Equations

One reader of my book, Gahlord Dewald, mentioned “occasional passages I don’t quite get yet.” When I offered to talk through those passages, he brought up the “equation portion of the arcs from the intro.” He managed to quickly pinpoint what is probably the single most compressed or abbreviated moment of the book. I’m going to try to spin it out a little bit here, in case other people have a similar question.

To briefly set up the quote, I talk about five arcs that are indicators of a musical piece or project having experimental qualities: indeterminacy, change, non-subjectivity, research, and experience. This discussion should be available on the Amazon preview (pages 1-5), so you can find out what I’m talking about without buying the book if you like.

And then I wrote:

Various equations could be proposed out of these component arcs to emulate my image of experimental music’s nature and potential:

research + indeterminacy + change = experience
research + indeterminacy + experience = change
experience + change = indeterminacy
research + non-subjectivity = indeterminacy
non-subjectivity + change = research

These equations might be seen as suggestions of chronologies, or more directly as various relationships of causes and effects. Sometimes research is an output, and at other times it is an input. Indeterminacy can be in composition, performance, listening, or spread across all three activities.

research + indeterminacy + change = experience

One clear example of this equation is Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire. Lucier’s research was into the sound produced on an outstretched piano wire by two oscillators. This sound is indeterminate. It is influenced by a number of factors which cannot be controlled in advance, and it changes over time. (I suppose it is possible to set up this installation in a more controlled environment, but it would go against the intent of the work as I understand it.) Taken together, these factors—the research question, the instability and changeableness of the sound—offer a transformative encounter (an experience) to the listener.

research + indeterminacy + experience = change

The model of a piece that goes out into the world as a finished and pristine product is not a reliable one in experimental music. When there are unknowns, actual experience can yield shifts in perception, as well as changes to a piece. I wrote a piece with minimal specifications this past summer that felt like a risk, and then handed it to five thoughtful and committed musicians. As I watched the rehearsals unfold, I worried at times that my instructions were too generic, or that I had not done enough. They arrived at an understanding by a very different route than I had imagined, and the interactions leading up to and including the performance deepened (changed) my sense of the potential interrelationships of score, musicians, and performance.

experience + change = indeterminacy

Pieces of music that tap into factors outside of the concert hall are subject to change, and therefore indeterminate in significant aspects. Joanna Bailie’s the place that you can see and hear is open to the street outside the concert hall through the use of a camera and a live feed from a microphone.

research + non-subjectivity = indeterminacy

When questions are asked in sound and allowed to play out without subjective interference, the results are indeterminate. Alvin Lucier’s and James Tenney’s practices provide ample illustrations.

non-subjectivity + change = research

Change that occurs without intervention is informative. It adds to a body of knowledge, such as the proliferation of lattices in Extended Just Intonation. (See section 2.2)

Ultimately, I find that when these arcs function in parallel or somehow egg each other on, that is an indication of experimental qualities.


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