Immersion and Emergence
When one becomes deeply immersed in the creative process, aspects often begin to manifest in quite an unexpected manner. These manifestations are the result of a phenomenon we commonly term Emergence. In general, Emergence might be described as the effect of the outputs being greater than the sum of the inputs. Something happens… something beyond what one would expect the combination of algorithms we set in motion should be able to produce. The ghost in the machine, as it were, emerges. Similar to way that workers in the diamond mines are looking for that faint glimmer in the dark fissures between the rocks, I am a miner for these emergent properties. For me, they are the basis of every creative endeavor. I am constantly looking for that speck of light that will ultimately unfold into a creative expression and I am constantly creating conditions conducive to the occurrence of them.
In his book, The Poetics of Music, Igor Stravinsky states “As for myself, I experience a sort of terror when, at the moment of setting to work and finding myself before the infinitude of possibilities that present themselves, I have the feeling that everything is permissible to me. If everything is permissible to me, the best and the worst; if nothing offers me any resistance, then any effort is inconceivable, and I cannot use anything as a basis, and consequently every undertaking becomes futile.” A few paragraphs later he goes on to say “… my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.” Sounds a bit like something Houdini might have said…
As a composer, never have I found myself more constrained than when working on sonification projects. The rules I set forth are simple and yet stringent; First, I must remain true to the data that I am attempting to sonify, or what is the point? And second, I must create a musically satisfying result from the sonification. Inevitably, these two simple objectives are from their inception at odds and yet at the same time they offer the most seductive creative enticement due to the extremely constraining and therefore extremely freeing nature of the endeavor. This typifies the very powerful and yet paradoxical nature of the phenomenon that Stravinsky was so eloquently referring to.
There are several types of sonification, each of which is an aspect of auditory display. For the purposes of this paper I will use the term sonification as being synonymous with Parameter Mapping Sonification, which consists of obtaining acoustic attributes of events by a mapping from data attribute values. (Hermann, Hunt, Neuhoff, 2011) The rendering and playback of the data items yields the sonification.
Sonification is often thought of as a scientific approach that implies accurately representing data using sound in a way that portrays its source. For me, however, it means the data is intended to be the basis for a musical composition. As such, it is one of the several approaches to score synthesis that I have implemented over the years. The primary goal is to create a very “musical” piece through an interpretation of the data. The premise being that the organization and form engendered by the stream of data will be innately interesting to the listener, if only subconsciously, due to its uniquely organized structure, thus providing a formal framework. It is a secondary goal to represent the data as a reflection of its source.