Composition Techniques
of Sonic Ecosystems

This project presents the compositional techniques and philosophical ideas necessary to compose sonic ecosystems, as are part of The Sonic Spaces Project. I have been researching and composing feedback-based ionic ecosystems as part of my larger Sonic Spaces Project since 2011. These installation-based compositions are rooted in the techniques of traditional interactive music systems, such as OMax, or Voyager. However, instead of focusing on playing ‘with’ a musician, these systems aim to create a rich environment of digital and human agents, who are all equal in their potential contributions to the emergent music. These systems also build from Agostino DiScipio’s ideas about “moving from composing wanted sounds, towards composing interactions having audible traces.” In a sonic ecosystem, the composer defines digital agents, and the sonic interactions they can have with each other, or human agent visitors to the installation space. Thus, the process of composing a sonic ecosystem involves considering how various species of agents might interact with each other, and how they will use sonic energy present in the installation space.

As I continue my research identifying emergent compositional techniques for sonic ecosystem I will continue to update this page, as well as the bitbucket git repository linked to from this page.

Workshop Outline

1   Introduction to interactive music system

This workshop will start with a brief introduction to the history of interactive music systems. This will be followed with a description of current work in the field that relates to the composition of sonic ecosystems.

2   Influences

The next portion of the workshop will discuss the work of artists such as Agostino DiScipio, Oliver Bown, Alice Eldridge, Jon McCormack, Tim Blackwell, and Michael Young. These artists and scholar have heavily influenced The Sonic Spaces Project, and many specific ideas have been borrowed from them which deserve to be acknowledged.

3   Discussion “What is a Sonic Ecosystem?”

The next portion of the workshop will be an open discussion about what constitutes a sonic ecosystem. Specifically, we will discuss and examine natural soundscapes for the relationships and interactions that occur between the agents of these systems. From this rules will surface for the composition of digital sonic ecosystems.

4   Composition Techniques

The majority of the session will be spent introducing the composition techniques that have emerged from my research during the course of The Sonic Spaces Project. Just as suggested rules exist for the composition of ‘tonal’ music, there are common rules or techniques that commonly occur in the composition of sonic ecosystems. Some of these are as simple as inverse-amplitude relationships, whereby tracked amplitude at an input inversely effects output amplitude of an agent. A more complex interaction involves partitioning the audio spectrum in to bins of energy that certain agents can or cannot use to survive.

I have examples in SuperCollider prepared to distribute to participants. These prebuilt toolboxes will allow participants to deconstruct previous work in the project and also to quickly build sonic ecosystems of their own.

5   Extensions of Sonic Ecosystems

The final topic of this workshop, time permitting, will cover the technical details and compositional considerations associated with moving these systems to single-board computers. In this type of system agents are each assigned and hard coded to a physically distinct system. Each agent system is comprised of a raspberry-pi, USB digital audio converter, microphone, audio amplifier, speaker, and housing. These agents are each individually aware of their environment, whereas in previous systems, the agents were all housed in a single computer, and relied on shared transducers for knowledge of their environment. During this final portion of the workshop, I will present how participants can move to this type of system, and the benefits it might provide compositionally.