E. Performative Timbre

“Performative Timbre” is an intensive listening study of a small selection of my piano vocabulary, which uses a subjective similarity measurement. The study was developed and conceptualized in collaboration with Palle Dahlstedt, between autumn 2017 and spring 2019.

I performed the study using an adaptation of the Timbre Space method and in line with an extended understanding of timbre.

Focusing on my idiosyncratic sonic vocabulary, the project revealed qualities of timbre in relation to objects, playing methods, and the gestures used to produce sound.

My aim lay in finding out how and why I group certain sounds together: was this pure habit, or intuition, or a question of personal aesthetics and taste, or simply a pragmatic decision to do with the possibilities and limitations of body and instrument, or was it related to an underlying artistic logic? How do I listen to and structure my sound material in improvised music performance? How do I orches- trate timbre? These research questions  formed the outset for this study.

In late 2017, I made recordings of a large number of sounds produced with the piano, which form an integral part of my vocabulary, and chose 50 sounds out of those recordings to represent through a small, selective, sound catalogue. A custom-built software tool developed by Palle Dahlstedt enabled me to listen to all possible sound pairs in a randomized order, 1,225 in total, and to compare these sounds to each other by focusing on various details and asking specific questions about them.

The questions focused on similarity of the sounds in relation to objects, playing methods, physical gesture, and overall timbre, resulting in 4 rounds of listening with a total number of 4,900 sound pairs, which I listened to and compared over a period of a few months. This resulted in four sets of collected data, which are represented in 4 perceptual timbre maps.

The enduring and repetitive nature of this comparative listening study generated different listening modes, heightened my awareness of the compositional capacities of timbre in improvised music making, articulated and confirmed my understanding of instrumental technique and had a transformative effect on my artistic practice.

For a detailed discussion of this study see chapter 4 of the thesis.

To conduct the study, Palle Dahlstedt built a software tool which enabled me to listen to all possible sound pairs out of the 50 chosen sounds in random order. I would then give the pair a (dis)similarity rating based on different perceptive performance qualities and the questions I had placed at the center of the study. The tool randomly picked sound pairs, without revealing the names or descriptions of the sounds I was listening to. I then compared sound A to sound B and rated it on a scale from 0, very different, to 1, very similar.

The tool stored my ratings and I could go back one step if I thought I made a mistake, which enabled me to conduct one listening session over a longer period of time.

This way of randomizing the order and listening to sound pairs in all possible combinations also enabled me to hear each sound in many different contexts and to observe how it changed perceptually in response to what I had listened to prior to listening to it, taking on different meanings and impacting my perception of it. Another function built into the tool was playing sounds simultaneously, overlapping them, or listening to them in succession.



Software Tool