Clarke, Michael (2009) Extending Interactive Aural Analysis: Acousmatic Music. In: Electroacoustic Music Studies Network EMS 09: Heritage and Future, 22nd - 25th June 2009, Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Unpublished)

This paper describes a new stage in the development of an ‘interactive aural’ approach to the analysis of electroacoustic music. I originally developed Interactive Aural Analysis in studying Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco. The approach uses software to enable the listener to engage aurally with the structure of the work and with the processes and sound materials used in its composition. The interactive software includes, for example, an aural paradigmatic analysis of the work, opportunities aurally and interactively to investigate the sound materials used by the composer, and interactive exercises using accurate emulations of the techniques employed in the work. It provides a way of understanding our heritage more deeply and exploring what we might learn for the future.

Both the approach and the resulting analysis, comprising text and software (in Analytical Methods of Electroacoustic Music, ed. M. Simoni, Routledge, 2006), have been well received. My description of the approach can be found in the Proceedings of the 2005 International Computer Music Conference (pp. 85-8). This approach is now being extended to other works and the works chosen for analysis have been specifically selected to help broaden the scope of the interactive aural approach. Mortuos Plango takes recorded ‘musical’ sounds and analyses these sounds to obtain data which then forms the basis for the sound transformations and structure of the whole work. It is a highly successful work but this is not, of course, the only way to approach electroacoustic composition. The types of sound, the analytical approach to these sounds and the structural planning (in many ways reminiscent of Stockhausen) contrast strikingly with the approaches taken, for example, by composers in the acousmatic tradition in which the sounds used are often not traditionally ‘musical’ and the approach taken to these sounds is usually empirical and pragmatic rather than analytical, with the structure derived from spectromorphological principles. Developing an interactive aural analysis of such works therefore requires an expansion of interactive aural analysis conceptually and in terms of software tools. The analytical approach is also being further expanded in a different direction through the analysis of music combining live acoustic performance with real-time computer processing. This presentation however focuses on the issues raised and the solutions proposed in relation to an acousmatic work: Denis Smalley’s Wind Chimes.

The new features include the following: Printed sonograms are a feature of many analyses of electroacoustic music. Although they have uses in certain circumstances they do have significant limitations in terms of what they show and how they relate to aural experience (as I have discussed previously, for example in my presentation at EMS07). However, a sonogram that can be manipulated and heard in the context of interactive aural analysis software has many advantages over a purely visual, static printed sonogram. As part of this project an interactive aural sonogram is being incorporated into the MSP-based software accompanying the musical analysis. This allows the user to focus in on particular aspects of the sound, isolating time and frequency regions and comparing these with similar occurrences elsewhere in the work. Selected gestures or passages can also be saved and placed in interactive aural paradigmatic charts or genealogical trees to elucidate the structure of the work or the development of material. Software is also being developed (using analysis data in SDIF files) to examine and compare aspects of the spectromorphology of sounds.

This presentation will demonstrate some of the tools being developed and discuss more generally issues arising in the development of interactive aural analysis for acousmatic music.

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