Figure 1: The Batroun Art space, Batroun, Lebanon, in its restored form (2012).

The Failed Assemblage of Batroun Concrète: A Biopsychosocial Approach to Post-acousmatic Composition


Seth Ayyaz

Batroun Concrète 0.0 and Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9 are two related sound works that emerged from a residency at the Batroun Projects art space in Lebanon between 2011-2012. The initial two channel electroacoustic piece raised various questions that led to Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9, which is scored for four live performances interleaved into five electroacoustic parts. Unfortunately, it never materialized in a final form. This paper discusses the compositional and broader theoretical questions at stake along that developmental trajectory. I want to keep composition (sonic thinking) and theory (thinking sound) in close proximity. This necessitates interlacing the unfolding description of the work with various conceptual considerations largely derived from cognitive sciences and philosophy. 


This piece deals with questions of site-specificity, improvisation, field recording, and electroacoustic practices, and I hope to avoid the usual authoritative humanistic accounts (what I shall call the “manifest sonic image”) that I think continue to hamper sonic discourse, such as the philosophical voluntarism of improvisation, the claims for listening associated with the acousmatic tradition after Pierre Schaeffer, and the acoustic ecological traditions after Murray Schafer. This is not to disparage these thinkers, but simply to point to the limitations inherent in approaches that take human listening as an a priori ground truth, which I think have insufficient recourse to wider, empirically validated accounts of what listening and, by extension, what its organization by composition might materially be. 


The focus of this paper is Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9 and how it both contributed to and partially instantiates my biopsychosocial approach to post-acousmatic composition. The detailed rationale, explication and wider implications of this framework are only summarized here. If the account is overly opaque at times, the reader is referred to the first part of my doctoral thesis where it is discussed in more detail (Bhunnoo 2018: 3-108). 


To understand my sonic encounter with Batroun, it is worth noting that I start from an assumption that there is no such thing as a listener or composer as an ontological thing. This is in contrast to the sovereign subject supposed by much sonic humanist discourse, the listener or composer as Kantian subject that is transcendentally given outside of the conditions of its production. 


The neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger (2009) gives an image of consciousness as an ego tunnel. Like Plato’s cave, a neural fire throws sensory shadows onto the walls. Extending in time, the cave becomes a tunnel, a narrow trajectory through the material world, generating and confining the experiencing “self.” There is no one there – no denizen in the tunnel – and by extension, no listener that is listening. The listening-composing mind and sound relation is then given by variably transparent access to representational processes within the human biosystem. This mind is an emergent function comprised of subpersonal neurodynamic processes, distributed outside of the boundaries of a skin, coupled with environmental contingencies and conditioned by transpersonal cultural and historical contexts. 


This may appear somewhat terse and is indeed philosophically eliminativist, but the aim is to reach towards a materialist sonic discourse as a means to expand and reorient compositional thinking and its potential scope for practices. Mind, sound, and musicking are decomposable phenomena that require explanation within complex physical systems.  


What then is composition?


Model: composition is the modelling of causal interaction that may be more or less adequate to the demands of auditively focused neurocomputational dynamics, and which has the provocation of cognitively opaque introspective mental processing as a central goal. (Bhunnoo 2018: 80)


Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. I shall discuss the genesis of Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9 as a step along developing this biopsychosocial approach to post-acousmatic composition, highlighting the specific questions and concerns that the score and electroacoustic parts attempt to address. Perhaps paradoxically, Batroun Concrète might be heard as a return to an earlier moment in musique concrète. In alignment with its theoretical foundations, the technical simplicity of the piece is intended to strip away concealing frippery in order to get at some fundamental issues.