Antonio D’Amato’s fixed audio media piece “Körper” is a fascinating experience in timbre and sonic palette. From his abstract:
“Technically speaking the composition uses exclusively a short audio recording of a MRI test.
A large number of processes and signal elaboration modules are applied in order to subdue the crude audio sample to the compositional requirements.
Spectral editing and resonant filters are chained in order to isolate restricted areas in the whole sound object. The foundation material is clearly revealed only at the very end of the piece. The piece was composed at ZKM studios in Karlsruhe.”
By capturing the sound of an MRI test, Antonio generates all of the sonic material in this piece. The piece begins and continues with a very elongated series of manipulations of this recorded audio, only revealing the unprocessed audio at the very end. To find this signal, go to the final 10-15 seconds or so of the piece.
So, what is generated from this singular concept?
We get various low frequencies at the beginning of this work, perhaps achieved by filtering, slowly elevating in timbral harshness and pitch, leading to a mixture of low and mid-level frequencies. The atmosphere goes from droning and slightly grainy; to cutting, but quickly receding, frequencies; interrupted by moments of disparate material. These interruptions are not jarring, as they are mixed well into the piece.
At roughly 2:10, the piece shifts and swaps frequencies and resonances, with a less subtle interruption of a shifting, phasing filter. The constant escalation and deescalation of intensity is caused by altering harmonics as well as fundamentals, increasing or decreasing their pitch and varying their spectral content.
The arrival of this constant change reveals a subtler, timbrally gentler sonic landscape at 3:02. With a smoother balance of consonance, this section maintains interruptions but continues gently along, before shifting into the next sound world at roughly 3:53, where the bass cuts out and the higher frequencies phase against one another, and form a lydian/augmented harmonic field.
In good compositional form, D’Amato slows down the rapidity of effects and motion as the piece eases towards the MRI sound at the end, while maintaining a sense of drama; there the quietest passage precedes the final statement that will reveal the original audio.
Conceptually, it is worth noting that D’Amato’s sound world, generated from one recording, is reflected by a singular idea: that of global control and censorship. While not making a firm statement (he admits that no one has found such a true statement) about the balance between control and intrusion, he still unifies his entire piece around this statement. How is this unified, one may ask? In his abstract, D’Amato notes that since our governments monitor our bodies via cameras and audio devices, one natural progression of ideas is for them to monitor our cells and molecular chemistry of our bodies. Therefore, his piece is extremely unified by using the signal of an MRI (a very intrusive, but medically necessary, machine). D’Amato reinforces that he (and no one) holds the definitive answer by using the MRI–we want to be kept safe by having doctors find and monitor health problems, but the risk of the misuse of our personal data is real.
So, what can we learn from this as composers?
While there is a multitude of expert electronic processing and compositional prowess, I believe this piece stands out in unification of concept and work. To our readers, I would say that if you learn one thing from this piece, it is to unify your concept and your work. D’Amato skillfully generates the concept, material, and execution from one idea (the concept of governmental control). This results in a wealth of possibility, while every idea is organic and makes sense. Too often we as composers lack the relationship between the concept of a piece and its resulting sonic characteristics. This is not to say that your concept and execution have to walk hand-in-hand, but if you are going to have a concept, unify that with your material.
I hope you will check out Antonio’s SoundCloud page, and leave him a “like” and comment, if you feel so inclined.