The figure schematically draws together various key components that form the composed assemblage that gave rise to the Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9. I hope that by this point it is largely self-explanatory, but a few terms may require a bit of unpacking. At the top are some principles from my biopsychosocial approach. I have already outlined the not-knowing stance, and in the following sections arrive at the “RIA-helix,” “reflective-reflexive,” and “interiority-exteriority” distinctions.
2.2 Improvising With Batroun
Batroun Concrète 0.0 and the electroacoustic parts for Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9 use trace recordings of lengthy improvisations, experimenting with concrete surfaces, discarded industrial cable drums, rubble, granular materials such as sand and pebbles, pieces of wood, broken furniture, bottles, plastic membranes, and various other bric-à-brac at the site. Sometimes I made basic instruments from this detritus, such as an aerophone Bull Roarer from wood and rope, nay-like flutes from pipes, and percussive contraptions from membranes and hollow blocks.
The spatial “where” aspects of the recorded traces had specific characteristics. The basement was highly resonant with a very bright acoustic due to the concrete walls. The upper stories had no windows, and the sounds of the sea and nearby town intermingled with the proximate traces of my footsteps echoing from walls as I moved. The secret partitions, corridors, and recesses had their characteristic impulse responses. The casing of the tank under the house was cracked, allowing a microphone to be dropped into the resonant cavity that filled with aqueous traces when the invisible surface below was disturbed.
It is a basic trick of the electroacoustic trade that the microphone is never neutral and is open to compositional targeting through a variety of techniques. The process of recording allows manipulation of a fundamental psychoacoustic illusion – the apparent proximity and vectoral relation between object and subject. This is what Thomas Metzinger (2004) calls “perspectivalness,” which I think of as related to musicologist Eric Clarke’s (1999) notion of the listening “subject position.” It is as if the receiver listens from a particular perspective or position in relation to the auditory scene. The type and number of microphones, orientation in relation to and distance from sources, and degree of gain determines the auditory perspective from which one appears to listen, the perceived direction of movements, and acoustic volumes, imparting the perceived intimacy with the sound. These will be inscribed into the resulting recorded trace.
For performance contexts, microphones are usually placed with a documentary function in mind – to capture a wide-field high-fidelity reproduction as if the listener were actually placed centrally in the performance context. I wanted to problematize this convention of a first-person perspective, of a listening self; hence, in the electroacoustic parts for Batroun Concrète 2.1 – 2.9, the same apparent evental sources and acoustics can (at times) be heard simultaneously from different perspectives, implying shifting and mutually incompatible embodiments beyond the capacities of a situated self.
2.2.2 Motoric Listening
A key neurophysiological insight is that the human auditory cortex (where listening as opposed to hearing is primarily instantiated) is not simply concerned with perception. Rather, it is sensory, affective, cognitive, predictive and motoric (Weinberger 2004; Koelsch 2013). I therefore see no convincing reason to maintain a separation between effector and affector processes, between producing and listening, performing and receiving. Through Batroun Concrète, I wanted to highlight this fundamental interconnectivity – that actions, interpretations and listenings couple with objects and acoustics into a networked, co-modulating, and iterating system, becoming a composed assemblage through which differing materialities contribute to sonic agency.
Through prolonged periods of absorbed activity, I was moved between what I term “reflective-reflexive” and “interiority-exteriority” listening stances. These are fundamental distinctions in what I term a “listening stance” that are derived from mentalization theory and social cognitive neuroscience (discussed in Bhunnoo 2018).
Reflexive refers to the rapid, automatic, and affectively driven chiefly sub-cortically mediated pathways, and reflective refers to cognitively modifiable, linguistically associated slower cognitive processing. At times at Batroun, my sense of being a self was lost in a heightened and embodied aurality that exceeded anything that I could say or think about it – a stance of reflexivity. I was implicated in and part of, but not “in charge” of, the assemblage in which I became embedded, much like Wiener’s “cybernetic image.” These lengthy improvisations were interspersed by close listening back to the resulting traces, then available to reflective and conceptual processes.
The “interiority-exteriority” distinction distinguishes mentalizing theory of mind attributions (sounds as having motivated, intentional states) from non-mentalizing sensory-based descriptions of sounds in terms of material attributes. My stance would switch between the sounding as an interiority, attributing motivational states such as hesitance, relentlessness, scurrying, or agitated, and a focus on the sounding as an evental flow, for example reverberant, spectrally bright, or a repeated rhythm with pitch-modulating formants.
