Traversing Sonic Territories

[…] As such, I want to begin by re-turning – not by returning as in reflecting on or going back to a past that was, but re-turning as in turning over and over again – iteratively intra-acting, re-diffracting, diffracting anew, in the making of new temporalities (spacetimematterings), new diffraction patterns. We might imagine re-turning as a multiplicity of processes, such as the kinds earthworms revel in while helping to make compost or otherwise being busy at work and at play: turning the soil over and over – ingesting and excreting it, tunnelling through it, burrowing, all means of aerating the soil, allowing oxygen in, opening it up and breathing new life into it.  

– Karen Barad[1]

This essay is written from many more or less different and differentiating points. Even if the text suggests a reading from left to right, top to bottom, the structure of the essay is more diffractive than progressive, re–turning matters rather than merely reflecting (on) them. Here we follow Karen Barad’s notion of a diffractive methodology as “a matter of reading insights through rather than against each other to make evident the always-already entanglement of specific ideas in their materiality.”[2] A matter of reading and, we might add, writing insights through one another, where the point is not “to make analogies, but rather to explore patterns of difference/différance – differentiating-entangling– that not only sprout from, and remain entangled with, specific material conditions […], but are enfolded in the patterning in ways that trouble binaries […]" [3]

On the title’s meaning 

If we were to dig into the title in order to uncover its terms and implied meanings, we might as well start with “traversing”. In its most common meaning, it implies moving or travelling through or across something, typically an area or a piece of land. However, we also find that it can mean to turn, swivel, to extend or range over, to deny or thwart, or to examine something, say subject matter, or any matter for that sake. A thought, a feeling, some words, a sound.
With these nuances in mind, what, then, are we traversing? What does this area consist of? How is it demarcated?
Staying for a moment with that last question, we arrive at “territories”. At the root of the word is “terra”: earth, ground, land. Even if grounds are hardly ever neutral, always already marked up in some way or another, “terra” could be said to be more fundamental than, and in some sense prior, also etymologically speaking, to territory, which implies a certain delineation of the involved grounds. And, along these lines, it also raises questions of ownership and authorship, together with issues of origin, source and belonging. A drawing up of borders and boundaries that entails a fixity of regions, or say, of sounds: Personal sounds, identitary sounds, idiomatic sounds, idiosyncratic sounds, habitual sounds, traditional sounds, historical sounds, conventional sounds, instrumental sounds, saxophone sounds, piano sounds, well-tempered sounds, western sounds, invented sounds, inherited sounds. Territories of sound.

And as we close in on that middle word in the title, it should be said that words like “personal”, “identity”, “origin”, “authorship”, “ownership” may well be written and uttered, but not without trouble nor without potentially troubling the involved sounds in terms of how we hear them, how we understand them, how we have inherited them and how we orient our sonic practices in relation to them.
How, then, do we traverse these sonic territories? What agencies are activated, enforced, interfered? What sonic matter e/merges and dis/appears along these dis/continuities? The questions are many as we embark. And as we try to stay aware of the manifold layers of the given sonic territories, their entanglements of personal, habitual, contextual, temporal, and historical aspects, furhter questions arise: What are the various relational conditions and contingencies that play out within, between and across the sonic and the personal, between the player and the played, between playing and being played?

So, through “traversing sonic territories”, we also wish to point to some basic conditions of our work. For one, it is situated within this framework of issues and issuing structures, taking off from within certain boundaries that surround our musical practice as instrumentalists and improvisers. This entails mapping our “own” sonic vocabularies and creating “personal” sound libraries, operating on the assumption that many improvising musicians in western experimental and post/jazz contexts have, or strive to have, a personal, singular sound. And please note that we speak of a sound in the singular and not sounds in the plural. In addition, this assumes that this sonic identity is often embedded in the domain of one’s own instrument, and at the same time that the instrument itself is always already established within a musicultural heritage and carries with it a range of cultural and identitary markers. And finally – even if we’ll never quite exhaust nor finalize issues here – that the very naming itself suggests a certain framing of the sonic identity and sound to be experienced. The announcement, still in the singular: On saxophone, someone, on piano, another one. And after events, the usual assessments; on a good night for example: “so and so could really play the piano”, “so and so really fired up the saxophone”, and not so much the other way around: of being really played by, really fired up by: the saxophone, the piano, the space, each other …

Opening up other ways of playing and being played. Extending our orientation in further relations–playing and being played by a certain way of teaching, a way of practice, a way of tradition–toward playing around with notions of who, what, where, and when.

As such, it is a traversing of territories that seeks to re-orient our sonic practices across these more or less given boundaries, in order to see if we can open up a contingent field of play in which sounds are shared, folded back and forth, turned around, reconfigured, displaced, transposed and b(l)ended into a multiplicity of movements, gestures, speeds, pulses, textures, intensities, densities, durations, desires. 
Still, situated or perhaps even stuck within a given who, what, where, when and how, we try to convey these issues through ways of sharing sounds, giving away control of them and softening the fixities around ownership and authorship to see if we can move toward a freeing up of individual domains: sonically, instrumentally, habitually, contextually.

And speaking of who, what, etc., in closer proximity, this practice takes off in a duo–and here we go again: on saxophone, Torben Snekkestad and on piano, Søren Kjærgaard ...

