In Edgard Varese’s Liberation of Sound, Varese is describing the new boundaries of music that will be created through the use of machines. “The new musical apparatus,” he describes, will be “able to emit sounds of any number of frequencies, will extend the limits of the lowest and highest registers, hence new organizations of the vertical resultants: chords, their arrangements, their spacings, that is, their oxygenation.” Much like Luigi Russolo, Varese was interested in exploring the capabilities of sound beyond the conventional. Russolo and Varese had both thought of machinery as a means to invent new sounds, but the way they envisioned machinery’s involvement was a bit different. Russolo had thought of noise as a product of machinery; crackles and rumbles were produced my machine-like instruments. Varese’s imagined the machine as something that a composer could put his score through and the machine “will faithfully transmit the musical content to the listener.”
Today, we can think of the role the music producer as the composer that was described by Varese, who had also accurately predicted that traditional music notation would be dated and that new graphical representations of music notation would have to be invented. He imagined that music notation would be seismographic. With the advent of digital audio workstations, music is often visually represented through sound waves and other graphical representation.
Though computers play a major role in nearly all recorded music today, Varese might be disappointed in how it has been shaped. He was constantly trying to challenge musical conventions, breaking from the rules. But toward the end of Liberation of Sound, Varese describes his reservations: “I am afraid it will not be long before some musical mortician begins embalming electronic music in rules.“ Music today is created through machines, but still adheres to western traditions and pop conventions. Varese’s Poeme Electronique explores all the new oddities and new frontiers of experimental music and stylistically reminds me of something bleak and space-age like. He was successful in creating art that pushed the boundaries, but I’m curious to see what he would think of the state of music today.
Luigi Russolo’s Manifesto explores the possibility of sound beyond the musical paradigms established by the Greeks. Russolo’s fascination with sound begins with the advent of machinery in the 19th century. He claims, “For several centuries, life went on silently, or mutedly. The loudest noises were neither intense, nor prolonged nor varied…This is why man was thoroughly amazed by the first sounds he obtained out of a hole in reeds or a stretched string.” Noise, however, is more than just what it appears to be on the surface level. Russolo describes that “musical art aims at the shrilliest, strangest and most dissonant amalgams of sound” and music has “tried to obtain the most complex succession of dissonant chords.” In his view, noise-sound is the expected progression of music as an art form. The strangest sounds have been achieved within the current realm of music theory; music will only push the boundaries through noises found outside of traditional instruments.
Accepting every day sounds as compositional material, in many ways, allows us to push how we experience and express ourselves through musical composition. Music today is often perceived as something to provide pleasure, perhaps this has always been the case for all art for the common person who is not interested in interrogating it on an intellectual level. But there are pieces of music, much like art, that aren’t necessarily intended to provide pleasure. Sometimes the existence of certain types of music and art exist for us to experience a wide array of emotions beyond joy, such as discomfort, shock, or to put us in different states of mind—curious, reflective, or contemplative. He even said himself that he has no intention of refuting the objection of noise as necessarily unpleasant. Russolo’s “Risveglio di una Citta” demonstrates this by exhibiting a variety of noise textures, which can be described as bubbly, rough, and course. While I do not “enjoy” the piece itself, I find myself in a constant state of curiosity while listening to it, constantly questioning just how he managed to produce these noises. That curiosity alone is enough for me to find “Risveglio di una Citta” as intriguing and satisfying.
Of all the methods of rapid cultural calibration that is mentioned, what I found the most interesting was the idea of observing people in their morning routines and in their transportation modes. Having lived in Ohio, New York, and now Singapore, how people travel to work and how they prepare for their day is very different. In Ohio, a commute is defined by the automobile. Depending on the distance to the workplace, which is typically in the downtown area, people who drive from the suburbs will spend anywhere between 45 and 1.5 hours commuting to work in their cars. The time that is spent alone in a car can be used to listen to the radio or to sing aloud. In New York, this time is spent on the subway, much like Singapore’s MRT. In New York, the subways are nearly silent in the mornings, crammed with people with only inches of personal space. This can affect how a digital designer may approach the design of a podcast application; listening habits vary in different contexts.
While I’m not too familiar yet with Singapore’s morning commute culture (living on campus hasn’t provided me with the daily experience of seeing how people go about their mornings), what I have noticed is how the signage differs from New York’s. Singapore signage is accompanied with steeper fees and severe penalties, perhaps more influentially shaping human behavior compared to signage in New York. The only New York signage that is accompanied by steep fees is for assaulting subway employees, which may suggest a violent phenomenon that occurred in the past. How different are the cultural norms of rule obedience from Singapore to New York and is this shaped by the penalties?
Chipchase mentions that finding the balance between informal and formal research methods is the key to successful design research. I wonder if design researchers, particularly those who are more experienced, know exactly what balance to strike between these research methodologies when approaching a new project. Or do design researchers employ a variety of methods, and then refine and readjust their methodologies as they go on (much like the design process, which involves iteration and trial-and-error).
Thinking of affordances as a relationship between two properties is an interesting point that Norman mentions. Prior to reading The Design of Everyday Things, I have thought of objects and their affordances only within the context of one particular user. For example, a car affords a person with the ability to drive. But thinking of it as a relationship between two properties forces me to think of the user as more than one person. What is the relationship between someone who is shorter and the car compared to the relationship between a person who is taller and a car? The affordances change.