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Composing with Sound-Objects: A Methodology

  • Author(s): Wheeler, George Stockton
  • Advisor(s): Dobrian, Christopher
  • et al.
Abstract

Technology presents us with the ability to record and manipulate the entire universe of sound in a musical composition. As a result, composers are faced with an overwhelming—often paralyzing—amount of available musical options. My methodology focuses on how a sound-object informs the organization, collection, manipulation, and culmination of a work of electronic music. I believe that breaking down the number of choices to manageable bite-sized portions helps minimize ambiguity, and imposing limits on musical parameters helps the composer focus on productive musical options. This is a methodology where the sound-object holds primacy over the work and serves as the motivic touchstone from which to make all compositional decisions.

Part one of the dissertation provides a definition of a sound-object and an historical overview. Part two is my methodology, which is divided into three working stages: onset, continuant, and termination. The onset stage discusses a compositional approach to organizing a piece of music based on the sound-object as motivic touchstone; it introduces the organizational process according to functional considerations as well as conceptual approaches. The continuant stage is the composer’s playground where sound is transformed. It includes the technical and practical approaches used to assess the many parameters of a sound-object, as well as how the object itself informs the transformations. Additionally, the continuant stage represents an approach to composition and improvisation—informed by the sound-object—that uses acoustic instruments. Finally, the termination stage brings all these elements together in order to finish the piece. This stage explores how the sound-object can inform the structure of the piece at the subsequent levels of event, phrase, section, and overall form. I will demonstrate this methodology by explaining how I composed five original pieces with sound-objects—Acoustic Memories (2019), Modular Voices (2019), Interconnected (2019), Synthetic Objects (2019), and Gucci Concrète (2019). Through the framework presented in this methodology, composers of electronic music will better understand this flexible medium of composition, by moving beyond the traditional grid of discrete pitches and rhythms, in order to control the entire universe of sound for their palette of inspiration.

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