In Lines, I endeavoured to use only two main effects (with the exception of some reverberation and sample splicing). These were pitch manipulation in the first half of the piece (0:00-3:33) and extreme equalisation in the second half (3:33-end).
Similarly, I restricted my sound material with a bouncing ping-pong ball and glass smash samples in the first half and a field recording of Aberdeen’s Union Street in the second. With these restrictions, I had to deeply explore the possibilities of the two effects and use complex and intricate layering and positioning of the sound files to achieve the finished piece. Employing S.O.A.P. analysis to Lines highlighted to me the gestural qualities of the piece and its play with agency. Just as a listener can hold on to the sound of the ping-pong ball as it gradually morphs into another sound object, so too can they hold on to the image of the agent.
I explored the transition from a clear sounding object to an unrecognisable sounding object, starting with vivid gestural qualities and moving to gestural ambiguity. I then reversed this process in the second half, starting with obscure sounds and gestures and gradually revealing the new sounding object.
3.1.1. Programme Note
Lines is an acousmatic composition, composed 2017-18, and focuses on the conscious and subconscious perception of agency through gestures and abstract sound. The opening to the piece is seemingly transparent with the sound of a ping-pong ball dropping into a glass. This bouncing gesture is worked with and developed, initially by pitch manipulation and intricate layering, until the resulting sound image becomes blurred with only the bouncing gesture remaining persistent throughout the first half of the piece. As a stark contrast, the second half of the piece focuses on long, drawn-out gestures with fluid movement – the material for which is revealed only at the end of the piece. As gesture and agency are often tied to one another, there are points in the second half of the piece where human voices can almost be made out, hinting towards the original, un-manipulated sound. The piece ends by opening up the sonic world to a soundscape of Aberdeen, with its mixture of short and long gestures, human and non-human agents – overall, quite far away from the singular bouncing sound with which we began.
3.1.2. S.O.A.P. Analysis
Digital Environment – Agency
I attempted to establish a sense of agency at the beginning and end of the piece by using recognisable sounds and gestures. These sounds are the ping pong ball dropping into the glass and the city soundscape. I selected these sounds because they each give a different sense of agency. The isolated sound of the ping pong ball suggests a human agent dropping the object into the glass. The bouncing gesture and the energy within the ball itself almost portray it as a non-human agent. I used this repetitive, bouncing gesture throughout the first half of the piece. The soundscape at the end (8:35) suggests a collective agency as many people are contributing to the soundscape. There are voices and singing, which are perhaps the most direct ways to refer to human agents in the digital environment. With the addition of other human-caused sounds such as cars and footsteps, the overall sense of collective agency is powerful.
Digital Environment – Objects
At the beginning of the piece, there are recognisable sounds of glass and a ping pong ball bouncing inside a glass cylinder. The piece gets gradually further away from these sounds but maintains their bouncing and smashing gestures until we reach the halfway point. Here, we begin to transition, coming from the hectic complexity and speed of section one to an almost calming and comparatively still section two. Most of the sounds in this section are unrecognisable, however glimpses of what lies underneath shine through and we occasionally hear voices, footsteps and the roar of car tyres on the road. At the very end of the piece, the unaltered sound world reveals itself through peeling back the layers of manipulation, and we find ourselves on a busy road with a busker (8:33).
Aside from the sounds above, most of this piece uses unrecognisable sounds. We are introduced to a select few sounds early on that contain distinct gestures and kinetic properties. We take these sound images with us as we explore the rest of the piece. Images of bouncing, smashing and ricocheting stay with us until we reach the stillness of the second section. This has a lo-fi nature and calm surface, yet with an undercurrent of energy waiting to be released. The sounds, rather than giving us a sense of any sounding object, provide us with kinetic and spatial information.
Digital Environment – Space
I designed the space of the first section to feel balanced. There are very few examples of extreme panning or equalisation to give the illusion of excessive space, but there is movement around the listener. The sounds roll from left to right or bounce across the listening field in a constant sense of movement. The sounds, whether recognisable or unrecognisable, feel as though they move naturally and sometimes this is with high speed and energy. As we transition into the second section, we use this time to consciously reach out to explore space in the piece, deliberately testing boundaries of left, right, high, low, near and far. It feels as though the first section, with all its chaotic energy, maintained a spatial balance as if by chance.
Performance Environment – Space
Lines is a fixed media stereo piece designed for live diffusion around surround sound set-up. The sounds move around the listener but no alterations to the acoustics of the venue are required.
3.1.3 The Effect of the Analysis
While performing a S.O.A.P. analysis of Lines, I realised that I treated the sense of agency in the same way I treated the source-bonded nature of the objects. I started the piece with a recognisable sounding object, whose bouncing gesture frequently reoccurred throughout the first section, morphing into its own non-living agent. The gradual nature of the manipulations allow us to trace the ball’s sonic changes through the piece. At the end of the first section, the sound has been altered quite drastically and yet we are still able to hear the energy of the bouncing ball. This chaotic energy influences this section as it is paced quite fast with many sound objects coming in and out. The energy is not from the human agent who dropped the ball, but from the ball itself due to the influence of gravity. It is as if the addition of gravity gives the ball the power it needs to be its own agent – the energy to act upon the glass and create the sound material with which the piece is made.
Coming to this unconventional view of agency made me realise the flaw in agency being tied to intentionality. In an artform that samples sound from the real world and twists it into other unnatural forms, it challenges whether the standard conception of agency – or any main theories, for that matter – are indeed true. Through novel approaches, I enjoy playing with what an agent can be. In section 2.2., I listed human, non-human, non-living, implied, and collective agents as examples that I have explored in my portfolio. This is not to say, however, that there are not more types of agency to be uncovered or changed.