Since the project sets out to question and disturb that which forms us in our musical practice in many ways, we constantly run into juxtapositions, for example that of having learned and played an instrument since childhood and the idea of having developed a personal sound and idiomatic style of playing, documented on recordings and in performances, and sometimes passing things on, as teachers. We grew interested in seeing what happens when this foundation, instrumentally and sonically, was disturbed and exchanged with something else that specifically came from someone else. Not as an anti-instrumental movement or as a result of any traumas caused by our musical upbringing and education (which is incidentally not unheard of within instrumental pedagogy, which rests in master-student relationships), but with a curiosity to situate ourselves, our sounds – if we may even call them ours – in the transitory states of a sharing process, from mapping and sampling sounds to sharing, embedding and embodying them in a digital setup that would cause the acoustic logics of the instruments to collapse without completely disrupting their architecture. As such, still having 88 piano keys available but where the acoustic body of strings, hammers etc. is replaced by digital sounds, and where the winds blown into the mouthpiece of the saxophone (also) activates digital sound samples. Well aware that many things – sounds and so on – would inevitably get lost in the process, there might be other things to discover in these hopefully productive transitions. And so, we sought to approach this work as a circulatory practice of passing things around, on and on, and to investigate how things would eventually return.

Re-turning, also in bringing it “back” toward a starting point, to one’s “own” instrument, toward more familiar grounds, home turf, tørv, terra. Not in the sense of a regression, as in going back to the good old, well-traversed, familiar ways. Rather, a re–turn which is in/trans/formed through these traversing turns.

Re-turning to see what, if anything, has changed. To see if we are granted new insights, if the once-so-familiar instrument may have revealed other(s’) mysteries? A gained perspective, perhaps? And in a continuation of re–turning: to take these steps back and forth, crisscrossing, round and round, again and again.

Still drawing up some of the issuing grounds here and still only arriving at a rough outline of the complexities in play. And still, when speaking of familiar grounds, we drew up the following delineations from which to set off:

Working parallel to each other, each of us would map out various sounds and sonic approaches on our instrument practices in order to record and sample them. Embarking from a set of rules:

1) Only the acoustic sounds of each of the duo’s musicians are sampled. 

2) The acoustic sounds are recorded without applied electronic manipulation or post-production, so as to draw up a basic sonic territory, drawing on Torben Ulrich’s notion of “basic in the sense of being “prior” to a more finely articulated performance repertoire; basic in the sense of being a kind of distillation, drawn from already experienced practices, still c) basically open to a range of possibilities, exacting as well as playfully untried.” [4]

And to align the stages of the process, we would go through the following: 

1) Mapping 
2) Sampling 
3) Sharing 
4) Embedding  
5) Embodying  
6) Listening

At first, we stumbled along through the stages, step by step, in a somewhat linear way, trying out mapping, sampling and so on, in order to give time to investigate and get comfortable in each stage before bringing them into circulations. Trying to get to a point where we would be able to traverse in more multidirectional ways, reconfiguring various elements of sound, instrument and technology and opening up a diversity of sonic orientations and, potentially, disorientations. There is both an aspect of transversality – of moving through, across and even beyond certain boundaries – and repetition; that is, of recycling and transforming sonic materials through these iterative stages of the practice. At first, the sounds involved the instruments of our duo (piano and saxophones), but with time other musicians and sonic materials also came into play: paper, cardboard, cassette tapes, bamboo, alto flute, reel-to-reel tape, human voices, words.

Traversing, from here to there, taking turns, making rounds, searching grounds, getting lost. Treading carefully, inevitably stumbling, losing balance, shifting perspective on what’s here and there, of who’s who. And nonetheless being careful not to trample over matters, chasing answers, findings, resolutions. Perhaps also stepping back, in hesitation, precariously. Inviting uncertainty, perhaps also as a move into another qualitative mode? And tuning into a different way of moving, an opening of other faculties of orientation. Keeping in mind the aforementioned ways – still plural – of playing and being played – by a less given who, what, where, when: co-affective, reciprocal, not one nor two ways. The step back as a zeroing in and silencing of a certain certainty, in order to intensify other uncertainties.

In his book The Step Back, David Wood brings up John Keats’ notion of “negative capability”:

What we have called the step back calls into play a negative capability insofar as it resists these pressures to prematurely resolve complex questions, it refuses to pretend that boundaries that have been constructed are just there, it refuses to agree that the way things are is the way they must be, and it consequently affirms the responsibilities of critical reflection and patience that flow from these refusals. By negative capability we do not mean what Hegel would call the work of the negative, which would take shape as dialectical progression. [5]

Negative, not in the sense of some sort of Hegelian dialectical progression, but as a negation of constructed boundaries alongside their agreed states and statuses. The Korean-American writer Jin Y. Park picks up the thread from Wood in her work Buddhism and Postmodernity (2008), where she elaborates on Wood’s “postmodern forms of ethics as a ‘step back’”:

What Wood identifies as the characteristics of deconstructive ethics – that is, ambiguity, incompleteness, repetition, negotiation, and contingency – stands opposite to the general characteristics of normative ethics and moral philosophy. Normative ethics becomes possible through a clearcut judgment between binary opposites, whereas Wood's statement is characterized by a refusal to provide such a definitive mode in our ethical imagination. Instead of offering a ready-made recipe to answer our ethical questions, Wood suggests the ethical as a state of suspension. He explains this suspension by using John Keats’ famous expression “negative capability,” which Keats defines as a state “when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” [6]

A traversing–man or any matter–capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts. A step back into ambiguous territories, sonic contingencies, incomplete, repetitive: a state of suspension.

