Musical Idea 3: Aspectual Unison & Continuity
10.16.2013 § 1 Comment
Imagine this: you find yourself listening to two different recordings of The Rite of Spring at once, overlaid.
You can tell you’re listening to two different versions simultaneously even though they’re coming out of the same speakers. They’re not even panned apart from each other, one hard left and one hard right. You can tell this—and you can still tell it easily!—because each of the performers is marching to the beat of one or the other of two distinct drummers. By drummers I mean the conductors, of course, and these two conductors, let’s say, had drastically differing interpretations of the score: one took it swift and staccato, the other languid and fluid. Furthermore, you can tell you’re listening to two separate groups of performers because they sound like they were recorded in completely different halls with their own acoustics. Finally, the different recording technologies have treated the audio differently: one was maybe recorded on the state of the art in the 50’s but was ripped off vinyl, while the other was recorded straight to digital using modern state of the art.
For all of these reasons, you feel fairly secure in your assessment of the reality behind these sounds: two independently recorded performances, superimposed after the fact. (This is a great example of multiple diegeses, as suggested at the conclusion of my previous idea.)
But now imagine that one of the players in one of the performances defects to the other. You’re focused in on listening to the solo oboist in Performance A, that is, when you notice her drifting from temporal sync with Performance A and into sync with Performance B instead, while the acoustic signature of Location A and timbral artifacts of Recording A for her are transforming into those of Location B and Recording B as well. It is as if this oboist is magically teleporting through space, time, and possibility. Soon afterward, other players in either orchestra begin switching sides too, back and forth, more and more of them, until everyone’s doing it, and at their own pace, leading to a terribly destabilizing but thrilling listening experience.
You’re forced to concede that your initial assessment was wrong. This couldn’t have merely been two recorded performances here; this is an elaborate (probably computer-based) musical effect which has hustled us by introducing itself as a simulation of two recorded performances and then revealed itself to be much more.
This musical effect is not limited to simulating recorded performance, or to crossing between two versions of the same piece. Imagine yourself now listening to an electronic dance track from the 80’s and a totally dissimilar one (save for bpm) from the 2010’s side by side — certainly there is plenty distinctive about their production values and composition styles, that even though they’re purely synthesized and wouldn’t smack of the physical impossibility that the oboist example does, it would be nonetheless striking for one virtual player from one side to slip into the production soundscape of the other. You might have started out believing these were created by two different musicians, but then you would know that it had all been the product of one musician who was able to not only build castles in two different dimensions but operate a portal between them.
Really, this effect is not limited by much at all. You’re not limited to two total pieces, whether they’re the same piece or not.
You’re also, critically, not limited to keeping your virtual players entirely in one dimension or another in every capacity at a time; go as Venn diagrammatical on this stuff as you want! Consider this example. You’ve got a jazz ensemble going, with five instruments: piano, sax, bass, trumpet, and drums. Weirdly, everyone seems to be playing a little off from each other, disconcertingly, like they’re playing the same song and basically keeping the same time but with ear plugs in, not listening to each other. Halfway through, the reveal: each of the five instruments explodes into what apparently had been its five constituent pieces: five different recorded performances of the same material. For each instrument, its five performances had been meticulously digitally processed to bind durations, from each and every (ghost) note to the next, to the durations of just one performance chosen out of those five. Now that these super-quintuple-instruments have exploded, they regroup, this time instead of by instrument, by performance: that is, there were only five total recorded performances, and we can distinguish them as such by their acoustics and recording artifacts, and now they are micro-rhythmically bound, as they were originally, as if performed together. In other words, one each of the pianos, saxes, basses, trumpets, and drums belonged to Performance A, and they’re now in sync together, and so on for each of the other four Performances. The fact that the five super-quintuple-instruments didn’t seem to jive well rhythmically in the first half of the piece was a result of a different performance out of the five having been chosen as the champion for each instrument — no two instruments chose the same source performance as their one to bind to.
The final limitation which must be removed is the atomicity of these virtual players. There is no reason why, for instance, any of our pianists couldn’t transform gradually into a trumpeter, while a trumpeter transformed into a drummer, and a drummer into a bassist, etc. This is tremendously different than if everyone switched at once — that’d be a non-effect — what’s special is that only the continuity through the transformation preserves the meaningfulness of their distinction as musical entities.
In light of this freedom, all that remains for us are the ideas of aspectual unison and aspectual continuity, in other words, that we can identify threads implied through the music to be together, whether simultaneously or over time, respectively, and that there are no firm boundaries or groupings. Any part of anything can disassociate or associate anew. Much abstract potential of orchestration has not yet been explored.
Like the “aspects” I mentioned in my multidimensional idea — the first published in this series — they can be anything, from purely sound parameters to advanced musical properties. The examples of aspects I’ve used in this idea are all fairly advanced: co-recordedness (timbre), co-locatedness (acoustics), co-performedness (conduction/sync), and I will get into co-mindedness (same knowledge set) and co-playedness (same manner of expression) soon. Suffice it to say that aspectual unison is really just an extension of the idea of multidimensional tours, if you consider each entity as a guide, and that they can group up or split up or keep their distance but echo each other in certain of their aspectual dimensions (except that these guides are the kind like out of a Miyazaki movie that can splinter up into faceted sub-guides and recombine at will). Unison is normally used in music for pitch, and in speech for timing, but here, with the aspectual modifier, we are going to use it for any unification of sound; and the word aspectual, in its etymology referring to a way of looking by a mind, is perfect for our focus on how music is perceived by a blind listener as best as he can given what we give him to work with.
It will not always be the case, however, that the music written inspired by these ideas will be in such flux that no grouping is stable for long enough to be worth referencing. When one wishes to speak of such an object, such as the sounds of our shapeshifting oboist, time-traveling dance synth, or the recombining jazz sub-instruments in the examples above, I would propose the term entity. An entity is not really just a virtual player. It is not a thing which makes music; an entity is music itself, like a part. But it’s not really a part, either, because it’s not the instructions that any player might use in making music, nor is it a collective of players making music with such instructions; an entity is essentially both agential (at least directly via the author) and individual, like a player. An entity has no consciousness as a mediator of music between the author and the listener, like a player does, though. It is just a musical thread which may go into and come out of various aspectual unisons with its fellow entities or diffuse entirely in all different directions.