Introducing a Spatial Dimension
‘If it would not seem too pretentious to regard primary musical elements as dimensions essential to all music, they could be listed thus: frequency (pitch), temporal measurement (rhythm), proportion between respective amplitudes of upper partials (timbre) and the necessary omnipresent ‘fourth dimension’ of music turns out to be space itself.’
Henry Brant: Spatial Music Progress Report
Motivations and Implications of Spatialization
As this quotation from American spatial composer Henry Brant infers, the ‘omnipresent’ role of space in our perception of music has meant that it is often taken for granted during the listening experience. Although the public’s awareness of the ‘spatial dimension’ of sound is growing through the incorporation of acousmatic aesthetics into mainstream art forms like film and video games, it is still an aspect of sound-organisation that is largely neglected in the conception and composition of instrumental music. This is due, no doubt, to the inherent difficulties of successfully staging works of this kind. None the less, the idiom has a long and expansive history and examples of antiphony in sacred music are culturally wide spread. From the synagogues of the ancient Hebrews to the grand cathedrals of Europe to the gospel churches of the American South, the music of prayer is largely spatialized.
Within the field of experimental music, there exists a long tradition of mutual respect between practitioner and public. But the standard protocols for concert performance that have come into existence over the last century have led to a ensconcing of roles for performer and audience. Contemporary music audiences have grown accustomed to experiencing new music as passive observers, removed from the field of activity by the proscenium line of the stage. By and large, the contemporary music audience is a committed and enthusiastic community, but is their experience of the music diminished by the relative lack of commitment encouraged through the architecture of the conventional concert hall, where there is a disconnect of experience through the imposition of autonomous performer and audience spaces? Perhaps an increased intimacy can be achieved in the performance of contemporary music when the established spatial dichotomies of ‘performer’ and ‘audience’ spaces are dissolved.
According to Albert Bregman’s research in auditory perception, the human brain processes sound on two cognitive levels concurrently. He describes these as: primitive-based and schema-based stream segregation. Primitive-based segregation is considered to be involuntary and sensitised to the acoustic properties of sound like: timbre and spatial separation. Schema-based segregation is voluntary and sensitised to pattern recognition. Bregman posits that schema-based recognition is a learned activity, while primitive-segregation is the result of evolution. I refer to Bregman’s theories here as means of supporting a proposition, which is not substantiated by scientific research, but which has guided me towards the composition of these works. Is it possible to enhance the sensorial experience of a live music performance by increasing the role of instinctive or involuntary modes of listening through the augmentation of acoustic phenomena like timbre and spatial separation? In others words, can a listeners’ physiological investment in the music be enhanced through their immersion into a three dimensional soundspace? I do not expect to answer these questions through my research; but they reveal a primary motivation in undertaking the spatial realisation of these works. It is important, at this juncture, to note that the musical integrity of the compositions in this portfolio is not dependent on their spatial realisation. Although many new techniques have evolved through their spatial composition, all of these pieces would work perfectly well presented in a conventional manner. The spatialization of musical elements should be seen as an enhanced auditory realisation of these scores, with the intention of increasing their effect on the listener.
In different ways and to varying degrees, all of the scores in this portfolio incorporate aspects of spatialization into their composition, notation and performance logistics. In Authorization Codes, composed for orchestra, this is achieved through the stereophonic displacement of two specific instrumental groups. In Sphèrós, composed for choir, the spatialization is more vivid, as the choir is separated into two large hemispherical group located at either end of the concert hall and these voices further divided into left and right stereo relationships. In the three chamber works, Helicotrema, Sinsearach Cainteoir and Nothing Something, the spatialization is more complex, as the audience is placed directly into the path of multiple musical lines of communication.