As we take a step back toward more ambiguous sonic grounds, in our attempt to free up the fixed positionality of the musician as originator of the played sounds, along with various degrees of situated fixities of the sounds themselves, we are brought yet again to questions surrounding sonic identity and the clearcut binaries between self and other, player and instrument, the player and the played, playing and being played. Keats offers a rather good voicing of the negative capability in relation to what has been coined “the poetical character”. Even if this poetical character is phrased around a male subject, we are brought in direction of more ghostly affairs that seems to ‘ambiguate’ identitary binaries:

As to the poetical Character itself . . . it is not itself – it has no self – it is everything and nothing – It has no character – it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated – It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. (…) . . . A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity – he is continually in for – and filling some other Body – The Sun, The Moon, The Sea, and Men and Women (...)– the poet has none; no identity– [7]

Could this poetical non/character, this no/self, be transposed into the context of our project by situating the poetical less in a practice of writing andinstead in the sonic, taking a step back (also etymologically) from the poetic to the poietic, meaning to make, create. And in light of our sharing process, to also move in direction of the sympoietic, seeing (and hearing) our work as a process of sympoiesis. In her seminal work Staying with the Trouble, Donna Haraway describes sympoiesis as:

[…] a simple word; it means “making-with.” Nothing makes itself; nothing is really autopoietic or self-organizing … Sympoiesis is a word proper to complex, dynamic, responsive, situated, historical systems. It is a word for worlding-with, in company. Sympoiesis enfolds autopoiesis and generatively unfurls and extends it. [8]

Worlding-with, sounding-with, in company.

If the notions of negative capability and sympoiesis render ambiguous the binaries of no/self, no/body, no/thing into a state of suspension between “nothing [that] makes itself” and being “continually in for – and filling some other Body”, be it moon, sun, sound, thought, instrument, paper, cardboard box – how, then, could we define a body? Or, as we are nearing in on materialist thought, old as new, we could turn to Deleuze, who asks: “How does Spinoza define a body?” And responds:

A body, of whatever kind, is defined by Spinoza in two simultaneous ways. In the first place, a body, however small it may be, is composed of an infinite number of particles; it is the relations of motion and rest, of speeds and slowness between particles, that define a body, the individuality of a body. Secondly, a body affects other bodies, or is affected by other bodies; it is this capacity for affecting and being affected that also defines a body in its individuality. These two propositions appear to be very simple; one is kinetic and the other, dynamic. But if one truly installs oneself in the midst of these propositions, if one lives them, things are much more complicated […] [9]

Two propositions, one kinetic and one dynamic:

The second proposition concerning bodies refers us to the capacity for affecting and being affected. You will not define a body (or a mind) by its form, nor by its organs or functions, and neither will you define it as a substance or a subject. […] Concretely, if you define bodies and thoughts as capacities for affecting and being affected, many things change. [10]

What are the affective capacities of taking a step back from one’s kn/own ways, kn/own sounds? What things–materials, sound–change as we change definitions? What are the capacities related to the involved sonic bodies, human and more than human, for affecting and being affected?

Filling in, flowing through, mixing up, merging with some other body: sonic matters in motion, passages of sound. Perhaps the very notion of territory from which we embark is beginning to slide, as we move further into the workings of the project. Staying within Deleuzean territories, it seems that the concept also carries with it productive (dis)orientations:

The concept of ‘territory’ evades easy categorisation because rather than being a sedentary place maintaining firm borders against outside threat, the territory itself is a malleable site of passage. As an assemblage, it exists in a state of process whereby it continually passes into something else. [...] It does not privilege or maintain the nostalgic or xenophobic protection of any particular homeland; instead, this centre (that may be more correctly called a ‘vector’ because it can reside outside of the assemblage/territory) expresses an experiential concept that has no fixed subject or object. It is neither symbolic nor representational, and does not signify. As an assemblage, a territory manifests a series of constantly changing heterogeneous elements and circumstances that come together for various reasons at particular times. [11]

Territories, assemblages, a series of constantly changing heterogeneous elements, a malleable site of passage, a site of circumstances that come together, in sympoietic intraplay, for various reasons at particular times, timings, tempos, temperaments. An experiental concept with no fixed subject or object. David Toop, who started out supervising our project and, as it unfolded, became a sonic collaborator and co-player, touches on this issue:

The notion of territory in the context of music is dubious. Sound waves are not discrete objects, like furniture, frogs or flutes. Invisibly invasive, they mix, interfere, complicate, so in that sense they are more like foams or fog, though with far more variety. As Merleau-Ponty wrote, “Music is not in visible space, music erodes visible space, surrounds it, and causes it to shift . . .”

Karen Barad clarifies further with a discussion of the diffraction of sound waves. “It is important to keep in mind that waves are very different kinds of phenomena from particles,” she writes:

“Classically speaking, particles are material entities, and each particle occupies a point in space at a given moment of time. Waves, on the other hand, are not things per se; rather they are disturbances (which cannot be localized to a point) that propagate in a medium (like water) or as oscillating fields (like electromagnetic waves, the most familiar example being light). Unlike particles, waves can overlap at the same point in space.”

The political dimension of this contrast is immediately apparent. Territory is a matter of boundaries, jurisdiction, division and defense. Disturbances upset the fixity of territory, break its lines. Music is generally a collaborative art, though frequently competitive and combative. The fact that music can be practiced in isolation emphasizes this. Musicians choose to overlap and merge their sound waves with those of others because the benefits outweigh any identity loss. Improvisation takes this softening or dissolution of personal boundaries further in that it invites confusion: who is doing what? A situation of ambiguity that many musicians enjoy if they are not working from a score. [12]

A situation of ambiguity that points to a softening of the fixities around our very notion of identity, how we live by it, get stuck with(in) it. Pointing us back to Karen Barad, here offering a key that can help us in our understanding:

The key is understanding that identity is not essence, fixity or givenness, but a contingent iterative performativity, thereby reworking this alleged conflict into an understanding of difference not as an absolute boundary between object and subject, here and there, now and then, this and that, but rather as the effects of enacted cuts in a radical reworking of cause/effect. [13]

A contingent iterative performativity, a reworking of alleged conflicts, and absolute boundaries between object and subject, here and there, now and then, this and that sound, instrument, musician, listener. A radical reworking of cause/effect, the co-affective play of who-what-where-when. Contingent, iterative, performative, enacted, indeterminate.

