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Ouroboros and Apocryphal Chrysopoeia: Aesthetics and Techniques


Resources from a variety of disciplines were gathered, compared and woven together to create Ouroboros, an eighteen-minute work for large chamber ensemble and audio-visual media, as well as the programming of Apocryphal Chrysopoeia, a software instrument used to create the audio-visual components of Ouroboros. The temporal structure and thematic subject matter of this work are based on a text collage that dwells upon the peril and promise of automata. This collage is a palimpsest of Heinrich von Kleist's On the Marionette Theatre, overlaid upon E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Sandman, both in English translation. Furthermore, excerpts of non-fiction critical texts dealing with the use of abstraction and algorithms in the creation of music serve as textual interludes during the narrative structure of the Hoffmann-Kleist palimpsest. The resulting text is projected as supertitles during the performance. The ensemble music and audio-visual media were composed to respond to the text, sometimes empathizing with it, and other times moving indifferently to it. Algorithmic processes, abstractions based in music psychology, and structures related to the physics of real and imagined instruments guide the music and audio-visual media in Ouroboros. The changing spatial relationships of audio-visual modules in the virtual instrument Apocryphal Chrysopoeia produce the modulation of harmonic fields, bounding the pitch material for both the electronic and acoustic instruments. A pitch space model extrapolated from work by Roger Shepard determined the basic spatial arrangement of these modules. However, it was discovered that distortion of this spatial model was required to continually refresh the harmonic material. A cellular automaton articulates this pitch space model in time, creating variegated but principled patterns in both sound and light. This sound-light activity is mediated by a variety of effects aimed at finding points of synchresis between auditory and visual behaviors, drawing upon the visual music tradition for inspiration. Alongside this audio-visual behavior, the music composed for acoustic instruments frequently involves imitative counterpoint in multiple tempi, a process bound by the harmonic fields found in the audio-visual instrument. Furthermore, specific instrumental techniques, most notably split-tone multiphonics on the trumpet, were explored to find timbral connections between the acoustic and electronic domains.

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