In many respects, spatial considerations are a natural extension of my compositional approach, which relies primarily on the manipulation of melody and rhythm. The inherent temporal continuity of melody lends itself particularly well to spatial projection. It is no coincidence that the aesthetic tendencies of Renaissance composers like Giovanni Gabrieli led them towards the creation of polychoral music. In composing these works, I have consciously incorporated techniques that take advantage of an enhanced spatial environment. Often the effects of these techniques are heightened through spatialization. They include: call and response, counterpoint, and the manipulation of polymetric and polyrhythmic relationships. Many new techniques also came into my compositional practice as I attempted to take advantage of various spatial performance models. These include: the deconstruction and reassignment of motives between instruments and the creation of harmonic and rhythmic composites. Many of these techniques will be discussed in greater detail in the following chapters, but I will introduce some techniques here in relation to the practices of other composers who have worked in this idiom and in relation to the conceptual shifts that occurred in my own praxis while attempting to accommodate spatial considerations.
Manipulating Compositional Space
Many 20th Century composers have made creative forays into instrumental spatial composition. As early as 1906, Charles Ives composed The Unanswered Question, music scored for woodwind quartet, solo trumpet and offstage string quartet. In the piece, he uses the spatial dislocation of the ensembles as a dramatic device to encourage the perception of a dialogue between instrumental groups. Space also combines with timbre, tempo and harmonic language to further increase the audience’s interpretation of the ensembles as distant and autonomous ‘entities’. The most striking difference between Ives’ approach in this piece and my own occurs in the realm of tempo. Ives uses multiple tempos to distinguish his ensembles. Although there is a pronounced use of polymetre and polyrhythm in my works, the music is always governed by one tempo. This is often interrupted by metric modulation or tempo variation, but the unification of tempo between players means that my spatial gestures are much more dance like and the use of space more ritualised. On the other hand, Ives’ use of segregated harmonic language has many parallels in my own works, where concurrent fields of discrete harmonic language are distinguished not only through their physical space, but also their timbre and tessitura.
The metaphor of ‘musical dialogue’ that is proposed between soloist and ensembles in The Unanswered Question is present to a large degree in my own work and it became a powerful motivating factor in the creation of this portfolio. The physical segregation evident in spatialized performance results in less masking of sounds. This means that instruments retain more of their timbral distinctions and enjoy a higher level of autonomy and sonic clarity in shared musical textures. But the distance the sound must travel between instruments may actually increase a perception in the listener that they are in fact communicating. This was certainly the case for me during the compositional process and this interpretation has had a profound impact on the music’s direction. Evidence of this is contained in the following excerpt from Helicotrema, composed for two spatialized mixed-quartets. Violoncello 1 and 2 play two interweaving melodies from across the hall, accompanied by a straight eighth-note passage shared by piano and vibraphone. Although the two melodies share some motivic content, they are fully independent of each other. The physical distance between instruments heightens their autonomy and I believe the passage comes across as conversational rather than canonic.
Excerpt 8: Helicotrema - Scala Media, page 13, measure 127 (cello 1 & 2, piano, vibes)
The chosen instrumentation here results in a musical texture that is transparent and balanced. In conceiving my ensembles, I often included mirrored pairs of instruments, or instruments that shared distinctive timbral characteristics, thus increasing the homogeneity of the resulting sound field. Béla Bartók explores similar territory in Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta composed in 1936. In the piece, Bartók divides the strings into two antiphonal groups located on opposite sides of the stage and uses this configuration to heighten the dramatic effect of his contrapuntal writing. The shared timbre of the strings helps to bridge the spatial division and create auditory continuity.
The existence of matched pairs of instruments in my scores led to a marked increase in my use of deconstructive techniques. I began dissecting solo melodic passages and redistributing them between multiple players in the style of medieval hockets. It has proved to be very effective and I have adopted similar strategies for other compositional elements. In Authorization Codes, composed for orchestra, I apply deconstructive techniques to rhythmic, melodic and harmonic properties of the music. In the score, I divide two distinct elements of the orchestra, brass instruments and vibraphones, into balanced stereo pairs located at the far left and right of the concert stage. At key junctures in the piece, the vibraphones feature prominently. I wanted to create an intricate shared rhythm that would flash back and forth across the stereo field. After several attempts using various rhythmic combinations, I was still dissatisfied with the balance of the stereo image. So from this material, I created a master pattern containing a sequence of beats I wished to accent. The following excerpt displays this ‘meta-rhythm’.
