Dissecting Operations in Spatial Compositions is an overview of Coppice’s spatial composition strategies since 2009, including recorded compositions, installations, performed installations, live repertoire, whose modes of composition relate to spaces, whether actual, simulated, or both.
This presentation is an annex to the audio paper Stewardship to Obsolescence and Preservation: Listening to Specimen Music through Yerkes Observatory’s Refractor and Reflector Telescopes, published by Seismograf in Spring 2021. It is also an introduction to a spatiotemporal focus that is expanded upon in Lightyears: Exploded/Collapsed Auditions for Test Audiences and Technics (2022).
Slides upon request. Tran/script:
[SLIDE 1 – BLANK]
[SLIDE 2 – TITLE]
We will be talking about recorded compositions, installations, performed installations, live repertoire, and how all of those modes of composition relate to spaces, whether actual, simulated, or both.
[SLIDE 3 – CHION]
We would like to frame this presentation of Coppice’s strategies of spatial composition in terms of some remarks made by film sound Michel Chion, about why sound is difficult to treat like an object, in part “[b]ecause sound is hard to isolate in time and in space—in the perceptual continuum.”1 He expands on this in his book Sound, stating:
[T]he identification of cohesive units [of sound] is difficult. Many sonic events link up, mask each other, or overlap in time and space in such a way that carving them out perceptually in order to study them separately, collectively, or in combinations of elements is difficult.2
He breaks this down into two difficulties, first of temporal segmentation:
[in] arts that make use of sound editing— there is no equivalent for the notion of the [cinematic] shot, that is, the principle of a cohesive unit that is easy to spot in “all- or- nothing” terms (and which is identified, in the case of animated films, as what is perceived between two breaks in visual continuity) […] For sound, we have no such unit of the sort […] In other words, the units for dividing up the sonic flux are relative to each listening system (musical, linguistic, and so on) and to its levels of articulation. These units cannot be transposed from one to the others.3
And also the difficulty of spatial isolation:
[There is the d]ifficulty of isolating in space a sound that one would like to study in relation to others that exist at the same time. It is impossible for us to “zoom in” on a sound when others resonate simultaneously with a similar force. […] [T]here is no sonic frame for sounds.4
[SLIDE 4 – VINCULUM]
Coppice has creatively approached these difficulties of temporal segmentation and spatial isolation of sound through various uses of sound technologies, which allow for these fantasies.
Vinculum is Coppice’s archive of sonic artifacts started in 2009. It collects different perspectives of air and edges of a shruti box (a small bellowed organ), tubes, funnels, and pressure cuffs. Sounds were recorded and reduced to highlight some aspects at the expense of others, for example some recordings of a shruti box vary as to capture the sound of the air feeder, located in the back of the instrument, and others focus on air leaks found in the front, or creaking on the sides.
Vinculum collects disturbances of air as captured by composed microphone techniques. Recordings from the archive were collected in various handmade editions, as you can see here – in hand-embroidered pouches, and a special edition wooden box. The recordings from this collection became resource for a series of “performed installations” that study the relationships between audio and audience in spaces. These performances presented these aspect highlights of objects (technological transformations) reconfigured in space.
[SLIDE 5 – VINCULUM (COURSES) – 2011-03-25 MUSIC WITH A VIEW]
For example, Vinculum (Courses) is an early work from 2011 that displays the process of what Chion calls “systematic acoustmatization.”5 The acousmatic describes a situation in which one hears a sound without seeing its cause. This performance displays the production of sounds with their causes in clear view, but then transforms those recorded sound electronically, thus presenting acousmatization.
This performance demonstrates the Vinculum archiving process as a live performance. The piece was performed on stage for a seated audience.
[SLIDE 6 – VINCULUM (COURSES) – SOURCES]
Sounds were produced using free reeds and a shruti box with plastic tubing. Those sounds were recorded, then sequentially manipulated electronically, then juxtaposed with a live accordion passage that alluded to both direct and reproduced sounds.
