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Natasha Barrett

Reality and Secrets no.1


I think it is interesting how sound relates to its dynamic real-world system. Through investigating this relationship I hope to form a tighter bond between sound and the way it lives in the composition. The investigation often involves observation or modelling of the real-world context as it unfolds through time. In Reality and Secrets no. 1 I studied the spatial activity of my chosen sources in their original context and experimented with how these dynamic systems could be used to guide sound transformation, spatial activity and temporal structures in the composition.

Our everyday world is a hive of interesting spatial information. In acousmatic music we often use acoustic source material, recorded with various microphone techniques, capturing a specific spatial listening point. But in our normal day we perceive spatial information with many senses: most prominently with our ears and eyes, but also via touch and olfactory senses. Although spatial information is maybe most immediate for our hearing, visual cues can clarify a source’s distance, its speed and direction, especially when multiple sources are in interaction. Touch and physical contact also yield spatial information too fine for our eyes or ears to decode, even if we are able to hear or see a change in behaviour of some undefined kind.

In Reality and Secrets no. 1 I chose two main contrasting source materials: children sledging downhill and cellist Tanja Orning performing various materials. In choosing these sources I was interested in contrasts of intimacy, proximity, spatial scales and dynamics, and the differences between an outdoor scene and a more controlled indoor situation.

I used three methods to capture spatial information from the sources:

- Sound recordings of outdoor scenes using an SPS200 Soundfield microphone. The a-format recordings captured sounding spatial information at a low resolution, and were used as sound material in the composition.

- Video recording of the outdoor scenes. Video processing tracked the distance, relative perspective and angle of multiple objects moving through in the scene. The data was used to control spatial and sound transformations.

- 3D motion-capture (using the VICON mocap system and Qualisys software) to record the cellist’s and cello’s large and minute performance information at a very high data rate. The cello sound was recorded with two mono microphones without intending to capture spatial information in the sound source.

Compositional ideas resulted from investigating the transformation between these extremely different sounds and spatial expressions. For example: testing data reduction and mapping techniques, consolidating contrasting spatial scales, setting up ‘impossible’ listening positions (such as a virtual microphone placed in the centre of the cellist’s body), faking acoustic environments with ambisonics impulse response convolution, contrasting between accurate spatial synthesis and recorded audio environments, testing ways in which to create an image of size and dimension, and an appropriately changing audio image, from a point source trajectory.

The composition is spatialised in three horizontal layers of 5th order ambisonics, displaced vertically if appropriate (encoded with the ICST MaxMSP objects and my own granulation software), and one full 3D first-order layer (encoded with synthesis as well as captured in recording, decoded with Harpex).

So far I have summarised the work in terms of technical points and factual ideas. The composition also contains its own world of reality and secrets, which I hope, in some way, will connect to you as a listener.


Special thanks to Alexander Refsum Jensenius at the Institute for Musicology (University of Oslo) and cellist Tanja Orning

Tanja Orning:

"Reality and Secrets no.1" was commissioned by NOTAM with support from the Norwegian Composers' Fund.

Natasha Barrett

Natasha Barrett works fore-mostly with composition, research and creative uses of sound. Her output spans concert composition through to sound-art, large sound-architectural installations and collaboration with experimental designers and scientists. Whether writing for live performers or electroacoustic forces, the focus of this work stems from an acousmatic approach to sound, the aural images it can evoke and an interest in techniques that reveal detail the ear will normally miss. Sound’s spatio-musical potential features strongly in her work, over the past 10 years involving practical application of ambisonics and more recently the interactive spatial sonification of scientific data. Barrett studied in England with Jonty Harrison and Denis Smalley for masters and doctoral degrees in composition. Both degrees were funded by the humanities section of the British Academy. Since 1999 Norway has been her compositional and research base for an international platform.

Barrett's works are performed and commissioned throughout the world, receiving numerous recognitions, most notably the Nordic Council Music Prize (Norden / Scandinavia, 2006), Giga-Hertz Award (Germany, 2008), Edvard Prize (2004, Norway), Noroit-Leonce Petitot (Arras, France, 2002 & 1998), Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Awards (France 2001, 1998 & 1995), Musica Nova (2001), IV CIMESP 2001, Concours Scrime, (France 2000), International Electroacoustic Creation Competition of Ciberart (Italy 2000), Concours Luigi Russolo (Italy 1995 & 1998), Prix Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria 1998), 9th International Rostrum for electoacoustic music (2002). Her installations include a major work for the Norwegian state commission for art in public spaces.

Works are available on Aurora, empreintes DIGITALes, Euridice, Albedo, CDCM Computer Music Series and Cultures Electroniques Bourges.

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