School of Contemporary Music - Theses
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Maximum volume yields maximum results: loudness as a compositional device in extreme contemporary music
This paper seeks to explore the ways in which loudness is used as a compositional device throughout three different performances by artists Sunn O))), Merzbow and Cat Hope. Section one discusses the concept of loudness as both an acoustic phenomenon, that enhances affective experiences, and as a cultural signifier, in which affirms scene identities that base their music on the use of loudness. This section also examines the literature on the use of loudness in extreme contemporary music in particular. Section two consists of case studies which analyse recordings of recent live performances from Sunn O))), Merzbow and Cat Hope. These analyses via spectrographs discuss the compositional framework of the performances, the performance techniques used, and the technical production of the sound, in relation to the use of extreme volume.
The essence of performance on the acoustic drum kit: a study of feel
This practice-led research investigates and discusses the terms and applications of ‘feel’ and ‘time’ in acoustic drumming, and through various performance settings I break down and examine how these phenomena exist within my performance. Topics of this research include feel, time, groove, improvisation, pulse, liveness, and motif, all of which are looked at through the various effects they can have on performance. This dissertation includes both written and recorded documentation of my own performances, as well as drawing on sources of information such as music notation (transcriptions), sound waves, various publications, liner notes and experiential descriptions of each performance setting. The creative works presented in this research are made up of various recorded performances, which can be identified in the ‘List of Embedded Audio’. As sections of this dissertation are based on specific recordings, the relevant audio is also listed within the text. This should allow the reader to listen to each recorded performance before or after the relevant section is read. Each recorded work for this research is presented in an mp3 format.
Hurdy-gurdy: new articulations
The purpose of this thesis is to expand existing literature concerning the hurdy-gurdy as a contemporary musical instrument. Notably, it addresses the lack of hurdy-gurdy literature in the context of contemporary composition and performance. Research into this subject has been triggered by the author’s experience as a hurdy-gurdy performer and composer and the importance of investigating and documenting the hurdy-gurdy as an instrument capable of performing well outside the idioms of traditional music. This thesis consists of a collection of new works for hurdy-gurdy and investigation of existing literature including reference to the author’s personal experience as a hurdy-gurdy composer and performer. It will catalogue and systematically document a selection of hurdy-gurdy techniques and extended performance techniques, and demonstrate these within the practical context of new music compositions created by the author. This creative work and technique investigation and documentation is a valuable resource for those seeking deeper practical and academic understanding of the hurdy-gurdy within the context of contemporary music making.
The process of composing 1938: An Opera
In this thesis I will illuminate the process of composing music for the original music theatre work 1938: An Opera. This is a multilingual political satire based primarily on Australian historical events. I will focus on two main aspects of the work. Firstly, I will explicate the various stages of composition for songs in English. These stages include the phenomenology involved in creating musical ideas; the compositional approach; and the musical conceptualisation of dramatic narrative and development. Secondly, I will investigate the process of composing songs in languages other than English. This section will focus on songs in Cantonese and Yorta Yorta, an Australian Indigenous language. I will discuss my collaboration with translators and cultural and language mentors who helped me to overcome linguistic challenges, and increased my awareness of cultural subtleties arising from inclusion of languages I did not understand.
Aspects of place in new folk music
This practice-led research examines the notion of “place” within the context of new folk music and how the setting of a song can effectively drive, and respond to, social and environmental issues. Place is integral to my own practice as a singer-songwriter and investigating the underlying motivation behind my work has led to a broader analysis of place amongst practitioners and theorists across a diverse range of disciplines. I have chosen the genre of “new folk” to explore these theories, as it best captures the combination of techniques that are reflected in both my own songwriting and in the music of the songwriters that I analyse throughout the thesis. In the dissertation I explore three facets of place in songwriting – narrative place, virtual place, and natural place – to illuminate social themes around listener empathy, social connection and disconnection, replication and ecology. These concepts are discussed through the works of new folk songwriters, including Joanna Newsom, Scott Walker, Bill Callahan, Will Oldham, Laura Marling, and Midlake, who all engage closely with text, narrative and imagery to depict a compelling sense of place in their work. I construct linkages between place and songwriting through the lens of theorists and philosophers, including Thomas Gieryn, Tia DeNora, Jean Baudrillard, Roland Barthes, and Timothy Morton to understand how an aesthetic engagement with our surroundings impacts on our sense of social identity. To accompany the written component I present a creative folio, comprising nine original songs, that encapsulates these three notions of place, accompanied by an explication of process behind the creative output. This linked collection of songs illustrates some of the core concepts explored in the dissertation and contributes to a body of music that is concerned with place, connection and identity.