Quantum superpositions radically undo classical notions of identity. Quantum superpositions tell us that being/becoming is an indeterminate matter. [For example, when it comes to Schrödinger’s cat]. (...) It is a ghostly matter! [14]

Uncertainties, a suspended state, an indeterminate, ghostly matter, drawing again connections to the sounds involved, the sonic virtuality of the samples – their entanglement of being both here and there and nowhere.

– SørenKjærgaard 


[1] Barad, Karen (2014). Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart, Parallax, 20:3 168-187, DOI: 10.1080/13534645.2014.927623.  
[2] Karen Barad (2017). Troubling time/s and ecologies of nothingness: re-turning, re-membering, and facing the incalculable, New Formations, 2017(92). 
[3] ibid. 
[4] Ulrich, Torben, Martin, Molly, New, Rick (2002). Before the Wall: Body & Being. LNP1_Final ( (visited 2023) 
[5] Wood, David (2005). The Step Back: Ethics and Politics after Deconstruction, State University of New York Press 
[6] Park, Jin Y. (2010) Buddhism and Postmodernity: Zen, Huayan, and the Possibility of Buddhist Postmodern Ethics, Lexington Books  
[7] Keats, John in a letter to Richard Woodhouse, October 27th, 1818, (visited 2021) 
[8] Haraway, Donna (2016), Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, 
Duke University Press: Durham, NC. 
[9] Deleuze, Gilles (1988). Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (Robert Hurley, Trans.) San Francisco: City Lights Books.

[10] ibid. 
[11] Parr, Adrian (ed.) (2010). The Deleuze Dictionary Revised Edition, Edinburgh University Press

[12] Toop, David (2023). Territory Assemblage Prosthesis in Traversing Sonic Territories, VIS journal of artistic research, issue 10 
[13] Barad, Karen (2014). Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart, Parallax, 20:3 168-187, DOI: 10.1080/13534645.2014.927623.  
[14] ibid.

Reconfigured within, dispersed across, and threaded through one another




So here I am, with a microscopic microphone inside my mouthpiece, sending signals to a macroscopic digital sample library. We are musicking; sounds, gestures, ideas, and energies are being thrown back and forth. My fellow improvisers are deeply entangled in the act of un-knowing, searching for possibilities beyond. I'm staring at my feet as they hover over the midi foot pedals that, in a symbiosis with my saxophone, control the output from the pre-recorded sounds; I’m contemplating which of the carefully edited piano- and wind instrument samplings to collapse into reality. Maybe also creating a loop, adjusting fades, adding sustains, stutters, time-stretching and reverb? Fingers flutter over the saxophone’s clefs; every now and then they reach for another midi-controller lying on the table, with new sets of samples, new possibilities, new aesthetics, new realities. The well-known acoustic saxophone sound b/lends other voices, other times, other places. Becoming a prism for infinite sonic possibilities. Technology serves as a vessel to create interferences – mediated by a soprano saxophone that has been with me since I was fifteen years old and feels almost like an extension of myself. Now, it has suddenly turned into a hybrid instrument, traversing my oh-so-familiar sonic identity into an (un)bound territory of sounds, voices and meanings. The gravitational pull toward familiarity has been destabilized, dramatically pushing the boundaries of the acoustic sound environment I usually find myself in. Let’s face it; I’m adapted to the physical interaction with my acoustic instruments as a penguin is to the Antarctic. It’s where I feel at home. It's where I am free and at my most responsive. The fingering patterns have become muscular memories coupled to frequencies. As the power of the airstream lets the saxophone reed act like an oscillating valve, vibrations can physically be felt in the bones of my body. Air as tactile space. The volatile substance of spirit, as in breath. Currently, in service of another voice, it brings forth other soundscapes I likely could not have imagined. I attempt to literally breathe life (another life?) into the piano samplings of my fellow musician Søren. To inspire, expire, aspire, conspire (to breathe into, out, upon, together). 

The music is still on. In a moment of confusion and uncertainty, I’m casting a glance at my laptop screen. Hours, days, and months of coding and testing still haven't eased the feeling that the technology might break down at any minute - that the complex network of codes will stop communicating. The ghost in the machine. Ghost as in the dis/embodied spirits (good or bad). When one pushes to connect endless connections, the possibility of unending meanings also opens up.


My perceptual apparatus is on its fringe as I (dis)embark on my alchemical pursuit of turning digital bits into atmospheres. A constant intuitive unfolding of materials takes place, with a slight cognitive afterglow of semiotic reasoning. I'm operating through sensations and affects. Through an oscillation between impulses and intellect - experiencing an (un)usual resistance to losing control in the improvising endeavor. Yet, as the sounds around me (and within me) increase in complexity, I’m starting to drift around almost egolessly in the musical space we have carved out together. Myriads of voices are hidden here, and I’m no longer sure where my “own voice” resides. I now hear individual voices as composites, as much as individual stamps. Although, what is my own voice really? what is Søren’s, what is David’s... anyone’s? Sounds that are somehow fingerprinted with individual life, maybe? Nevertheless, I hear a potential for a unique shared subjectivity distributed as a resonance between us. I let my soprano saxophone rest on my lap and swiftly turn to my digital midi-saxophone, making any acoustic timbre silent. The physical sensation of being in the music suddenly decreases. The inner vibrations somehow turn into more outer ones. A strange sense of an in-between occurs. I’m taking on an identity of a pianist - an uncanny becoming - an (un)familiarity. I’m flexing my agency as our playing unfurls at a bewildering speed. I hear fragments of musical material inside my head, yet conflicting emotions distort my decision-making. In what feels like split seconds of ambiguity, distress, enthusiasm, stubbornness, curiosity, loss of integrity and need for consolation... I’m struggling to maintain momentum. I’m struggling to bridge the distance between the digital technology and the analog architecture of my instrument. Shall I just trust the material and decrease the sense of my own importance... a piano chord placed here, maybe? No, it would vibrate the entire cobweb of last-century piano music. Perhaps I should commit to my acoustic saxophone and let the sampling libraries rest. Basically disappoint the adventurous ethos of this project? Well, I have used that strategy before, although it intuitively felt like the music was whispering for it then. I close my eyes, just patiently listening to what happens around me, waiting for offerings from my fellow musicians.


