Timbre Networks: a definition
We can define a network for the present purpose as a system of asymmetric relations between discrete objects that allows an exchange of information between connected objects. Following the notion of connectionism in network theory, better known as neural networks, we can say that a model for such a network is “loosely defined around three aspects: computing nodes, communication links, and message types.” (Judd 1990: 2) We could then describe Timbre Networks as a model for organising the threads connecting the different musical elements that play a role in live electronic music. In using this term I aim for a systematic organisation of the possible relationships between computer, musical instrument(s) and performer(s).
By focusing specifically on timbre and using it as the foundation of these relationships, I aspire to create a system in which the sound sources, on one hand, and their manipulation through performance, on the other, become part of a single entity, in a more concrete sense than would be provided by a mere conceptual definition. In other words, I seek to define a compositional strategy based on systematising the relationship between a determined number of sound elements and their potential interdependence, leaving in the performer’s hands the responsibility for unfolding the musical structure over time.
The structure of a particular Timbre Network can be characterised as a complex of musical actors (both human and non-human), their interdependent relationships, and the behavioural developments that can be induced through performance. As a compositional procedure, a Timbre Network has to define:
- The nodes (actors) of the network.
- The threads (relationships) between them.
- How those nodes and threads are malleable over time, either
through real-time manipulation by a performer or through using predefined interdependent variables.
Once these initial states are defined, additional compositional procedures to develop the time structure of the musical piece may and should be used. The question then arises of whether it would be possible to derive the musical time structure from the timbre network structure itself.
Timbre Networks provides a compositional method for generating outside-time structures by focussing on the composition of predefined initial states of a musical system that can (and should) evolve in time through performance. The concept of outside-time structures was introduced by Iannis Xenakis, who made a distinction between structures such as scales or modes (outside-time) and the melodies constructed from them (in-time). Xenakis (Xenakis 1992: 207) points out that
It is necessary to divide musical construction into two parts [...]: l. that which pertains to time, a mapping of entities or structures onto the ordered structure of time; and 2. that which is independent of temporal becomingness. There are, therefore, two categories: in-time and outside-time.
Included in the category outside-time are the durations and constructions (relations and operations) that refer to elements (points, distances, functions) that belong to and that can be expressed on the time axis. The temporal is then reserved to the instantaneous creation.
The results of using Timbre Networks can be understood as hybrid musical entities with characteristics of both an instrument and a composition. Timbre Networks may be seen as a way of applying compositional thoughts to mapping procedures.
The idea of creating a system that generates both the sound and the time structure of a composition has been explored by composers other than myself, most notably by Gottfried Michael Koenig, who had “hoped for (and postulated programmatically) a seamless continuum of timbres; not only between all timbres, but between internally static sound-colour and musical structure. The goal revealed itself to be the colour set in contours, the fluctuating sound-colour.”1 (Koenig 1992: 78)
This vision was successfully realised in his work Terminus (1962). On this composition, musicologist Elena Ungeheuer (Ungeheuer 1994: 32) states that
a complex sound metamorphosis results from the superimposing of semi-automatic modulation processes, which are not object to further manipulations once the machine has started. The composer does not control the sound elements themselves, but the steps of sound-forming. The musical form – describing a path through the steps of sound modulation – guarantees that structures can be recognised and distinguished.