Babel Study is a piece inspired by the merciless insistence of loud noise, and by the insistence of the noise-scene that amplitude is the most important parameter in music. In a more historical persepctive, Babel Study springs from the aesthetics and compositional attitude found in much music from the 1950s and 60s, for example in Herbert Bruns musical works and compositional software Sawdust.
The sounds, the structure
The source material for the composition are simply noises and mechanical sounds. The noises have all been given different center frequencies according to a pre-determined pitch grid, and the mechanical noises have been created to have different rhythms. One of the source-sounds is also audible «as is» – in recognizable shape – from a welding machine. All sounds were developed through Max/MSP.
This piece is a study – an exploration of sound material and structures, without the development one would expect from a «full» piece. The sound material exemplifies types of processing and allows for different types of combination. The structuring of the explorations is extremely strict, from a compositional control of source timbre, processing and distriubution along the time-axis.
The artistic intention
Computer music has become quite full of conventions, and the search for the «beautiful sound object» is so prevalent that the genre in general has lost its critical quality. The conventional and smooth surfaces that cover most computer music mediate technical mastery of comprehensive toolboxes, but the focus on musical structure has been replaced by a focus on timbral flow and detail. The composers’ willingness to create art that moves outside of the domain of pleasant sounding works is close to non-existant, and concerts rarely provide questions to and reflections on the genre itself.
This provides fertile ground for a counter-reaction, currently through the more popular veins of electronica, and the darker noise-scene. The noise-scene relates to computer music similarly to punk rock’s attacks on the rock scene in the mid- and late 1970s. The musical development leading up to this can be traced through the popular and wide exploration of musical technology and the development of new genres in the last twenty years or so. Computer music on the other hand has become increasingly conventional and predictable during the same period. A humorous piece that commments on the conventions is Mark Appelbaum’s piece Pre-Composition, performed first at CCRMA’s summer concert in July 2002.
My personal sympathies lie with the punk-hit-computer-music-genre, and the artistic intent in this study is to find out whether conventional composition was at all possible with this type of noise material. If yes, the material itself could pose questions to the status quo of computer music, and if no, the studio work on the piece would have been a learning experience in itself.
The material did not suggest much on its own – it was not possible to listen to the material and find timbral suggestions for movement and development. The sounds did not suggest music or musical use at all. This discovery left me with structure as the only approach – in some ways like first making a shape and forcing it on a material, somewhat like cookie-cutting. And this brought me back to some of the early electronic music.
The music was produced for stereo and 5.1, in order to see the importance of diffusion in working with this type of material, and mastered on a stereo CD, a compressed 5.1 CD , a compressed 5.1 DVD and uncompressed 6 track ADAT.