Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi
About the Works
"I began exploring the relationship between machine listening and my own hearing"
Heard, for solo piano is about the discrepancies between how people perceive sound and how computers hear via machine listening techniques. All of the musical material is derived from a field recording of a herd of cows (and their cowbells) during a summer thunderstorm. In early 2012, I was given a book and CD published by David Dunn, entitled “Why Do Whales and Children Sing?”. The disc contained a collection of field recordings made by David and his friends. One, in particular, caught my ear. Set against the ambient backdrop of a summer thunderstorm was the plinking melody of cowbells, drifting slowly around the listener. I could almost smell the pasture.
I became interested in how this recording had subtly transformed the original scene in its attempt to preserve it. My experience of these sounds was mediated, far different from David’s original encounter in the Alps. Nonetheless, something beautiful had been transferred, despite the difficulty in translation and the impossibility of true reproduction. I wanted to explore this idea further, how technologies aimed at transmission and preservation actually end up playing a transformative role in relaying information. By making this distortion an explicit part of the compositional process, I hoped to learn more about the fundamentals and aesthetics of signal and noise.
Processing the audio in a computer music studio, I time stretched and pitch shifted the rich overtone content into the range of the piano. Considering how microphones are used as substitutes for the human ear, I began exploring the relationship between machine listening and my own hearing. I created a computer program to listen to the recording and automatically generate a transcription of what it heard. The final score was then a result of negotiation between the machine listening transcript and what I heard with my own ears. From that alpine scene where David heard something of interest to his ears, the sonic vibrations have thus been transferred over and over again before reaching the final listener. It is a minor miracle that the end result, I believe, captures something of the aura, in addition to the pitches and rhythms, of that summer scene. -RM
Ryan Maguire believes that through music we live more fully, feel more deeply, think more clearly, and connect more truly. His work persistently attempts to find hidden resonances in acoustic, poetic, and technological space. *At best* he hopes his music might catalyze transcendent, humane experiences sometime and somewhere. Failing that, he hopes it will at least comfort, inspire, or intrigue.
Currently a Ph.D. student in Composition and Computer Technologies at the University of Virginia, Ryan grew up in Wisconsin where he earned his B.A. in Physics and Music. In the intervening years, he taught math and studied late into the night while completing postgraduate degrees at the New England Conservatory and Dartmouth College in Composition and Digital Musics, respectively. In his free time you can usually find him near vegan food or enjoying the great outdoors.
Heard, for solo piano Ryan Maguire
Cows and Thunderstorms