This graphic shows how the reed instruments were captured by microphones to undergo various electronic processes on a laptop, which was also used to scatter those sounds across 8 small loudspeakers in wooden filters. The audience of this piece then, listened to sounds occurring directly on the source objects, in the points in space where those objects where located, and then the gradual transformation of those sounds as they were repositioned and moved in space between each of the loudspeakers.
[SLIDE 7 – VINCULUM (COURSES) – RELEASE]
The published recording of this live work is heard from the perspective of the microphones on stage, and excludes any sense of spatial acoustics from the music venue where the piece was recorded. The 8 speakers that were exploded out on stage, then, are heard collapsed in the stereo image.
Courses is similar in structure to…
[SLIDE 8 – COPSE – 2010-09-30 SPARK FESTIVAL]
…Copse from 2010, in that it also juxtaposes the sounds of live instruments with their systematic acousmatization in real time. 8 loudspeakers, this time without wooden filters, were placed in a decentralized arrangement that was able to be intersected by an audience.
[SLIDE 9 – COPSE – SOURCES]
In contrast to Courses, the electronic processes in this piece were performed mechanically using a Modified Boombox, which is characterized by delay and controlled feedback. Coppice’s custom Inductive Mixing Table was used to manually distribute sounds across the 8 loudspeakers. The table picks up signals from speakers and other magnetic sources and explodes them across loudspeakers in space.
[SLIDE 10 – THE PLEASANCE & THE PURCHASE AND HOLES/TRACK – RELEASES]
For the stereo iterations of this work, we also opted for strategizing the collapse of the spatial spread of the performances, excluding spatial acoustics, to only represent the instrumental content, up-close. These are found in various configurations in the works The Pleasance & The Purchase, and Holes/Tract. The benefit in excluding spatial acoustics in these works, for us, is to use the loudspeakers through which a listener may listen to these works, as sculptural elements that reproduce sonic texture in ways similar to how they sounded in installations. Lacking the performative spatial distribution, these recordings form other situations depending on the listener’s environment and choices.
These investigations into how spatial installations and stereo recordings are negotiated were further complicated with Vinculum (Coincidence).
[SLIDE 11 – COINCIDENCE – 2011-02 MCA]
Vinculum (Coincidence) is a performed installation from 2011, which took place in a large museum space filled with work that is interactive. Museum visitors would wander in that space, entering, touching, stepping on, and sitting on works of art, as we also wandered with accordions strapped on.
[SLIDE 12 – COINCIDENCE – SOURCES]
So unlike other works, in this one it was us and the audience that were all in motion. Four stationary loudspeakers played randomized selections from the Vinculum archive, much of which was perceptually identical to our live accordion performances at the same time. Juxtaposing live and reproduced sounds, but at the exclusion of any live manipulation, this work brought to the fore the perceptual illusions between liveness and reproduction, and the difficulty in localizing sounds in a large space.
[SLIDE 13 – COINCIDENCE – 2011-04-30 NEXT]
Several other iterations of the piece were performed in much more crowded spaces, where we could move toward or away from listeners.
[SLIDE 14 – COINCIDENCE – 2011-01-29 NEW CAPITAL]
In yet another live iteration we performed together and apart in a space of two levels, thus extending auditory perception vertically and not only horizontally.
[SLIDE 15 – COINCIDENCE – RELEASE]
In producing a stereo recording of this work, we again decided to exclude spatial acoustics, and present only the sounds. What was originally meant to be perceived spatially became collapsed and static. In a way, this integrally changes the work, although the statement in this gesture is to transpose ideas to another medium, rather than represent ideas for one medium through another. For example, the live performance is aleatoric, but the recording is fixed. The recording was indexed in such a way as to be played on random for the entire work to be broken up in ways that are not impossible in live performance.
