Involuntary Expression (2017)

17'00 (higher order ambisonics version)
15'00 (stereo and 8-channel versions)

Involuntary Expression is my latest acousmatic composition realised in 6th-order 3D ambisonics, premiered on the 11th September 2017 at the Ultima Festival, Marmorsalen, Sentralen, Oslo.

To enable different types of performances I later made a stereo and an eight channel version. Interestingly I found that when the 3D higher order ambisonics was reduced in this way, some structural-durational aspects that supported the work disappeared. I therefore recomposed the work to accommodate this loss, which resulted in the shorter duration of 15'00.

In Involuntary Expression I was interested in exploring how the spatial and dynamic behaviour of sound can evoke the sensation of a living entity, and further, that of human agency. Recorded sound-sources are often loaded with the rich connotations of nature and lively behaviour, and so as to focus on the behaviour of the sound in itself, I removed these associative elements from the majority of my source materials. Instead, I captured the micro-movements from three motion sources - crowds, a cellist and a drummer - using a high-speed and high spatial-resolution 3D motion-capture camera system. The motion recordings result in extensive datasets documenting precise 3D space and time. I then used this data in sound synthesis, sound manipulation, sonification and spatialisation processes, magnifying movements to fill the expanse of space and spectrum. Gradually, some of the acoustic objects that were articulated in the motion tracking recordings are revealed also in the music. The overarching emphasis is however on physical gestures turned into sound. I would like the listener to feel the music through the sound's behaviour in space, feel the involuntary movement from the inside, and the expression that then unfolds.

More about the motion sources: Micro-movements are the body's small movements that we ourselves may feel, but for a viewer are undetectable. These movements are present in all we do, and can feel significant even though invisible. Likewise, when we watch a musician, we see the larger movements and how they connect to the sound we hear, yet the micro-movements, vital in the control of the sound, are known only to the musician herself.

In the acousmatic aesthetic there is nothing to see. In Involuntary Expression the music of the invisible is made audible in the acousmatic context. Rather than tracking larger movements of a crowd through a building, I instead used data recorded from the involuntary movements of a group of people attempting to stand still. The data was from the Norwegian Championships in Standstill - a research project lead by Alexander Refsum Jensenius at The Department of Musicology, University of Oslo. The competition, repeated each year, tests to see what effect music and social context had on peoples' ability to stand still. In these recordings, 100 people at a time stand together in a room. On the top of each participant's head is a marker tracked by the camera system. The winner is the person who moves least of all over a period of 10-minutes.

In contrast, the other sources were from a cellist and a drummer playing simple articulations on their instruments. Rather than one marker on the head, each performer was covered with many markers, tracked by the camera system, and together defining a 3D image of the moving body.

The work was commissioned by Notam, with support from the Norwegian Cultural Council.

Special thanks to The Department of Musicology, University of Oslo, for data from the Norwegian Championship of Standstill, and for access to the high-speed motion capture camera system used in this project.