My research on the space of sound

My music often explores the interaction between sound and space, and between sound sources and listeners. Empirically applying basic psychoacoustic principles to my artistic output, I strive to find special orchestration and instrumentation techniques that can convey an illusory spatial perception in the mind of the listener. 

Up to the beginning of this research, which started during my Doctorate of Philosophy (2013-2018) at the Royal Academy of Music, London, my music had always drawn inspiration from nature and architecture with their sounds and physical laws. The original intention was to create a sound environment in which the audience could momentarily linger and evade reality. However, my artistic intent slowly evolved from creating a “sound-space” to modelling the “space of sound.” Examining how composers like Xenakis, Stockhausen, Nono, and later Lachenmann, Billone among others have created subtle interactions between space and sound, inspired me to explore the perception of a three-dimensional aura that emerges from instrumental extended techniques and the projection of unstable/filtered sound spectra in space. 

Drawing from psychoacoustics and applying basic neuroscience principles to music composition, I focus on exploring the concept of ‘spatial mental projection’ in the listener’s inner representation of the external world (the illusory perception of a fictional space and the redistribution of sound sources within it). The exploration of this phenomenon in neuroscience provided the necessary foundation for the creation of my own music. I refined the aim of my music to the creation of three-dimensional sound sculptures that can be visualised through mental projection. I attempted to achieve these goals through the use of perspectives in filtered/layered sound sources, the attention to the gestural space of the performers, a study of the projection properties of different instruments in the hall space, and the creation of artifical spaces with which acoustic sounds can interact. Ultimately, I try to invite the listeners to a musical experience that involves their own body and mind in an active exploration of their personal mental projection of the acoustic phenomena happening around them.

I still believe that the strongest way to create a convincing alternative reality is to justify it through connections with the real world: the “abstract” content of my music often comes, even nowadays, from an evident transformation of a natural acoustic phenomenon (or rather its representation as close as possible to reality). The use of extended and unconventional techniques on instruments raises the possibility that we can almost mimic sounds that we can hear from non-musical sources. My work in general can be seen as a practical demonstration of some of the principles that I have analysed in my research.

For practical reasons, I divided it into four main topics:

The projection properties of sound sources

Layering and filtering the sound sources

The gestural space of the player and its states of energy

Inviting the listener to the exploration of the sound environment

This research grows from an instinct for triggering my creative imagination through thinking in spatial terms. My father, an architect, has passed on to me a deep love of places and buildings. A space can be filled with emotions: walking in certain places, on certain soils, moves me deeply. I can perceive the vibrations of history trapped in the walls, and the beauty of the geometries that surround me. When experiencing music, I tend to combine it with my visual imagination, and I find that my compositional instinct cannot be disconnected from the visual world. As such, this project considers how my research on spatial perception in acoustic phenomena, exploring the connection between the visual and the aural representations in the mind of what is heard, has influenced and shaped my musical creativity.

Talking about music, the term visual might seem misleading in this context. I do not intend it as the mental creation of shapes and colours connected with aural perception, but rather the intuition of dimensions and distances, which are perhaps most intuitively described in visual terms. I explore the potential of composing music three-dimensionally, understanding that sound is a cross-sensorial experience. I am interested in creating art music that allows the listener to explore the complexity of musical texture (either as an orchestration of multiple sound sources or as a three-dimensional aura of single instruments) with the aid of psychological inputs coming from the different senses.

Since the introduction of psychoacoustics, the scientific awareness that our perception of what surrounds us is largely distorted by the limitations of our senses has profoundly influenced the ways of conceiving art in general. As an artist of the twenty-first century, I believe that science must be invoked as an integral part of our vision of the world. The scientific knowledge of human sensorial perception remains the foundation of my research, but I also draw constant inspiration from what we can “see” through science. In this way we gain access to parts of reality that cannot be captured by our senses. This is a powerful tool that opens up expressive possibilities not even imaginable by the artists of the past. I desire to provoke in my listener the experience of what is beyond the normal reach of our senses, wearing the glasses of imagination to see what our eyes cannot. The space of sound, as I see it, is not simply a fictional space described through auditory stimuli, but the intimate potential of instruments to create a perceivable, vibrating aura. I imagine the sounds that I compose to be like chisels sculpting the space of the listener’s mental projection.

Copyright © Gerardo Gozzi 2021