Dianoia – for ensemble

July 16, 2016

Dianoia was commissioned by Vertixe Sonora Ensemble to be included in the 2016 edition of the “Music and Art: Sound Correspondences” festival in Santiago de Compostela – Spain. The piece represents a turning point in my artistic work as it opens a new way of constructing music. It is undeniable that my previous work brought me to this piece, however when I started it, I was challenged to completely break with my previous way of composing. The reason this occurred is entirely traceable to the development of my Ph.D. at The University of Edinburgh. During this first year of research, I was submitted to new intellectual challenges that pushed me in new directions. My meetings with Dr. Michael Edwards have turned out to be incredibly insightful, he has an extraordinary ability to poke his students and provoke them to extend their artistic research and invite them to step out of the comfort zone. At the same time, my relationship with my fellow researchers/composers have offered new views on music and how to construct it.

The Festival is based on the exchange between visual artists and composers. For this edition, I was asked to collaborate with Carme Nogueira as she participated in the art exhibition “Agrupar_Desagrupar: rupturas de la representación” with other visual artists. I initiated the composition process by the development of some initial ideas that concerned me, however, I asked for a Skype meeting with Carme as I was interested to find out about her artistic practice. After she walked me through some of her work and explained to me this type of performance/outdoor installation that she refers as intervention work, I started to think how can I use this information to affect my own personal work.

My interest in visual art and music is not new, from the beginning of my career, I have dedicated pieces that try to relate these forms of art. My work in “Miro a Miró” was just the emergence of more pieces that explored the influence of visual art in a more literal process, all the way to a more conceptual approach heard in “Oblivious”. However, Carme’s work presented a very strong insight of conceptual visual art, a practice which I haven’t had a moment to reflect on. The meeting with her allowed me to understand the relationship between a concept and the process, and certainly how a process can be included as a structural pillar in the execution of the piece itself, exploiting the ephemeral characteristics of these pieces. This has been an on-going exploration in my own practice, but I have always hesitated when applying it.

As my exploration into uncharted artistic territories began, I started to prioritize musical ideas that even though have been included in previous works, I have never explored them in a pure way.  This brought many challenges and questions, but also forced me to develop strategies to surpass them. The term “block composing” is certainly not new and furthermore, it relates even closer to modern popular music, especially electronic music.

view of Reason's Block Mode

view of Reason’s Block Mode

During the time composing my Masters’ Thesis “Oxymoron” – for bass clarinet and live electronics, I discussed this with Dr. Edwards. He also has, in a way, applied this method of constructing and it can be seen implemented in his software Slippery Chicken which can use “sequence palettes” that are called sequentially to construct music.

In Dianoia, I wanted to be more literal with the use of these blocks, and the piece itself was imagined as the succession of blocks. A raw and simple way of constructing that will turn focus on the formal complexity of the piece felt after it is over (ephemeral), rather than at the “phrase/gesture” scope of time. I continuously referred to Piet Mondrian’s work to keep on pushing with the idea and not fall into despair as I have never composed this way. I constantly felt like being placed in a dark room, I could not visualize where the piece was going or even what was I trying to say nonetheless, after a couple of months of exploration with the material I began to have more confidence with it and it started to take shape. At the same time, my meetings with my supervisor also included discussions about the concept and what this piece is actually saying. I realized then that Carme’s work was relating to mine as the work speaks over time. On top of that, in my meeting with her, she told me about her work with the wooden ladders in site-specific interventions. This piece talks about changing the place from where we look at things, spaces, etc. There was also something deeper that I could relate to in these specific interventions as I am now living with new life challenges in Europe, where those ladders were used to help communicate between separated friends and families in the divided Berlin, now I was using them to look over the Atlantic and think of the life that I left behind in another continent.

Carme Nogueira: El Centro en Desplazamiento I

I progressively become more interested in “form” as my practice of time management for the pieces becomes more scrutinized each time. I work the musical form under the same premise as Edgar Varese; the form is the result of the interaction between musical structures. This being said, for me, the musical form is an underlying entity that helps us feel satisfied with a piece of art, so the control over it, in this case, comes later when the work is analyzed. The balance and the proportions of time between the sections, is what will determine a better result. It is also interesting that form/balance/proportions does not discriminate style or even length. A few years I ran into this nice comic that explains my point very well. In the image, you can see that the only thing that is constant and maintained in the illustration is the balance/proportions that defines the form.

the form/proportions remain across each style

the form/proportions remain across each style

For Dianoia, my research with form and proportions took me to experiment with the Slippery Chicken programming library for LISP (SC also can be used as “stand-alone”). Although I do not feel interested in algorithmic composition, I do experiment with Computer Aided Composition and this is how I utilized the language by developing the fractal structure of the piece with the (pdivide) function. Although in the beginning, I did not have a clear grasp on the process, I later felt comfortable and understood how to use the result from the function to achieve a result I was happy with. This can be observed in the graphic as the beginning of the piece has one layer of complexity, in the second part, The fractal structure can be seen. To create the piece I used the relationship 3 to 5 and 4 to 7. Throughout the whole piece, these relationships create the musical material.

Fractal Structure created with the Slippery Chicken Software

Fractal Structure created with the Slippery Chicken Software

The title “Dianoia” is a greek word that describes a type of (mathematical) thinking that refers to the capacity for, process of, or result of discursive thinking, in contrast with the immediate apprehension type of thinking described by “noesis”. As described above, I was interested in working with a special emphasis in proportions, for which I was reading about it. I was given the book “The Golden Section: Natures’s Greatest Secret” by Scott Olsen as a gift, where I found the word Dianoia. The name actually describes the way I hope this piece is perceived as well as a great description of what composing this piece actually meant to me. I needed to understand what I was doing in a “Dianoia” state of mind, for which I became more confident about what I was doing over the process.

Dianoia Score and Pure Data Patch. (if you desire these files, please contact me via the “contact” tab in my website)