Parametric Nourishment of Our Creative Process (Part 1)
When ideas are flowing freely and our individual and collective intuition is leading us in all the right directions, there is usually little incentive for us to open up the analytical toolkit and figure out what the best options might be for moving a timeline forward or resolving certain compositional issues. But more often than not, doing a parametric breakdown enriches and energizes the creative process just when it’s most needed.
Frequently, what we call the semantic parameter plays a central role in such instances. This refers to what comes into play when any factor or element in a composition potentially or actually provokes or inspires imagery, associations or anything else rising to the level of conceptual thought. Something as basic as a title can, and regularly does, profoundly affect the listener’s experience, establishing an influential frame within which their perception of the piece settles. “Blood and Breath: the Virus Moves” is a case in point, its inclusion of one of the most triggering words known to contemporary humanity being an obvious button-pusher (at least potentially so) for many people. Of course any spoken-word or sung content in a composition will have a similar effect, as will any number of elements carrying the potential to spark cognitive mental activity. “Blood and Breath: the Virus Moves” abounds in such elements. From the earliest moments in the timeline, the sounds of vocal and other human activity are in evidence, provoking a wide variety of semantically-based responses in tandem with the title, many of them more or less automatic. Elsewhere there are field recordings in which running water and other recognizable sources are heard, causing pictures to form in many listeners’ minds. Add to these the connected videos and texts made available on the Trajectories website, and you have a fairly robust semantic dimension of the work that is as much a part of it as the actual sounds in the composition itself.
Beyond the powerful conceptual dimension, another highly-impactful parameter that comes into play very early in the piece is based on the notion of precedence. A clear example of this parameter’s effect can be heard around the one-minute mark, when sung vocals first emerge. There is no textual content; all of the notes are sung on syllables without overt semantic meaning. But they are far from neutral; the mere fact that human voices are singing is enough to attract the attention of most listeners, and it’s interesting to reflect on why. For one thing, everybody without exception carries into virtually all listening experiences a type of bank of sonic references, a collection of prior perceptual moments when various sounds made enough of an impression on them to lodge in their brains and stay there going forward. When we hear those voices come in, they tap into the residue of every time we’ve heard singing voices—in choirs, in smaller ensembles, in performance, among friends. This is our precedent bank at work, and the precedent parameter in composition—the intentional use of materials and techniques designed to activate experience-based associations in audiences—is among the most effective, in our experience. Elsewhere in the piece, familiar sounds have a similar effect—children playing, water running—and a place is made in the piece for the listener through this familiarity, you might say.
Given our collective objective of engaging fully as artists with the extraordinary times we’re living in, connecting with audiences in as many ways as possible has always been a major priority, and use of the semantic and precedent parameters has played a crucial role in our efforts to make those connections as vibrant and visceral as possible.