[SLIDE 16 – TWO-POINT PERSPECTIVE]
As we developed a live repertoire that we could tour, we composed a series of works for stereo amplification. Stereo amplification got us thinking about the notion of perspective in auditory terms. Our stereo recordings already represented our instruments in sculptural ways, for example the back and front of the shruti box corresponds with the left and right of the stereo image, and the left and right of the Modified Boombox correspond to the left and right of the stereo image as well. These arrangements are some that we continued exploring in live performances.
Visually speaking, two-point perspective refers to an object’s reference to two vanishing points. This may be equivalent, auditorily speaking, to our duo configuration in stereo, which presents both of our instruments, overlapped, as if each loudspeaker were a vanishing point, giving dimension to each object.
Understanding this, at least in a speculative way, brings us to how our performances in certain acoustically-special spaces may be represented in stereo recordings.
[SLIDE 17 – BOND CHAPEL]
For example, our staged performance at the Bond Chapel in Chicago, was captured from multiple points in space, represented here by the red dots across the space. In post-production, we combined those multiple points in space to make a stereo recording of the performance that isn’t a single-point documentation, but a dynamic composition that slides across perspectives. While the recording is by its very nature, fixed, it is the auditory perspective, as increasing depth, that changes as the music progresses. From the closest point to the instruments, to the farthest point from them in the chapel.
[SLIDE 18 – BOND CHAPEL, SOURCES, AND RELEASE]
So the doubled two-point perspective of the instruments (stereo) is heard directly in the recordings, but also from various other stereo perspectives in different points in space. This is heard most clearly in track three of the album Spans, where spatial acoustics become more prominent, giving the impression of receding from the stage and up to the rear balconies.
[SLIDE 19 – COMPOUND FORM]
We have also recorded live performances using our first strategy of excluding spatial characteristics. Compound Form is an example of this, where the entire performance is heard from the perspectives of the instruments only, and not of the performance space.
But regarding the speculation of acoustic perspective and vanishing points… while considering Chion’s remark that “there is no sonic frame for sounds”…
[SLIDE 20 – MARSHALL MCLUHAN]
Marshall McLuhan writes, “Auditory space has no boundaries in the visual sense. The distance a sound can be heard is dictated more by its intensity than by the capacity of the ear. We might compare this to look-ing at a star, where visual sensation, transcending the vanishing point, is achieved, but at the sacrifice of the precise framework we call visual space. There is nothing in auditory space corresponding to the vanishing point in visual perspective.”6
To this he adds, “Auditory space has no point of favored focus. It’s a sphere without fixed boundaries, space made by the thing itself, not space containing the thing. It is not pictorial space, boxed in, but dynamic, always in flux, creating its own dimensions moment by moment. It has no fixed boundaries; it is indifferent to background. The eye focuses, pinpoints, abstracts, locating each object in physical space, against a background; the ear, however, favors sound from any direction.”7
[SLIDE 21 – SOFT CROWN – SOURCES]
So let’s consider how Soft Crown was composed. At the bottom of this scheme we see a Estey Folding Pump Organ from the 1930s. Our instruments had previously been captured using primarily two microphones, a stereo pair… two ‘vanishing points’ (if you will)… this time we chose to pin-point 10 locations inside and around the organ to capture a richer sound. These 10 points were individually controlled using our custom Estey Expander Module, and fed to electronic processes where they were mixed. While this created a sonically-richer composition, it still was listened to through stereo. Considering the multiple perspectives that our microphones captured, we devised a way to make those layers audible by choice.
[SLIDE 21.2 – SOFT CROWN – SOURCES AND RELEASES]
So this composition, Soft Crown, was available in fixed form, and in navigable form. The fixed form is a regular file, that you play and then stops. The navigable form titled Soft Crown Transparencies is a piece of software, an app, that you run of your computer. As the piece plays, the listener uses the up and down arrows on the keyboard to navigate through different layers of sound at the exclusion of others. All of this occurs in real time, and the composition keeps moving forward as the listener changes their auditory perspective from layers of tape to different points inside the organ. So it is interactive in the sense that the point of audition toward effects changes, but not the course of the composition itself.
