elephants & narwhal
Composition methods & synaesthesia in .haul / s
by Phil Maguire
From nowhere, massive holes. Pulsating and shivering around the room. It’s sudden, dark gold, black and blinding. They’re everywhere, bursting into the room and absorbing everyone in it. The drones have made these… things closer to being real than any other music. Where did they come from?
The sound is enveloping, drenching; I sit there watching it pour into the room, wondering how everyone else is hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting it. Whatever that shift was, we all made it together, probably by accident; I don’t remember the rehearsal or the first concert feeling like this.
From fast, thin beatings, the room suddenly explodes with these holes. It’s joyous, and this exact moment in the performance - I barely remember which piece it was, or how far through we were - is the only important thing.
I turn my head and the holes morph, the colours shift towards blue; they’re pulsating faster. Never mind evoking emotion with complex harmonies or narratives, Phill Niblock’s abstract, dense drones have almost certainly made me feel and experience more in these few seconds than the sum total of my previous musical experiences.
The described experience took place during a performance of Niblock’s work at London’s Café Oto in early 2011, and was a, perhaps uncommon, experience of his music. The ensemble - 15+ strong, with tape - followed their respective scores, moving to different pitches by different amounts at different rates, and just happened to tumble from a fast beating cluster to a vague chord; the beatings slow and stupid, bumping into tables and chairs, sloshing across the floor. Perhaps other moments were similarly vivid for other performers and audience members, but the moment contained in this anecdote has enveloped almost my entire memory of the concert; the ‘lightbulb moment’ that revealed my primary motivation for what music excites me, and what music I have subsequently endeavoured to make.
This short paper will discuss my compositional methods regarding my recently completed MA portfolio .haul / S, a collection of four audio-visual works which combine photography and fixed-media electronic music. It will discuss elements of each of the pieces, citing synaesthesia as the primary jumping-off point for my work. It will speculate upon the impact this intuitive method of composition has on an audience’s experience of a work, and to what degree a work presented with no explicit interpretive context (programme notes, narrative, descriptive titles etc.) allows the audience to free-associate during the experience, and construct their own signification(s). The paper aims to open up a discussion on synaesthesia, and look at how works resulting from it may affect the perceptions of composer and audience alike.