I have often said that the Berklee College of Music should strive to be the world’s leading institute for the intellectual exploration of contemporary music, employing sound as a tool for such explorations. Much of my work in the classroom aims at fostering this kind of engagement. It’s not always an easy task. Sometimes my students do, truth be told, step on my last nerve. Still, I love the creative ways my students go at their final projects. Like most semesters, this past semester’s Sound and Society produced some interesting projects that connect to issues of sound art and soundscapes more generally, touching on musical ontology, acoustemology, and schizophonic performance. I thought I’d introduce a few of these projects here as a way to spotlight some of their work (N.B. these are just a sampling of several interesting projects; the ones I include are ones that intersect best with my blog. Not playing favorites, I hope…)
Isaiah Beard worked on the question of definitions: how is it that the work of some people creating pieces in sound becomes filed under “composition” or “experimental music” while other people’s work is included in the category of “sound art”? At first this question is straightforward. It has to do with curators and institutions such as symphonies or museums where people listen to and encounter the pieces. But what about john cage’s as slow as possible a piece for organ “performed” in halberstadt for a period of 639 years? are there more than pragmatic usages or interpretive habits that place pieces in one category or another? expanding this question might tell us something about musical ontology more broadly
Cheryl Chow employed film to explore how we experience the world sonically. What do we mean by “silence,” particularly in urban spaces? In the film what we don’t talk about when we talk about silence, Chow intentionally deforms the sound accompanying film images. The result is a meditation on the way that sound grounds us in particular environments. Fighting against our sonic environment with noise cancelling headphones, she notes, we often forget that what we hear is not silence. asking what it is that we might talk about were we to talk about silence, Chow extends creatively our engagement with soundscapes
Victor Pacek created a soundwalk of Boston in which he attempts to reevaluate the sounds we often consider noise. Working with a wide variety of sonic sources around Boston, Pacek creates a conversation between Murray Schafer and Pierre Shaffer, blurring the edges of documentation and musique concrete. Also an attempt to create conversation about noise and noise pollution in Boston, Pacek’s Reorganized Soundmap of Bostonis a provocative work. It will change the way you think of the ambient noise coming through your window
Noah Longworth McGuire experimented with the idea of mixing. Employing an idea in conversation with Kiri Miller’s discussion of schizophonic performance Longworth McGuire’s “Cleave” is an interactive program in which listeners can cycle among three intersecting soundscapes, changing experiences of these soundscapes internally and in relationship to each other. The name cleave plays with the dual meaning of “cleave” as both clinging to but also cut away from, suggesting something about how we interact through schizophonic sources. Cleave is a great deal of fun–and I hope to see some further iteration of the program
There were also several other fascinating projects on music and gender, music and perception of places, and sampling, just to name a few projects. For next semester, I hope to make the final project work a bit more public with a class blog. Keep posted! To students in the past semester’s Sound and Society: keep thinking about how your work as a musician engages in broader social questioning!