[SLIDE 22 – SOFT CROWN TRANSPARENCIES]
The instructions for listening to the piece are simple: “Soft Crown Transparencies is a composition fixed in time, its layers are navigable; alter your vantage point using up & down arrows; toggle full screen mode with ESC key, press spacebar to begin.”
[SLIDE 22.2 – SOFT CROWN TRANSPARENCIES]
This welcome screen leads to the beginning of the piece, heard against a gray color that represents the middle vertical point of the navigation system. Pressing the up arrow slowly shades into yellow, and pressing the down arrow shades into gray, then black. The red spot represents movement through those colors, layers, or ‘transparencies’ of sound. None of these transparencies are indicated anywhere, so the listener only has their ears to be guided through the various textures and densities that they prefer to hone in on or move away from.
Now that we are talking about spatial composition in relation to media, we can touch on another example…
[SLIDE 23 – BYPASS]
Bypass is a composition for heavily amplified prepared pump organ and tape processes. This was the first piece we composed to perform at the exclusion of signal processing, so we could boost the amplification without worrying about feedback issues in space.
For its publication as a cassette tape, we placed each instrumental part on a respective side of the tape, so they were listened to in isolation. The tape, then, does not represent the performance itself, but an idealized experience of parts, each standing alone.
[SLIDE 24 – PERSPECTIVE]
So this transformation of a composition from performance to fixed media represents, again, a speculation of auditory vanishing points: a double two-point perspective performance (made up of two instruments sounding together), and a cassette tape isolating those instruments and presenting them separate from each other, as a kind of one-point perspective of them.
[SLIDE 25 – XYZ]
XYZ also explored this two-sidedness of cassette tape compositionally, by putting what we describe as ‘mirror images’ or ‘different sides’ of songs on each side. Dense Day Cooling on side A, for example, is a fully produced song, while its counterpart on side B strips away much of the production and leaves only certain sonic traces. Fake Memories Object on side B is a fully produced song, while its counterpart on side A is a reduced version that is more stripped down. The idea is for the listener to engage with the tape and the songs sculpturally, as if they were turning an object, literally, hearing a song sideways or from behind, and also to ‘head on.’ It’s not just the cassette tape that is turned, but also the songs.
[SLIDE 26 – GREEN FLAME]
Switching gears a little bit, we can also talk about a way in which spatial composition has occurred more in terms of a work’s themes, in addition to its structure.
[SLIDE 27 – GREEN FLAME – RELEASE]
Green Flame is a work for physical modeling and modeling syntheses, in three parts. We were interested in composing a music that evoked a sense of place, journeying, and of film narrative or action, but without discernible characters. Spatially, the work begins in a exterior scene, marked by a field recording of an urban setting. The work ends with an interior scene, or a clearly indoor situation that uses the same techniques from Spans, of gliding across space in proximity to and distance from instruments. The central part of the work is an in-between space that is more an imaginary or dream space. Its sounds are almost exclusively made up of electronic synthesis, but it also includes some simulated spaces, such as a car interior. The concept of this album is that of a self-driving car navigating various landscapes and temperatures (cold and hot), its windshield being a kind of cinematic screen that nobody watches. In a way, the listener is the character of the story.
[SLIDE 28 – GREEN FLAME – RELEASE]
These are samples of the artwork for Green Flame, the image on the right is a glass vessel that represents the journey of the music, in one end out the other… and the question of whether this music is reversible. Two songs in this work are variations of one another. On the left is a map that shows where Green Flame was recorded in Chicago, so also representing a wish to indicate spatial markers in regard to composition. Around the time of producing Green Flame…
[SLIDE 29 – TURNING CONCERT]
…ideas of inversions, turning, and reversibility were explored more fully in a larger space, a 5,000 square foot building, Silent Funny in Chicago. This space was divided into two near equal sections with two openings between them. One opening was left for audience flow, and the other we performed in-between, as seen in this picture. Multiple speakers were placed in a decentralized manner throughout both spaces, evading any auditory sweet spot. The audience was invited to wander throughout the space and switch seats as they desired.
