Parametric Nourishment of Our Creative Process (Part 2)
In addition to higher-level considerations such as the precedent-based and semantically-related factors put into play in our pieces, our individual and collective focus regularly shifts to the ‘bread-and-butter’ elements of concern to all composers, regardless of idiom.
Spectrum, for example—the fixed or evolving timbral qualities of the sounds we use and design—is a powerful attractor of compositional attention. Whether connected with the decisions taken when tracking (microphone-recording) and subsequently manipulating complex ambiences or specific sounds for potential inclusion in a timeline, or the purposeful shaping of electronically-generated sources for similar purposes, spectral considerations are routinely front-and-center.
Where the various elements in our pieces fall on the pitch-noise continuum is another factor we regularly take into account. Stable pitches such as those produced by musical instruments are at one end of a virtually infinite range of possibilities, while saturated noises (wind, waterfalls) that contain no trace of perceivable pitch are at the other. In between is a fascinatingly vast array of sonic colours running the gamut from unstable pitches (e.g. birdsong and human speech), inharmonic timbres (large bells, percussion, et al.), and a multitude of hybrids. Many sounds in this continuum carry strong precedent or semantic charges, so creative decision-making is often intricate in this area.
Even as seemingly simple a factor as amplitude can draw on considerable energy creatively, the dynamic rises and falls of different gestures and the dynamic shaping of various textures routinely coming into consideration in our compositional efforts.
All composers, whether electroacoustic or conventional-musical, think a lot about structure, and our group is no exception. But we make a distinction between, on the one hand, more traditional macrostructure (the medium- and longer-term repetition of compositional material over a timeline), and the shorter-term, moment-by-moment ‘flavouring’ of the temporal unfolding of a piece (generally falling into the category of rhythm in pitch-metric-based traditional systems, and which we conceive of as micro-structure) on on the other hand. Both are fascinating and powerful dimensions of any composition, and both regularly act as focus-magnets for creative attention.
Similarly, texture—the management of sonic elements with anticipated listener perception in mind—is a virtually universal preoccupation among composers. What is certain or likely to assume the foreground at various points in a timeline, what stands to be relegated to the background at those same points, or what might fall somewhere in between—in the intermediate zones of the perceptual middle-ground—is essential to how an entire piece lands with an audience. We call this set of factors perceptual hierarchy, and much effort is given to it individually and collectively in our work.
Finally, the spatial parameter is a preoccupation more unique to the electroacoustic idiom, and we engage with its various considerations on a routine basis. Whether the focus is on spatial depth (how close or distant a sound object or layer is placed in the mix) or on channelization (the fixed location or movement of different elements within the stereo or surround fields), much experimentation with a multitude of options around spatialization happens on a routine basis.