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Effusion

Summer-Fall 2016

2 channel recording; 5:59
In “Pleasure Beats: Rhythm and the Aesthetics of Current Electronic Music”, Ben Neill describes how popular and art music are distinguished along rhythmic lines. He predicts a future music where such distinctions are less clear; where the rhythmic vernacular of pop music is spoken in artistic territory. Much of my recent creative compositional efforts, including this piece, exemplify movement in this direction, both in terms of rhythm as well as other musical elements. Here, a foundation is set with materials from the pop world: verse-chorus form, 4/4 time signatures, fuzzy synth basses, rock grooves and EDM breaks. These materials are then manipulated in electroacoustic-art-music ways: timbres are transformed, grains are made and re-ordered, meters are changed, and earlier materials are restated in discontinuous sequences. The result is less a fusion and more a congeries where non-ironic choruses and dizzying jump-cuts cohabitate. These combinations are not motivated by a desire to influence the language of art music for its own sake, rather, they are expressions of cultural heterogeneity that is not compartmentalized.

Intersections

for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello, tom-tom, PAM (robotic string instrument), and robotic percussion

Fall 2014 – Spring 2015

commissioned by the Juventas New Music Ensemble

Machine expressivity is often thought of as involving precision, speed, rhythmic complexity, non-idiomatic (for human performers) pitch patterns and replication.  Human expressivity is often thought of involving groove, phrasing, affect, contour, variation, articulation, entrainment and communication.  While these attributes help shape our conceptions of what is human versus what is mechanical, they are not confined to one category or the other: humans can be precise and robots can groove.  Expressive identity is more analog than digital.  This does not preclude expressive spaces that are unique to humans and machines, rather, it suggests the areas between them are ambiguous and that the attributes that define them do not do so in a one-to-one fashion (instead, attribute-space relationships are a function of combination and context).  The music explores these areas of ambiguity and clarity.  Genre is treated in a similar way such that stylistic exemplars are presented authentically and in transformation.  The intersections in expressive identity and style illuminate what is exclusive and what is shared.

Rise of a City

2009

for guitar and robotic ensemble (PAM, MADI and CADI)

produced and recorded by Scott Barton, mixed by Marc Urselli and Scott Barton at East Side Sound Studios, NYC

Rise of a City introduces a human performer to the robotic creations of EMMI (Expressive Machines Musical Instruments, expressivemachines.com) for the first time. The piece features complementary string parts (one played by a human guitarist, one played by the robotic string instrument PAM) that are supported by a robotic percussion ensemble. The piece explores mechanical gestures, human expression, virtuosity and synchronicity by placing specific musical ideas in a variety of instrumental and temporal spaces. Material is soloed and shared between the parts, giving us a sense of the unique expressive characteristics of human versus robotic instrumentalists. From the perspective of narrative, the musical interactions between human and machine can be understood through the metaphor of how ideas develop. Sometimes multiple groups of people simultaneously cultivate ideas towards similar goals even though they don’t live in the same place. Sometimes the paths of this race are parallel. Sometimes they diverge. When they diverge, the separation can result in either an alternate route to the original goal or a new path(s) that clears the way to previously unimagined possibilities. This has become a familiar phenomenon to us via technological innovation, scientific discovery, stylistic innovation and the construction of physical communities (dwellings → cities). The construction of physical communities has particular metaphoric weight in the case of this piece. From small beginnings a city exudes reiterative processes in multiple directions. New neighborhoods spring up that incorporate and / or react to adjacent areas. The restatements are accumulative, so that the entirety of the city becomes perpetually more massive and complex. At the same time, the most recent individual additions, buildings in the case of a city, mirror the qualities of the whole in terms of grandeur and intricacy. This path is not purely linear of course, and the ability to start simply, small-ly, or differently is always preserved.

Eroding Mountains

For narrator, voice and electronics

2011-2014

narration: Art Cohen

vocals: Scott Barton

piano: Aurie Hsu

Eroding Mountains is about a slow epiphany. It is about one’s realization of the value of nonhuman animal life in a culture that typically defines ethical standards along speciesist lines. It is about the realization and remembrance that such lines are and have been drawn within the boundaries of the human species. It represents confusion and conflict that results when what was normal and comfortable is recognized as ethically untenable. It is about remaining connected with those you love in spite of differences. It is about frustration with apathy. It is about the hope of things getting better.

