The prospect of analyzing, categorizing, or evaluating something before it has reached fruition is somewhat problematic. However, for practical reasons I find it necessary to put some thoughts on “The Data and Tension” into type. “The Data and Tension” (abbrev. tdat) is a language-event for four vocalists. I find it useful to describe vocalist interaction as though it were a game. For a thorough explanation of the rules, libretti, or development of this family of compositions, I refer the reader to the project page, and to my thesis; both are available here.
My goals in constructing tdat changed as my understanding of it did. The major changes that occurred along my process involved tdat‘s content, production, and naming. Perhaps the most significant of these changes emerged when I began talking about tdat as an oral notative event.
For the first iterations of tdat, the rulesets were constructed through a labor-intensive analysis method of an arbitrary text. At first these texts were hand-edited and compiled from various sources, from class notes to pro-gun blogs. The most frequent significant words were rated for their frequencies and selected to be part of the rulesets. Then, using hand-drawn matrices, I attempted to construct rulesets that seemed balanced. The result was an arbitrarily structured game whose dynamics were unpredictable. After doing around six of these, I gave up with this method and inverted the process. I wrote a simulation library in SuperCollider and encoded the structural components of the games into a character string. Then I began searching for strings representing games with specific traits. Despite that the first few searches were not fully automated, the results were impressive. I eventually took each step in the algorithm and wrote a routine to schedule them, searching a very wide space for the perfect candidate. When the time came to realize one of these pieces, I replaced each of the characters with a sentence, written by me. The sentences, put in order of the characters in the string, would comprise the text. I eventually made one further inversion to the process, which was to write out the entire text in the order I wanted it, and to determine the mapping between the sentences and their functions from there.
As I worked, I became increasingly invested in the idea that my model of creative processes should support nested systems of signification. This decision also precipitated as I pored over book after book calling for the universal reform of the common practice notational system. It frustrated me that, even today, music discourses are obsessed with the Western canons’ practices of visualized parameterization. An oral notation is subversive to these practices because they comprise an event that is experienced through time. This subversion is attractive because oral notation practices are extremely common, even in the Western conservatory system. When is an event a notation for another event?
Another impetus for moving toward calling tdat a notation were some of the responses I would get from individuals regarding my thesis and the genealogy
of my compositions. It was suggested by numerous individuals that since “Solo for Amplified Window” came from the realization of a meta-notation of “Sanction of the Victim” (and indeed many other compositions), that tdat must bear the same relationship to “Sanction” as well. These individuals wanted me to explicitly define, in the form of another notation, the mapping between the two pieces’ parameters. I do not believe such a notation is necessary, nor does it contribute to the richness of the two pieces relating to each other.
I will probably continue my explorations into vocal/theatrical modes of production. While it is technologically deterministic to assume that computers make good performers or composers on their own, since it attributes intention, it is not unreasonable to consider that they offer the performing or composing human very sophisticated tools. I have been questioning what the term “computer music” even refers to. In the past, computers required a great amount of expertise and money to operate, and music-making was a separate practice. Today, computers are very easily and effectively integrated with musical processes and are much more readily understood, purchased, and maintained. What, then, is a specifically computerized music?
This composition requires a level of virtuosity on the part of the performer, both in that the task itself is difficult to complete and difficult to listen to. This virtuosic listening is also required of the experiencer. Rehearsal gave the performers the ability to make the piece more intelligible, or at least to consider intelligibility as an issue and exploit the elegance or performativity of the unintelligible. For the audience, the experience of being overwhelmed by language is attractive because it provides the opportunity for multiple paths through the arc of the piece. However, in order for this to be successful there must be an adequate recognition of the pleasure and care with which the performance is realized. This experience can be difficult to communicate effectively. To a certain extent, however, it is my intention that the experience of this piece also remain outside the realm of the understood, because I don’t fully understand it either, because the mere event of having all of these parties strive jointly for the communication of pleasure precludes the understanding of such an event. Paul Chan said it best:
There is nothing to be gained by making work that relates, except perhaps the cheap thrill of understanding. Better to let the work be as foreign and distant as a star, or an ambush.
This thesis is, in some ways, rather inappropriate to the conventions of ITP: it is academic, murky, and, genetic algorithms aside, fairly low-tech. In some other ways, however, it speaks a language that I hope resonates with the people of that program. I want its strangeness to elicit laughter at the familiar.