Diogo Alvim

Composing with real world programmes

Programme music, a strong contestant to the idea of absolute music, was an attempt to connect music to extra-musical ideas, by deKining what the work was about. It also allowed the composer to draw inspiration from different sources and thus renew musical material. But it worked with idealised, subjective associations between ideas and sounds, and thus programme notes had to be handed out beforehand, allowing those arbitrary relations to be known and condition listening. Nevertheless, we could argue that the opposition between programme and absolute music did not overcome the problem of autonomy – both still worked on a level detached from the real world. If the extra-musical ideas were understood as ways to enhance the musical experience, they operated at the expense of bringing the attention away from everyday life and real-world experience.

It is not until the creation of musique concrète that composers were able to create music that could clearly refer to something beyond itself and open a new chapter in the discussion of autonomy. With the development of electroacoustic music, musical material expanded to include all sounds both for its purely aesthetic qualities (reduced listening) and its potential signiKication. Furthermore, if soundscape composition could be understood as a new form of programme music, its founder, Barry Truax, has nevertheless expanded his concern towards what he called “context based composition”, “where real-world contexts inform the design and composition of aurally based work at every level, that is, in the materials, their organisation, and ultimately the work’s placement within cultural contexts.”.

Since 1945, composers have increasingly searched for extra-musical models that could generate musical material or form. This process may have deepened the relation between the experience of the work and real-world phenomena. But musical experience is not limited to sound’s acoustic attributes, and some models are more efKicient in the expanse of sound’s semantic reach.

Harry Lehmann takes these ideas further arguing for the end of material progress, and the emergence of a new aesthetics – of musical Gehalt, or content as perceived. With the digital revolution, and the subsequent weakening of institutions, musical creation becomes more dispersed and democratic, and the programme is conceived more freely by the composer as part of the creative process, opening the path for a relational music.

Many authors and works, have recently been moving in this direction. Ideas such as conceptual music, musical mediation, the prominent search for the political in music, site- speciKic works, and the many hybrid, intertextual and transdisciplinary forms, all expand the Kield of musical creations away from an inward looking practice and towards an effective relation with the real world, enhancing, I argue, their relevance.

This paper develops these ideas and attempts to concretize a compositional methodology that allows a deepening of the relation between music and real-world. I will demonstrate a few creative processes used in context speciKic works that search for a more complex and consequential relation with the audience.


GIMC — CESEM, Nova University, Portugal

Studied architecture and composition in Lisbon. His PhD in Composition/ Sonic Arts at the Sonic Arts Research Centre in Belfast focused on the relations between music and architecture. His work (both electronic and instrumental music) has been presented in several events, of which: Gulbenkian Orchestra’s composers’ workshop (2008 and 2009), Festival Mu!sica Portuguesa Hoje (Orchestrutopica, 2008);Festival Synthèse 2009 (Bourges);ISMIR Conference 2012 (Porto);ICMC2012 (with Unlikely Places, Ljubljana);Festival Musica Viva (Lisbon, 2013);Goldsmiths University (London, 2013), Ibrasotope#60, (São Paulo, Brazil);Belfast Festival (with Matilde Meireles, 2014) and Sonorities Festival (with the Royal String Quartet, 2015), Do Liminar#6 (Zaratan Gallery, Lisbon, 2016), Habiter l’exposition The House of Dust (CNEAI, Pantin, France). He co-created and directed Underscore, a festival dedicated to music and moving image, with a birst edition in June 2017 in Lisbon and has been developing collaborations with other artists/performers.