As I still hesitate to contribute to the musical situation in which I find myself, I drift into thinking about how the spectrum of consciousness is ever-intriguing and challenging in improvised settings. Through the radical sharing of samples in our project, the ambiguity of my decision-making seems amplified. Fundamentally, I seem to be questioning my musical intentions and strategies, aesthetic preferences, and the un/willingness to flex my musicality. I like to believe that, as an improviser, I am rather skilled at swaying between my own sense of agency, enabling a lived experience of fluent intertwinement between myself, my co-performers, and my surroundings; to embody, embed, enact and extend. But here, saturated with all the technological equipment and the countless musical materials at my service, I find myself lost and virtually inexperienced in how to deal with this condition. Isn’t it paradoxical that most of the time when I'm improvising, I feel that better control leads to augmented freedom? And to be creative with any musical material, I have to get a sense of personalized ownership over it. Could I alter that attitude by challenging my habitual methods and practice? I just can’t see how. Not now anyway.


The music gets progressively complex and I’m joining in. I try to push myself out of the devastating mindset of self-doubt and fear of failure, forcing myself to break free by introducing sounds without thinking about the repercussions, embracing any failures that might occur. (De)constructing aesthetical ambitions. Being genuinely curious about what this willing (un)knowing invites. Let the material matter. Allowing for the cognitive consequences of an ‘it’ in the ‘I’. But I can’t seem to find any satisfaction in it. It feels spurious. Still, I keep trying, just as the group tries to connect and react to my ideas. My inner doubt seeks to become the outer one, but only finds ways back.


I stop playing. My mind digresses into possible ways to enhance the technological setup and means to embed and embody the audio samples. Evoking endless hours spent recording samples, editing, making decisions on how to fit them into my library and how to use them in musical settings. The same goes for the amount of effort getting to know the piano samples that have been shared with me and finding a technological solution to be fluent and creative with them. There have been many ups and downs along that journey. Crashing software, ideas that don’t get realized and the general feeling of being on a wild goose-chase. Yet I am still hopeful it will bear fruit in the end because there are moments of true inspiration where new artistic visions and imaginations show themselves.

And there, because wonder always seems to bubble up, a sudden musical idea rushes to the surface and I’m contributing to the music again. A welcoming flow in my playing arises as I tap into the energies of my surroundings. I’m now hearing the music seconds before it unfolds in reality. Ideas become increasingly generative. The music feels dynamic and vibrant. A recognizable radiant comfort of being in a field of artistic virtuosity arises with a kind of consensus around energies, rules and rule-breaking, dissonance and resonance. A respect for our joint third, the mastery of a collaborative art form, as the dense layers and shifting dynamics of our samples and acoustic sonics fuse, I hear the music’s aesthetic as a pentimento painting, where the reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes has been changed and painted over. I’m imbued with a sense of being in the middle of a broader collective identity, that both transcends - and includes - the personal self. An intra-sonic improvisation.




(Re)turning to the act, I’m listening to our musical endeavors played back on headphones. Simultaneously I’m supposed to speak my response aloud. The group members are in the same space, listening together but isolated in our recording booths. Alone together - Together alone. It's been just minutes since the last sound from our live playing died out. The emotional outpouring of our intra-actions is still imprinted in my body. The speed of actions, orientations, imagination, decision-making and evaluation happening in the trajectory of a group improvisation ignites the entire neural network, thus turning a ‘passive’ re-visit to an improvised event into a different experience. With the microphone in front of my face, I realize that I am only saying aloud a fraction of what’s on my mind, being too occupied with tangled emotions and cerebral wonderings. The speed of the music feels altered now, and in this more non-active state of involvement, I drift softly between contrasting listening strategies and attentions. Initially it is hard not to overfocus on my agency in the music. I recognize my habits in the playing (regardless of the material used) while partly remembering the emotional states I was in while musicking. I can hear that I try to use the samples in the most animated, alive and interactive way possible - judging moments of success and failure. My attention increasingly turns to how we respond to each other’s outputs as a collective. On the same token, memories of the sharing process of these samples springs to mind - thinking back on how many of the piano samples initially felt like retrospective and retroactive sounds, like a center that lacked circumference. Gradually more and more of these sounds took on an actualized and present personality - coming alive as a personal voice. So, what exactly was I listening for when I embodied another person’s sounds? Did I merely choose sound snippets that mirrored my aesthetic preferences, or did I try to push the boundaries of affinities? Hopefully a bit of both, as well as considering their practical utilization. While working on my own sample library of reed-instruments, I constructed it from the backdrop of extensive work with saxophone multiphones (manifested on three solo albums and tabulated in a set of 400 archive cards in a wooden box). In this project, I both extended the type of instruments in use and tried to sample all variants of my playing – not only multiphonics, though I do consider them to be a major element of my personal language, thus also the sample library. I recorded, edited and archived almost 8000 samples in a systemized classification of mono- or multiphonic sounds (manipulated with various effects, e.g., trills, vibrato, tonguing...), air sounds, water sounds, percussive short sounds, phrases, gestures, ensemble (multitracked) sounds etc. I was aiming for a pure and raw acoustic aesthetic, avoiding adding plug-in effects in the editing process. Later on, I experimented with more radical editing as well. One of the mantras in creating my own sample library has been to use it in numerous projects outside this one (solo and ensemble concerts, film and theater music, etc.) To determine how flexible and applicable they were, I explored using the samples on midi-keyboards, drum machines and in DAWs. Also working towards my current live set-up: acoustic saxophone with a microphone in the mouthpiece, EMEO digital midi saxophone, foot- and table midi controllers – all of them communicating with the SuperCollider software. Realizing in the process that the usage and possibilities are infinite. I’m still expanding my sample libraries, both my own and Søren's, exploring new ideas for materials to embed and embody. The sample practice currently includes sampling from our solo records and our duo and trio playing.


