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Looking at Sound

This year, I finally decided to dive into electroacoustic music, which causes more than a couple of problems. To begin, I knew next to little about electroacoustic music. While I'm pretty fast with Sibelius, I had only a marginal idea of how to deal with Pro Tools, and I was vaguely aware of how awesome Max/MSP was. What I did know is that working with electronic music was something that I needed to pick up if I wanted to someday land an academic job, and the process of relearning everything I knew about composing was going to help in the long run.

What ended up happening was some intense questioning of what I'm doing in a DMA program (Which is another, lengthy, blog entry), and a lot of difficulty with the aesthetic of computer music (which is another lengthy, ranty, blog entry). But those problems were resolved (more or less), and the piece (my first work for fixed media) is coming along, and if you're really curious to see it, it's over on Soundcloud. I'll update it as it becomes more of a thing.

But one thing that I'm learning so far that can immediately inform my future acoustic writing is how to look at sound. I mean, it's easy enough to get used to thinking in terms of notes and rhythms, like this passage from Foi dans l'aleatoire.FDL

Of course, the work is slightly longer than three bars, if you're curious the full score is here.

But what does this piece look like if you could actually look at the sound? Well, using GRM's Acousmographe, that sound looks like this:

Foi dans l'aleatoire (sibelius rendering) Spectrogram

The different colors are strengths of frequencies (it kind of reminds me of a weather radar. The weather for Foi dans l'aleatoire today is sunny, with a high of 74 and a chance of octatonic flute scales). This graph is actually of the Sibelius rendering of FDL, while the real recording of the work looks a little more alive:

Foi dans l'aleatoire (2011 UALR) Spectrogram

Kind of a difference between the clinical sound of the MIDI rendering (with no higher frequencies) and the 2011 University of Arkansas-Little Rock performance, isn't there? I thought so. How useful is it as an acoustic compose? Well, it's certainly another way of thinking about music. (More spectrograms are available over on Flickr)

On the subject of Foi dans l'aleatoire, Jennifer Tripi and Tara Burnett performed it fantastically at OU's fall Student Composers Recital this weekend. I'll post audio over at Listen as soon as I get it.

The 4000-year-long orchestra piece.

I mentioned recently that I was working on a sort of choose-your-own-adventure orchestra piece for OU's 4×4 prizes. (I still have no idea if that was a good idea or not, but it was fun, and here it is). So through the process, I planned to sit down and write out all the possible combinations of parts.

Luckily, I had the foresight to count up how many parts there would be, in case the number was way higher than I expected. Like 393,239,448. Which is how many different combination of parts there are. I decided against listing them all.

So with close to 400 million different combinations of parts, how long would it take to play them all? Assuming six minutes per combination (I haven't calculated all the possible tempo variations because, no.), the total works out to 2,359,436,688 minutes…or 4,486 years.

I can't wait for that royalty check.