resonance (Range 0 (flat)-127 (+12dB)) Modulation Effects Level (0 (Silent) - 127 (100% relative to dry signal)) Delay Feedback Percentage on Low Frequency Content Delay Feedback Percentage on Mid Frequency Content Delay Feedback Percentage on High Frequency Content

60+ (60 * R) G/2 B/2

R/2.5 G/2.5 B/2.5

Figure 1.4.6 Synthesis manipulation of Protein Layer by colour content in Microcosmos.

Background Layer

A background is also created to provide a low frequency foundation to each bacterial colony, and comprises a microtonally intonated low-frequency arpeggiated three-note chord for each key image. A low pass filter, whose parameters are controlled by the overall lightness of the image, modulates this chord. The specific notes in the chord is derived from the RGB data of the background colour of each image. The MIDI notes for each voice in the triad are calculated via the What’s The Point? software patch (Figure 1.4.7).
Voice 1 MIDI Note Voice 2 MIDI Note Voice 3 MIDI Note 10 + (0.6 * R) 11 + (0.13 * G) 15 + (0.35 * B)


Figure 1.4.7 Three-note chord construction algorithm of Protein Layer.

The constructed chords are rounded to discretely identified pitch values. However, RGB values are taken at both the beginning and end of the allotted time-frame for each chord, and any colour discrepancies that occur within these limits are interpreted as microtonal glides. Four examples of the colour-chord translation process of specific images are shown in Figure 1.4.8 and may be heard on CD1.55-58. This process may be thought of as the dynamic superimposition of a three-dimensional visual subset (RGB) on to a three-dimensional subset of M-Space.

Figure 1.4.8 Example three-note chord translations of images in Background Layer (CD1.55-58).

A low-pass filter is applied to the chord with the specific settings laid out in Figure 1.4.9. For this, RGB values are averaged across five hotspots on the screen in order to provide an overall measure of brightness. With this process, a simple synaesthetic relationship is created: a very dark image, for example, would only allow very low frequencies to be heard, while a bright image would open the filter to its fullest extent, with a continuum of timbral signatures between these extremes.
Low Pass Filter Cut (Hz) Low Pass Resonance [0 (flat) – 127 (+12dB)] 60+ (20 * R * G * B) 0.15 * R * G * B

Figure 1.4.9 Cut-off and resonance algorithm in Background Layer.


Grain Layer

DNA is digital information, but is stored in an organic medium and its instructions are followed in the biophysical world. This digital/biological duality is reflected in Microcosmos with the blending of synthetic and naturally occurring sounds; the Grain Layer is constructed to manipulate the acoustic sounds of various materials using the RGB data within the images. Each bacterial species is assigned a particular signature timbre: a fragment (or ‘grain’) of acoustically occurring sound.

1. Chromobacterium violaceum 2. Serratia marcescens 3. Vogesella indigofera 4. Bacillus atrophaeus 5. Pseudomonas aeruginosa 6. Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

A human voice A single bell tone A resonating glass A struck stone A struck cymbal A resonating piece of wood

These sound grains are manipulated by the colour content of the bacterial colonies. The duration, pitch and starting point of each of these grains are controlled by the red, green and blue colour content of the bacterial colonies respectively. More specifically, a relationship between frequency in the colour and aural spectra is identified. This simple mapping procedure creates highly complex and evocative musical responses to the evolving imagery1. Between one and four grain layers are applied simultaneously depending on points of colour interest, selected by the author in the rendering process.


For an overview of the use of grains in electronic music see Roads (2004).


Furthermore, the locations of selected colour points on screen are interpreted spatially among the four speakers (Figure 1.4.10).

Figure 1.4.10 An illustration of Grain Layer manipulation and spatialisation in Microcosmos.

The sound grains are manipulated in terms of the speed they are played (defining their pitch), the duration of each grain and the position in the sample from which the grain is derived (affecting timbral elements). These three elements are controlled by the RGB colour content of the selected on screen points as defined in Figure 1.4.11.

Grain Quantization (% of sample duration) Grain Duration (ms) Grain Frequency (pitch) multiplier (0-2)

R/5.1 G*2 (B/127) - 1

Figure 1.4.11 Grain manipulation via RGB content in Microcosmos.



The translation of DNA and colour information in Microcosmos may be conceived as the transplantation of multi-dimensional parameters from one medium (DNA, protein synthesis, colour, location etc.) to another (musical parameters). In other words, MSpace exploration is guided by physical phenomena rather than a human improvisational performance. An impression of the mappings is given in Figure 1.4.12.

Figure 1.4.12 The mapping of visual and biological data to M-Space subsets in Microcosmos.

