Robert Seaback

The Semiotics of Presence

Norwegian Academy of Music

The concept of presence in this research is concerned with the physical dimensions of sound and its effect on the body in relation to digital-informational representations of such phenomena. I explore presence through practices of recording, creative coding, audio production, and spatial electroacoustic music composition. Of particular interest is the link between presence and the sensual or corporeal aspects of sound making and listening. Research in embodied music cognition and extended reality provides a foundation for this mode of meaning formation. In virtual reality studies, for example: 

the term presence has referred to a widely reported sensation experienced during the use of virtual reality specifically, but also found during the use of other media. Users experiencing presence report having a compelling sense of being in a mediated space other than where their physical body is located. (Biocca 1997: 12) 


In the context of electroacoustic composition, I suggest that this sense of “being there” emerges from peripheral aspects of the (embodied) acoustic experience such as spatial proximity and distance, diffuseness, resonance and reverberation, noise floor, etc. Consequently, semiotics in this research moves away from the symbolic dimension of electronic sounds (i.e. source recognition) toward meaning as an outcome of embodied interaction with the environment.  

Robert Seaback is a composer and sound artist from the US currently based in Oslo, NO. His music expresses corporeality, the hyperreal, digital stasis, and continuums between—integrating voices, instruments, soundscapes, and synthetic sources through digital techniques. He has worked in different mediums including spatial audio, mixed music for ensemble, electroacoustic improvisation, and sound installation.  


Robert has a PhD in composition from the University of Florida and degrees in music from Mills College (MA) and Northeastern University (BS). He is currently an Artistic Research Fellow at the Norwegian Academy of Music, working with Natasha Barrett. His music has been presented at international events such as ICMC, NYCEMF, Sonorities, MA/IN, and the ISCM World New Music Days, and has been recognized with awards from Música Viva Competition, IEM & VDT 3D Audio Production Competition, Xenakis International Electronic Music Competition, ASCAP/SEAMUS, University of Florida, and Mills College



Artistic Research Spring Forum 2023

My discussion for the Spring Artistic Research Forum will focus on how the conceptual framework for my project has changed in response to the artistic component. The positive effect is a more sympathetic union between my music and writing, while challenges involve redefining methods and slow gestation periods between composition and reflection. I am also interested in discussing which aspects of my creative process would benefit from closer analysis/reflection.