Excerpt 9a: Authorization Codes - Section B, page 9, measure 37 (meta-rhythm)
I then allocated components of this pattern to the rhythms of the two vibraphones and an additional rhythm to be played on the shell of a timpani drum located at centre stage. The accent markings appearing on the meta-rhythm indicate the beats where both vibraphones strike simultaneously, creating a complete stereo image. The tenuto markings indicate beats shared with the timpani shell. Here is the finished relationship.
Excerpt 9b: Authorization Codes - Section B, page 9, measure 37 (vibes & timpani)
The rhythmic interplay of the vibraphones in this passage may be understood as a form of inherent rhythm, a process by which a phantom or illusionary meta-rhythm is created by the composite rhythms of two independent phrases. The real challenge in applying deconstructive techniques like this lies in maintaining the integrity of the individual parts. Although they share their musical trajectory, each part of the composite should contain phraseology that provides a direction and means of investment for the player, thus cementing the illusion.
The level of detailed communication that is required between performers in my music reveals deep contrasts with the methodologies of other composers who have delved into the spatial music idiom. A useful comparison may be made with the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, who explored spatial composition in the late 1950’s with orchestral works like Gruppen and Carré. In Gruppen, Stockhausen divides the orchestra into three triangulated units, each musically distinct from the other. Our approaches to the composition of space could not diverge more completely. The music in Gruppen requires three conductors and occurs in a state of separate simultaneity. The instruments in my works, although separated in space are conceived as one resonant body, within which the conductor acts literally as conductor and unifier of opposing elements. The audience experiences the inter-relationships between spatial forces in Gruppen as gestural. Because each orchestral unit performs at its own tempo, inter-relationships at the local or moment-to-moment level of the music are aleatoric. In my music, the tempo between spatialized forces is fixed and as the previous excerpt displays, rhythmic accuracy between ensembles is paramount to a successful performance. In comparison to Gruppen, the sizes of the spatialized forces at work in my music are considerably reduced. This impacts significantly on the composition of the scores, which display a much greater emphasis on individual performers and small ensemble playing. My ‘musical dialogue’ takes place on a much more intimate level. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the spatialization of the instrumental forces in Gruppen occurs largely through necessity. Its main purpose is to increase the listeners’ ability to stream its complex sonic content by reducing the effects of masking. The introduction of spatial awareness into my compositional process represents an entirely new layer of complexity; one that comes not from the layering of autonomous sounds, but from the manipulation of space as a compositional parameter.
A Dynamic Use of Space
Once a ‘spatial dimension’ was introduced into my compositional praxis, the inter-relationships of other musical aspects like timbre, rhythm and pitch increased in intricacy, as the composition acquired another level of organizational hierarchy. Of course, space is an ever-present acoustic phenomenon in music, but when we manipulate ‘space’ through compositional transformation (i.e. change in time) it enters into a dynamic relationship with these other musical aspects and must be coordinated in concert with them.
The following spatial diagram for Nothing Something, composed for spatialized vocal-octet and soundtrack reveals its potential for the introduction of intricate spatial relationships. In Nothing Something, the spatialization of voices occurs in a 360-degree radius, as vocalists surround the audience on all sides. Vocalists are organised by registers into four matched stereo pairs, which are offset at a 45-degree angle from each other. Vocalists perform across the audience, transecting the central axis of the space in eight different directions simultaneously. Through the use of intermittent silences and changes of velocity in the score, the spatialization of voices becomes a dynamic process. The direction of the music is multifaceted and in continuous flux. This arrangement is enhanced by a studio soundtrack, produced in stereo and diffused over a multi-channel array of speakers.
Diagram 3: Nothing Something - Spatial Diagram
The impetus for the spatial design of this work comes from my experience of electroacoustic or acousmatic concerts. In an acousmatic concert setting, the listening audience is completely immersed into a three-dimensional auditory field. They experience the architecture of the music through its movement in space. It is my understanding that the psychological and physiological effects of sounds are enhanced by the immersion of the listener into a three-dimensional soundspace. Music experienced in three-dimensions becomes more complex sensorially by heightening the listener’s awareness of acoustic phenomena like proximity effect, reflection and shadowing. Dynamic musical properties like harmonic consonance and dissonance, rhythmic convergence and divergence, timbral transparency and density become clearer and more intense when experienced in three-dimensional sound space.
