Ecological constraint as formal model

The composer, the studio, the sound, and the sources are the environmental components in these pieces. I propose that Gibson’s notions about the systems being tuned to each other apply here and the composer responds to these structures in a direct manner. It is not necessary to impose a priori abstract forms onto the work. Relatively consistent constraints are already present in the filter processes, computer interface analogies, sliders and sound sources. Structure, particularly musical structure, is ‘picked up’ by the composer and shaped with other perceived structures.

The compositional environment

I use ecological psychology’s model of “resonating sub-systems” in composition, as a special case of the organism-environment system in which, by awareness of the system’s dynamics, and the system’s parts, the system can be manipulated, not just reacting within it, but also by using the conceptual model of the system as a tool. The composer, the studio, and the research plan together are conceived of as nested feedback loops in which each part informs and is informed by the activity in the others. These interconnected feedback loops comprise the system in which all these compositions were realised. This model, borrowed from psychology, biology, and system dynamics is applied here to composition. These compositions explore ways to guide (and be guided by) the outcome of ‘emergent’ percepts. These could all be realized as fully auditory, but will always be affected at some level, overtly or covertly, by non-auditory information, such as semantic, spectromorphological, visual or kinaesthetic qualities. The sound sources and sound samples will encourage reciprocal plasticity between the sounds and the concepts they might inspire or illuminate. Sounds that are musically useful can be created from combinations and permutations of each work’s samples or chosen from stochastic processes or even from accidents. Often extant sounds are ‘discovered’ to fit the changing context of the developing work. The work’s larger form is developed within the context of the existing sounds and, since the sounds that will be used are often yet to be known, the structures of the piece cannot be pre-defined.  Transactionalism, as developed by Lehrman, is a branch of developmental biology that describes the development of the organism as an interaction of its environment and its genetic blueprint.

Compositional Explorations of Plastic Sound 

These works depend upon emergent qualities and dynamics and a continuous re-evaluation of the extant material to accommodate any new interesting content or context that the system (composition in progress) might illuminate. Therefore intent is continuously dependent upon the results of the ongoing analyses of the material, both sonic and conceptual. Compositional constraints are considered to be the materials in the compositional environment and the structure of the environment itself. What differentiates the context and content will vary, dependent upon the scale observed and point-of-view whether semantic, morphological or even kinaesthetic, and each piece’s materials are intended to affect that point of view.

Still reading …

The Age of Insight (book jacket)


After multiple recent bouts with the Tate, I’m going back to the Kandel book. I haven’t finished it, but after a long weekend of conversations with an old classmate, I think it’s time. The psych degree was a major influence on my thinking for a long time. I’m not so sure it is any longer.  The Age of Insight (Kandel, 2012) traces the mutual influences of psychology and psychiatry at the  start of the 20th Century in the art salon society  in Vienna.

The Tate Modern (Modigliani and Kabakov) Jan, 2018

Third time to visit the Modigliani and Kabakov exhibits at the Tate Modern. As the shows both come to the end the crowds have gotten heavier.

The Kabokov comes from the heart of the soviet era, but is situated clearly in outsider territory. Lacking in quality supplies they often made do with what they had, and possibly (it seems to me, anyway) because the lack of material inhibited fast action, they rushed headlong into conceptual art. This sometimes forced the ideas themselves to become the central focus of the work, sometimes to the extent that the work itself remains a plan or a story bereft of its physical manifestations.  They still managed to create a huge portfolio of very real, very concise artwork including large room installations, ceiling high scaffolded ladders to the angels, life-size trolley facades and a spiralling maze of Soviet pseudo folk stories.

I once again didn’t spend as much time reading as I’d have liked. The long hall needs time and several visits. The books were still off-limits.


The Modigliani on the other hand came at a time when most of the avant garde (not official, but the forefront of the time) had established a firm home in Europe. Modigliani came and absorbed everyone and everything in sight, The influence of his peers is pushed to the fore of his canvases. Portraits of the artists that reify those persons’ most salient idioms show that most clearly. His love of feminine form overshadows everything he does.


Personal reflections:

Modigliani’s overt and enthusiastic display of how his friends and cohorts helped to develop his style is something I need to welcome into my own process. I often shy away from it if I recognize it too early in the game.

I’ve been listening to this a bit, Adrian Moore’s Séquences et tropes. Maybe I’ll hear it in my own work this time.

 (cover art, as always, Adrian Moore)

Reflecting on dreams …

“It is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country even today is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists.”
_ MLK, Jr

Space and Finding Place

An almost interesting side note after the last dreary entry. I’ve narrowed my focus (or ‘depth of field’ if you will) to working with spatial movement in the sources I’ve already got in the mix. I’ve been pushing some sounds to the rear of the soundstage and see how others move forward and back. It’s shaping up better. I didn’t realise I was anywhere near ready for that, but it sounds like it’s the only way forward.

Much nicer day