Saturday, October 17, 2009

meaning inside and outside music

I've recently posted two versions of the work Reverse on my Pool page [Ed. now on Soundcloud, following the demise of Pool] , the one for flute and synthesizer which I linked to in my last blog, and now one for solo flute (with the player also vocalising a lot). Removing the synthesizer and adding vocalising and more varied articulatory and timbral techniques to the flute has finally enabled me to finish a solo flute piece I'm happy with. Whether Reverse for flute and synth and Reverse for solo flute are the same piece, or 'mean' the same thing is another question.

Years ago when I was researching a thesis on meaning in music I found that much of the substantial work on this question seemed to address meaning in music entirely through the social and visual framing, the occasions, clothes, gestures, record and poster art it was associated with, failing to talk directly about the music at all. Fascinating as these books were (one that springs to mind is Dick Hebdidge's 'Subculture: the meaning of style') I was frustrated by these authors' tendency to talk all around the music, leaving the actual sonic experience as an empty cipher or blank space in the middle.

At the same time, these readings did leave me with a fascination for the mutability of meanings produced when sounds and images (and their potentially divergent 'meanings') are juxtaposed. In this sense I'm interested in the way visual input, whether seeing musicians play, the look of a listening space, or the juxtaposition of music/audio with images and moving footage, affects the way we hear and interpret music. And I'm aware that some of my favourite experiences of live music can be extremely disappointing when recorded and reproduced through speakers or headphones.

Some of what is lost in the translation through microphones and into a stereo playback must be the sheer richness of sonic information that some really good live music creates: sounds moving round the room - vibrations in my body - wonderfully subtle variations in texture (overtones, surface frictions and articulations) enhanced by the interplay with the peculiar resonances of a particular live space.

But some of the loss is the loss of the visual - the theatre and detailed expressive information communicated by the movements needed to produce the music. 

With an audio recording of a performance this information is gone. What takes its place? Perhaps an abstract pleasure of the experience of pure sound removed from any social, visual or other framing. Or perhaps a sense of lack in the reduced field of experiences communicated by the audio ghost of an occasion. What do these ghosts of performances of my piece Reverse mean to you if you weren't there? And what affect does seeing the fragments of score below have on your experience of the sounds?

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