2009 – Harvest Moon Lecture


Good Afternoon

First of all, thank you to Kevin Austin for inviting me to Concordia University and to you the students for being here.

I would like to give a brief explanation of the process involved in the composition you are about to hear, Cygnus Loop.

I am very interested in both physics and metaphysics. These interests direct my life as well as my compositional processes. The intellect and the intuition…. as it were…

Metaphysical – the Intuition
I have made a lifelong study and exercise of quieting myself. Not only stopping the internal dialog, the constant talking that goes on in our minds, that anchors us to time and space… but also a much deeper silence that is an awareness of a greater part of myself… greater than the everyday β€œme” that we normally identify with. This is present in each of us and is impossible to describe or understand with the intellect. At best we can allude to it. The reason I mention it here is because, if it is allowed to, this deeper aspect of who we are can be what drives the intellect… being infinitely more intelligent and infinitely more creative.

But today, I will talk briefly about that which we can understand and quantify… the intellectual side of things and more specifically physics.

Physical – The Intellect
What has physics… more specifically quantum physics… to do with music? As we all know, any physical object that we are able to perceive is a collection of small particles… molecules… that are made up of smaller particles… atoms… which are made up of smaller particles… a nucleus, electrons, protons and etc… which are then made up even smaller particles… quarks, gluons and etc….

An interesting fact is that is that just as when we look into the night sky and see countless heavenly bodies but immensely more empty space…. there is far more space between quantum particles than there are particles themselves… and many quantum physicists believe there is nothing solid anywhere and that ultimately if we could see the smallest particle that exists we would see that it is made up of nothing solid at all but is instead vibrating space…. and it is the frequency and amplitude… the waveform and other qualities of those vibrations that determine the way the particle acts… its attributes… and therefore how it contributes as a building block of a form we can perceive…

Many quantum physicists also feel that multiple dimensions of time and space exist simultaneous to the 4 dimensional world we now perceive, which are time and up/down, left/right and near/far. The question Einstein left us was of the unified field theory… how does the cosmological level relate to the quantum level? One possible answer to that question is String Theory. For string theory to work, however, it currently requires that there are at least 10 dimensions of time and space and likely many more will be required in the future…

So to bring all this into the realm of music, my compositional process involves taking any sound and breaking it down to very small particles… each that vibrate with their own frequency and amplitude and therefore waveform… and then building out from there with several layers of combinations of these particles until I have a sound object. The goal is to build sound objects that are highly unlikely to exist in nature if I did not create them. So the quantum structure is a logical paradigm for this work.

I use Csound as my main instrument. Csound is a programming language meant for musical composition. In addition I use Cmask, which is a quasi-random number generator for Csound scores. In this way I am able to use numerical relationships and therefore mathematics to compose my own universe of sonic combinations. The language of numbers is one of the best ways to describe the quantum as well as the cosmological universe… or as I like to call it the Mulitverse… a term coined by David Duetch a well known physicist, denoting a multidimensional universe.

Since this Harvest Moon event is intrinsically concerned with spatialization I would like to tell you generally about my approach to it, which I think of as a Non-linear Architecture of a multidimensional music.

Having long abandoned contemporary perspectives of musical thinking, I, for instance, think in terms of musical events instead of musical notes. These events are made up of the results of algorithms and occur in non-linear concurrency as opposed to linear composition where the composer determines each note or group of note in a sequence and from a very general perspective with regard to how the sound will be presented to the ear.

So picture a musical event as being a sphere. And as that sphere evolves sonically over its duration it moves around in this concert hall. That is a linear spatialization. Whenever a recording engineer is putting together a recording of a more traditional piece of music, he or she is thinking in terms of what space the song is taking place in. Is it in a concert hall, or a small pub, a cathedral… a dry room and etc. And then effects such as reverb, delay, compression and others are used to create auditory queues that are used to make the listener perceive the size and shape of this space.

Now let’s go back to the sphere… picture it now moving around in a box, the room it exists in, and picture this box moving around this concert hall. So the sphere is moving around in the box, which is the listening environment in which the event takes place and the box is moving around in this hall. Now picture a composition made up of hundreds of these boxes each moving within this hall. Each box is a different shape with a nearly infinite number of possible proportions… each of these is moving and interacting with other boxes that coincide with it in time and space and then fades off into the stratum. Thus the non-linear architecture that I am attempting to create with my work.

So simply put, each event takes place in its own uniquely shaped space, which intersects with other similar spaces.

This is an over simplified description of the approach but I think it will give you something to listen for as you hear the composition.

So I hope you enjoy listening to Cygnus Loop…

Thank you for listening.

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