Musically, transformations and re-orderings of recognizable materials represent emotional conflict, confusion, and the feeling of a voice that doesn’t reach its listener. Larger trajectories, such as de-tuned -> tuned and distributed -> isochronous represent the journey of coming to clarity. The three sections represent how individuals can come to this realization in isolation and how, unless they connect with others, will continue to inhabit that state. Each section features expression that refuses to compromise its humanity in spite of the confusing factors around it. The piece concludes with a musical statement of hope.

Opus Palladianum: voice and drums

Winter, 2013

2-channel recording; 7:00

I am fascinated by organizations that consist of contrasting elements. I am interested in the surprise that such juxtapositions create, and the musical forms that result from their statement. I am interested in the musical parameters that contribute to such percepts. The piece explores kinds of contrast, from those that are clear, such as the juxtaposition of opposites (soft, loud), to those that are ambiguous, such as the juxtaposition of synthetic and intimate. Here, one of the main ways that contrast is created is by presenting the voice in a variety of rhythmic, harmonic, and technological settings. Percussion elements are treated similarly, which results in a variety of rhythms, meters and genre references. The piece also explores how one can create unity and connections among such disparate elements through lower-level musical parameters, such as rhythm, timbre and harmony, as well as through higher-level musical associations, such as means of production (acoustic, electronic) and genre. As a result, there is connection despite heterogeneity; there is fluidity despite disruption; there is peace despite agitation; there is continuity despite discontinuity.

Breeding in Pieces

Summer – Fall 2009

2 channel recording

Breeding in pieces combines compositional and production practices from rock and electroacoustic music. The piece creates (dis)continuity and form through higher-level feature (here, genre) contrast. Here, compositional and production practices from rock and electroacoustic music are combined and contrasted to create a diverse set of textures and relationships. As a result, each section of the piece can be represented on a continuum defined by poles of synthesis and preservation. In regard to synthesis, one musical world is filtered through the other from a variety of angles and proportions (and vice versa). In regard to preservation, the piece recognizes that commingling sometimes has the unfortunate by-product of dulled edges. Thus, the piece presents gestures as if in their natural habitats. The extent to which the music preserves these habitats speaks to the gestures themselves as well as the surrounding contexts (that which is implicit in and external to the piece). Almost all of the music is generated from the same progression / theme, creating unity among a diverse group of elements.

Figure <-> Ground

two channel recording; 2:39

Fall 2013

Figure <-> Ground interprets the idea of negative space in the context of rhythm and time.  In one formulation, the subjects are percussive sound points and the negative spaces are the durations that connect those sound points.  As the piece progresses, the elements that constitute a sound point are increasingly displaced in time, filling adjacent negative spaces.  The original metric positions and rhythmic identities become more ambiguous as a result, inviting us to both find boundaries between a subject and its negative spaces and to superimpose remembered structure on an increasingly diffuse texture.  The idea of negative space is also explored in rhythm by sonifying sound points and silencing intermediary durations, and then sonifying intermediary durations and silencing sound points.  Negative space is further interpreted in the context of rhythmic stylistic conventions.  The rhythmic configurations in the latter half of the piece are beat-based but also convey quickly-changing meters, syncopations, cross-rhythms and an avoidance of repetition on smaller time scales.  This sort of rhythmic expression inhabits a space between subject-points defined by contemporary Western art music and popular music.