Listening to some of these samples in the headphones now, where they operate with fluctuating agency in an improvised setting, is a blurry quest. It is mystifying to hear one’s own sounds (re)interpreted through another musician, as I try to breathe life into Søren’s piano sounds. One of the guiding principles for our sample libraries was that it should consist of sounds that we (at least) felt were personal and idiosyncratic. But I’m not really sure what defines a personal sound. I guess it depends a lot on which contexts they appear in and the sense of ownership their originators have to them. Something in this project naturally invites a deeper focus on ownership, though. A compounded web of instrument techniques, practices, musical elements and expressions, identities, bodies, acoustics, locations, works and singularities is submerged in the (each) individual samples. Inviting an approach to music-making that, in conception and spirit, also blurs the personality, chronology and geography. Awakening the otherness of materiality and reality that includes different (but often overlapping) phenomena such as sensation, affect, time, physical reality, body, space and place. Consequently making it hard to listen to our musical results detached from the fact that we are trying to traverse sonic territories, and in the process actually traversing all the above. 


The music in my ears is getting increasingly complicated. I'm not even sure about the origins of the sound sources anymore. We are starting to get dispatched from our own playing and sounds. One almost forgets that we are playing on samples, and I wonder; who plays whom? It’s like a rumbling echo chamber. Somehow it feels more effortless to distance myself from the practicalities of our playing to better sense the aesthetics of the music now. As a listener, my mind drifts in more metaphorical, imaginative and associative directions. Yet again I’m realizing how difficult it is to verbalize these inner sensations. I am starting to grow aware that beyond my usual listening there is a fringe that I mostly define as background. It could sometimes be ‘invisible’ even if I ‘peer’ directly into it. Maybe it is here that the core of our collective attempts at creating new music resides. Imaginably an untapped passage to be found?

As the music in my headphones dies out, my reflections seem to speed up. Perhaps more than making us feel time, music makes us feel what it's like to leave it. I’m wondering what the most severe element encompassing a meaningful conceptual or aesthetic musical experience is? The thoughts and emotions that ring in and cling to our minds and bodies? The rewarding realizations of something yet to come? Or maybe just the yearning to be found in our ears afterwards ...




Looking at the tracks in the computer’s Pro Tools window, an array of speaking voices show themselves as waveforms. We are gathered in front of the studio’s prominent speakers as the recorded music is played back again. Simultaneously, we are listening to our individual responses while collectively adding another layer of reflection and response. We are ‘listening to listenings’, sharing experiences and discussing meanings. Hours later, we invite guest listeners to undergo the same listening procedure in the recording booths. Witnessing their engagement with our musical material opens up new perspectives. The many human utterances let the music stand in their shadows. It feels like being in the minds of the audience and I sense the potential to become a better listener myself. Their responses are often radically different than ours, I realize. They don’t know much about the project’s artistic intentions or core research questions - “the workings under the hood” – and thus they are not concerned with sample ownership, identity or any practical performative obstacles ingrained in our playing. They don’t seem to describe sound in what is absent, missing, or overlooked. At least not in the critical way that we do. Their responses drift in various directions as they try to put into words the complex reactions in their bodies. The voices blend into a contrapuntal multi-layered vocal ‘sound weave’. Sometimes tightly knitted together, sometimes spread out in individual patterns - every now and then leaving chunks of silence. Also, almost as a Kairos moment, some of the voices occasionally create a harmony of similar thoughts or feelings. Altogether it becomes poetry, as well as a performative discourse. Other meanings and slanted outlooks occur. The original expression of the artwork has expanded and changed like rings in water. Identity and agency are just vaguely audible in the music; it is no longer essential. I now experience a broader identity of performative discourse that both transcends and includes the self. An embodied engagement takes place, creating a fragmented entanglement of humans and materials - a multiphonic knowing arising from all the senses.


Strangely, I recall my fascination for fungi and the fact that by attaching their mycelia to existing plant root systems, mycorrhizal fungi have created a massive underground neural network that plants and fungi use to communicate. I’m starting to think that what we have discussed in the project as a ‘diffractive listening practice’ has to do with trying to subdue human-centric approaches and aiming to give matter its due. And then again, as soon as I experience how the world is one in all, it suddenly appears even more contradictory and fragmented.


But isn’t it promising, then, that what appears to us as most comprehensible is the enigmatic, the ambiguous. Like a memory of something that is yet to (be)come.


– Torben Snekkestad



This auto-ethnographic text contains samples that are (un)consciously reworked, edited and (re)turned from the thoughts of Karen Barad, Sidsel Endresen, David Toop, Søren Kjærgaard, Simon Høffding, Birgit Bundesen, Jane Bennett, Ezequiel Di Paolo, and (likely) many others.


