Composition as Exploration

This is a Hybrid Media Composition that utilizes animation, sound, and source text, to Form-Shift Gertrude Stein’s 1925 Essay, “Composition as Explanation,” from its text based form into a visual and sonic medium. Find the Published Version of this Composition at The Eaves.

Gertrude Stein’s “Composition as Explanation” was given as a lecture to both Cambridge and Oxford University students in 1926.  This piece is a Hybrid Media Composition that Form Shifts Stein’s composition into a Sonic Composition with Animation that utilizes key quotes from the original text.  The intention of this work is both pedagogical and experimental in its nature and attempts to get at the heart of how trans-forming the formal qualities of a ‘core text’ can help us more deeply understand the core essence of the original ‘core text.’ I will explain a bit about how I form shift through an overview of the process of form shifting Stein’s essay.

I chose a particular passage within the text that spoke to me [“Continuous present is one thing and beginning again and again is another thing. These are both things. And then there is using everything.”]. Focussing on recall, recreation and form shifting, I worked with that one phrase to create a composition that attempted to recreate Stein’s work in a musical sonic form, without imposing my own interpretation. This composition was then played to a class of students who were studying Stein’s work, among others. The students were asked to free write throughout the six minute composition, and then share pieces of their writing. I then form shifted into the realm of digital photography, by selecting a photograph that intuitively felt representative of the text, and using the selected phrase, digitally injected the text into the code of the image. The outcomes of their work were quite interesting.

In order to complete this task, I first needed to understand the text, so I deconstructed the passage. Both rhythmically and conceptually I felt there were four distinct parts to the phrase: continuous present, beginning again and again, these are both things, and then there is everything. I stayed true to the simplicity of these elements and began to build my composition track by track, aiming to recreate all four parts of the passage in my piece. I began with a very basic 12 bar ukulele rhythm line that was abruptly cut, so that its beginning was distinctive after I looped the track. This piece represented the “begin[ ] again and again” phrasing in Stein’s piece, and created a moment in the composition that began again and again and again. I used the gain structure of the track as the only modifier of that phrase.

Next I tackled “was continuous present.” In creating this track I felt it was imperative that the composition was created extemporaneously in real time, and in one take, without employing the technical support of multi-tracking. I immediately gravitated toward an oscillation and tone generating device that would allow me to control ten different potentiometers corresponding with parameters like oscillation, pulse, low frequency output, and phaser. The oscillation tone generator allowed me to stay busy throughout the composition and as a result fully present in the piece, and in the moment of creation. I played back the initial ukulele track while recording this second track, and in real time manipulated the oscillation tone generator on top of the six minute looped ukulele track, hearing the synergy of the two pieces, struggling to identify moments of connectivity between the two, revelling in the creative moment. I ultimately did this three different times, before settling on which recording I preferred, I then locked that recording in as the second track.

The third part I investigated, “these are both things,” took a completely different form than the first two. The third and fourth tracks were created from the recordings of the first and second track, in that I reversed the recorded audio waves so that they played backwards. In the case of the first track, “beginning again and again,” this meant that each 12 bar loop played backwards, and in the case of the second track the entire recorded track was reversed. I modified the fourth track, simply by decreasing the overall gain of the track in the mix, until the very end, so that it was a very subtle hum below the surface. For the third track, I chose a different treatment. I identified that biggest audio wave within the 12 bars, the one that had the highest decibel reading: this wave represented the moment that causes us to begin again and again. I highlighted this 1.5 second sound wave in each loop and made it audible, while muting the rest of each loop. I then went back into each loop of the third track and systematically un-muted one bar per loop, beginning with the first bar of the first loop, moving to the second bar of the second loop and so on. The result was that each 12 bar loop of the third track had two audible sections, the loudest sound wave, and one additional bar. This additional bar represented a unique thought or idea within the moments of beginning again and again.

The fourth part, “and then there is using everything,” was woven into the composition across all four tracks. I felt there was a need to create a moment in the piece, where all four of the parts of Stein’s text resonated in a harmony of sorts. My aim was to bring the four pieces together, in away in which they could speak to and inform one another. I did  this in two ways. The first was to automate the entire composition, using relative gain structure to create shifting moments of presence throughout the track, where the composition began to dictate they should be. The second was to create a moment where all four parts and all four tracks were working together to recreate Stein’s phrase, this occurs throughout the last thirty seconds of the composition.