2.2.3 Bodies at Batroun
Through these moments, I became aware of parallels between my body and that of the house. My hand began in a particular place, grasping a piece of burning wood. It performed a fluid excursion, limited by the arc of my arm, before releasing the wood at an end point. The wood began its fall from that release location – no longer of my body but now of the house – as it moved through a trajectory in space to be crisply extinguished below in the water tank. The wood, indexed by its clunking around the boundaries of an unseen channel, then followed another trajectory, being carried by the streaming surface to a final destination somewhere in the bowels of the house, perhaps onwards out to the sea. This is an example of the source–path–goal schema.
2.3 Sonic Philosophy In The Flesh
Upon listening back, there seemed to be structuring regularities to the improvisations, a kind of enactive grammar organizing these sonic traces that (outside of my conscious awareness) had been generated intuitively in the encounter with the space. I thought of Lakoff and Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh (1999), which proposed that somatically-originating cognitive schemata act as foundational templates for the cross-domain mappings (metaphors) that structure our language and thinking. Much of human thought arises from our embodied ancestral conditions. Tones do not have mass, yet we talk of them as being light or heavy. We think about pitches as if they are high or low.
I considered how the recordings could be grouped according to these body-related scripts and what might be possible if these were used speculatively to direct further improvisations. This gave rise to the score, which is used to structure the nested hierarchies of action, interpretation, and perception that other performer-agents might use. The key schemata used are described below.
The container schema (Lakoff & Johnson 1999: 31) is a bounded space within a region, a structure that identifies the boundary of the interior as the landmark, and the object overlapping with the interior as a trajector. It has an “in” and an “out,” implying an interior-exterior relation. The container protects its contents, restricts their motion, and renders them inaccessible to vision.
The source–path–goal schema (Lakoff & Johnson 1999: 32) is a trajector that moves from a source location (the starting point). A goal is an intended destination of the trajector, forming a route from the source. The actual trajectory of motion is of interest compositionally. The trajector has a position and a direction at a given time. The actual final location of the trajector may or may not be the intended destination (recall the burning wood dropped into the water, which can be heard in part 2.9).
Bodily projections (Lakoff & Johnson 1999: 34) refer to the way in which our bodies shape our conceptual structure. These core body schemas include the relations of body orientation: in front of/behind, front/back, left/right, orientation from the source, and localization.
Image schemas and elements of spatial relations (Lakoff & Johnson 1999: 35) is a relatively small collection of primitive image schemas that structure systems of spatial relations in the world’s languages: part/whole, center/periphery, link, cycle, iteration, contact, adjacency, forced motion (e.g. pushing, pulling, propelling), support, balance, straight/curve, near/far. These gave rise to the graphic-type pictograms that appear alongside the text in the score.
2.3.1 The Batroun Score
The frontispiece of the score gives the floor layout for the building. Page four describes the equipment and four simple constraining methods for performance. The equipment is straightforward: a playback system for the electroacoustic parts and two high-quality loudspeakers for stereo diffusion set to an immersive intensity for the room. Two microphones and a mixer realize amplification of objects that are to be used in live performance.
The piece is structured in nine parts labelled 2.1 to 2.9, pairing precomposed electroacoustic parts with interleaved live performances. These performances were intended to take place at the Batroun project space. Each pair bears a title relating to the core schemas. The score includes amplitude-time plots so performers can orient themselves while the electroacoustic parts are played. Each live part contains a series of images, which I relate to the core schemas, that provide a graphic notation open to interpretation. The live parts may involve any number of performer-agents and can be of any duration. All that is required is that the agent engage with the four related constraints.
The first constraint is that objects are defined as any materials found at the site. Only these may be used in conjunction with the architectural acoustics and recording/amplification equipment. This limits the interaction entirely to the space, using found materials to explore sonic affordances. There is an intended ambiguity here as to what might entail a material or object in order to create an equivalence between what we habitually think of as sentient human versus inanimate non-human. The chosen object could be a piece of breeze block or an audience member attending the event; it might be the basilar membranes of listeners activated through high-amplitude sound, or the traces of incidental background insect choruses.
