Analysis of Shortstuff and Break

The manner in which Shortstuff and Break behave in terms of spectral space and silence provide us with different views of the ontology of these two pieces as sound and silence.

The source sound material within Shortstuff is created from tiny fragments of sound amassed by the composer- the offcuts of previous tape work, unused sound materials from previous pieces, as well as some synth samples. The sound of shattering glass forms the sole sound material in Break resulting in the use of similar sound archetypes in both works. However, there is a distinct variation in the relationship each work shares with silence.

The initial gesture heard in Shortstuff has duration of less than a second in length and is followed immediately by a silence of four seconds duration. The implication of this opening gesture is that it is far more difficult to experience an expectation through the normal means of reduced listening and source bonding. A gesture follows at 00'04, and again lasts for just over a second in length, although the material has been extended and developed slightly from the initial gesture of the work. The entire opening section of Shortstuff features similar short gestural motifs, followed by lengthy silences and a wide frequency spectrum and dynamic range (figure 4.1), which punctuate the sound canvas.

Figure 4.1: Spectrogram of the opening seconds of Shortstuff (0:00- 0:13)
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A different approach is seen within Break and, whilst a similar approach to gesture and silence is present, there is far less exploration in both the spectral space, and dynamic range. Within this work, the relationship with silence is very different in a contrasting manner to that observed within Shortstuff, with sound punctuating silence. Within the opening seconds of Break, the dynamic level remains constant, with little variation present within the spectral space established by the composer (figure 4.2). This full spectral space means that the silences utilized by the composer have less effect leaving little maneuverability for the building of tension and release thereof.

Figure 4.2: Spectrogram of opening seconds of Break (0:00-0:13)
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Although both pieces make use of similar typologies of sound, and extended silences, the overarching nature of spectomorphological contouring of the sounds themselves are distinctly different. In Shortstuff there is a greater degree of nuance and variation in the pitch and dynamic shaping. From a listening perspective this encourages a more varied range of interactions between each of the gestural forms and the silences around them, leaving more scope for the kinds of musical values that arise from both the structural and dramatic uses of silence, such as anticipation, surprise and fulfillment.

adrian 2015-06-03