Formal Processes of Timbre Composition


Session Title:

  • Composition (The Next Generation)

Presentation Title:

  • Formal Processes of Timbre Composition



  • Abstract

    Challenging the Dualistic Paradigm of Computer Music The utilization of computers fosters several attitudes of music composition, whose extreme cases can be recognized as: automated composition and timbre design.

    The former reflects a purely formal approach involving the processing of abstract symbols; its emphasis is especially on the syntactical properties of music. Within the compositional process, such attitude is captured in the composer’s models of musical design. The latter is closer to the perceptual and semantical properties of the sound material, captured in the composer’s  models of sonic material. The emphasis is on sound morphology and its meaningful  implications (sound source, gesture, environment). Although overlapping in actuality, still the two attitudes entail distinct tasks and distinct cognitive representations, i.e. separate kinds of domain-and action-knowledge. However, computer music makes possible a novel perspective which blurs that distinction: the merging of models of material and of musical design, the weakening of the neat separation of sound and structure. Composing is then experienced as a knowledge-level activity of micro-time sonic design: data to be manipulated by formal processes are less abstract elements of large-scale structures than micro-structural sonic units of the musical signal. Accordingly, the new paradigm demands two related efforts of deep revision. One concerns the design of computer music interfaces and control structures. The other concerns music theory, required to re-think its epistemological basis as well as the very notions of sound materials (now something virtual, no more preexisting to the compositional process, hence dematerialized or “spiritualized”, as Adorno said) and musical form (which now overlaps with the notion of timbre). Revision is needed because composing seems to involve exploratory models of a theory of sonological emergence. Work in this area can be enriched upon contact with auditory perception modeling and mathematical modeling of sub-symbolic dynamics.