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  • Writer's pictureBoris Lesnoy

Opera, Fourier, utopia

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

The future will be utopian or there will be none.

Slavoj Žižek





when desire met reason they conceived baby language

when space met time they conceived baby sound

when sound met language they conceived baby speech

when speech met nothing they conceived music


1.

There is a common notion that can be expressed by the following formula:


(noise unita) + (noise unitb) + (noise unitc) + ... + (noise unitn) = chaos


In other words, proliferation of noise units as concurrent sonic events objects to making up a complex structure and turns form into matter.

This expression understates the phenomenon of noise as if it was a piece of garbage in a pile of litter. Although, due to its volatile nature noise definitely resembles chaos in terms of randomness and also the two share comparable entropic attributes. However, chaos appears infinite and absolute while noise is limited and relative. At this point, it is genuinely practical to determine noise as a piece of constrained chaos. Thus, the supplement of (noise unitb) is not merely surplus mess. Instead, subject to certain conditions that will be considered below, it should be regarded a commentary on the other sonic entity.

As Richard Taruskin cites Lucien Goldman: "The illumination of a meaningful structure constitutes a process of comprehending it; while insertion of it into a vaster structure is to explain it."1

In the examined case the (noise unitb) is a remark that delivers a deeper structure for the (noise unita). The (noise unitb) added to (noise unita) imparts surplus significance to it. Needless to say this courtesy is reciprocal so that two noise units will instantly generate and share joint musical context. This is the emergent process of semantic abiogenesis and it is omnidirectional. Every noise unit that enters the sonic milieu brings forward at least one perceptual dimension. Thus, the more noise units there are, the deeper contextual manifold is.



Is it even so futile to be meaningless but nonetheless retain significance in one's praxis? In terms of musical improvisation the contextualization as a process is neither a tactic nor strategy, but a method. As Avital Ronell states in the "Examined life"2 the term "method" comes from the Ancient Greek μέθοδος, methodos, which literarily means "path". So if method is a path, then tactic would be a gait whilst strategy - a landscape.


2.

Pierre Schaeffer insightfully described noise units as "complex sounds", that is sonic phenomena having non-periodic structure of frequencies, "with a poorly defined rhythmic and melodic makeup" - as he himself put it.3 There is no precise pitch data within the realm of complex sounds, yet they explicitly reveal their timbre that can be presented as a spectrum of frequencies by means of Fourier transform. This spectrum is a range of simple sound waves that constitute the particular sound's unique auditory appearance commonly known as timbre.


Let us have a sharp and fairly speculative detour here. Can we approach ideology as a wave function? Ex hypothesi, having applied Fourier transform to a particular political movement, we would derive the spectrum consisting of simple sines which are in fact the constituents of the given movement, in other words the agents. The point, however, is to proceed in the opposite direction and propose completely novel civil endeavor by means of sound synthesis, namely the additive type. Why not venture to mix up a comprehensive pool of diverse social representatives that would account for a new movement? Evidently, we should end up with neither a white-noise spectrum of indecipherable plurality, nor a sole formant of a narrow-band autocracy, but a gloriously emergent soundscape instead. Can we, for instance, imagine general elections in the form of a concert of musique concrète?


Nonetheless, we have so far tried applying the described modus operandi to a community choir practice. Particularly, during the online workshop session, featuring the Foreign Objekt residents along with Phonema Choir, the group of participants was assigned to perform and interact in the fashion of the additive synthesis. The recording is provided below for one's regardful consideration.

"... And it is by its fruits that one should judge a method."4


Ultimately, the notions delivered above stand for the so-called opera alibretto, which is a novel music genre that enables inclusive creative communication in the form of a game. It adventurously abandons literary narratives despite traditional blueprints. Conversely, it scrutinizes global phonemic variety along with general articulatory abilities of a human body as pure sound phenomena and concerns phonemic entities as the basis of musical composition themselves.

To promote this idea and develop the research we have set up an online peer-to-peer platform of opera alibretto on Discord. Please find the link below. You are keenly invited to join, explore and contribute.



Footnotes:

  1. Taruskin, R. “'Everybody gotta be someplace' (on context)”, Musical Lives and Times Examined: Keynotes and Clippings, 2006–2019 (Oakland: University of California Press, 2023), 474

  2. Examined life. Directed by Astra Taylor, Sphinx Productions, 2008

  3. Schaeffer, P. In search of a concrete music, tr. by Christine North and John Dack (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 13

  4. Taruskin, Musical Lives and Times Examined, 474

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