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«A THEORY ON MUSICAL TRANSLATION By BENJAMIN O’BRIEN A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL ...»

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A THEORY ON MUSICAL TRANSLATION

By

BENJAMIN O’BRIEN

A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL

OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT

OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

© 2015 Benjamin O’Brien To Julie, Isaac, and my mom, who raised me and my sisters in a house where we heard several languages and learned that some words are best expressed in a particular language.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First and foremost, I would like to thank Paul Koonce and my committee. I have been fortunate to study under Dr. Koonce for the last five years, and as a result my critical and creative thought has changed in many ways thanks to his enthusiasm, dedication, and patience. This document would not be possible without him, as it presents many of the ideas and thoughts we discussed during our weekly lessons. I would like to thank Paul Richards for always telling us that the “ear is slow,” offering his own ears to hear about my research, and encouraging me to compose “proofs” based on many of these thoughts. Many thanks to Larry Crook, who encouraged my writing about the issues of authenticity and place relative to sound, and Jack Stenner, who cotaught the “Trans-” class, which was an incubator for many of the thoughts addressed in this text. A special thank you to James Sain and Leslie Odom for their guidance and mentorship. And thank you to my UF colleagues Andrew Babcock, Sean Peuquet, Michael Polo, Thomas Royal, Rob Seaback, and Jorge Variego for encouraging me and offering their help, support, and sometimes much needed distractions! In addition, my studies in composition, improvisation, and theory with David Bernstein, John Bischoff, Chris Brown, Ted Coffey, John D’Earth, Fred Frith, Roscoe Mitchell, Michael Rosensky, and Judith Shatin have been invaluable to me over the years, and have helped shape my analytical and compositional practice. Finally, this document would not have been possible without the love and support of the O’Brien, Mendelovitz, Cheron, Negrel, and Deluy families.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

LIST OF FIGURES

Abstract

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION

2 A FEW WORDS ON TRANSLATION AND MAPPING

Composer as Translator

Communication Primer

A Cybernetic Explanation of Noise

A Language-based Translator

Pattern

Mapping

A Few More Words on Translation and Mapping

Communication versus Creative Adaptation

3 BIRDSONG TRANSCRIPTION IN RÉVEIL DES OISEAUX

4 TOWARDS A THEORY ON MUSICAL TRANSLATION

Problems with Sound

At the Intersection of Communication and Creative Adaptation

Intention and Interpretation

Carrying Intended Distinctions

Towards a Theory on Musical Translation

5 SOUNDS CONCEAL OTHER SOUNDS IN GENTLE FIRE

6 A THEORY ON MUSICAL TRANSLATION

Complicit Listeners

Forms and Media

Scale

Towards the Composition of Musical Translations

7 AUTOMATIC TRANSCRIPTION IN SPEAKINGS

8 CREATING MUSICAL TRANSLATIONS

A Model for Composing Musical Translations

Phase Vocoder Analysis of a Sound

Creating a Template

The findFormants Program

The makeSegments Program

The constructConnections Program

Synthesis with SuperCollider

Inscribing the Form of a Crying Baby into the Context of Water

Using the Form Abstracted from a Stream to Order Violin Pizzicati

9 EPILOGUE

APPENDIX A PROGRAM NOTES FOR ALONG THE EAVES

B PROGRAM SUITE DOCUMENTATION

LIST OF REFERENCES

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

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Wren (Troglodyte) from ‘Réveil’ (mm. 35- 38)

3-1 Trevor Hold’s transcription of a wren’s birdsong.

3-2 Spectrogram of nightingale’s song recording

8-1 8-2 Spectrogram of resynthesized sound from a phase vocoder analysis of the nightingale’s song (FFT size: 4096; analysis rate: 200 fps).

8-3 Spectrogram of resynthesized sound from a phase vocoder analysis of the nightingale’s song (FFT size: 512; analysis rate: 1000 fps).

8-4 Spectrogram of crying baby recording.

8-5 2-D visualization of 76066 formants collected by findFormants with a peak threshold of -70 dB.

8-6 3-D visualization of 76066 formants collected by findFormants with a peak threshold of -70 dB.

8-7 2-D visualization of 30121 formants collected by findFormants with a peak threshold of -40 dB.

8-8 3-D visualization of 30121 formants collected by findFormants with a peak threshold of -40 dB.

8-9 2-D visualization of formants collected by findFormants from 1.5 to 2 seconds.

8-10 3-D visualization of formants collected by findFormants from 1.5 to 2 seconds.

8-11 2-D visualization of formant segments constructed by makeSegments with a frequency threshold of 20 Hz and an amplitude threshold of 50 dB................. 107 8-12 2-D visualization of formant segments constructed by makeSegments with a frequency threshold of 100 Hz and an amplitude threshold of 70 dB............... 108 8-13 Comparison of unconnected formants (top) produced by findFormants and connected formants (bottom) produced by makeSegments.





8-14 2-D visualization of crying baby template constructed by constructConnections.

8-15 3-D visualization of crying baby template constructed by constructConnections.

8-16 Spectrogram of stream recording.

8-17 Spectrogram of stream recording as filtered by the crying baby template........ 118 8-18 Visualization of stream template constructed by constructConnections........... 122 8-19 Spectrogram of synthesized sound using the stream template with violin pizzicato recordings.

8-20 Spectrogram of synthesized sound using the stream template with water recordings.

8-21 Spectrogram of sound excerpt from along the eaves (2015).

