For the final piece in my portfolio, I took the opportunity to heavily explore the aspect of space in both the digital and performance environments. Although the piece exists as a stereo .WAV file, the performance of the piece is very different from my other fixed stereo compositions. YinYang was intentionally composed for each of the two channels to be experienced individually as well as together. Therefore, YinYang could be viewed as three pieces: right channel, left channel, and both channels together. The performance of this work requires a minimum for four speakers. When the piece starts, the sounds come only from the right speakers. The audience are encouraged to orientate themselves to face the right as if this were now the front of the venue. After three minutes, we hear sounds from the left channel. Again, the audience are encouraged to turn to face these speakers. Six minutes into the piece, we hear a marriage of the left and the right, with all speakers producing sound. At this point, the audience should face the front and experience the two halves coming together.
The compositional process for YinYang was very different from any piece I had written before. Because each channel had to be able to function as a standalone composition, the most important aspect was making sure each side felt balanced on its own as well as when heard together. I alternated between composing everything together and composing the right or the left. As such, all of my Reaper tracks had to be set to either 100% left or 100% right. In order to move a sound across the stereo field, I had to fade the sound out on one track whilst fading it in on the other. The consequence of this compositional process is the lack of stereo spatialisation available when just one channel is being heard. To compensate, I try to give a sense of depth and deep spectral range. I used a selection of spectrally “full” sounds and spectrally “sparse” sounds. The benefit of this restriction is the comparative richness of the final iteration where, having been deprived of the full stereo field, we are overwhelmed by this added dimension.
The piece gets its title from the contrast, separation, and marriage of spaces and materials. There are high and low frequency sounds, pitched and unpitched sounds, sparsity and density, left, right, and a coming together of all of these aspects into one.
The sound materials used in YinYang were chosen to reflect these ideas of contrast and marriage. By using samples of instruments, I was able to create moments of melody as well as moments of abstract sound. The philosophy of yin and yang originates in Asia, therefore using samples of instruments common to this continent seemed appropriate.
3.7.1. Programme Note
YinYang (2019-20) deals with extremes. It deals with contrast, opposition, and marriage. It transforms space, challenging our axial perceptions of left, right, front, and back, near and far. Going through three iterations, we first hear the right and then the left before they are both brought together before us.
For the first portion of YinYang, I encourage the audience to turn 90 degrees and consider the right of the venue as the new front. Similarly, for the second part, the audience members should treat the left side of the venue as the new front. When the two halves come together for the final part of the piece, the audience should return to their original position facing the true front of the venue.
3.7.2. S.O.A.P. Analysis
Digital Environment – Objects
I feel that the identification of the sounding objects has little bearing on the listener’s understanding of this piece. The material used is largely from percussive and plucked stringed instruments or similarly pitched objects. The main concern of this piece is how they are used to complement and contrast each other. There are moments where only short sounds are used (6:00 & 8:20)
and moments when long textures underpin the piece (6:52 & 7:30).
There is a similar contrast between the pitched material: sometimes this is very high and piercing (7:30) and at other times it is low and powerful (6:52).
The sounding objects themselves function in a similar manner with moments that are predominantly tabla (06:00) and moments mainly of guzheng (7:30)
All these contrasting sounds are also used simultaneously to create a rich listening experience for the audience.
Digital Environment – Space
When discussing YinYang it can be difficult to separate the space created in the performance environment from the space created in the digital environment as the performance format influenced how I approached the parameter of space during the composing process. As both of the first two iterations are played to the audience in monophonic sound, I was limited with my use of space. Instead of playing with left and right, I play with a sense of depth. When the two channels combine in the final section of the piece, the stereo field is blown open with the two channels working with each other to give, not only a sense of depth, but also a sense of left, right, and centre.
Performance Environment – Space
The performance of YinYang involves the audience turning in their seats to alter what they perceive to be the front of the venue. For the first third of the performance, the audience will face the right. Sound will only come from this side of the venue as this portion of the piece only involves the sound from the right channels. Similarly, in the second half, the audience should face the left for the sound coming from the left channels. These two sections will be lacking in a sense of left and right as the sound will be monophonic. When the two parts come together in the final section, the audience will be facing the front again and having this stereo field will allow the work to take on greater form – not only having a very full and complex fabric of sounds but one that can appear to move in front of the listener. By using sections of monophonic sound followed by stereo, I attempt to give the listener an experience of space that encompases the two extremes.
3.7.3 The Effect of the Analysis
Considering the abstractions of S.O.A.P. in the context of YinYang highlighted to me the importance of restrictions in developing your creative practice. With the first two instances of this piece being restricted to mono sound, I had to think about ways to avoid a flat sound. Never before have I had to rely so heavily on contrasts in spectral range or placing objects near or far. Where stereophonic pieces have a greater range of space to add interest to the work, monophonic compositions have to generate the interest elsewhere. YinYang also formed another example of my tendency to use rhythmic phrases. Since I was already aware of this, I tried not to rely too heavily on this tool to move the piece forward. I established a clear rhythm at the beginning of the piece but soon degraded it into seemingly random tabla hits. I used these rhythmic moments to bring focus to the piece before moving into more chaotic sections.