“In Passing”: a model for exploring space in ECM recordings
This research explores virtual spatial constructs in the recording process to illuminate the experience of improvising as the characteristics of spatial perception change. The inquiry is motivated by two research questions; a) does the experience of acoustic space shape the process of improvisation and; b) did the experience of acoustic space play a role in shaping the sound associated with the record label ECM?
Artistic identity: music and the mirror
This exegesis investigates the nature and construct of a musician’s Artistic Identity as it relates to the composer/performer construct arising in improvised music practice. As a Practice-led Research project the creation of significant musical works involving the creative processes of composition and improvisation were examined alongside a phenomenological investigation into the personal experience of Artistic Identity as realised through the author’s practice of music. Situated in the context of the ontology of being, the dialogue between the author’s reflexive engagement with her creative processes and creative output was at the core of this investigation. It was found that identity is a malleable construct that is open to reinvention and regeneration, a construct that is continually in the processes of becoming, propelled toward the future by ontological understanding of one’s self in relation to being-in–the-world. Yet as an epithet identity was found to be apprehended specifically in relation to a given time and circumstance. Therefore it was deemed necessary to investigate the construct of the author’s Artistic Identity in relation to its active cultivation in terms of current musical processes and outcomes. The creative work to arise from this investigation encompassed the recording of three studio albums of original works which in turn encompassed the primary data-set by which the author examined the performed outcomes of her creative output and the audible “stamp” of her Artistic Identity as evidenced in the body of her works. Additional data was collected through audio and audio-visual recordings of live performances and the keeping of a journal in which the author reflected upon the phenomenon of Artistic Identity as it was informed through her musical practice and research into literature on the subjects of music, identity, the philosophy of self and being. Analysis of this data enabled the author to distinguish the elements that contribute to her sound as an improviser and composer – the distinctive tonal qualities and utilisation of musical materials as evident in the body of her works, the utilisation and articulation of which facilitates self-expression through the cultivation of a personal voice. It was the author’s ongoing identification with the sounds she produced, as an improviser and a composer, the range of creative processes that contribute to a creative musical practice, and the energetic, aesthetic and conceptual parameters of composing, practicing, rehearsing, performing, recording and producing those works that constructed her perception of presenting an Artistic Identity. The author found that her Artistic Identity was constructed through an ongoing engagement with the processes of developing a personally meaningful musical vocabulary and mode of expression. This primarily took place through the setting of creative intentions and the projection of those intentions toward future musical activities. By situating her personal voice as an improviser within the context of performing original compositions the author was able to frame her inherent abilities, tendencies and capacities for sonic manipulation and isolate the specific inter-relationships between creative processes and performed sound. It was the identification with these distinguishing characteristics and inter-relationships that presented as constructing, over an extended period of time, the author’s Artistic Identity.
Charles Ives and Henry Cowell: an unlikely alliance for American music
Charles Ives and Henry Cowell formed a close friendship and became partners in the promotion, performance and publication of new American works. This thesis examines their lives and relationship to better understand how and why their unlikely alliance came about. Through Cowell’s entrepreneurial talent and Ives hard fought fortune and compositional brilliance they forged a path for new music during the first half of the twentieth century that enabled many unheard and unpublished American composers to be heard in performance for the first time. Firstly, I examine the lives of the two men before they met in 1927 to outline how different their upbringings and lives were. Secondly, I investigate the accomplishments of the two up until their meeting to show the immensely different natures of their talents, and how this effected their relationship and those around them. Thirdly, I look at the collaboration and relationship between the two men. I do this by examining the achievements that came about through their alliance, in particular, the way it involved so many other brilliant artists and the reception of these new artists (and their own) new musical works through performance and publication. The music of Charles Ives has had a profound influence on my attitude towards music making. Through this research it was my intent to come to a closer understanding of that music and how it came to be so important to me from the first time I encountered it. It became evident that without the meeting of Ives and Cowell, even though their relationship would seem highly unlikely, that both Ives and Cowell may not have achieved their goals without the alliance that they forged. Therefore, I set out to understand how this came about and why it was so successful.
Listening art: making sonic artworks that critique listening
Sonic artists and listeners to sonic artworks tend to take for granted that how a listener listens to a sonic artwork affects what that listener perceives that sonic artwork to be, through the listener’s inclusion, exclusion, and interpretation of the sonic events that constitute a given artwork. This tendency leaves the act of perception un-theorised in the production of sonic artworks, and unquestioned in their reception by listeners. This project seeks to address this problem by making sonic artworks that take criticality of listening as their primary focus, on the part of artists and listeners. Its aim is to explore structuring sonic artworks around critical discourses on listening, and for those artworks to foster critical reflection on listening by listeners, hinging on the question: “how can sonic artworks be made that form critiques of listening?” Based on an integration of schema theory and immanent critique, I devise and apply a rationale for making sonic artworks structured as discourses on listening. I complement this with an original adaptation of the Heuristic Research method, which I use to determine whether the artworks made for the project foster critical reflection on listening in audience experience, through the collection and appraisal of a group of listener’s descriptions of their experiences of the works.