In the conventions of acousmatic concert music, the listening audience and performer/diffuser share a common space; their experience of the event is overlapping. The spatial design of Nothing Something creates of a similar shared performance/audience space by placing the conductor at the central axis point. The communication between performers and between performers and conductor flows directly through the audience space. By dissolving the conventional separations between performer and listener, I hope to create a merging of their experiences. By placing the performer and listener in closer proximity, I hope to increase the potential for meaningful exchanges, while offering the listener a more intimate and individual experience of performance. I believe a closer proximity between performer and listening audience will lead, through the intimacy of a shared space, to elevated levels of trust, and a more potent experience for both parties.
During the composition of Nothing Something, while attempting to mediate the effects of spatialization, I came to understand ‘compositional space’ through the opposing forces of contrast and coherence. These forces are interdependent in music; one does not exist without the other, and their influences are felt, to varying degrees, in all four of Henry Brant’s musical dimensions simultaneously: pitch, rhythm, timbre and space. Agents of coherence include: motivic symmetry, gestural continuity, harmonic and rhythmic consonance, timbral correspondence and the horizontal trajectory of melody. These agents help to maintain perceptual cohesion by bridging the physical separation of spatialized sources. Agents of contrast include: motivic asymmetry, conflicting gesture, harmonic and rhythmic dissonance, timbral disparity, and the imposition of vertical structures. These agents disrupt perceptual cohesion by magnifying the separation of spatialized sources.
During prolonged periods of musical cohesion, I decided to inject the score with greater ‘movement’ of sound between spatialized sources. In the following excerpt, all the agents of coherence are present. The metre is consistently in ¾, with added beats occurring at the end of the eight measure melodic phrase. The global harmonic progression is quite stable, maintaining the integrity of its pitch collection and modulating in a congruent manner every sixteen measures between modal alterations of: C Phrygian Major/Minor 3rd to G Phrygian Major/Minor 3rd to A Phrygian Major/Minor 3rd to E Phrygian Major/Minor 3rd. The harmonisation of the melody is transparent, occurring in two and occasionally three parts; this is well supported by bowed cello in the soundtrack. The melodic line being passed between voices displays good continuity. The passing of music between solo voices is thus increased as a means of intensifying the listening experience. The configuration of voices is in continuous flux, as vocal exchanges between stereo pairs are staggered occurring on multiple axes simultaneously. The resulting effect should be gently disorienting, as harmonised melodies pass across the audience, like the soft caress of many disembodied hands.
Excerpt 10: Nothing Something - Tableau C, page 21, measure 106 (s 1&2, a 1&2, t 1&2)
Compositional space like all compositional aspects can be organised at various hierarchical levels of the music, from cellular to structural to formal. The spatial transitions between voices described here are instantaneous events occurring at a cellular level. The perception of sound as moving is an illusion encouraged by the direction of the voices passing the melody and the shared characteristics of their range and timbre. The configuration of voices displayed in the previous excerpt is part of a larger pattern of spatial configurations that runs through the entire section of music, evolving as each new vocal range is introduced into the texture. The following diagram is a rendering of the pattern of spatial exchanges as they occur every two measures beginning from measure 106, of Excerpt 10, through to measure 122, at which point the bass voices enter. The blackened diamonds indicate the vocalists actively singing at that point in the score. Evolving spatial structures like this exist for all the scores in this portfolio. The following diagram is an indication of the structural control that may be exerted over composed space.
