Whatever else it may be, a piece of music begins as a sonic event – energy moving as waves through air. These waves impact our bodies directly, and are then indirectly represented to the brain through the mechanism of an ear.
Kinaesthetics is the framework around spectral composition. I use the term to refer to aesthetics, compositional activity, theory. Music is gesture, form, abstract structure . The nature of both sound and physiology is to be “time-laden”, to reside with an x-axis of duration. In order to reveal the kinaesthetic structure, both must be extracted from chronology, What remains is a seed crystal for the precipitation of meaning, creating an equivalence between physiology and memory. The sonic event is interstitial, holds meaning both for the body and for memory.
What are some useful ways to talk about this individual network of meaning? To begin with, "Something reminds me of something else". A straightforward formula. “Something” here refers to a sonic event, what we’ve seen as the spectrographic artifact.
“Reminds me of” can start with some basic forms of recollection: reference, quotation and experience.
A sonic reference is straightforward repetition. In Mozart, a hunting horn in the orchestra casts the music in an outdoors, pastoral setting. Gershwin uses automobile horns in An American In Paris. Mahler brings cowbells on to the stage in the 7th symphony. Reference requires an informed audience, sharing conventions and expectations. I hear a cowbell and think of idyllic Alpine hiking. Actually, I think of Mahler taking idyllic Alpine hikes, while I rest up with a pint of beer. But someone else may associate cowbells with grinding hard labor.
Direct quotation is a tricky thing in a composition. Collage, pastiche. Recollection, reference. Commentary. The newly composed music is a framework to support the burden of the original, and to demonstrate the network of meaning . If I quote a piece, I want you to hear everything else that goes on in my head when I thnk of that piece. Think of Berio Sinfonia (3rd movement) . Berio has written down what it is he hears in his head when he listens to Mahler - made explicit the network of memory and meaning.
Digital technology gives us not just quotation of a theme, but direct reference to a specific instant. Imagine a piece called Variation on Glenn Gould playing mvt 2 Bach f-minor concerto as broadcast by Candian Broadcasting Corporation. What if I sample a recording of a performance of Mahler’s 7th symphony? Where do the cowbells fit now? The network of meaning has expanded out to include the symphony, Vienna: a whole new level of association beyond the original bells, those Alpine walks with Gustav, and all that beer.
Memory also acquires meaning when it reminds of a time or place, something that happened while I was listening to the music, perhaps. Who can tell what these will be, certainly nothing that has to be dramatic. I remember in perfect detail sitting on a bus heading nowhere and listening to Gershwin Concerto in F second movement. I’m probably thinking of that now because I mentioned American in Paris earlier. I recall Monteverdi Vespers on the Washington Beltway late fall evening. A better story may be the song at our wedding (Oh Waly Waly/The Water is Wide). Some pieces acquire a cultural weight, back to Elgar, and the Nimrod variation now traditionally played at royal funerals.
What about music that is commissioned for an event – to celebrate this or commemorate that? What if I write a piece and call it ‘Elegy for Laika” . I would clearly be wanting you to attach some existing network of memories - whatever you may attach to the story - and apply those to my composition.
Kinaesthetics and meaning
“Sounds like”, “reminds me of”, “makes me think of the time…”. Kinaesthetics introduces an additional valence, the formal structure of the spectrogram. This is most apparent in the Third species of spectral composition, the ‘metanoic’. Here, the spectrum is derived from an image which itself has meaning, memory and association.
I’ve started a series of sketches where the spectrogram of the piece is taken from handwritten notes that have accumulated over several years. Is this the same as Brahms encoding his Clara motif? I can tell the story here, but by the time the piece is done I will have scratched out all identifying material. I suppose I could just write a freeform piece with a specific aesthetic, and call it what I will. But I want the listener to understand something of the formalism, and to respond to the idea and concept represented by the spectrum.