–  –  –

Chair: Paul Koonce Major: Music As an electroacoustic composer, I am interested in establishing connections between disparate, even seemingly unrelated, sounds. I use computer technology to fabricate sonic regions of coincidence, where my coordinated mix of carefully selected sounds suggests relationships between the sounds and the illusions they foster. My interest in inscribing the spectral qualities of individual sounds into sequences of sounds defines my compositional practice. If one were to generalize and categorize my compositional interests, one could argue that, when performed successfully, this practice is akin to the procedures of a translator, who determines the semantic meaning of a linguistic message encoded in the sender’s language and communicates it in the language of the receiver. Others may adopt the position that though the composer may create a system that resembles a linguistic-based model, her highly personal music, in all its complexities, is non-translatable. Additionally, there may be some who condemn this discussion as being wholly moot given their position that music is not a linguisticbased system of communication in which propositional semantic meaning is determined through distributional and syntactic organization and is therefore incapable of being translated. This dissertation addresses these ideas and explores the possibility for translation in music as I define it.

–  –  –

As an electroacoustic composer, I am interested in establishing connections between disparate, even seemingly unrelated, sounds. I use computer technology to fabricate sonic regions of coincidence, where my coordinated mix of carefully selected sounds suggests relationships between the sounds and the illusions they foster. My interest in inscribing the spectral qualities of individual sounds into sequences of sounds defines my compositional practice.

In general, my compositional practice is a two-part process of analysis and synthesis. Typically, I first analyze a sound by identifying some of its characteristics.

The characteristics of a sound describe a listener’s perception of the sound, such as crackly or watery. I then use technology to acoustically measure the sound so as to identify qualities, such as frequency or amplitude, which help describe the particular characteristics I identify as integral to the sound’s profile.

Following this analysis, I select those qualities that an individual sound shares with a sound collection in some way. Subsequently, I filter my analysis by eliminating the peripheral qualities I deem to be dissimilar to the qualities of the sound collection.

Thus, I produce an analysis of a sound that shares qualities with a sound collection, but which maintains the characteristics I identify as distinguishing the sound. The largely empirical and intuitive process of identifying peripheral and common qualities requires me to be deeply familiar with not only how the analysis sound is distinguished, but also with the ways in which the auditioned sound collections are classed.

Once completed, the analysis serves as a template for possible synthesis. A template describes the structural and organizational components of an analysis. The template acts somewhat like a musical score, in that it determines when selected sounds from the collection are presented. I aim for the sound collective produced from my use of the template to reflect the characteristics of the analyzed sound. Using this process, my goal is to explore ways in which both the qualities and characteristics of a template sound can, through analysis and subsequent synthesis, bring order into otherwise unrelated groups of sounds.

If one were to generalize and categorize my compositional interests, one could argue that, when performed successfully, this practice is akin to the procedures of a translator, who determines the semantic meaning of a linguistic message encoded in the sender’s language and communicates it in the language of the receiver. Others may adopt the position that though the composer may create a system that resembles a linguistic-based model, her highly personal music, in all its complexities, is nontranslatable. Additionally, there may be some who condemn this discussion as being wholly moot given their position that music is not a linguistic-based system of communication in which propositional semantic meaning is determined through distributional and syntactic organization and is therefore incapable of being translated.

This dissertation addresses these ideas and explores the possibility for translation in music as I define it. I will define music as capable of conveying a rich array of meanings that may or may not overlap with the types of propositional meaning conveyed through linguistic messages. Throughout the dissertation, I will use the term “language” broadly to refer to both linguistic- and non-linguistic based systems of communication.

The chapters in my dissertation are organized in a pattern: The even chapters introduce and investigate theoretical practices relating to the subject of musical translation, and each odd chapter focuses on a brief compositional analysis relating to the preceding (even) chapter. This structure allows me to focus on themes that develop across both theoretical and analytical practices, while being conscious to separate the two.

The following offers a brief outline of how the dissertation is organized. Chapter 2 addresses issues surrounding the processes of translation and mapping. Chapter 3 reviews Olivier Messiaen’s creation and use of birdsong transcriptions in his work Réveil des oiseaux (1953). Chapter 4 discusses the factors that contribute to developing a theory on musical translation. Chapter 5 analyzes Alvin Lucier’s Gentle Fire (1971) and the composer’s interest in the possibility of a sound concealing the characteristics of another sound. Chapter 6 outlines the theoretical framework of my theory on musical translation. Chapter 7 reviews Jonathan’s Harvey’s compositional goal of teaching “an orchestra to learn how to speak” (Harvey 2012) and analyzes his development of precompositional tools and their use in his work Speakings (2011-12). Chapter 8 describes my process of designing custom software, written in the C and SuperCollider programming languages, for the purposes of composing a music that embraces notions of musical translation. Finally, Chapter 9 is an epilogue that discusses closing themes that relate to my proposal of a theory on musical translation.

–  –  –

understand the translator’s goals and methodologies. Merriam-Webster defines translation as “the act or process of changing something from one form to another.”1 The purpose of this “process of changing something” is to create an equivalent form of the original. However, in some cases, this change can radically alter the appearance or configuration of the form, transforming it into something that is not equivalent with the original, the consequence of which shifts one process (translation) into another (transformation). With this observation in mind we may consider the goals of each process as different: Where translation seeks equivalence, transformation seeks change. In addition to this distinction, we can think of translation as a type of transformation. In terms of an analogy, translation is to transformation as a square is to a rectangle—it is translation that is more limited.2 With these points in mind, we can see how translation can be used in different ways.

Depending on the domain, or area of activity, the reasons for translating a form may be different. In mathematics, for example, translation is a “specialized form” of affine transformation,3 which describes the process of moving a set of geometric Available at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/translation. Accessed October 17, 2014.

A rectangle is a quadrilateral with four right angels. A square is a specialized rectangle with all equal sides. All squares are rectangles and some rectangles are squares—the rectangles that are squares!



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