Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Synonym, Metaphor and Inflection in Music

Recently I've suggested a new musical analysis I call Quantum Audio, which depending one's perspective, can resemble both genetic information and the search for behavioral analysis of sub atomic particles. Either way, Quantum Audio refers to the identification and analysis of small sonic elements, which when artfully combined can be said to be the building blocks of effective musical memes and signifiers.

Two major particles I listen for in musical works are Sonic Synonyms and Musical Metaphors. These are sounds embedded with meaning, or which trigger a common reaction in a given demographic.

Why does thunder, for instance, inspire fear? Indeed, what of sounds for which there is no human performer, only a natural act? A million ways for thunder to clap, and yet each one sends you running for cover. Is this reaction spontaneous, triggered by a certain range of frequencies, or is it the combined result of volume and perception of proximity? Or is our reaction triggered by other variables known or unknown?

And is the reaction genuinely spontaneous, culturally learned, or is it the result of instinctual programming. In short, has a physical pattern triggered a biological pattern, and is there a way to deconstruct this cognitive activity so that we might later reproduce our patterning which sound little like the source but trigger a similar reaction, as a means to deliver data rich audio? For now, it’s not important to know the real answer, or even if there is an answer, but it is important to consider the question.

Actually I think that most adept musicians understand ‘thunder’. The proof being that many a musician can create a facsimile of the sound on his or her given musical instrument. But in addition to mimicry, can we actually identify those sonic particles which whether separately or together produce the thunderous effect. In this manner, we might skim one effect from the other; power from fear for instance. The result being identifiable, isolated components we can integrate the effect in our own musical designs, much the same way we now layer one voice over another.

Of course, we already do this to some degree; for instance:

What makes one ascending string line sound majestic and another feel embedded with dread, although both might share the same sequence of notes in the same key?

As a young producer one of my first assignments was to serve in the capacity of line producer for the production of the Columbia Pictures audio logo. At the time, it struck me how this beautiful and grand work, conceived to produce anticipation in the audience for a forthcoming entertainment, might well teeter from anticipation to suspense, if only the tempo was pushed a few clicks forward, and the strings agitated by a degree.

I’ve heard that the Chinese language has many words or phrases that seem identical but in fact can mean different things depending on inflection alone. And of course, the same can be said about music.

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Photo Collage by Terry O'Gara.

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