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Michael Terren






Ambivalence of Density





As Rendered

for flute, (bass) clarinet, piano, violin, cello and laptop

Duration: 12 minutes


Program note


As Rendered is an attempt to create a notional, chimeric ecological soundscape using traditional classical instruments and a chaotic computer-synthesis framework. Inspired by Brian Eno's thought experiment of learning a field recording "exactly as one would learn a piece of music," the work is loosely structured yet highly determinate, using my own field recordings and noise improvisations as semiotic material. As Rendered cautiously embraces an element of fantasy in the representation of a plausible acoustic ecology, in which the medium of its transmission obfuscates its realistic qualities.


See here for instructions on how the score is read.


Writing for small ensemble and theme


As Rendered was precipitated by a desire to enter into the Soundstream Emerging Composers' Forum (it was accepted), in which a work of 10–20 minutes is to be written for a small ensemble, thematically inspired by ideas surrounding the butterfly effect. I'm not a fan of misappropriating science in art, especially that which I do not understand entirely, so my initial intent was to avoid the idea entirely, but I think this work came back around to it, and could be regarded as an interpretation of chaotic methodology. 


By using field recordings and noise improvisations as semiotic material for acoustic instruments to play, there is inevitably a distortion brought about by this transmediation process, which I hope I've drawn attention to, and this distortion undeniably has a degree of complexity across time akin to the dialogue surrounding mid-20th century developments in chaos theory.


Chimeric synthesis


I'm highly fascinated by the interface between environmental sound and electronic sound, and the aesthetic effect of using electronic sound in the context of environmental sound. Exploration of the latter has helped me to understand field recordings in terms of their acousmatic quality, changing my perception of the recording from the merely documentary to the appreciation of all the sonic elements that a field recording contains. In As Rendered I use a laptop generating a chimeric, slightly fantastical soundscape as a supplement to the soundscape created by the acoustic instruments. This sound is synthesised in Max for Live using five tracks, each track creating a different aspect of the sound.


1. Specious—this is the sound that sounds rather like billiard balls striking each other. This was inspired primarily by the functional iterative synthesis techniques outlined in Agostino di Scipio's 2010 paper "The Synthesis of Environmental Sound Textures by Iterated Nonlinear Functions, and its Ecological Relevance to Perceptual Modeling." An exact description of the processing used to create this sound is too complex even for me to understand, as it was very much the product of serendipitous experimentation. As such the patch is a mess, but (accidentally) creating this sound was very inspiring for me, in that I finally understood the massive synthesis capabilities that Max has, and how this can be used in ways that are relevant to my artistic output.

2. Crimple—this sound is reminscent of knitting needles hitting each other, and marks my first attempts to synthesise within `gen~`, the Max addon that allows for such processing features as single-delay feedback. Here, repeated clicks drive a feedback system which feeds back in interesting ways, with frequencies below about 4kHz cut.

3. Ghapdf—high frequency noise reminscent of tape noise. I listen to a lot of music that employs field recordings, and much of it fetishises the sound of the recording device itself. I'm not totally sold by this aesthetic—atavistic attitudes toward electronic sound are one of my main gripes these days. However, I find some of the aesthetic ideas of acknowledging the recordist as inherently part of the recording pleasing, and this is often achieved by not omitting sounds of fumbling with the recording device, footsteps, and other human sounds. Alternatively, this sound might just be effective as a noise floor. 

4. Shell-Noise—this sound is bandpassed noise that suggests wind rustling trees.

5. Rumble—a periodic, low frequency rumble evokes the noise created when wind strikes a microphone.


It's with some hesitation that I've gone out of my way to incorporate these acousmatic elements of field recordings in such a blatantly representational manner. Regardless, I really like this soundscape and I'm proud that I made this.


Here is an audio example of the soundscape:


The form of natural/notional acoustic ecologies


*As Rendered* does not have an acknowledgeable form. It is highly random, with the exception of a periodic loud sound played by the acoustic instruments. In sonifying environmental sound, I wanted to create an ecology whereby the sounds were wholly unpredictable at a micro level, but at a macro level was rather predictable and prosaic. The work starts and finishes without any fanfare—I liked the idea of this work sounding like a field recording, in which the recording device is turned on, then after twelve minutes, turned off (or with a short fade-out, as happens in this work). 


Using traditional instruments and the score


Using traditional instruments to represent environmental sound isn't new, with notable antecedence in the works of Alvin Lucier, Peter Ablinger, and Agostino di Scipio. I like to think I've taken more creative leeway with this approach, in that I'm essentially making fictionalised soundscapes. By obfuscating the source material and opening myself up to a sort of poetic license, I think this gives the work an interesting premise.


The acoustic instruments read a scrolling graphic score (full score pictured at top, violin score pictured at bottom) using iPads and the Decibel ScorePlayer app. The notation is graphical and proportional, consisting of figures; each figure's vertical position representing approximate pitch (low to high, from bottom to top). Each figure is played as it hits the playhead. The loudness of each sound is determined by the vertical thickness of each figure at the playhead. The pitch is determined by the top-side line's vertical position at the playhead.


The sounds are colour-coded according to different timbral sonorities. Red indicates a maximally noisy timbre, with no discernible pitch (however, I indicate that when a red figure indicates a high pitch, a high fingering should be played regardless of whether the resultant sound is high or not). A purple figure indicates a pure tone, played with as little noise as possible. A brown figure is somewhere in between red and purple—it is partially noisy, while retaining its tone. Pink figures indicate key noise or other small incidental noises.


This scoring method is imperfect, and there are inevitably irregularities between the pitch notated and what is heard, especialy with regard to red, noisy sounds. Nonetheless, I think it communicates my intent effectively enough.


Towards the album


How best to interpret this in a studio form is something I'm having trouble with. I will undoubtedly record the acoustic instruments in this work and use those recordings as audio material on which to work, but it's likely that the studio version will not last the whole twelve minutes, or even evoke similar thematic ideas. I've been listening to the album Miseri Lares by Valerio Tricoli a lot lately, and his work is inspiring in the way it integrates field recordings and computer synthesis in such a seamless, lush way, without really drawing attention to the dichotomy of the two. 


This comes back to an idea which I hope to explore as part of my exegesis, in which studio aesthetic and live aesthetic will inevitably have different goals and outcomes, and composing in each medium must take into account one's aesthetic interests in each medium as wholly separate. The studio aesthetic embodied by an album like Miseri Lares, for me, wouldn't be as effective in a live setting. The field is well and truly open as to where I'll go with rendering As Rendered in a studio form, and that's quite exciting.


Here is a full video of the score, with the laptop accompaniment. Again, see here for instructions on how the score is read.

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