Although there is fairly limited data input, the interactive complexity is sufficient to have an interesting emergent response. Some points of interest: 1) The bell theme caused by the close red tones (DVD2 0:10-0:31).


2) The slow coding & subdued timbre with the dark screen and blue microbacteria (DVD2 6:15-6:35). 3) The dramatic change in activity from a white screen (fast tempo and high frequency timbres) to the instant when the vogesella indigofera colony crosses the centre point of the screen (6:50-7:03). Microcosmos represents a complex M-Space/expressive contours mapping system evolved from experience with Bloodlines, Primal Sound and Head Music. This mapping technique is employed in a more stylistically accessible context in Membrane (1.5, p 29) and is developed further in Palmer’s ongoing Ghostforest (see Section 4). The relationship between live visual and musical material is also explored in Rat Park Live (3.2), this time in reverse, whereby musical improvisations create corresponding visual imagery.


1.5 Membrane (2009)
An opportunity to explore M-Space mapping in a different stylistic context to Microcosmos was presented in the Wake Up and Smell the Coffee project with collaborators Dr. Anna Tanczos and Dr. Martin Bellwood (University of Surrey). The immersive planetarium movie medium, together with a now well-established theoretical framework allowed an appropriate context in which to employ a direct mapping of the M-Space model throughout the film. This section focuses on a short segment of the film as a demonstration of the type of techniques employed. Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (DVD3) is an educational film explaining the effect of caffeine on the human body, and includes an extended animated sequence following the journey of a caffeine molecule from ingestion to its docking with an adenosine receptor in the brain. The Membrane clip (DVD3 11:12-13:15) follows the molecule’s passage through the cell membrane of the villi into the nucleus of the cell, and its return trajectory in a different trajectory. The molecule follows a clear flight path above and through the cell membrane and this three-dimensional trajectory is mapped musically using M-Space concepts. As well as a pad and bass-line, the sound design in this scene includes two layers of a virtually modeled instrument (reminiscent of a marimba). These layers each consist of simple two bar phrases (consisting of Coltranesque three note pentatonic cells (see Changes Over Time:Theory 1.5 p 25-26) with three subdivided zones of proximity - derived from the spatial position of the molecule (Figure 1.5.1 p30). Four zones are identified (A-D) with corresponding phrases for Layers 1 and 2 (1a-d and 2ad). Each phrase represents a proximal musical relationship based on the physical position of the molecule. Fields B and D are within the same physical zone and so have similar corresponding phrases, however for variation: Phrase 1d is a retrograde transformation of 1b, while 2d and 2b are identical, at least in terms of notational pitch


and rhythm. These two layers are each transformed independently in terms of continuous (timbral and time-feel) parameter subsets based on the molecule’s threedimensional position. The avoidance of overly obvious parameters, such as chromatic transposition and volume, helps keep the correlations subliminal and unearths otherwise unvisited parameter modulations and interactions. The Membrane sequence may be seen on DVD3 11:12-13:15 and heard, without narration on CD2.5 and CD3.5.

Figure 1.5.1 M-Space mappings on Layers 1 and 2 in Membrane (from Wake Up and Smell the Coffee) derived from the motion of the caffeine molecule through the membrane of the villi. Four zones are identified to create proximal relationships in each layers, and the molecules motion is mapped to continuous musical parameters as indicated (CD2.5, CD3.5 and 11:12-13:15).

Hidden Music presented a brief survey of the heterogenous mapping of unorthodox source material on to a concept of musical space derived from jazz improvisational theory. Some of these techniques may also be redeployed in the context of acoustic (and electric) instrumental performance again with the extensive use of electronics. The next section presents a selection of works employing solo instrumentation with electronics


and the use of M-Space and expressive contour concepts in performance, improvisation and composition.


2. Reworked Ensemble
Improvisational works for ensemble and live electronics

2.1 The Selfish Theme


3. Extended Solo Instruments
Works for solo instruments and live electronics

3.1 String Theory (2006) and Event Horizon (2007)
Tod Machover’s long established and distinguished career with electronic music, starting with his collaborations at IRCAM with Pierre Boulez, is well documented2 (Machover 1992, 2004, 2006 and 2010). In 2004, Machover set up a project with the Royal Academy of Music and MIT Media Lab to develop repertoire and research output for the Hyperbow for cello - an electronic cello bow - designed and built by Dr. Diana Young3. As director of the Royal Academy Music wing of the Hyperbow project, the author had the opportunity to work closely with Machover, Young and the Royal Academy composers and cellists. This led to the staging of a concert at the Duke’s Hall in 2007 and the production of a CD of new works (CD3 21st Century Bow: New Works for Hyperbow RAM 2007) from which Event Horizon is taken. The Hyperbow is a modified cello bow fitted with electronic sensors that detect seven parameters of motion and force. These are: distance from a bridge sensor of the bow tip (1) and frog (2), the downward (3) and lateral (4) force on the bow, and three dimensions (X, Y, Z) of acceleration (5-7). The location of these sensors is indicated in Figure 2.1.1 (p 33). Values of the seven parameters are sent wirelessly to a computer for recording, analysis or mapping. Young’s Hyperbow for violin was used extensively for performance research, in particular the cataloguing bowing techniques and the analysis of their relationship to sound production (Young 2007). However, the outputted parameter