Territory Assemblage Prosthesis


The notion of territory in the context of music is dubious. Sound waves are not discrete objects, like furniture, frogs or flutes. Invisibly invasive, they mix, interfere, complicate, so in that sense they are more like foams or fog, though with far more variety. As Merleau-Ponty wrote, "Music is not in visible space, music erodes visible space, surrounds it, and causes it to shift . . ." [1] To further clarify, Karen Barad discusses the diffraction of sound waves. "It is important to keep in mind that waves are very different kinds of phenomena from particles," she writes. "Classically speaking, particles are material entities, and each particle occupies a point in space at a given moment of time. Waves, on the other hand, are not things per se; rather they are disturbances (which cannot be localized to a point) that propagate in a medium (like water) or as oscillating fields (like electromagnetic waves, the most familiar example being light). Unlike particles, waves can overlap at the same point in space." [2]

            Immediately the political dimension of this contrast becomes apparent. Territory is a matter of boundaries, jurisdiction, division and defence. Disturbances upset the fixity of territory, break its lines. Music is generally a collaborative art, though frequently competitive and combative. The fact that music can be practiced in isolation emphasises this. Musicians choose to overlap and merge their sound waves with those of others because the benefits outweigh any identity loss. Improvisation takes this softening or dissolution of personal boundaries further in that it invites confusion: who is doing what, a situation of ambiguity that many musicians enjoy if they are not working from a score? 

            There is a sense in which the Traversing Sonic Territories project runs counter to the history of sound sampling. Two of the main currents in twenty-first century sampling are productivity, in which a producer draws on increasingly sophisticated sample libraries to replicate the sound of instruments (and imaginary instruments) in complex arrangements, or archival, in which sounds from the past are deployed as ghosts in order to address the present. An example of the latter might be Beyoncé's "Don't Hurt Yourself", which samples John Bonham's drum break from Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks", as Daphne Brooks describes it, ". . . an exercise in Black rock reappropriation." [3] From a number of perspectives this is a convoluted, incendiary subject that quickly alights on flashpoint issues of labour, race and what we have come to call identity politics. 

            Music is a speculative art, sound being a transitory medium and music always performing futuristic acts of becoming with ephemeral materials. As an extension of this, sound sampling, as much as any other technological device, postulates speculative, temporally disorientating, often impossible ensembles. For a witty audio-visual example of this, see Christian Marclay's video installation, Video Quartet (2002) in which four synchronised screens show brief clips of music, screams and miscellaneous noises snipped out from over 700 films, many of them Hollywood classics. Impossible ensembles are rapidly composed and decomposed by Marclay's editing, a moment, for example, in which actor Dennis Quaid, in the role of Jerry Lee Lewis, performs alongside the Sun Ra Arkestra and Chico Marx. As Marclay describes it, these are "fragments of our musical baggage", instants of memory that are in themselves samples of lives once lived. 

            Clearly, the Traversing Sonic Territory project is not concerned with productivity, nor is it strictly speaking an encounter with ghosts, since the creators of the samples are present as living beings. Samples are exchanged as temporary gifts, freighted with some degree of responsibility, as in . . . You can borrow my car but please don't drive it into a tree. But each case is slightly different. Personally I dislike the term 'sampling' because it suggests an uncontested, untheorised practice defined more by legal constraints than musical attributes. In my own practice, what I do could be considered a form of sampling but actually it conforms more closely to the 'fragments of our musical baggage' identified by Christian Marclay. I work with cassette tapes, usually from my own collection accumulated between the years 1971 to the mid-1980s, played back through cheap cassette players connected to bone conduction and vibration speakers. These tiny speakers allow me to use materials and objects of various kinds - paper, tin cans, drum snares, cardboard boxes or my own teeth - to resonate and amplify whatever is on the cassette. In their distributed configuration they are assemblage rather than instrument, not simply through being a collection of seperate objects that function as a whole but because their collective identity is grounded in and extended by emotional matters, deliberate aesthetics and personal history. All of these materials, including the cassette recordings themselves, have some personal resonance for me. Their lo-fi quality is intended, expounding as it does on the humility of certain materials, the decomposition and decay of artefacts, technologies, sound, memories and the body itself, all of which is poignant. In the English language, resonance denotes sounding or resounding (an echo), also applicable as poetic metaphor, describing an event that stimulates recognition, empathy, a sympathetic vibration.

            To use another person's samples demands this kind of empathetic resonance. If the Traversing Sonic Territories ensemble is speculative, this is because each member takes on other identities in the form of phantom prosthesis. Each library of sound samples is a phantom limb whose successful operation demands some understanding of how and why the samples were created. This understanding is not easy to isolate or fully comprehend. Perhaps for this reason the critical listening sessions became important, even though they seemed initially anomalous within the project. A person listening, simultaneously speaking their responses aloud, is not particularly concerned with the ownership of sounds, or sounds as an expression of personal identity. Initially they struggle to give voice to the complex feelings that music can produce in the body, the way it tugs at memories of other music, sounds of daily life, imaginative scenarios that correspond to dreams or composite landscapes, part real, part fiction.   

