Music 104
Graduate Composition Seminar
Polansky, Spring, '02

Assignment #3 for Music 104: Analysis/Resynthesis Piece
Given, April 16.
Due April 25 (listen in class), .

We often use the term analysis/resynthesis in computer music to describe the process of breaking down a sound into some essential, quantifiable components, altering those components in some way, and reconsituting them into a sound.The phase vocoder is an obvious example: sounds are analysed in terms of their amplitude and phase partial coefficients, those coefficients are available for any number of mathematical/cognitive transformations, and those "numbers" may be put back together as a new sound. This new sound is directly an artifact of the old sound via some describable transformation.

There is a philosophical conundrum known as the Ship of Theseus, which describes a ship which, over time, has every part of itself replaced by a new part. Every board, oar, sail, ornament. Philosophers ponder whether or not this is still the same ship. In fact, they consider putting all the old parts together, in a new place, and then asking, what ship is that.

The same questions might be considered vis a vis  analysis/resynthesis. For example, in the phase vocoder, what are these component sinusoids, and why, in fact, do we need an "original" sound from which to reconsitute them into a new one? This conundrum is interesting, and probably, ultimately very relevant to questions of influence, historical development, and derivation in our own field of composition. Perhaps musical responses to this question might involve compositional notions such as intent, insight (into the original sound and its transformative possibilities), recognizability, and similarity. Does the new sound connote the old one? (and what does that mean?).

This assignment is to do a piece which is the analysis/resynthesis of some other piece (thanks to Charles Dodge for suggesting this concept to me). The task is to take some existing piece, analyse it in some way that you claim (and you will be expected to argue that claim) represents important features of its structure or existence, and transform the results of that analysis into some new piece. The object of this assignment is to produce an interesting, beautiful work which is very directly related to the source, and which sheds light on composition, the source, and analysis.

I ask that you do this not in an "intuitive" way, but rather in a formal, articulatable one. You must describe the process of analysis/resynthesis accurately enough so that we could, in fact, replicate or reproduce the process (and the outcome). I am not interested in a kind of poetic analysis/resynthesis, nor an homage, nor that you were "influenced" by the source piece. I'm suggesting something far more specific and pedantic here: I want you to actually extract something salient of the source piece, and use that information as the basis for the new piece.

I am imposing one final, somewhat arbitrary restriction on this exercise. The source piece should not be a piece of popular music, nor one that is immediately recognizable to a large number of people. In fact, I would suggest that you avoid source pieces whose connotations will be obvious in a simple way (techno, for example, in the case of trying to use the drum beat to structure your own work). On the other hand, I want you to use something that is meaningful, interesting, and important to you, and try to learn something about that work and your own via the analysis/resynthesis process.