Heart of Light

“Ancient life was all silence.
In the 19th century, with the invention of machines, Noise was born.
Today, Noise is triumphant and reigns sovereign over the sensibilities of men.”

Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noises

Heart of Light is a study of modulated synthesis in its extreme. The piece explores the levels of interaction between the micro scale and the macro scale by transcending the arbitrary boundaries between note and form. In the discipline of electroacoustic composition it is possible for a single note to transform into a full melody of sounds in an organic manner just as it is possible for a whole phrase to be reduced into a single utterance. As humans we perceive this boundary due to our brain interpreting anything with a rate of repetition of over around 20Hz as a single sound with a perceived frequency of around 20Hz. Reduce this rate and the sounds become repetitions of the same thing. If the sound can be slowed down without losing its core make up then we can start to hear inside the sound on a different level. In the real-world the sounds that would be capable of this interplay and exploration would be sounds that consist of discrete repetitions, not for example the sinusoidal periodicity of most orchestral instruments. In the electroacoustic domain this effect can be readily achievable using amplitude modulation, gating and modulating low-frequency oscillators. If we were to start with a single click or pulse and control the trigger rate with a variable control then we could speed the rate of clicks to above 20Hz to create a pulse wave which would sound as a single note. It would be similar if a gated sine wave were used. Now we control the amplitude of that pulse wave by another low frequency oscillator and we get a double level of modulation in our sound. With a large network of similar modulators we can very easily produce some very complicated sounds. An example of a large complicated system of modulators is Audiobulb’s synthesiser, SophiaABV4.

Sophia is undoubtedly a very complicated design of synthesiser, so much so that the designer decided that the atmosphere invoked by its sounds should take precedence over its legibility and usability, asking instead that the user plays with it and learns how it reacts to the controls. x|k, the creator of the synthesiser, writes in its manual, ‘Sophia may be confusing to grasp at first, because the GUI (Graphical User Interface) is based on “setting the vibe” as opposed to usability. This was purely an artistic decision, rather than a practical one’, and goes on to say that the best way to understand it is by studying the signal flow diagram, but the diagram is very unclear.

Heart of Light was composed entirely using sounds generated by Sophia in four 10 minute real-time recordings. This was only possible after extensive experimentation and practice on the instrument in order to produce even the slightest levels of predictability. The resultant sound world is mechanistic and industrial due to the comparability of discrete periodicity in Sophia and in real-world machines. As with Spanish Ladies the source material was sequenced and composed into the piece using Cakewalk’s Sonar.

The form of the piece is relatively free due to the experimentation of the interplay between the micro sound-world and the macro sound-world. Therefore the composition of the piece had to be approached holistically. Having said this the piece starts and ends in a similar sound-world so as to lend a sense of coherence to a piece that would otherwise sound alien to most listeners. The middle section of the piece which starts at around 7’40”, is again comparable to the middle of its analogue Spanish Ladies by featuring a large scale stasis which acts as a mirror through with the piece reflects itself.

The overall structure of the piece after the introduction is that of a journey though levels of modulation and back round to itself. In this way it can be considered like the harmonic cycle of fifths which lead inexorably back to the starting point but take in all possibilities en route or like a rotating tesseract which appears in three dimensions to turn itself inside out only to end up as it started.