Diagram 4: Nothing Something - A Dynamic use of Space
The sequence of spatial configurations displayed above is designed to convey aspects of symmetry, while enjoying the greatest amount of variation. Just as spatial displacement acts to increase compositional contrast, spatial stasis can act to increase compositional coherence. At times in Nothing Something, I have used spatial stasis to moderate compositional contrast occurring in other aspects of the music. This is true of Tableau E, which contains a high degree of contrast in its rhythmic and harmonic content. Firstly, the metre is irregular and changes every second or third measure. Next, the vocal texture is rhythmically active and vertically dense, containing three and four parts. Finally, the pervading harmony passes through a lengthy sequence of harmonic modulations, which occur every two measures, and display very little repetition. Proceeding thus:
[(A Lydian, G Lydian, E Mixolydian, F Lydian) (D Ionian, C Ionian, G Ionian, A Lydian)]
In the following excerpt, the first two measures take place in E Mixolydian; this modulates to F Lydian in the last measure of 4/4. Many steps have been taken in the composition of this section to balance the vertical severity of this passage. Counterpoint has been introduced to add rhythmic flexibility to the blocks of harmony It is the alto voices here that are delayed by one beat, resolving to an ‘e’, the major third of the new vertical harmony. The independent rhythmic phrasing of this line and its anticipation of the shift in harmony help soften the point modulation. Where counterpoint is used, it always occurs in a wide stereo unison affording the line strength of clarity. Perhaps the most relevant agent of coherence, however, comes from the spatialization of the voices, which is unchanging except for the entrance and exit of the bass voices. The force of the stereo relationships between voices has a stabilising effect on the entire section. The placement of the voices at equidistant points around the audience insures a balanced sound and complete sonic envelopment.
Excerpt 11a: Nothing Something - Tableau E, page 47, measure 231 (all voices)
Aspects of the accompanying soundtrack are also designed to encourage horizontal movement in this section. A delayed shaker part is prevalent in the mix. There is also repeating sixteenth note melodic pattern played in celesta. These are both intended to encourage a sense of forward momentum and add flow. The melodic content of the celesta has also been treated spatially through the deconstruction and reassignment of its component motifs to the hard left and right channels of the stereo field. The interspersed silences created by this process result in a much more elastic and effervescent quality in the sound.
Excerpt 11b: Nothing Something - Tableau E, page 47, measure 231 (partial soundtrack)
There is an innate theatricality in the composition of chamber works like Sinsearach Cainteoir and Nothing Something that place them in a similar orbit as a work like Prometeo, the 1984 opera, by Italian composer Luigi Nono. The importance of the libretto in conceiving these works is the first point of alignment. This is enhanced by directives in the score, which call for vocalists to relocate to different positions in the hall throughout the performance. Although indications for lighting and set design do not appear in my scores, the lyrical content and musical style reveal a clear inclination towards theatrical adaptation, and I would encourage this interpretation. Unlike Prometeo, I do not make use of live processing in these scores, and their compositional language would not lend itself easily to this kind of treatment. The musical language of Prometeo is highly stylised, incorporating many held notes and periods of silence to take advantage of the live processing of voices. The piece is conceived for a concert hall with a reverberation time of 1.8 seconds. My own musical language is rhythmically complex and this use of technology would not be feasible. But, in terms of the importance placed on the libretto, the instrumental configuration of the ensembles, the use of solo and small ensemble performance and, in the case of Nothing Something and Sphèrós the incorporation of soundtrack, they share many resonances with Nono’s Tragedia dell' Ascolto.
A Discussion of Soundtrack
The scores of Sphèrós, composed for spatialized choir and soundtrack and Nothing Something, composed for spatialized vocal-octet and soundtrack are both augmented during performance with a studio-generated recording. The auditory content of the soundtracks is designed to be in perfect synch with the notation found in the scores. The most basic performance conditions will require two-channel amplification through quadraphonic speakers set up at four equidistant positions near the edges of the concert hall. If condition allow, the stereo soundtracks may be diffused using a multi-channel console into an array of speakers following the conventions of acousmatic concerts. The soundtracks are intended to be both a stabilising force and a source of enhanced ambience. They are designed to guide the vocalists through the more difficult harmonic and rhythmic changes of the scores, while providing an enriched auditory context for the spatialized voices. But there is also great deal of composition that has gone into the soundtracks, and they interact with the voices through musical aspects like counter melody and harmonic texture.