The second constraint instructs that agents are free to couple themselves, in any way suitable, with the objects and the acoustical space, forming an assemblage for enactively generating sound. The agents define their choice of material, played acoustically or amplified as indicated by the first constraint. We are habitually tempted to think of human performers, but agents could also be an algorithm on someone’s phone or an artificial intelligence (if they are in the space) that responds suitably to objects. It might be possible (with some head scratching) to consider the weather as an agent operating over a different temporality.
The third constraint (to speculatively explore what that sonic assemblage can do, to find what might be possible) encourages attention to the possibilities of the situation, including the responses of people present and the conditions of the building at the time (it is close to the sea, and changing weather conditions significantly alter the acoustics and the environmental sounds). There is then no “outside” of the performance: any agent and object present can potentially be included, with no necessary separation of performer, venue, or audience.
The fourth constraint is to sonically preserve the temporally unfolding enaction between objects – acoustics – performing body – sensing – affect – cognition – action. As is the case with any live improvisation, once the assemblage is active, sounds cannot be retrieved, only reconsidered, embellished, or abandoned. This is to avoid both tentativeness and an “aestheticizing” of sounds. While an intentionally “well chosen” sounding is possible, the purpose is not to carefully choose couplings according to extraneous criteria (we might say coming with “a conceptual apparatus already in place” but rather to focus on the sounding process – how it develops as an evental flow and as a motivated intention (its “exteriority” and “interiority”). The score does not specify any particular sounds or temporal structures.
In constructing the electroacoustic parts, I returned to the collage techniques of the early pioneers, using the (literal) concreteness of the sounds with only limited large-scale editing. There is a temptation to “improve” the materials by detailed selection and arrangement. This then introduces problematic questions as to how these choices are made and raises the problem of [seeking an] “ideal” performance, of conforming trace to expectations that arise beyond the situated performance.
In earlier pieces, such Makharej and the bird ghost at the zaouia, I had focused on meticulous editing, computational scene analysis, and signal transformations; with this work I wanted to capture the provisionality that arises from a not-knowing stance. The result includes materials that are less-than-ideal from a sound engineering and traditional acousmatic compositional perspective. Given the derelict nature of the space itself, I did not clean up “imperfections” in either the trace or the performances in order to impart a certain honesty to the signals of the final work.
Each live part contains three pictograms that relate to the core schemata that structure both electroacoustic and paired performances. While text can be pragmatically helpful, it always presents the problems of language. These graphics/fictional symbols are relatively unsaturated by language and, in a cross-modal sense, encapsulate something that can be apprehended easily in the real-time of performance and that, crucially, remain open to multiple interpretations.
As already discussed, there is a relationship between each electroacoustic part and the performance that follows it. BC2.1 Consider a decay … serves as an introduction structured by the container and source-path-goal schemas. The opening of part 2.1 is dominated by the sonic indices of water and objects being dropped into water inside a resonant cavity; however, once this is established, other contradictory spaces insert into or superimpose onto the sound field. The traces of objects dropping into water pick up a rhythmicity, creating a temporal trajectory and development. Investigations of impact-resonance-silence can be heard via quick decay times and long acoustic reverberations, near/far relations, and superimposed perspectives that cannot naturally coexist. Hence, will appearing superficially phonographic and naturalistically real, this is deceptive. The juxtaposition of gestures present in the electroacoustic part cannot be performed in the real space, revealing its technologically mediated nature. There is no single perspective consistent with a situated self.
The paired BC2.2 and BC2.3 are structured by bodies making contact. These traces exist in acoustic space and have trajectories that begin in one spatiotemporal location and proceed to another. The score draws attention to periphery and center. Sounding actions accumulate in reverberant space. The rapid succession of impact-resonances in the electroacoustic parts, caused by objects being scraped around the periphery of various rooms leads to perceptual fusion of discrete auditory objects, becoming streams of enfolded spectra as the causal sounds and their acoustic tails overlap. Figure-ground differentiation becomes increasingly indistinct, creating conditions of noise within which focal attention becomes difficult. This might have affective consequences as the stream becomes harsher and less distinct and persists without recourse to formal musical development.
