Sonic Cartography

- a new template for music making

Sonic Cartography" is a series of audio scores that grapple with concepts of isolation and trauma. Clepsydra is the second in this series of open instrumentation audio score compositions.

As a painter I often think of myself as creating topographical representations of a given moment. I transmit these sensations into the canvas through applying thick paint to linen canvas. These patterns are like frozen ripples in the water showing shockwaves that emanate from our feet hitting the ground, a sonic boom that is emitted by the movement of a second hand, and the ripples of a single word as it tears through the air. This sound could also be a human voice, traveling through the air striking another person's ear drum which then elicits a response that may or may not be perceivable by the other party. Frozen in gesso, these ripples cease to be tied to their original point of origin and become a shared exploration of space and movement.

My experiments in "Sonic Cartography" are an attempt to recreate this sensation of emotional map building. Works like “Clepsydra” use audio scores, wherein performers listen to audio cues and respond in real time creating a more spontaneous and intimate means of creating music. These performers create multi layered solo compositions that recreate the sensation of larger ensemble pieces, something that has been compromised by the onset of COVID-19. These multi layered solo compositions are not a perfect recreation of the audio scores that they hear but are instead a unique and individual translation of a series of musical objects.

This creates a unique challenge for the performer who, accustomed to the more restrictive interpretation of written notation must in turn establish and execute their own imitative parameters for performance. Not unlike scores that apply graphics in place of standard Western notation, this format of information transmission allows for greater performer autonomy in general. This applies to more advanced elements like the structure and imitative parameters but can also extend to more traditionally incontestable elements like instrumentation.

When selecting the instruments, the performer takes into account the dimensions of dynamics, effects used and timbre, as well as the idiomatic capabilities of the instruments available to them. Once the instruments are selected and the timbre has been as closely matched to each track as possible, the elements of effect and dynamic become the most important to imitate. For example, if a loud responsive multiphonic was not possible on the selected instrument at the pitches given in the track, a similarly responsive but differently pitched multiphonic was selected. In the words of Sarah Steranka, "so much of our training centers around the imitation or matching of pitch. This project demands more imagination and depth from the performer determining their own parameters for performance, as elements like texture, effect, and timbre taking precedence allows for a performance that more effectively imitates the resulting changes in texture of the score. This differs from graphic scores, so many of which reference pitch when introducing imitative elements. This project allows for greater performer autonomy and the freedom to focus on more interesting and often neglected dimensions."

In works like  "Clepsydra", a third element of improvised dance created by Christopher J. Staley was added to the tapestry through use of “The Viewpoints” work developed by Mary Overlie and picked up by other post-modern choreographers/directors like Anne Bogart. The dancer responds to the audio track non-hierarchically, allowing for the live presence of the environs to impact and alter the pre-recorded soundscape. The dancer mimics the same creative process as the flutist and listens to the audio parts/score and interprets this sounds and reacts to them in real time.

The results are mixed and combined to create the final product: a video featuring improvised dance, an entirely new translation of the pre-existing composition that uses a preexisting fixed media track as a template for performance.