Human-Robot Improvisation

I have been developing software that allows humans to improvise with the robots built by EMMI and the Music, Perception and Robotics Lab at WPI.  The bots have interacted with some wonderful performers:

Performance at Clark 2o-21 with Matt Jaskot, Peter Sulski and CADI / modular percussion instruments, Oct 30, 2013

Performance excerpt 2 at the Urban Canyon with Chris Fisher-Lochhead and Jenna Lyle, July 2013

Performance excerpt 1 at the Urban Canyon with Chris Fisher-Lochhead and Jenna Lyle, July 2013

Rehearsal 3 with Chris Fisher-Lochhead, Matt Orenstein and Alex Temple at HCL Chicago, July 2013

Rehearsal 2 with Chris Fisher-Lochhead, Matt Orenstein and Alex Temple at HCL Chicago, July 2013

Rehearsal 1 with Ammie Brod and Matt Orenstein at HCL Chicago, July 2013

HCL Chicago sponsored artist video

This is a video about my residency as a sponsored artist at High Concept Laboratories in Chicago in the summer of 2013.  By Carly Mostar.

<iframe src=”//player.vimeo.com/video/74431012″ width=”500″ height=”281″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/74431012″>HCL Artist Video Series: Scott Barton, Sponsored Artist Summer 2013</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/hclchicago”>High Concept Laboratories</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

Solar House

Spring, 2013.  A piece I composed for a video documenting the construction of Solatrium, a solar house project that WPI helped to design and build. http://wp.wpi.edu/solatrium/en/

from here to there

2012

for the musical robots AMI and CARI; 5:00

From Here to There explores the transformational distance between contrasting entities. The idea of transformational distance, borrowed from psychology and algorithmic information theory, measures the similarity between entities as a function of the list of instructions that is required to transform entity A into entity B. The shorter and simpler the list, the more similar the entities are; the longer and more complex the list, the more dissimilar the entities are. The piece explores how such (dis)similarities affect the perception of musical (dis)continuity by juxtaposing and morphing between four themes. The piece explicitly measures inter-theme contrast by exhibiting the number of steps it takes to transform one theme into another. While we can interpret the idea of transformational steps in a variety of ways, in this work, I consider the number of compositional steps it takes to transform one entity into another. These steps are designed to be perceptually relevant and musically meaningful. In additional to transformational distance, ideas are expanded, manipulated, and developed according to compositional intuition and aesthetic considerations. Thus, an artistic context surrounds an experimental exploration.

Push for Position

2010-2011

for saxophone, bassoon, PAM, MARIE and electronics

Push for Position comprises a number of core trajectories that are defined by sound source (in this case, human-played instruments, robotic instruments, and synthesizers), high-level associations, and thematic material. These trajectories intertwine with each other so that when one rises to the surface, the others are eclipsed. In addition, the trajectories influence each other so that when one becomes prominent (the speaker), the others (the listeners) incorporate features of that illuminated gesture, which are exhibited when those listeners eventually speak. Thus, the piece has memory: its components learn from and influence each other. The result is a collection of highly discontinuous moments that become increasingly relatable as the trajectories of the work interact over time. In regard to the juxtaposition of trajectories, that is, when one speaker interrupts another, (dis)continuities are created according to feature (dis)agreement. An entity will share some features with its neighbors, but it will also exhibit unique characteristics. The balance between shared and contrasting features creates various kinds of (dis)continuity. In conjunction with the aforementioned type of organization, the piece’s proportional durations are partially governed by contextual identity. A gesture that is interpreted as unrelated to the rest of the piece may be the longest (durationally) and vice versa. Thus, the piece’s form experiments with notions of proportional aesthetics. Such conclusions are, of course, a matter of subjective judgment, so the listener plays an important role in determining the piece’s form.

Street Meetings

composed with Steven Kemper, Fall 2010

interactive installation for the musical robots PAM and CADI

Often, we shape our behavior in response to the ambient noise created by machines.  This piece explores a reconfiguration of this type of interaction: here, machines respond to the ambient noise created by people (and other machines).
There is an open microphone that invites passersby to utter songs, stray notes, speeches and unintelligible nonsense.  PAM is always polite to offer a response to such gestures.  The installation also monitors the ambient noise of the street and responds with rhythmic and melodic gestures that complement this contextual input.