The core schemas for BC2.4 and BC2.5 are source-path-goal, bodily orientation and bodily projection, and spatial relations. These are mapped onto the concepts given at the bottom right: ambulatory–ambulant; rhythms have a gait; organize pitch and breath; the human form is a reference; pace and oscillations. BC2.5 is dominated by my body running continuously around a large debris-strewn room. The oscillatory motoric activity creates a rhythm with variable rate. Physical exertion indexed by this trace is echoed by the presence of breath, but in a rather tangential fashion. The breath takes the form of organized pitch from flutes created from pipes and bottles and played with the same technique as is used for the nay. For the suitably equipped listener this may convey (the only) symbolic reference to Islamic music traditions and the broader MENASA context.
BC2.6 partially revisits BC2.1 and is concerned with the containment of bounded space thereby constructing the related interior and exterior. Rather cryptically, this is could be a conceptual reference to listening without seeing. The boundary protects and restricts the motion of what it contains, rendering its contents invisible to the exterior.
BC2.7 has impact resonances and decay structures similar to BC2.1, articulated so that one space opens into the next, creating a series of containers. The performer-agent in part BC2.6 is encouraged to move away from the sources used in BC2.1 and to consider their choice of objects in relation to BC2.3. The score draws attention to static sources and surfaces that rotate around a center, with the purpose of emphasizing location and presence. In BC2.7, a telephone-mediated conversation appears – implying someone who is not present. This telepresence is a kind of doubling. First, we hear the disembodied voice in the shared interior. Secondly, we infer a conversation with somebody not here, exterior to the Batroun location.
BC2.8 and BC2.9 take an apparently more esoteric turn. The core schemata are contact/adjacency, container, iteration, cycle, and approach/recession. 2.9 opens with exploratory traces of granular materials being disturbed in parallel with a bounded space in which burning objects drop repeatedly into the water tank. It is possible to hear references to earth, fire, water, and air. The latter is signified by the appearance of a Bull Roarer (at 17:48), fashioned from objects at the site.
2.3.2 Abducting Batroun
I thought about the mechanisms that structurally couple listening and acting. The later stages of perception intersect with the earliest stages of action through premotor cortical “common coding” (Prinz 1990 after Koelsch 2013: 186). Neurocomputational modelling, organized around predictive coding and Bayesian processing, suggests that perception and inference form part of a single, hierarchically organized modelling system, abductively selecting between future-orientated competing interpretations to generate an iterative best fit (Alderson-Day et al. 2016: 112-113). This is also known as model-based reasoning – neither deductive nor inductive, but on-the-fly, predictive hypothesizing.
When applied to improvisation, structurally coupled receptive-interpretive-action (RIA) streams helically intermodulate, forming the basis of model-based questioning and exploration. I suggest that these perceptual-enactive codes form the material basis for the not-knowing-stance that was evident as Rowe’s hand dropped towards his table of objects, and as I experimented with the various debris found at Batroun.
The underlaying subpersonal processes that generate the RIA helix are largely transparent to introspection, that is, we have no representational access to these mechanisms (Metzinger 2003). In a general sense, we usually operate from a position of transparency and not-knowing. We might come to know the teleofunctional outcomes of what we initiate, that is the consequences that arise out of this RIA-helix, such as how our actions might have consequences and effect change in the world, but not the machinations by which this comes about (the various neural processes by means of which this happens, for example).
Batroun Concrète 2.1 - 2.9, with improvisational procedures at its core, explores the operations of the RIA-helix. It requires largely non-conceptual, non-verbalizable “how-to” knowledge about sounding. As I extend my arm and release my hand, I predict that the burning wood will make an interesting sound as it falls through the reverberant tank and hits the water. I do not, however, have any introspective access as to how my brain-body materially achieves this, much as I can never experience how the streaming water in the house moves the wood through the tank.
In Batroun Concrète this repertoire of non-conceptual enactive-procedural exploration is wrapped in a conceptual structure. Both are operations of the RIA-helix. The conceptual casing is linguistically based and has three layers. Firstly, there are the stories, speculations and conjectures, the things we might say about the house, the war, the nefarious activities that may have happened there, and so on. Secondly, there is my conscious adoption of a not-knowing stance – my intention to come to the situation with curiosity and openness, to not know-in-advance what abducting Batroun will do. Thirdly, the score (while containing pictograms) is a largely linguistic communication of my compositional intentions to potential performer-agents, who may (or may not) structure their own helical abductive encounter with the place according to my speculations with body-based schemas.