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The first part of my Senior Project, performed in the Fall Semester of 2014, was titled Stitchings: Sound Collage for Five Duets. This piece explored sound spatialization through live performance and interaction between acoustic and electronic instruments. It was comprised of five duets of different instrumentation, each with a set of five different musical phrases. After the 25 phrases in total were written, they were collaged into one unified score. Throughout the duration of the piece, the duets played each phrase in its entirety; they returned to fragments of previously played phrases, and repeated phrases fully. The piece focused on sculpting sound vertically, rather than horizontally, approaching sound as event-based, shape-based. Five distinct sound objects built upon and interacted with one another in space, appearing and disappearing in time. They moved forward, took several steps backwards, stopped for a few moments to breathe; they took one step forward again, glanced behind themselves, then several steps forward again...all the while following a chronological map of musical sequences. Just as the performers’ experience of the music relied on where they were positioned in the room, so did the audience’s. Seating was intentionally situated so that each audience member’s experience of the music was unique, depending on their placement in the room in relation to the players.
For the second part of my Senior Project in the Spring Semester of 2015, I composed a piece for the American Symphony Orchestra entitled Body of the Bay. Mt. Hope Bay, an arm of Narragansett Bay located on the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border, is a geographical pocket where many years of my childhood were spent. My memories of this bay are rooted in my physical interactions with it and its shore—my tactile and kinetic experiences there. In writing this piece I revisited these interactions to simulate the unique environment of the bay: its murky, green water, dark enough to prevent the eye from seeing below its surface; its seabed, underlaid by sedimentary rocks encrusted in barnacles that scraped against my toes as I swam; its waves, which pushed, pulled, and swallowed my body as they expanded and retracted; the shore, a bed of black sand and seaweed-coated rocks under which crabs, clams and snails amassed. Rather than developing temporally or in chronological fashion, this piece sculpts the textures, contours and movements of Mt. Hope Bay using the fabric of sensory memories from my childhood.
Hearing, in relation to seeing, is an afterthought, a reflection. This can be attributed to our privileging of visual information over other forms of information—that is, our structuring of the senses within a sensory hierarchy in which sight is placed at the top of the sensory chain; our association of the visual with reality, or truth. Sight constitutes the modality in which things can be regarded as having physical presence, therefore if it can be seen, it must be real. It is difficult to articulate the sound experience—to dislodge sound from its source object, the thing that produces the sound: the instrument, crickets chirping in the night, the low hum of a home’s electric system—and describe it without using a vocabulary associated with its source object or environment. We define environments by their visual characteristics, which makes sound a consequence of its environment rather than a defining factor. Imagery and seeing are tied to associations with the audible and tactile, so to isolate one of the latter from the visual field is difficult, maybe impossible. However, when we are immersed in an environment constructed by sound, where sonic information evokes a particular state of mind and sets the framework of a space, we are experiencing a new type of time-space dimensionality that is outside our every-day experience.
In composing Stitchings: Sound Collage for Five Duets and Body of the Bay I was interested in approaching music in its ability to sculpt and simulate specific realities and immersive environments without relying on visual information; to produce sonic textures that both represent and evoke the visual and tactile, rather than exist as a reaction to or consequence of them. I hope for my music to manifest as a construction of space, to take form physically or architecturally in the mind—to translate as a tangible landscape where upon the conscious can wander.
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Ryser, Nina Sarah, "Body of the Bay" (2015). Senior Projects Spring 2015. 327.
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