Transmedia storytelling: relocating the Broadway musical across the digital domain as scalable enterprise
The Broadway musical is a high-risk, commercial, theatre enterprise with correspondingly high rates of non-success in terms of return-on-investment (ROI). The capital formation required for a Broadway production is increasingly perceived as disproportionately excessive to the level of risk in achieving the minimal financial return. Until recently, with overall audience numbers appearing stable in conjunction with continuing high demand, these risk levels have been perceived as tolerable. However, with the exception of Broadway product, audience attendance for musicals in the USA is in decline requiring a re-evaluation of strategies to mitigate the risk of unsustainable losses inherent in single channel income distribution practices consistent within the genre. Distilled through the process of development and production preparation for a new Off-Broadway musical, The Mapmaker’s Opera (the accompanying composition folio) this thesis considers possibilities of re-imagining musicals through a transmedial approach to design, implementation and dissemination in the digital space. Considered through an examination of still emerging trends in crossmedia practice, the research explores a methodology for the creation of new musicals proposing a referencing taxonomy to inform further research and debate. Without prima facie exemplars in transmedial musicals written in the Broadway-style and authored with robust reference to crossmedia design practices and methodologies; or for that matter previous empirical research upon which to draw, this thesis derives a theoretical framework from comparative concepts, principles and schemes of visual-based digital storytelling. Design principles inherent to film, television and even (with caution) gameplay narrative are discussed and dissected. The extent to which new paradigms and explorations into storytelling in the digital space continue to emerge as concepts in transmedial design become more sophisticated; in tandem with the proliferation in, if not profligate use of, pervasive media tools available to amplify the percipient experience through the Internet-of-things (IoT) the absence of similar explorations in Broadway musicals is exposed.
Integrating space, composition and performance: an investigation into the musical relationship between the instrument and the space
Integrating Space, Composition and Performance: An investigation into the musical relationship between the instrument and the space, is a discussion of the processes and outcomes of this project, as is required for the Master of Sound Design by Research. Room acoustics are proven to have significant impact on musical performance outcomes in different environments. However, aural recognition of acoustic qualities in music education is largely sidelined. This research investigates the relationship between the musical performer (drummer) and the space in which they perform in order to develop a method to identify and incorporate acoustic qualities of different environments into music composition and performance. It first outlines an historical context of the relationship between acoustics and musical composition and performance, identifies gaps in pedagogy and argues the need to broaden listening. It then examines the process used to investigate this project, and discusses the validity of alternative processes and provides a detailed analysis and results of testing undertaken. First an overview of each performance space is presented, including dimensions, auditory and visual observations. Next, the results of an acoustic analysis of each space is presented and discussed. Finally, it examines how the individual parts of the drum kit respond in each space, and what affect this may have on performances. Integrating Space, Composition and Performance: An investigation into the musical relationship between the instrument and the space then discusses how the results were used to develop three studies, and presents and discusses three finished studies as performed and recorded in each space. The investigation resulted in the development of three different approaches presented as studies that were undertaken and recorded in four different spaces. By undertaking these studies I developed a new awareness of the space influenced my approach to performing in a specific environment; it caused me to make choices based on a more critical focus on the sound of the instrument as a part of the performance. This resulted in changing tempos, modifying dynamics and modifying timbre choices through performance techniques.
Writing for singing: conceptualising lyric address in contemporary songwriting
This project investigates conceptual approaches to writing popular song lyrics. Through examination of a selection of popular song lyrics from Bette Davis Eyes (Carnes 1981) to Snowflake (Bush 2011), I explore two main textual dimensions: the lyric voice and its act of address; and types of writing such as argumentative discourse, descriptive discourse, and narrative discourse, that are used to structure song lyrics. In doing so, this thesis identifies key tensions in the construction of song lyrics between song as a literal address with fictional features and song as a performance text that is designed to facilitate affective listening experiences for its audience. The creative component of this thesis is a folio of song recordings with lyrics that explore the lyric address, including narrative discourse, argument-driven structures, and unfolding lyric description. These texts attempt to negotiate the writing of a fictive address and creating lyrics that facilitate evocative experiences for listeners.