Fluid Narratives of Virtual Music

When I started building an engine (3DBARE) to allow the listener to walk inside a piece of music, I thought it was a tool to help me carry on doing what I was doing – just a better way of listening.
Listeners at geo-located music with noTours for Android
But allowing a listener to determine the temporal content of music by their position and route through space means that all or many of the former controls held by the composer / performer / producer are removed.
The listener is in charge: they are attracted or repelled by sounds and their combinations, and they negotiate a path ‘blindly’, feeling without signposting for a way through the experience.
If the ‘work’ presented tells a story or – now more likely – allows a series of associations between the materials experienced and personal memory, visceral responses to these, thereby giving the listener the tools to construct their own narrative, how can we determine the outcome, some aspects of the whole?
Luigi Russolo’s Intonarumori
The narrative of a ‘classical work’ is necessarily abandoned. Its message resides as firmly in form as in tonal colour and harmonic content.
The formula – of embarking on a sometimes choppy but ultimately protected journey before returning to the comfortable shores of the original key (and ‘tune’) – has, for all but a few music-makers, become necessarily historical.
The scope which we now enjoy for example of the exploration of textures was simply impossible in the pre-electronic age.

Digital transformation of the familiar and unfamiliar into and through each other lets us explore weird new identities.
The skewed reality of dreams becomes communicable, merging and overlaying in impossible but plausible juxtapositions allows music to reflect the complexities of our sensory and cognitive experience.
Music is not something we present people, like a cake or a pair of shoes.
Music is the ordering into communicative structures of sound.
You cannot touch, see or smell sound.
You cannot write anything about it that approaches the reality of hearing those sounds.
So why have we spent a couple of centuries telling ourselves that the musical composition was an object like a cake, like shoes, like a painting?
I refer you to the million-word discussions of others on this thorny matter.
Morton Feldman
My business is struggling to make the er, not-stuff, that music is.
So if we want a narrative in our music, let’s put one there.
I witness stories on the top deck of London buses, as I drive through landscape, sit in a city square.
Amalgamations of snapshots, overheard snippets, accents, phrases, references, calling up an un-knowable back story from every voice, each noise that flashes past and evaporates.
Composers cannot hope to control the tale they tell: there is no more agreement about the import of a Mozart string quartet than those of Morton Feldman.
We do though, have access to an unprecedented level of complexity in the material we present to our audience and the combinations in which these may, endlessly, be sensed.
The big issue for me has been how to deliver all this magical, vertiginous potential: no one can play it, read it, hum it.
Sounds that cannot be reproduced.
Combinations that cannot be heard if sounding all at once.
Varese composing Poeme Electronique

Here’s what we do: let the listener combine the materials as they proceed, like Amelie collecting photo booth snaps, or Cage with his same-different-same seas of traffic.

Why don’t we present the listener with a shoebox full of letters (maybe some distractions thrown in, certain pages strategically removed) – and ask them to tell us the life story of the unknown protagonist?
Then we can proceed beyond the need for a narrative altogether: removing the imposition of structure, particularly the temporal, is not an act of abandonment, of irresponsibility – it is the most generous gift you can make to an audience.
To present them with a collection of the most closely, finely wrought pieces of work possible, in placements and combinations that have been tested, over and again, until the swirling whole, this whirlpool of memory and desire, amusement, terror, revulsion, meditative curiosity, rage, sleepy contentment, laughter become not a fixed structure but like the inner and outer worlds flapping like Einstein’s dimensions against each other as we walk between them.

Painting landscape with sound

It is the fluidity of virtual narratives that can bring the virtual to life.