The research project ‘Beyond Sethares’ is taking place between July 2013 and May 2014. The aim of the project is to create a coherent harmonic language within new works derived from Sethares dissonance curves rather than traditional western harmony.
The first part of the project involved Paulina Sundin and Monty Adkins travelling to Jonny Axelsson’s percussion studio in Vallentuna, north of Stockholm. During two days Adkins, Sundin and Axelsson explored a variety of sounds from gongs and resonant metal objects as well as small dry percussive sounds. A selection of these sounds will form the basis of the analysis files to create dissonance curves and ‘scales’ which can then be used as the basis of filtering techniques to create harmonic fields. The recordings, which also include Axelsson improvising intricate gestures will also be integrated into the gestural language of the final piece.
Axelsson’s range of percussion sticks enables a huge variety of sonorities and spectra to be created from the simplest of objects.
Axelsson’s percussion studio is an Aladin’s cave of unusual objects and instruments crafted by Axelsson himself. Sundin, the project leader, has written for Axelsson before but this is the first project on which they have been able to collaborate and research extensively over a period of nine months.
Axelsson’s range of gongs provide a wealth of potentially interesting spectra for analysis. He had only returned from a tour of South Africa the day before our recording session and he brought back with him a wealth of new instruments, including this beautiful Mbira. We recorded this held on top of a drum as it enhanced the sound of the Mbira– this was particularly effective for the deepest notes of the instrument.
With microphones placed at the back of the gong the resonant characteristics are picked up and give the aural impression of being inside the gong. Quite stunning.
The second part of the project took place between October – December 2013 during which Sundin and Gierakowski finalised the analysis patch in Max/MSP. This patch enables the extraction of dissonance curve scale steps from the analysis of any sound.
The patch allows the user to see which is the most prominent partial in the analysis window and then transpose the spectrum of the sound from this fundamental onto the other scale steps.
The third part of the project resulted in an intensive work period in January 2014 when Gierakowski, Sundin and Adkins all met in Stockholm. The initial part of this time was spent analysing the percussion materials we had recorded with Jonny Axelsson and selecting from a vast array of possibilities, interesting spectra with which to work in the final piece. Below is the data set that was finally selected. We used the dissonance curve data produced by a wonderful broken temple block, a Javanese gong, a drum, and a bell tree transposed down four octaves.
During this period we also worked on the performance tool. This was again coded in Max/MSP using the iPad MIRA app to control the capture, processing and playing of sound materials.
The performance of the work will involve live manipulation of the sounds of the percussionist filtered through the scale steps of the analysis. The MIRA app programmed by Gierakowski will also enable the transition between different scales to enable ‘modulation’.
It is this ability to ‘modulate’ and transform from one set of analysis data to another that distinguishes this form of work from more traditional spectral music. The data allows relational sonorities to be established and prominence given to the fundamental. The creation of differing centres of specific sonorities allows large-scale formal process to be developed that rely on these relationships and their transitions through common scale-steps.
In January 2014 we also met with Jonny Axelsson again following the analysis to see what percussion instruments would work with the chosen pitch data. We were looking for instruments that not merely fitted the spectra chosen but also complimented and added to it.
Gong Scale: 1 big cowbell: Almglocken, d-sharp; 1 metal plate, lo f-sharp; 1 burma gong, lo f; 2 Javanese gongs, lo d and e-1/4tone. On all of the instruments a variety of hard and soft sticks were employed in order to investigate which brought out lower and higher harmonics.
Temple block scale – various small woodblocks as well as 2 medium sized ceramic flower pots worked perfectly with this scale. In addition we used 5 mongolian cymbals both bowed and delicately hit with soft sticks.
The low bells scale we made in the analysis software produced a wealth of interesting spectra. Three korean gongs, 1 burma gong, lo f; 2 dubacci, hi d and g; 2 pars of tibetan bells; 1 bell tree.
The Drum scale uses 4 octobans; 1 african drum; 3 medium congas; 1 bass drum. We found that the sound of the african drum and octobans (above left) was also interesting when the resonance was stopped by covering them with a blanket.