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TIAALS: A new generic set of tools for the interactive aural analysis of electroacoustic music

Clarke, Michael, Dufeu, Frédéric and Manning, Peter (2013) TIAALS: A new generic set of tools for the interactive aural analysis of electroacoustic music. In: Electroacoustic Music Studies Network EMS13, Electroacoustic Music in the Context of Interactive Approaches and Networks, 17th - 21st June 2013, Lisbon, Portugal. (Unpublished)

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This paper introduces and demonstrates TIAALS, a new set of generic software tools designed to facilitate an interactive aural approach to the analysis of electroacoustic music. TIAALS is beingdevelopedasoneelementofa30-month AHRC-funded project investigating the relationship between Technology and Creativity in Electroacoustic Music (TaCEM: research-centres/cerenem/tacemtechnologyandcreativityinelectroacousticmusic/). TaCEM will examine a series of Case Studies, specific works exemplifying different technical and compositional approaches, from contextual, technical and analytical perspectives. It builds on the previous experience of the project team in terms of historical / contextual study (Manning 2013), organology of computer music (Dufeu 2010) and electroacoustic analysis (Clarke 2012).

In recent years there have been an increasing number of important texts on the analysis of electroacoustic music. All have faced a common challenge, how to present analyses that exist primarily in sound, not on the page, in the form of written text and graphics. Interactive Aural Analysis (IAA) provides one approach to resolving these issues. It was first developed by Clarke for analyses of specific electroacoustic works, beginning with Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco in 2006, and later Denis Smalley’s WInd Chimes (2009) and Pierre Boulez’s Anthèmes 2 (forthcoming). The underlying principle is that analysis of such works, in which the musical development involves aspects that cannot be notated traditionally, complex textural transformations and subtle spectromorphological variations, is best undertaken and presented not solely by means of verbal and visual representations on the printed page but through the use of software permitting the analyst and the reader to engage with the musical materials interactively as sound. Technical exercises also form an important part of the IAA software, enabling readers to engage with the techniques used by the composer and discover their potential. Previously only limited attention has been paid to the possibility of modeling the techniques employed as part of analytical study, and using modern software emulation facilitates a better understanding of the technical and creative processes that have underpinned the composition process. In each analysis therefore a substantial written text accompanies software that enables the exploration of the sound world and of the techniques used to produce the music. (For more information on IAA and the earlier analyses see researchcentres/iaa// and for a fuller account of the ideas behind IAA see Clarke (2012)).

Within TaCEM, one important part of the project will be the making an IAA of each of the case studies. In preparation for this a set of generic software tools is being developed, both for use in the project and more widely by others. The tools are in many cases developed from those specifically produced for the earlier analyses but take advantage of significant new technical developments and are designed to be adaptable. Whereas with the previous IAAs the software was developed specifically for each work in question, the aim here is to create generic tools that can be of use with any piece of music as appropriate ( TIAALS does not, however, include the technical exercises which, by their very nature, are specific to the individual works and the techniques used to produce them). A Beta version of the software will be released in February 2013, this will then be refined and extended as it is trailed by members of the TaCEM team and by others.

TIAALS is being made freely available. All the tools are built in Max6. This is so that they can be fully integrated into the software we devise to accompany the presentations of our Case Studies for the TaCEM project. Being built in Max also means that the tools are easily adaptable to different contexts and extensible.

TIAALS: Tools for Interactive Aural Analysis

1. InteractiveSonogram

Sonograms are often employed in analyses of electroacoustic music. However, presented as fixed graphical representations on the printed page they often severely limited in what they can show (see Clarke 2012). TIAALS however makes use of a sonogram that is interactive and aural. It is a highly developed version of the similar tool used in the analysis of Wind Chimes. The user can draw regions on the graphic display and hear the sound of just this region. It is also possible to scrub, moving a cursor of variable frequency range at variable speed through the display and hearing the results. Regions that have been drawn onto the sonogram display can be grouped and these groups soloed or muted. These and other features of the Interactive Sonogram enable users to interact with the sonogram and explore the musical significance of the visual display. It provides a means of investigating the different components of complex textures or timbres by identifying elements in the overall texture and hearing them in isolation, and possibly in slow motion.

2. TheChartMaker

Analysis is more than simply a matter of description: it is about making connections between musical ideas and showing the evolution of musical material, sometimes across long time spans. Traditionally in analysis of acoustic music such relationships are often presented using charts, often employing musical notation. Since musical notation and other forms of graphical representation are often of limited use in electroacoustic music (see Clarke 2012), TIAALS offers a means of creating aural charts in software. This builds on the Interactive Sonogram. Regions that have been created using the Interactive Sonogram (by drawing time and frequency selections on the visual display) can be exported into a Palette. The Palette can then be used as the basis for making aural charts to demonstrate features of the music. Regions in the palette can be imported into a chart as a (labeled) button. Clicking on a button plays the region it represents (and regions in charts can be related back to their context in the work as a whole). Charts might for example be used to show the evolution of a particular type of sound or musical motif through the course of a work. Or they might be used to present a taxonomy of the sounds used in a work or a genealogical chart of the relationships between different sounds (see the Wind Chimes analysis for examples). Paradigmatic charts or other structural charts can be used to show the shape of the work. Which charts are most appropriate and how they are best presented is up to the analyst, TIAALS simply facilitates the creation of such charts, and the prioritization of aural experience and interaction with sound as the preferred means of communicating ideas about the music.

3. Pitch/FrequencyFinder

Despite the obviously greatly increased importance of timbral, textural and spatial components in much electroacoustic music, pitch continues to be a significant factor in the shaping of many works. This tool provides and aid to identifying significant pitch and frequency elements. Sections of a work can be analysed and data about the most prominent frequencies presented using both musical notation and numerical data. It is also possible to set up a pitch filter to help demonstrate the recurrence of key pitch components (e.g. harmonic fields) in the course of a passage.

4. SpatialDisplay
Spatial positioning of sound is a complex phenomenon and disaggregating a spatial mix is not an insignificant task. This task becomes even more complex in multichannel works. The spatial display tool in TIAALS does not claim to resolve all these complexities and needs to be used with intelligent reflection but it can provide some useful insights. The spatial display tool (developed from an idea by Sam Freeman for the Wind Chimes analysis) colour-codes each frequency bin in the sonogram analysis according to the amplitude balance between left and right channels. This can give some indication of the spatial distribution of sounds across the frequency range at each moment in the work.


TIAALS is a development from earlier Interactive Aural Analyses. As well as playing an important role in the TaCEM project, TIAALS provides a set of generic tools that can be used by any analyst seeking a means of working interactively with the sound of a piece in creating and presenting their analyses. IAA is not a method of automated analysis by computer (although we may build some automated options into later versions); it is primarily a set of tools for an analyst to use to help in their own interactive aural investigation of works and in the presentation of their findings. It is envisaged that TIAALS will be further refined and extended in response to our own needs in relation to the TaCEM project over the next two years and in response to feedback from other users.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
School of Music, Humanities and Media > CeReNeM
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Depositing User: Cherry Edmunds
Date Deposited: 01 Oct 2013 11:42
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 12:33


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