The soundtracks contain both instrumental and environmental sounds, but the perceptual boundaries between these elements are often blurred. The instrumental sounds are generated from live and midi sequenced performances using sample libraries and software synthesizers. Because they are notated, they could necessarily be arranged for live performance should the resources become available, but producing this material in a studio carries many advantages. The relative volume of the instruments, and their spectral content can be carefully controlled and balanced with the spatialized voices. The equalisation and processing of effects can be fine-tuned. Sounds that would disappear in traditional performance environments can be elevated to mythical proportions. New and acoustically impossible instrumental timbral amalgams can be created. The studio environment facilitates the enhanced integration of extra-musical material into the harmonic and rhythmic structures of the instruments. Also, by placing the instrumental sounds into the soundtrack during performance, this rhythmic, harmonic and timbral embellishment is achieved without disrupting the visual austerity of the voices.
Environmental or extra-musical sounds come from a variety of sources including: found-sounds, field-recordings, sound-libraries and the Internet. This material is layered, equalised and digitally edited, but it is not altered with the intention of disguising its origins. Indeed environmental sounds are programmatic, in the sense that they are intended to induce the audience into referencing external or alternative realities, and they often carry significant symbolic associations with the libretto of the piece.
There exist two very different approaches to the creation of acousmatic art that may be a convenient way to define my stylistic profile in this regard. They are not unique to composers and often individuals will travel along this continuum depending on the nature of the intended piece and the sounds and technologies involved in its creation. One approach is reductionist. It focuses on the minutiae of sound, taking tiny fragments and expanding them through digital processes. The composer Dennis Smalley uses the term ‘reduced sounds’ to describe this form of manipulation, by which the sound is detached from its surroundings to the point at which its source is no longer identifiable. It becomes a new entity, its old associations lost through temporal dislocation. Another composer, Simon Emmerson has a collection of metaphors to describe the extent to which the listener’s ear is focused. He calls these ‘soundframes’. We may adopt one of his terms to describe Smalley’s sonic reductionist approach as occurring in a ‘microframe’.
There is another way to re-contextualise sound. This is an earlier approach that began with experimentations using tape, like those by French composer Pierre Shaffer. Here, identifiable sounds are unleashed from their rational associations through a recombining of disparate sonic events. They behave eccentrically, and the listener’s common associations are unhinged through their immersion into this new sonic reality. John Cage uses this approach in his tape piece aptly entitled Imaginary Landscape 4. In the piece, multiple disjunctive realities occur simultaneously. A complex web of sound effects and mechanical sounds swirl around the composer who speaks in a sequence of amusing nonsequiturs. This has a similar disorientating effect as the reduction of reality, but it is accomplishes it through additive processes. Emmerson’s language may once again be used to describe this approach; it is a kind of ‘superframe’. My soundtracks would tend towards a ‘superframe’ approach. They embrace multiplicity; many kinds of sound phenomena are allowed to cohabit the soundspace simultaneously. The auditory imagery is most often allowed its recognition as it coalesces with the instrumental material. These two elements, instruments and environmental sounds, dialogue throughout the piece, one informing the other. In Cage’s imaginary landscape, it is the voice of the composer that becomes the instrument of focus, the lens through which his disparate collection of sounds is experienced. The voices in my works serve a similar purpose, they are the means by which the listener transects the sonic landscape; they are the guide and interpreter.
Designing a Soundtrack
The libretto for Sphèrós is drawn from fragments of a treatise written by Empedocles of Agrigentum, a pre-Socratic philosopher and mystic living Sicily during the 5th Century BCE, who wrote extensively on the natural world. In reference to my chosen text, the soundtrack contains field-recordings of the water table during different stages of its natural cycle: falling rain, flowing rivers and rolling waves. Water is used to symbolize the strong cultural associations the Ancient Greeks carried with the sea, as a primary source of food, transportation and commerce and as a basic element in their understanding of the creation of life. The natural cycle of water, from rainfall to river to sea is used to echo the complete cycle of ‘enduring change’ proposed by Empedocles in his poetic treatise ‘On Nature’ and as expressed in the concept of an eternal and abiding ‘sphere’. These ambient sound textures are punctuated with the sounds of seabirds like seagulls, cormorants and sandpipers. Digital effects like delay and chorus are use to lend the birds an otherworldly quality, but are not intended to obscure their identity, which would diminish their symbolic connection with the text. The environmental sounds found in the soundtrack for Sphèrós are chosen in an effort to bring the natural world of the Ancient Greeks into the contemporary concert hall.
