Noise In And As Music

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saturday, 5 october 2013

II. Noise and Music: syntax, soundscape, bodyscape Saturday, 5 October, 10:00–12:30 Liza Lim, moderator

John Dack Syntax from Noise If the purpose of a musical syntax is to facilitate and direct the creation of well-formed structures that will lead to ‘meaning’, then it is clear that applying the term ‘syntax’ to noise raises many questions. Moreover, any discussion of a syntax demands a definition and description of the basic, discrete elements of a vocabulary. Discussing a ‘vocabulary’ of noise is equally problematic. My presentation will examine the concepts of both ‘syntax’ and ‘vocabulary’ in the context of ‘noise’ as musical material. My starting point will be a discussion and evaluation of Schaeffer’s classes of morphology. Included in this morphology are classes of ‘tonic group’, ‘nodal group’ and ‘white noise’ which suggest that Schaeffer was attempting to formulate a system that could emulate the ‘directional tendencies’ of definite pitch. Schaeffer was cautious in claiming that the model of pitch was applicable to all parameters of musical material. Nevertheless, I will propose that basic notions of tension and release can be identified in Schaeffer’s thinking. In addition to investigating this aspect of noise I will also examine Schaeffer’s largely ignored concept of a ‘plastic’ music whose meaning can be located in the sculpting of sounds, their dynamic and spectral evolutions, rather than in relationships between discrete sounds. I believe that noise has the potential to occupy areas of such a ‘plastic’ music and, to paraphrase Schaeffer, to create meaning precisely at the point where traditional music fails to do so. Born: Kings Cross, London 1950. Studied music as a mature student at Middlesex Polytechnic (BA Hons, 1980). Subsequent studies: PhD with Denis Smalley (1989); City University (post-graduate Diploma in Music Information Technology) (1992) and MSc (1994); Goldsmiths College (MMus, Theory and Analysis, 1998); Middlesex University (MA Aesthetics and Art Theory, 2004). Currently employed as a Senior Lecturer, Middlesex University. Research interests: history, theory and analysis of electroacoustic music, the music and works of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, serial thought and electronic music, the ‘open’ form in music.