[SLIDE 30 – TURNING CONCERT WITH LOU MALLOZZI]
We also performed a collaboration with sound artist Lou Mallozzi, who sat between one of the openings wearing headphone-mounted metal tubes. Coppice performed sounds into his ears through the tubes, as he then improvised vocal sounds into two microphones in response to what he heard. Each of his two microphones were heard in each of the two rooms, creating a large scale stereo split that was architectural.
[SLIDE 31 — TURNING CONCERT WITH LOU MALLOZZI]
Here are two more images that show the length of the tubes hooked on to Lou’s headset. Each tube about 20 feet long. A second improvisation with Lou used two microphones in and around his mouth, nose, ears, and overall face, to create controlled feedback in the bifurcated architecture. Here is an excerpt…
[SLIDE 32 – TURNING CONCERT WITH LOU MALLOZZI (VIDEO)]
So here we have spatial composition taking place not only across a large footprint, but also small facial areas, Lou Mallozzi himself becoming an instrument, and rendering the architectural space as an instrument as well.
[SLIDE 33 – PIED SCORE]
There are many other examples we could touch on, including the compositional scheme for Pied, a work for tape that punches in through multiple layers of sound effects to reveal multiple generations of tape. This particular attempt may be likened to Chion’s remark earlier, of the impossibility to cut through sound. Throughout many different projects, Coppice has investigated how live and recorded sound are experienced, and how sound recording and reproduction technologies, whether pre-existing or custom-made, provide the illusion of cross-sectioning the auditory dimension as an act of experimental music.
[SLIDE 34 – SPATIAL COMPOSITION]
Seen ‘at a distance’ spatial composition in Coppice can be identified in the larger patterns of work across work phases. For example the production trajectories between the first two phases mirror each other in how they begin with impromptu compositions from minimalist pairings of instrumentation performed live. These beginnings define the core of a sonic palette that is to evolve over time through an accretion of instrumentation, effects, and techniques developed in live performances and installations, integrated and culminating in elaborate studio recordings.
Our offering to a listener, we could say, is a variety of music experiments that can be specifically located in a broader creative process that is cross-referential as it is self-reflexive. By music we mean not only musical abstractions, but concepts of how sound recording and reproduction technologies also function as instruments, and how instruments more generally can be conceived of… prepared, modified, created from scratch, or more conceptualized as in the case of Lou Mallozzi: amplification, and architecture.
[SLIDE 35 – STEWARDSHIP]
What Coppice ultimately does, or what it does today in conclusion of its third phase, is to make music enfolding its own repertoire. As such, it represents a playing of time, as its different palettes are correlated from the perspectives of another into a new simultaneous whole. The listening of it represents a kind of abridged listening that jumps around in time, and across bits and pieces of interactions and processes in shortened, excerpted, or extracted forms. Metaphorically, this may be likened to the observation of constellations, or particular celestial bodies or events that are never conclusive or final, but that at a given time may be observed in specific configurations.
This is the premise of the audio paper Stewardship to Obsolescence and Preservation.
[SLIDE 36 – DRAW AGREEMENT]
Which leads us to the spatiotemporal display of Coppice between 2009-2022 in Draw Agreement.
[SLIDE 37 – DRAW AGREEMENT TRIPTYCH]
Draw Agreement represents a process of encapsulating the first three of Coppice’s studies, into a 3CD collection. The first collects abridgments of each study, the second places the first two abridgments in simulates spaces (specifically in the Yerkes Observatory), and the third diffuses the third abridgment across a 16-channel sound installation, presented as a binaural capture.
To read about the Draw Agreement production process of nesting times and spaces, read Lightyears: Exploded/Collapsed Auditions for Test Audiences and Technics.
1 Chion, Sound, 200.
4 Ibid., 200-1.
5 Ibid., 134.
6 McLuhan and Carpenter, “Acoustic Space,” 67.
7 Ibid., 67-8.