Drum Circle

composed with Steven Kemper, Winter-Spring 2010

for the robotic instruments MADI, CADI and assorted found percussion instruments

Drum Circle features the robotic instruments MADI and CADI playing a diverse percussion ensemble that includes beer bottles, woodblocks, metal bowls and traditional drums in the woods of Virginia. In some sense, the colocation of machine and nature strikes us as a juxtaposition of things that cannot coexist. Indeed, machine / nature interactions often result in dramatic transformations where nature is displaced to make way for some unlike object(s) of human will. This is not such a story: here, the robots tuck peacefully into the landscape. This contextualization allows us to see and hear robots not as imperialist amalgams of electromagnets and plastic, but rather as agents that are governed by the kinetic and acoustic characteristics of our physical world that can cooperatively interact and coexist with surrounding objects. The lines between nature and machine are made fuzzy. Compositionally, the piece integrates unpredictable physical systems, machine listening and algorithmic responses. Over the course of the work, musical ideas are stated, absorbed, re-interpreted and stated again to create a cyclic yet developing story.

A video of the work is featured on the eco sono DVD Agents Against Agency

…for steps that grow when climbed

Fall 2008 – Winter 2009, rev. 2011

for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, tom-toms, marimba, piano, viola, double bass and electronics; 7:30

for steps that grow when climbed looks at (dis)continuity as syncopation within longer durations. The piece’s structure is characterized by perpetually expanding sections (thus, the title), with each section articulated by a discontinuous moment. At the same time, movement and (dis)continuity are also voiced within sections. As a result, the piece illustrates how multiple continuities can simultaneously occur on different hierarchical levels, which can be interrupted and restarted to create various kinds of discontinuities. One of the ways that the piece achieves these (dis)continuities is by juxtaposing the acoustic ensemble with electronically-processed versions of its gestures. The piece also asks the acoustic ensemble to mimic computer processes, such as algorithmic duration alteration, to further illustrate how human and electronic elements can interact. In this way, the electronic interprets human gestures, and the humans interpret electronic gestures. These moments of synthesis are juxtaposed with moments that are purely acoustic and purely electronic. The result is a variety of relations that are characterized by different distances relative to a continuum defined by the poles of acoustic (human) and electronic (computer).

The Arc of Braided Movement

Fall 2007 – Winter 2008

for flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello; 7:00

The piece’s motion is at times analogous to points along a pendular arc; directionally independent vectors occur in a general context of acceleration and deceleration (temporal structure is also exposed to accelerating and decelerating forces). My interest in the oscillation between coordination and dislocation creates a “braiding” of instrumental lines (although sharper juxtaposition is also a device of interest). In terms of the music’s grooves, I find the rhythms physically compelling but “tweaked” enough to sidestep the type of overt periodicity that is typically associated with groove-oriented sound. The formal organization of the piece represents a kind of porous sectionalism where clearly defined moments are strung together by recurring ideas.

Decay to Primitive

Fall 2007

4 channel recording

In my experience, the texture present inspires meditative reflection. Alternatively and / or relatedly, this texture nudges one’s state of consciousness gently enough away from “equilibrium” (that state of consciousness to which one naturally reverts) that one could mistake the texture-induced state for equilibrium after some amount of time. The referencing of “true” equilibrium from the perspective of the texture-induced state creates an interesting perceptual contradiction. I believe this phenomena is enabled by the music’s density. The second section is an augmentation of a single event in the first section, with sonic content exchanged.

Assemblage of Gears

Fall 2006 – Winter 2007

for flute, clarinet, piano, electric guitar and double bass

It seems that the ways in which we have come to work and play have propelled us away from our physicality. I find physical experience can act as a panacea to the frustration of both existential angst and the skeptical approach to the questions of life. Music can be a wonderful conduit for physical experience.

I am interested in rhythmic complexity. I enjoy the tension between coordination and subsequent dislocation of rhythmic events. The potential to create unique textures through the combination of varied superimposition rates is exciting to me. Machines can help with this.

Physicality does not preclude complexity.

Etchings in Ice

Fall 2005 – Spring 2006

for 3 disklaviers, string ensemble and 8 speakers / electronics

Etchings in Ice is inspired in form and content by the sport of figure skating. The piece as a whole represents the preparation and presentation of a figure skating routine, the movements symbolize practice of the sport’s more prominent skills. For example, Mental Preparation and Refocus represent the type of skating found in a warm up, or between elements. Held Position represents the gliding element, A Moment Away From The Ground represents the footwork element. Within the abundance of possibility that this metaphor offers for creative expression, I chose to explore ideas of contrast; human / machine, slow / fast, long / short, flowing / jagged, soft / loud and electronic / acoustic.

