the images

the sound



Musical transformation processes in virtual space or
"What can we hear in SOL?"

In 1798, Joseph Haydn decides to work on an oratorium about the genesis. His problem is the beginning. How should he, with the means of contemporary music, describe what is put into form only later through the process of creation and only then exhibits structures that can be reflected by a composition? After many attempts, Haydn takes a revolutionary way for his time: he starts with a description of the chaos itself, which programmatically becomes the title of the first movement: “The idea of the chaos".
Apart from the idea of the “Programmmusik", that was invented hundred years later, we find here an almost forgotten ancestor of the experiments of contemporary music dealing with order and disorder, a specific concern for the electronic and computer music that most often has no interpreter while performed. Since the 50ies, structures from nature through to chaos as more or less controlled chance, serve as raw material for the “appearance”, and are the staged equivalent for human creativity. These materials were used as an aesthetic appropriation of nature and served as source and starting point for computer-aided compositions.
Furthermore, Haydn’s example demonstrates, how strongly our sensual experience and aesthetic categories are rooted in concepts of history, society, and community. Just as Haydns musical chaos, which we hardly comprehend today, appears calm and domesticated, so is the debate about technical mapping processes, although mostly discussed in technical terms, strongly influenced in a historical an cultural way and this not only in the musically aesthetic field.
Haydn’s attempt to compose the genesis out of a religious understanding of nature leads directly to the similarly abstract questions we face in the project “SOL”, that is situated between science and art and that expounds the issue of artistic appropriation in a modern way. In “SOL”, we see a translation of complex scientific data of the sun transformed into image and sound. The immediate insight conveyed by the installation - "this is how measured data from the sun sound like” - provokes the question about the underlying translation processes and the thus established relation between scientific data mining with its exploration of sound and image, and the sensual musical – aesthetic listening experience of structurally and in terms of sound exciting music.
The established methods in this field are numerous and questionable. They contain examples such as plotting the data followed by a sonification of the plotting noise or complicated mathematical mapping methods. In all these methods, data are used as an abstract reservoir of symbols and are mechanically related to parameters such as instruments, pitch, and volume. The fascination of these ideas dates back to the beginning of algorithmic composition after World War II. These concepts of objective aesthetics appeared in the Renaissance for the first time, and even more so in the context of Romanticism, when the ultimate goal of human deeds and also of art was to imitate nature.
In this process of transformation, non-mechanic, semantic translation processes between different systems, in this case art and science, go back to a new third system they both have in common: the computer as a universal Turing Machine, as a prototypic medium for simulation in art and science, that is able to erase every aspect of history and emotion and which thus provides data as abstract information for free use and aesthetic reinterpretation.
Just as the term "the digital", "information" is an abstract description for a medium, the form of which can appear as sound as well as images. And this is why there is no actual digital music, nor a digital image. After a transition from the digital to the analogue, we perceive sounds that display digitally existing data. The problem with the description of such events is, that we cannot observe the displaying medium and thus not the digital itself; the transformation process remains hidden for us.
Media, also the digital ones, can only be observed by the forms they allow or exclude. At the beginning of the digital age, they showed what wasn't possible yet: images revealed their pixel-structure, music was noisy and sounded techno like, scenes were plunged into pale moonlight, movies were flickering, the Net kept us waiting. This forced us to create styles that played with this form of the medium. In the process of perfection of media, their peculiarities gradually disappear, they become invisible, loose their form, disappear slowly below the perceivable threshold just as behind their next media generation.
Once the medium has completely disappeared below the threshold of our attention economy, we can still observe the form of the medium, in which the results of our manipulation beyond the A/D converter appear, which can be music for instance. But because of the indifference of information and form we can no longer distinguish, if the sensual event that we hear or see is the result of a calculation of the computer, the information of a digitalized image or text, or if they are finally complex measured data of a scientific observation of the sun. As pieces of information, the resulting sounding data obey a logic, that has to be realized using a finite reservoir of discrete signs in addition to their rules of connections and operationalized methods, guaranteeing their redundant exchangeability.
We obtain this for the price of loosing historic-aesthetic connotations as well as all artifacts below the digital raster.

