Feagufd: music/noise--21st-Century Alternatives
Opera / Internet / Noise

TM: Yet aren't you also interested in exploring possibilities for converting visual images into music? Converting a PICASSO into music or . . . ?

SR:Well, eyes and ears are quite different sensory apparatus. The number of bits involved are different. The speed of processing is quite different. The incremental values that you need to assign before you can recognize the differences in the stimuli are something like two decimal places. For example, your eyes can concentrate on something for two hours, but if you tried converting this thing to sound, you would find that your ears simply aren't able to focus for that long.
The structure of films and music, for example, are completely different. COPPOLA's Apocalypse Now has a running time of something like three hours. The average viewer will have no problem watching this film in its entirety, but it's hard to think of a three-hour piece of music that can keep the listener engaged at a similar level. That's why it's perhaps misleading to assume that because a picture is a PICASSO, and a work of genius it can be transposed to music and maintain the same integrity. Simply taking a two-dimensional visual work and trying to convert it into music, a one-dimensional, unidirectional art form, is nonsense.

There are, however, phenomena where the disparate senses can enjoy a kind of sympathy. I once volunteered at Professor SUGISHITA Morihiro's research lab at Tokyo University, where they're studying the relationship between music and the brain. I was their guinea pig. They had me enter an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine, a huge thing costing millions of dollars, and try my hand at some musical compositions. Using the MRI, they were able to follow the various states that my brain would go through, and in so doing were able to isolate states wherein my brain was in "multi-sensory" mode. They were able to output the data and everything. The interesting thing was, that when my brain was in multi-sensory mode was not necessarily when I was listening to music. It was when I was imagining it—composing in my mind.

TM: Did you notate?

SR: I couldn't. You're not allowed to move. The idea is to restrict the subject, because when you move, other stimuli get recorded, such as the part of the brain that controls your musculature, for example. But when you compose while strapped into that machine, the activity in your visual field can be clearly isolated, because you're really "looking." When I compose, the score is in my mind, and from that music other landscapes and symbolics and abstract figures are invoked, and these become the basis for the composition. I'm hearing music in my head, so both the auditory and visual fields are finding expression, in addition to the physical. The associations that arise when I'm composing affect my musculature, making it tense up and loosen. My brain is getting a full workout.

TM: Would you say that using technology like IWAI's system, then, makes composition easier for you?

SR: I don't know if it would make composition easier, but it would make different music than having not employed it. A good example might be STRAVINSKY's The Rites of Spring, or some of the other early ballet pieces he was so prolific with. They are very odd pieces to look at. They seem filled with extraneous repetitions and awkward sudden changes. They were completely revolutionary for their time. When they were first staged half of the audience would throw garbage onto the stage. There was, literally, a real stink raised about them. But they were written to be danced to. So it was only normal that once a dancer had walked to a certain point on the stage, that they would pirouette or leap, or some other choreographic command would act upon him. Well, STRAVINSKY was merely writing to this subtext, and his composition reflected it. Film scores have a similar set of issues. Once the choreography is removed and the piece is made to stand as a purely musical statement it may be structurally odd, but it is still valid as a composition.
In my collaborations with IWAI there may have been a similar phenomenon at work. If it was only a musical composition three consecutive repeats would be boring, but in those collaborations repeating something twelve times would confront the audience with a different set of issues, of . . . "well then, what is this?" . . . and a certain fresh leeway was granted the piece. But those are the sorts of things that we hope will come from such an experiment. Of course, collaborating with other genres provides some very interesting work, and some quite tedious.

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