What is the Word

What is the word


… was created in 2008 during my program in music theory/computer music as a study for purely deterministic, rule-based algorithmic composition. Driven by a fascination of dialectic processes, this acousmatic work is characterized by an extreme reduction of sound materials, being composed exclusively from synthesized pure tones and algorithmically-transformed speech noises.

The piece is inspired by S. Beckett’s poem “what is the word” (see end of this document), and reflects two contrasting philosophical concepts of identity: abstract thought (“cogito ergo sum”) vs. sensory perception (“esse est percipit”), see also here ​. These concepts do not only transfer to, but indeed describe, fundamental notions of music, such as in “musique abstraite” vs. “musique concrète”. This dichotomy manifests itself in representations of music. On one end, we have an abstract description of ideas, relationships, proportions, etc., such as common music notation, which lacks a description of the physical sounds themselves. On the other, we have digital sound recordings: a phenomenological representation of a signal in arbitrary detail, but with little information about its musical meaning.

Most aspects of this piece (sonority, material, structural organization, etc.) are algorithmically generated following these two complementary approaches:

  • The first one, referred to as “symbolic”, is based on the extraction of abstract structures (i.e. proportions, sequences, syntactical units, etc.) from the poem’s text, which is used for controlling the parameters of sound synthesis (pure tones) and transformation (speech).
  • The second one, referred to as “concrete”, is based on the extraction of sound material and information via signal analysis of an audio recording of the recited text.

Accordingly, the sound material of the piece consists of concrete speech noises contrasted with synthetic sound spectra of pure tones, both composed from information derived from the (written or spoken) text.

Below is a rendering from my soundcloud.

On the following pages a blueprint of the compositional process is provided.