Its is this pragmatic oblivion that offers us a new chance of a productive and artistic re-appropriation that is innocent in its compositional approach and that, just like Haydn did, puts the focus on information and investigates it, looking for perceivable structural artifacts and patterns of complexity. This is the structural part of what we hear in the installation.
Even the acoustic part may be extracted in the same process: By the prohibition of the discourse of digital oblivion beyond what is real between two samples, it is possible to have operational access to the material itself and to thus enable universal manipulability. With regard to music, this means that the available data as information can be directly transformed into sound. According to Turing, the basic principle of a universal machine, a “number cruncher”, is a program-controlled simulation that contains methods for sound synthesis. Referring to the processes of transformation, virtual soundscapes of the medial forms of the digital are the issue. In the installation “SOL”, such a virtual soundscape, can be experienced, as an aesthetically transformed and musically reinterpreted sound installation, com- posed and transformed by Frank Halbig from measured sun data provided by the national Geophysical Data Center.
As guideline for what we hear in the installation, we may take the idea formulated by Halbig, to take up the originally four-dimensional data and to musically reestablish the sound artifacts analogue to the four visual projections.
The perceivable and musically attributable levels follow the ideas of the content of the measured data, which are the Irradiance of the sun, various measurements relating to the Solar Wind, the distribution of Sunspots, and the Solar Magnetic Mean Field. By this duplication of the referential systems as a scientific starting point and as an aesthetic concept of transformation we find a dense and interesting sound installation. The abstract results of the sun's activity are not represented linearly, but play with our ability to perceive and understand highly complex facts when presented in a sensual and aesthetical way. For this purpose music contributes as a genuine time-based medium.
Therefore the attributable sound levels exhibit a musical interpretation of the research ideas, as they are most clearly presented by the sound of a piano. Here we find the idea of digital simulation of a classical instrument most significantly correlated with the musical interpreted research result. It is the number of sunspots, which is the only solar phenomenon that can be directly observed by using an appropriate instrument, which produces a stochastically regular pattern within 11 years.
More abstract sounds that point to the electro acoustic field lead to similar questions, which in a broader sense, correlate with the other three dimensions of sound. The choice of the sound, digitally at hand an in this way manipulated, adds to that direction. Like the rest of the sounds, even the imitated piano is abstractly digitally produced, successfully simulating its instrumental origin. The other more abstract and mathematically complex combined results are presented by electronic sounds that do not follow a simulation paradigm. As basic material they use strings, cello, or double bass, but are distorted in se- veral dimensions presenting an abstraction far from its origin. Yet they stay structurally dense and from the sound impression, stylistically point towards minimal techno.
Its spatialization, according to the reinterpretation of the dimensionality of the basic research results, make the sound similarly "crispy" and brittle, whilst moving in space and time like the underlying data. The musically convincing result of these intertwined processes shows the necessity of the conscious compositorial manipulation, especially regarding to the micro cosmos of sound design.
The 20th century was full of debate about form and structure in music as the ending point of a long history of increasing control over the material, at the end of which we find a redundant dimension of serial techniques and the ending of bourgeois representational music. Techno and allied styles finally break the inflexible form and musical structures of Rock and Pop. A continuous beat replaces their structural elements, on top of which freedom in sound and structure dominate.
Compositional awareness can unfold on this basis in all dimensions: sound, structure, form, etc. without necessarily having to refer to a classical background, but in direct contact with experimental club culture, as well as with the new media of production, reception, and distribution.
Florian Grond, Frank Halbig, Jesper Munk Jensen, and Thorbjorn Lausten are searching in this historical situation for a different sustainable basis for aesthetic experiments and find it in the sciences, which, similar to the digitally produced music, produce contingent data streams of natural phenomena and provide material for artists to find their own appropriation and medial presentation.
We therefore see no “victory over the sun”, as postulated in the title of a famous Supremacist book about techno, but an encouraged work, which focuses on the discussion about the relationship between art and the world in difficult times.

Michael Harenberg