Auditory Scene Analysis (I)

In winter of 2013, I was preparing to teach a class on music perception for composers at Oberlin Conservatory. Many of the paths I was exploring seemed to lead back to Albert Bregman's book Auditory Scene Analysis. Bregman's research examines "the perceptual organization of sound," and specifically the complex problem presented to auditory perception as it goes about its daily business: how to take the single, summed pressure wave that reaches the ear at any instant and filter, group, and parse it into patterns that accurately reconstruct the sources of its component sounds.

Making my way through Bregman's work offered the revelatory and mildly euphoric experience of seeing the cognitive and perceptual underpinnings of many of my longest-standing musical obsessions laid out with clarity and precision. Fusion and blend, the construction of virtual or "chimeric" sounds or instruments, the perceptual dynamics of complex sonic scenarios, unison and synchrony-- for all of these Bregman offers specific and concrete information about the ways in which each results from the functioning or malfunctioning of various systems of hearing and cognition. (Studying music by Sciarrino, Ablinger, Feldman, Mahler, Haydn, Grisey or Debussy would be another way to internalize much of the same information, but at the time it felt valuable to leaven the practice with a bit of theory.)

Auditory Scene Analysis (I) represents a first attempt to deal with many of these issues in a large format. The piece begins with a series of highly virtuosic solos that gradually accumulate, masking and "overpainting" one another chaotically, eventually blacked out altogether by white noise. The piece then tips over onto the vertical axis, examining the "integration of simultaneous auditory components," exploring fused sonorities, virtual instruments, and "unparseable" auditory chimeras.

written for the Wet Ink Large Ensemble, during a residency at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (Woodside, CA).

flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, bassoon /
trumpet, trombone, tuba / piano, sampler, 2 percussion /
2 violins, viola, cello, double bass / female voice / sound engineer
duration: 15'

video excerpt: