MP 2014: Session 4a: Meta-processes

Scott McLaughlin (University of Leeds) presented his paper ‘Instrument as process’, dealing with instruments as compositional material.

He began with a contextual introduction to Tim Ingold’s Ways of Walking (2008), where, in short, the author examines how humans interact reflexively with their environment during the process of walking from one place to another under the auspices of ‘speculative anthropology’. McLaughlin transferred this theory to his research, and how instruments respond to stimuli and environment, and how this affects sounds they produce as they process (transform) from one state to another.

McLaughlin used illustrative examples from composer Alvin Lucier. I Am Sitting in a Room (1969) acknowledges the room as the instrument. Lucier played a recorded narration into a room, and then re-recorded the resulting sound. This process was repeated a number of times, and, due to the particular resonance in the room, certain frequencies were emphasised until the words became unintelligible and were replaced with tones and harmonies from the resonance of the room itself. McLaughlin calls this a non-responsive process, since after being set up, it is entirely left alone during the performance, and the compositional material is based upon materiality (or temporality), ultimately affording performative paths.

Opera with Objects (1997) is a work that utilises objects as instruments. The process heard here is the sound objects transforming based on what the object is interacting with – for example, a pencil tapped against a brick will produce a different sound to one being tapped against a glass bottle. The instrument (object) produces the action and resultant musical gesture, meaning that the instrument is the process itself, and so the instrument (as process) endorses the gestures themselves.

McLaughlin calls this process a performative exploration of acoustic and amplification phenomena, meaning that the performance is informed by the resulting sound of two objects meeting – no two venues and object combinations will produce the same sound. Further to this, the work falls into the category, ‘opera’ because the objects gain character and narrative happens through the process of the objects ‘meeting’.

Scott McLaughlin is a composer and improviser (cello, live electronics) based in Huddersfield. He also lectures in composition and music technology at Leeds University, and his research focuses on the physical materiality of sound and performance. His debut CD, there are neither wholes nor parts was recently released on Ergodos Records.

– Kelly Butler, Music and/as Process Intern 2014