Doctoral Thesis in Performing Arts, Major in Music: Microtonal Composition from Metadata

By Romina Soledad ROMAY Supervised by: Jean-François TRUBERT. Co-supervised by: François PARIS

Defended on 28-06-2023 at the University Côte d’Azur, ED SHAL – Societies, Humanities, Arts and Letters, Laboratory C.T.E.L.A UPR 6307


Abstract: This study begins with an inquiry into the nature of composition today: what constitutes it? what are the models on which current compositional practices rest? and it also questions the aesthetic and artistic currents that permeate our society. This aims to provide both a critical and theoretical framework for a series of works carried out during this doctoral phase, based on the study of models in nature to generate various musical compositions, especially in the form of interactive sound installations, participatory multimedia installations, sound gardens, pieces for orchestra and ensemble, online devices, and transdisciplinary collaborative creations. The goal was to find different methods of transcoding – in a way – using metadata: data flows from the web and various electronic capture systems, essentially measurement data corresponding to tangible phenomena (meteorological data, plant data, brain electrical activity data) corresponding to environmental and physiological variables, which are then structured and reinterpreted to be converted into parameters and quantitative variations to construct a musical discourse, even musical categories. The use of microtonality allows the generation of original musical models for each extra-musical flow transcribed into music. At the end of this journey, we arrive at a new starting point that allows integrating this work with the diversity of forms derived from nature and reinterpreted on this basis of work processes, and to discover the essential characteristics of all these models, as schematic representations of a system, to give rise to transient forms and processes of articulation from one model to another thanks to the development of artificial intelligence tools. Moreover, this work anticipates the possibility of integrating these different experiences, on one side, participative with the public, and on the other interpreted by ensembles of musicians, to combine them into a single experience, paving the way for new forms of composition and musical practice. The public thus becomes part of immersive experiences in the sense of participating in the experience as music producers, as well as in the sense of immersion in the multisensory experience through the incorporation of extended reality technologies. This research-creation thesis explores innovative creative processes in musical composition, rooted in a post-digital context. The treatment of metadata from nature serves as the foundation for musical discourse, and the use of microtonality is inspired by indigenous musical traditions and mimicry with nature. It leans towards the notion of the model as the basis of musical composition, first moving from the representation of data to better understand the dynamics and complex interactions of nature, to inspiration in composition from these models. Using the composition resulting from this transcoding as a model for a new form of composition, it creates a mise en abyme of the model that generates a series of compositional “variations” based on the same data source. The study concludes with the exploration of the possibilities offered by artificial intelligence, considering the transition from a singular model to a multiplicity of models, analyzed and reconstructed as a corpus of characteristics defining a category of models. The works produced in this thesis illustrate this approach. Among the creations are Fréquence Terre, a piece for soprano, choir, and orchestra, illustrating the compositional process from sonified meteorological data in a sound installation realized in a museum; Blooming, a composition for a saxophone ensemble from data recorded in a sound garden created in a school; The Village in the Mountain, a work for harp and electronics, resulting from a collaborative multimedia creation with villagers built from the historical and environmental data of the village; and Flores hechas de cielo / Flowers made up of sky, a piece for violin, EEG composer, and VR device, resulting from an immersive installation using brain activity data. These works, ranging from interactive sound installations in museums to sound gardens in urban spaces, engage a broad audience, including children, in an immersive and educational musical experience, encouraging them to appreciate the beauty of nature through the aesthetic experience of music. This thesis suggests that future composers might benefit from forming transdisciplinary teams, strengthening the links between different artistic disciplines, as well as between different scientific and technological fields. It proposes a new approach to musical composition, one that transcends traditional boundaries and incorporates data and metadata from various sources, particularly from nature and the environment. This approach allows for a deeper connection between the composer, the audience, and the natural world, fostering a more holistic understanding and appreciation of music. The thesis also highlights the importance of technology in contemporary composition, especially the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. These tools are not just technical aids but are integral to the creative process, enabling composers to explore new territories in musical expression and form. The integration of AI tools in the compositional process represents a significant step forward in the evolution of music, allowing for more complex and nuanced interpretations of data and metadata, and opening up new possibilities for musical exploration and expression. This thesis represents a significant contribution to the field of music composition, offering a novel perspective on the integration of data, metadata, and technology in the creative process. It provides a framework for future composers to explore the intersections of music, nature, technology, and society, encouraging a more expansive and inclusive approach to musical creation. The works produced during this doctoral research serve as examples of this innovative approach, demonstrating the potential of data and metadata to inspire new forms of musical expression and to connect audiences with the natural world in profound and meaningful ways.