The rhythmic element of the soundtrack interacts with the voices in two ways. First, it provides a firm metric foundation for the syncopated polyphony of the vocal textures: in Tableau B, the long sustained passages of the vocal score are decisively underpinned by the accented beats of the soundtrack’s percussion. It also uses timbre to embellish the sound canvas at key moments in the piece: in Tableau E the sound of a thumb being rubbed across a drumhead infuses the music with a ghostly presence. Percussion sounds have been chosen for their clarity and transparency. Cymbals, gongs and skins have been tuned to a core pitch collection of C, Bb, G and F to encourage a symbiotic relationship between voices and percussion.
The harmonic element of the soundtrack also carries functional and ornamental aspects. Often it plays a supporting role, infusing the harmonic content of the vocal score with added resonance: in Tableau B, the low drone in the soundtrack serves as a fundamental, grounding the harmonic progression and providing the relative pitch axis upon which the modal shifts of the vocal score are filtered. At other times, new harmonic material is introduced: at the beginning of Tableau D, during a break in the vocal line, two momentary cadences in Ab and Bb are played, a brief harmonic lapse that moves in retrograde to the subsequent vocal phrase. At the very beginning of Sphèrós, a descending melody in the soundtrack, made by layering piano, violin and flute sets the mood for the entire piece and builds anticipation for the vocal entrance. During Tableau A and G, the diverging tones of the soundtrack embellish the timbre of the voices, while reinforcing key notes in a crescendo of increasing harmonic density. At the end of the piece when the vocal material from Tableau A is recapitulated, a repeated descending bass-line passing through C to Bb to G to F is introduced. The Bass line imposes a harmonic and rhythmic structure onto the vocal texture, which was, in Tableau A, purely an amorphous harmonic expansion of voices.
These rhythmic and harmonic elements combine with the environmental sounds of the soundtrack to provide an enhanced setting for the spatialized voices of the choir, augmenting the sonic context of the concert hall, and expanding the entire frequency range of the piece. The placement of the sound speakers behind the choirs to the front and back of the hall is a key strategy in realising this effect. The choristers are able to react organically to the sounds emanating from the speakers; both performer and audience are enveloped in an expanded sonic environment. While enhancing the listening experience, the environmental sounds also act as a collection of auditory symbols, lending meaning to the themes presented by Empedocles of Agrigentum. By choosing sounds that can be identified, I hope to summon up memories and provoke visual imagery in the minds of the listening audience. The water sounds carry innate emotional adherences that support the intended underlying musical meaning. The fluid movement of the water is inherently destabilizing, summoning feelings of apprehension and awe. Environmental sounds carry the potential for innumerable emotional associations; it is hoped that they will guide the audience in their interpretation of the vocal score, ultimately leading them to a deeper appreciation of the mystical affirmations contained in Empedocles’ original text.
In this chapter, we have discussed some of my motivations for the introduction of spatial considerations, and the possibility of increasing the physiological investment of the concert listener through their immersion into a three-dimensional sound space. We have explored compositional techniques that have come out of notating spatial instruments like the deconstruction and reassignment of motivic structures between instruments and the creation of harmonic and rhythmic composites. We have discussed some of my works in relation to the works of other composers working in this idiom. We have described in specific terms some of the techniques used in composing Nothing Something, music for spatialized vocal-octet and soundtrack, including the use of multiple stereo axes, the twin concepts of contrast and coherence and the dynamic use of composed space. We have discussed purposes behind the use of a studio generated soundtrack and its instrumental and environmental elements. We have also explored the soundtrack for Sphèrós in greater detail, emphasizing the practical aspects of its design and its symbolic relationship to the libretto. Much of this material will be investigated further in the following chapter from the perspective of the form, structure and the organization of musical content.