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Sound Gesture and Rhetoric. Hyper-cello as an Algorithmic Composer

Nicola Baroni, Carlo Benzi

Nicola Baroni, Istituto di alta formazione musicale, Conservatorio Claudio Monteverdi, Piazza Domenicani 19 – 39100 Bolzano (BZ) – Italia / ACE Graduate School, University of Edinburgh, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9DF
Carlo Benzi, Istituto di alta formazione musicale, Conservatorio Claudio Monteverdi, Piazza Domenicani 19 – 39100 Bolzano (BZ) – Italia


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Musical practice based on new technologies does not seem to unequivocally confirm the relations of the three elements of the classic semiotic-oriented theory of musical communication (composing, performing and listening). Unexpected interactions between these three poles of communication suggest the idea that rhetoric can be useful in order to describe and produce effective creative processes.
In the 16th-18th centuries composers adapted literary rhetoric to music, towards striking descriptions and organizations of musical forms. The rhetorical figures derived from poetry became a very powerful means to shape well organized and emotionally meaningful compositions, even outside the music-vocal domain.
The motivation behind our recalling of pre-classical contexts stems from the assumption that technologies are involved in a process of modular reconfiguration of musical cognition and communication. It is not just the social roles of music-making that are shifting, since the categories themselves seem to be assuming unexplored and overlapping meanings.
By exploring new boundaries within the enhanced experience offered by digital augmented instruments towards a real-time approach to software composition, our project explores concepts belonging to the rhetorical tradition in combination with some semiotic theories of the 20th century. Our aim is to cross different functions internal to the creative musical process, individuating possible trajectories of mutual human-machine listening. Electro-acoustical language has, since its origins, considered the perception and the morphology of sound as constitutive elements of the form. Schaeffer referred to the minimal units of communication as objets sonores: gestures which connect the physical world with the symbolic one. The tape now assumed the role of a score, containing organized sound gestures.
Moving from the concept of Hyperinstruments we propose an interactive system of composition that, through the analysis of the structural elements of the sound gestures as they are played live, elaborates a multistratified form in which the composition, the performance and the listening integrate one another according to a modular strategy, a heuristic approach to the analysis of the sensing data, and a compositional self-regulating attitude. A unifying framework is offered by the model of the “composed instruments” defined by Schnell and Battier (2002) as digital means possessing the attributes to be instruments and score at the same time. By maintaining a focus upon the context of embodied interactions, rhetoric, with its figures denoting amplification, variation and contrast strategies, can be treated as a new field of research in order to enhance the communication between the different levels of the musical creation and the people involved in it.

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