A9 Ambient Assignment

I used vocal and patch components. A9_Stella

A8 Spoken Word Sketch


I did this with Yuqian. Our theme was climate change.

A1 Listening Assignment

John Cage: Williams Mix (1952-1953)

  1. If the broadest definition of music is “organized sound,” the Williams Mix definitely fulfills the expectation I have for music. Much like other art, music is open to interpretation and is just as about relationships between creator and audience (in music’s case; composer, musician, and listener) as physical or visual arts. Provided that someone/anyone finds patterns or recognizable intent in the piece, even if the sequences of sound are “at random” (such as interpreting natural or organic noise to be music) then you may as well call it music. The Williams Mix contains repeated sounds and various points of crescendo and decrescendo, indicating intent on the composer’s behalf to make those measures memorable and provide dynamic contrast. This is a pattern that repeats throughout the piece at various intervals. Sounds such as bullfrogs, high-pitched “dings,” sped up or slowed down speech, and snippets of music are also repeated. At all times, either light static or (what sounds like) the background noise of a cafe are present, finally quieting in favor of long, loud rounds of clapping towards the end, which also seem to increase and decrease in volume and intensity. These types of repeated events help distinguish the piece as “music” to me personally, despite the overall confusion of noise.
  2. John Cage’s motivation for composing the Williams Mix appeared to be mostly technical, rather than artistic. The quote provided by Wikipedia that describes the Williams Mix mentions algorithmic composition and sound diffusion as some of its key components.
  3. Some of the impact of the piece is lost due to the lack of acoustical space and sound quality. Without the presence of the eight speakers and ability to create discrete sources for each sound, the overlapping of sounds blurs to only two sources—the left and right earbuds. Part of the deliberateness of John Cage is lost without that specific sound arrangement, as the space between the speakers and listeners, the type of speaker used and the volume of each individual speaker are all factors that impact the final sound produced.

Gesang der Jünglinge

  1. Jünglinge fulfills my expectation of music due to the repetition of sounds founds in the score—the boy’s voice, the simulated sound, and the vague white noise/background sound. There is also an obvious progression– the beginning tended towards softer changes in dynamics and softer or more intermingled moments with both the boy’s voice and the synthesized sine tones, whereas towards the center five minutes of the piece (around 4:30-5:00) there is more separation between the two as well as more frequent “bursts” of electronic noise and individual vocals. Towards the end (10:00-), the style tends towards intermingled but accented sound bytes of the boy’s voice and electronic segments. This progression suggests that the composer intended the piece to have a distinct and recognizable song structure which also solidifies the piece as “music” rather than sound or noise.
  2. Karlheinz Stockhausen (according to both the Wikipedia page and the Gesang der Jünglinge video provided) intended to create an angelic blend of voice and synthesized sound as an electronic mass. The video’s opening minutes record Stockhausen as saying that “if you close your eyes, you might even see these angels (in reference to the ‘angelic voices’ of his piece.) It’s clear that Stockhausen intended to create a piece that inspired, at minimum, a sense of awe.
  3. Admittedly, music is subjective. The effect of listening to Jünglinge through headphones was disconcerting. Often, voices or sounds were felt to come from unexpected directions, changing the source of the sound between left and right extremely often and mostly without buildup or warning. Once settled in to that experience, however, listening to the piece through headphones (with eyes closed in an attempt to see Stockhausen’s angels) was an aurally interesting, intense experience. Doubtlessly, the piece would have a different effect on listeners in a more open setting (with acoustical space) but it felt as if the intended effects of the piece remained despite changes in delivery format.

Luciano Berio: Omaggio a Joyce

  1. Omaggio a Joyce plays in and out of dissonance, making it a difficult piece to categorize as “music” without again realizing that music does not necessarily have to be pleasing. The combined effects of static and differences in tonality of the different clipped readings of “Siren” is unsettling, particularly around 4:14-4:55, where the readings are taken up to a number of “squeaky” ranges. However, the piece does not escape the previously mentioned definition of music.
  2. Omaggio a Joyce, as opposed to being a purely musical experiment, also functions as an experiment in phonetics and language. The piece is intended to aurally bring to life the tension between “the construction of words…and the meaning of sounds” (Omaggio a Joyce Wiki page) found in Ulysses.
  3. Similar to listening to Gesang der Jünglinge, Omaggio a Joyce is a little unsettling through headphones. The dissonance created by the static and synthesized overlapping of voices sounds particularly close. Combined with a sense of space, the piece may take on a different, more sonorous quality that better reflects the re-imagining of poetic structure that the composer seems to intend.