2 3

See Machover (1992, 2004, 2006, 2010). See Young (2002, 2003), Young & Serafin (2003) and Young, Nunn & Vassiliev (2006).


values during performance may also be used to control and manipulate musical parameters, and it is this creative mapping approach that was taken in the RAM/MIT Hyperbow project, and in Event Horizon.

tip position signal

strain gauge force sensors

frog position signal battery

wireless module


Figure 2.1.1 Sensors on Young’s Hyperbow for cello (Image ©2006 Yael Maguire)

The use of continuous electronic controllers in musical manipulation is of course well established; from early electronic instruments like the Theremin, the guitarist’s wahwah pedal, to the huge range of midi controllers now available. However these may all be thought of as auxiliary controls that do not interfere significantly with normal instrumental execution (in the case of the guitarist’s foot pedal for example) or as the sole focus in performance as demonstrated by the new breed of laptop musician. Tools such as the Hyperbow have a unique function as the control signals generated have an interrelationship with normal performance. Furthermore, the nuanced control of these parameters is aided by the performer’s technical discipline rather than a novel skill to be learned. The electronic systems in Event Horizon rely on sophisticated bow control, both away from the instrument and during sound production, and so it may be seen as a piece that requires an extended instrumental technique rather than the learning of a auxiliary parallel skill.


What is also apparent from Figure 2.1.2 (A screenshot from Hyperactivity (2006)4 a MAX/MSP by the author routing hyperbow data to midi controller values and triggers) is the familiarity of the sensor data; clearly there are expressive contours here readily available for mapping to musical parameters.

Figure 2.1.2 A screenshot from Hyperactivity, a MAX/MSP patch that routes hyperbow data to midi controller values. Thresholds for parameter values may also be specified that when exceeded send out midi notes to trigger discrete events.

The cellist may consciously control these contours while the cello is not played, or they may be teased out during performance with for example, a slight twisting of the bow or a little more downward force during a passage. Other contour relationships may occur with little potential control or conscious awareness, but may still have musical effect. Hyperactivity allows the specification of threshold values for Hyperbow data that, when exceeded, may trigger discrete events via MIDI notes. For example a sharp flick of the bow may trigger a (predetermined or randomised) harmonic change in the electronic backing, or when downward force surpasses a certain level, a filter may be engaged with

Hyperactivity includes a MAX/MSP object for data calibration programmed by Patrick Nunn (2006).


its characteristics controlled continuously by Hyperbow data. A demonstration of the types of mappings and trigger events possible with the Hyperbow and Hyperactivity, most of which are used in Event Horizon, is presented as a video on DVD 4.1 with the cellist Peter Gregson playing an Eric Jensen five-string electric cello. The video represents an early technical sketch of Event Horizon, dubbed String Theory, and the first recorded audio take appears in the soundtrack of Martino:Unstrung (DVD1 43:23-44:03) with additional versions on CD2.2 and CD4.2. String Theory is an example of a work that, once the electronic system is constructed, allows an open-ended improvisational approach by the soloist who is free to control structure, melodic detail and extreme timbral characteristics, even if some of the backing material and mapping relationships are prepared. Another example of this approach is found in Dublicity – a solo guitar improvisation by the author (CD4.3). With this system the electric guitar’s effects may be selected with a foot pedal, but the output of the guitar is also mapped to MIDI data, which is separated into overlapping zones depending on string and pitch range. This allows for the simultaneous performance and control of electric guitar, MIDI controlled keyboard, bass, effects and rhythmic fragments. As in String Theory, the electronic system may be exploited with instrumental proficiency - in this case techniques such as twohanded fretboard and string-crossing mechanics – and jazz sensibilities, rather than the typical pedalboard, assistant technician or mouse and laptop approach. The Hyperbow project is the author’s first of many collaborations with Gregson - an enthusiastic champion of the use of electronics in contemporary music - which include four CD releases, research events and international concert performances of cello and electronics programmes. Event Horizon


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