Antiprism

ummer – Fall 2005

for guitar and computer; 9:30

The idea for Antiprism was inspired during a session with a percussionist friend of mine in which we were exploring the sounds of traditional instruments played with alternate techniques. At one point, the percussionist began striking a ride cymbal with a soft mallet and at the same time, partially muting the cymbal in different locations with his other hand. The result was a strikingly diverse collection of sounds. The potential latent within this single instrument was immediately revealed to me. It also was apparent how delicate component frequencies are and how easily they are lost in the complex combination of spectra involved in ensemble playing. I decided it was of paramount importance to maintain, or further, amplify the subtle indigenous sounds of the instrument so I decided to create a solo piece. My strategy, in keeping with the ideal of using “organic” sounds, was to separate the frequency spectrum into 8 “buckets” and at the same time, control the temporal expression of these buckets by way of a delay based system. I constructed such a system in Max/MSP and discovered the program had instrumental applications beyond that of the ride cymbal. I am composing a suite of pieces using this program, the one featured here features the electric guitar. The frequency parameters and delay intervals are programmable; much of the timbral and rhythmic content is created as a result of alterations of these inputs. The piece, through this program, purports to explore and reveal the “hidden” sounds that are typically relegated to a complementary role in more common spectral configurations.

Birth of a Machine

Winter – Spring 2005

4 channel recording; 11:30

Birth of a Machine is a story about mechanical soul searching. The first section is a gestation period; a stage for pre-developmental processes. The second section represents the fruition of this development as numerous fully-formed ideas strive for prominence through various cycles of combination and isolation. Musically, rhythm is explored through perpetual tempo change and polytempo in the context of an explicit but fleeting pulse. The majority of the sonic material present was derived from the recordings of a single instrument.

Deliberation

Winter 2005

4 channel recording; 6:22

The idea of the piece is one of stasis; of the avoidance of assertive and dramatic gestures. A small number of sound sournces linked by continuous paths creates a form without distinct segments. The interest lies in the subtleties of this journey voiced by pitch change, timbral difference and rhythmic interaction. The music requests attention in a non-controntational manner; without consideration to detail the meaning will be missed.

other works

Process in Autumn (Fall 2004) for flute, viola and piano; 3:00

Clearing of Path (Winter – Spring 2004) for guitar, drumset and recording; 8:00

Race of Man and Things (Summer – Fall 2004) for Electric Organ, 2 Marimbas, Glockenspiel, acoustic bass, bass clarinet, tenor sax and percussion

View from the Woods (2003) for piano, celesta, marimba, acoustic bass, timpani, trumpet, organ, percussive organ, prepared piano, electric guitar and tape

Chair (Spring 2004) for computer and QWERTY keyboard

Bees Turn to Flowers (Spring 2004) for for computer and QWERTY keyboard

Helix (Fall 2003) 2 channel recording

Seven (Fall 2003) 2 channel recording

Songbook Vol. 2 (2001-2002) for guitar, bass, voice and percussion

Evast (1999-2000) for 2 acoustic guitars

Songbook Vol. 1 (Fall 1998-Winter 1999) for voice, guitar, bass, piano, drum set and electronics

Television (the Thief) (Winter 1999) 2 channel recording

Shuffled (Winter 1999) 2 channel recording

5 to 9 (Spring 1998) for piano, re-orchestrated for 2 electric guitars, electric bass and drum kit

Tattered and Drone (Fall 1998) for marimba, xylophone, electric guitar and recording

Stack (Fall 1998) for 2 electric guitars, electric bass and drum kit

Chameleon (Spring 1997) for cello, recording and mixing board

5 Short Pieces: Electric Drip, The Hunt, Shuffled, Dance with Weakened Legs, Return to Moscow (Fall 1996 )2 channel recording

Aquarium (Fall 1996) for keyboard and recording

Early Daze (Fall 1996) 2 channel recording