Sound as an agent of change
A pattern creates a certain state of consciousness. Once it is created, the pattern stands as an object exactly like the sound waves which generate it. We are at the same time inside and outside of the object. While being it, we observe it.
Over time we become familiar with the inner structure of the pattern. We decode its gravitational centres, where our psycho-motor attention is attracted, where everything seems to be drawn. When a change in the pattern occurs it causes a perturbation of the previously established field of forces.
This causes consciousness to fracture, potentially unfolding layers of perceptions we weren't aware of or simply suggesting that we access only a fraction of our own psychic potential.
The layered nature of consciousness and the relativity of perception are some of the big secrets we can experience through sound.
Can sound synthesise new patterns of consciousness?
In Patterns of Consciousness, repetition and permutation of patterns are explored as tools to reconfigure perceptions and bend emotions, approaching sound as a medium to develop and master our own perceptual art.
POC was originated by ideally infinite permutation of patterns within a limited set of harmonic archetypes through a disciplined and exclusive use of machinery (an Indexed Quad Sequencer and an Harmonic Oscillator).
By means of subtraction, addition and jitter operations, I derived a myriad of interlocking patterns from an original matrix of just few primary chords, gradually developing the potential of the reduced constellation of pitches and durations I determined in advance.
I wanted every piece in POC to be a generative entity. A dynamic and living being able to develop its own organic laws, whose inner potential of growth and change is embedded in the initial instructions of the sequencer. These instructions translate into slow yet persistent, relentless variations in pitch and velocity: sharp interval resizing, pristine melodic progressions and transpositions, severe shifts in the metric structure of pulses and stresses.
Emerging machine intelligence, human desire of pattern detection and the understanding of music as a cognitive feedback between humans and technology were big inspirations for me. But the highly formulaic and germinative style of these pieces is also influenced by Indian classical music’s vision of sound as an agent of change and recreation. Sound causing processes rather than objects, verbs rather than nouns.
In POC, patterns are like the cells of an organism or the units of a language: a limited set of signs that can be recombined to always generate new possibilities. Thus, this recording is only one of the many possible incarnations of this re-combinatory practice.
At the core of the organic evolution of the patterns is the gate, one of the fundamental concepts of voltage-controlled synthesis.
While the pattern stored is constantly “read”, an intricate score for gates shifts the portion of the pattern that is actually “played”, accessing only those fractions that I find relevant to the melodic and rhythmical articulation of the musical form. This is not a secondary detail but a fundamental aspect of the functioning of this technology that turned out to be decisive and essential to the inspiration of this work, where the gate is the key of a subtractive compositional design.
In this perspective, composing became for me an act of tuning to an ongoing sound field and making it selective, a subtractive practice rather than a demiurgic act of creation from scratch. The ongoing sound field is the rich sound spectrum offered by the harmonic oscillator - a monolith decomposed into its partials, a complex signal made selective to derive melodic information, a continuous field of electricity “gated” and discretized in points of condensed abstraction and emotion.
The sound continuum between these points is then explored through the use of extreme speeds, from very fast to very slow, compressing or decompressing the linearity of melodies into constantly ascending motion. From isolated melodic splinters to sustained tones, I went through different resolution degrees within the sound continuum - a presence which persists in the memory of the listener as an harmonic archetype but it’s accessed only intermittently through the use of sequenced gates. Wide interval jumps also occur to break the linear melodic design, slowly but incessantly moving towards the highest range of pitches: while the thinning and sharpening of timbres progressively reach the extremes of the sound spectrum, the listener is gradually projected into a listening domain where sounds ring almost as pure conceptual presences.
Negative Counterpoint, Counterpoint Illusion
I think that the limits of a single oscillator in terms of harmony not only reinforced the horizontal design of my musical imagination by developing the melodic side of composition, but also triggered new ways of thinking and exploring a vertical dimension. Acceleration and deceleration, as well as delay harmonization, are tools to explore the sound zone where the horizontal and the vertical planes collapse: experimenting with different speeds enlighten the continuum between rhythm and pitch, gesture and texture, melody and harmony, while the rawness and reduction of the timbres available shift the focus on the linguistic possibilities of music composition and its structural development.
Given the limits of my monophonic instrument, I searched for counterpoint in the exclusive use of additive synthesis, fast progressions, extreme melodic jumps and intricate delay lines on a single oscillator. Note against note, gate against gate, I ended up with an illusory counterpoint style where gate subtraction is the main compositional engine. Because of this, I think of this style in terms of negative counterpoint.
The idea of counterpoint illusion is also remotely influenced by my passion for Renaissance and Baroque lute music, where fast arpeggios are employed to get effects of sustained chords and overcome the limits of fast decay timbres. John Dowland’s airs and Bach’s suites for lute were among my favourite repertoires when I was studying classical guitar at the Conservatory: beside the fast arpeggios, I remember being very inspired by the use of resonances of the upper harmonics to reinforce the sustenance of harmony and even generate illusions of polyphony. A minimalist approach which, by magnifying nuances of sound, turns into a maximalist one. In POC I tried to get a similar effect applying multiple gates to the individual partials of the harmonic oscillator, carving a contrapuntal texture out of the fundamental tone. Syncing different scores for gates turned into a small-scale orchestration device, through which getting polyphonic and polyrhythmic effects out of a single note. Multi delay lines further reinforced these effects, turning into natural harmonizers to develop the counterpoint potential of the monophonic sequences: holding melodic lines in time cause a constant overlapping of patterns that generate new harmonic combinations and rhythmical interplay, not written in the “score” but virtually present in the delay engine and in the perception of the listener.
The Lost Archetypes
In this work, patterns stand to their harmonic archetypes as manuscripts to their original autographs. They are the result of a re-combinatory practice that produces several corrupt, altered, fragmented, intermediate versions of the original ones. Either accelerating or decelerating, these patterns seek to resemble the harmony of the original chords from which all the musical ideas were first generated. But existing only in fragmented forms, they fail in recreating an original harmonic unity, thus ultimately impossible to be perceived in its entirety and purity. Still, what all these compositions share is a common fatalistic tension, an impossible running, a restless hurry - somewhat nervous somewhat ecstatic - to grasp a meaning out of fragments.
Human desire of pattern detection and recognition is what is left. And now more than ever, in a present of spinning scenarios and volatile qualities where the decoding of complex and chaotic surfaces becomes harder and harder. While the information needed to create an entire body is redundant, still the entire body of knowledge is somewhat always missing, insufficient, fragmented. Scratches on the readable surface.
Fatally, a few months after I finished recording POC, all the patterns contained in this record deleted and disappeared from the memory of my sequencer and they no longer exist.
© 2017 Caterina Barbieri
© 2017 Caterina Barbieri