Saturday, October 23, 2010

Listening to something you haven't heard

I've been working with my students at Juilliard, on how to start composing for interactive music.  The conventional paper-pencil developing of musical materials do still work, laying out motifs, planning the total landscape, constructing the architecture with rhythm, melody and harmony of the piece etc.  

However, in interactive computer music, you have to train yourself to listening to something you haven't heard before, or try to imagine it.  I believe it starts much more with the instrument you are writing for; really knowing its characteristics, what it can and cannot do acoustically.  Since there are acoustically "impossible" things you can now do with computers, it is somewhat a difficult task to open your ears trying to listen to somethings that you haven't heard before.   It could very well be very similar to orchestration, imagining instrument combinations, but at this point, a lot has already been done and you could actually get a recording of it.  Better yet, if you want to you could simulate some sounds using samplers!

So how do you listen to something you haven't heard?  Or try to imagine?  I have to say that there isn't much you can do except try things out to the best of your abilities, and the varieties you could think of. The best way to approach would still be "imagining" the abstract character you are trying to achieve, then deduct what you want it to happen electronically.  I do this for my own compositions, but it is difficult to explain to students (or others) how to go about it.   What I'm telling people is to "think of going to Mars" or beyond, such as "If I play C#, I launch a rocket to Mars and I beam in", "Oh and I also want to beam up my teddy bear from the 3rd drawer of a closet in my old bedroom when I lived in Japan 30 years ago" !!! Can I do that?   :)


Lê Quan Ninh said...

There are so many common things we haven't heard yet because we didn't pay attention to them. As John Cage suggested we could pay attention to sounds as they are to realized their richness and potentiality. So maybe, listening to something we haven't heard could be similar to listening to something we have always heard without paying attention to them !

Mari Kimura said...

You are right, and watching children grow, as you know, you can see that it comes very natural to them; the power of imagination is remarkable. I try to play with my kids and do silliest things; what John Cage was to be able to retain that kind of innocence, a creative innocence free of consequences, politics and convenience... Wish I could do that or retain a bit of it myself.