            This is a process that resonates with my own struggle as a writer/musician, to find a language worthy of all that takes place in a musical event. When I hear critical listeners transforming musical sounds into imagery, frequently resolving these images into some kind of landscape they traverse, I am reminded of my own efforts to replicate in words what I hear as forces, textures, speeds, openings, closings, convergence, transparency, opacity, obliteration, a hiatus, a cut, a surge, and so on, searching to find a writing that stands in relation to the unspeakability of music, rather than being 'about it' or 'critical of it.'. Recently I was asked to write a short text for a record produced by an improvising group called In Situ Ens. My strategy was to follow the critical listening session protocol, in that I wrote as I listened. This is an extract from what I wrote:


            Others listen and throw. Sharp missiles fall from hiding or from empty skies, plunging into softness muck, swallowed so soon as to be forgotten. Dull clouds, then serration. A box rattles, moving itself, worked from all sides by blackest blue aromas of oiled springs, leaves composting into heavy mulch, trembling life singinga song only recently acquired and instantly discarded. The walls close in to a clear space, all of it close by, shape and dimensions tested by the cracking of dry paper, bursting seeds, sharp exhalation, taut wire. A nozzle spits its fluid, hands sweep and slap, from a thick tube slow balls of gum slide and spread. What happens is now and gone. Only the faint hum of dying skin cells and thin hairs remains.


Successful or not, it seems to me that this methodology is also a form of sampling – to sample can be to taste, to try – an absorption and transmigration that attempts to fathom the deeply hidden methods and motivations of music making, along with its barely describable effects. We attempt to connect and to understand by overlapping at the same point in space.



– David Toop





[1] Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1974). Phenomenology of Perception. London: New York:Routledge & K. Paul; Humanities Press, 1974, p. 234. 


[2] Barad, K. (2007).Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham and London: Duke University Press., p.76.


[3] Daphne A. Brooks (2021) Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021, p. 442.

Traversing Sonic Territories: writing the software instruments




Writing software for Traversing Sonic Territories was first and foremost a constant dialogue between me as a software developer and Torben and Søren as artistic research practitioners. While the instrument itself can be described in one word as just a sampler, its interactive development process has some peculiar characteristics worth highlighting: continuous development, following the artistic research process; contribution to a prominent open-source music software community; and comparison between keyboard and wind controllers.


## Choice of tools

The tool I chose to program software for TST is SuperCollider, a programming language/platform for computer music. The main tradeoff inherent to this choice is that, while languages like C++ would yield a more robust and reliable final product, SuperCollider is more suitable for continuous prototyping and on-the-fly adjustments, which were crucial to this specific process. Developing for TST meant a constant dialogue with the practitioners, to tailor the software to their needs and desires as they developed through the period, with its crucial points at in-person tryouts, when it was required to adjust both details (like parameters) and structure (adding/removing features), even just to have them try how they would feel on the spot. On the other hand, compared to graphical solutions, or even to solutions that don't require programming at all, working with code provides powerful ways of keeping track of progress during long development cycles (e.g. version control software, but also programming paradigms as means to structure functionalities). The next most significant feature of SuperCollider is that it is open-source.

## Contribution to Open-source software
SuperCollider is open source, meaning that it is developed voluntarily by a global community of practitioners, and it is accessible with no licensing costs. Since the beginning of this research process, every time I encountered something that didn't work in SuperCollider itself, or something that I could improve, I had the occasion to contribute my work to the community, expanding the scope of my work from only benefiting this specific research to helping a global community of practitioners of different natures. My contributions spanned from DSP to documentation, fixing a wide range of issues from functional typos that went unnoticed for more than 15 years, to long-standing crucial bugs in memory management, to security features to help users protecting their hearing while experimenting with the software.


## About the sampler itself

The core of what I developed for TST is "just a sampler": an instrument that affords playback of recorded material. We opted for the most classic mapping: samples are associated with notes, with musicians preparing such associations to compose sample sets, which can be switched on the fly to provide variations in the same piece or across different ones. To further structure sample selection, groups of sample sets constitute setlists, which can also be switched on the fly. Other controls are minimal: adjusting playback speed and envelopes' attack and release. Aside, different additional features were developed, tried out and eventually abandoned: the core instrument that TST expressed the need for was this simple sampler.

## Relationship to our previous work
The software I developed has a legacy in previous works I did for Søren and Torben. In particular, the sampler stems from the Video Keyboard we realized as part of Søren's "Multi-Layeredness in Solo Performance", whence the visual part was removed, but the interaction stayed the same, with the option of controlling sample speed with keyboard velocity, and an integrated management of sample sets. This was the most important part: to provide practitioners with a stable and flexible way to make their sample sets for specific sessions and performances, being able to reuse and modify previously created configurations. Since the sampler is very simple in itself, most of the value is in the choice of samples, both ahead-of-time as in a composition, and just-in-time during performances.
Possible future directions in this sense could make more advantage of music information retrieval techniques to further assist practitioners in the choice and assemblage of samples and sets, which for now is entirely done by hand with the exception of few occasions where analysis-based automatic slicing was tried out. I ultimately feel that the focus of the project was not to explore algorithms, but rather to privilege a slower and more intimate research time with each other's sounds.


## Keyboard vs. Saxophone

While the sampler itself stems from our previous VideoKeyboard work, working with saxophone as a controller opened new challenges and perspectives. First of all we made a system to trigger samples using an acoustic saxophone, by analyzing pitch and amplitude curves like a live transcription, identifying note events to trigger samples as if the saxophone was a MIDI controller. The obvious difference with a MIDI controller is that the acoustic saxophone sound is not muted. Although with careful mix and amplitude mapping it is possible to achieve that illusion, i.e. by playing soft enough on the acoustic instrument for its sound to be covered by the electronic one (especially for long tones, as short ones would not work this way because of minimal but unavoidable latency), this system proved to be more of a way to get accompaniment, than sound substitution. However, this mix is particularly delicate and time consuming at soundchecks, and perhaps too fragile if sound substitution is the desired effect. Torben finally decided to play MIDI wind controllers as well, to have the option of a full sound substitution with no acoustic sound, on par with Søren's keyboards.


-Gianluca Elia