Systems of Judgment


Computer assisted synthesis and processing systems, environmental recordings, keyboards, violin, auxiliary sound objects, and sampled sounds; underlying narrative derived from mixing three ways of viewing the evolution of language.

I composed Systems of Judgment in 1987 when DanceArt Company of San Francisco (Duncan Macfarland and Clare Whistler) invited me to collaborate with choreographer Duncan Macfarland and Australian sculptor John Davis in making a work “concerned with tracing the development of thought, discerning, and choice, from the unformed to the complex.” We developed and presented the work during a residency at The Victorian College of Art in Melbourne and premiered it in several performances at The New Performance Gallery in San Francisco in May 1987. I later arranged a solo version of the music for a series of performances in North America and Europe. A CD containing the music was released in 1989 by Centaur Records (Centaur #CRC 2077), (see link below).

After being away from the piece for a while, I revived it when solo musical performances were again requested for venues in Beijing, Berlin, and other North America cities during the 2000s. In 2011 my friend and colleague, theater director Travis Preston, and I decided to take another step in our ongoing experiments with theatrical magnifications of music when we were invited by Comédie de Caen in France to develop a collaborative presentation of Systems of Judgment. (Special thanks to composer Jean-Luc Therminarias and director Jean Lambert-Wild for arranging that invitation.) Preston directed the theatrical magnification employing video imagery captured live on stage and projected so as to create an immersive imagistic environment, always supporting and being deriving from the music’s structure. A video giving a hint of what that was like is available at a link shown below. It shows a sampling of the surround-sound and wrapped-projection environment we created from the vantage point of a camera and microphone in a fixed audience position.

A conceptual paradigm guided the creation of Systems of Judgment’s musical form. It attempts to elucidate parallel views of evolution by examining and speculating about processes that we, or any organism or any system, must use to learn to make differentiations, be self-reflexive, and arrive at judgments from which language may be formulated.

A counterpoint among sonic materials is conceived inside a multi-dimensional concept space linking three views of evolution. The first focuses on an ontogenetic view, evolution of an individual in a species. Its imagery involves the idea of a drone as a sonic singularity representing birth or the beginning of self-consciousness. From there it proceeds through a process of self-reference, using smaller divisions of the drone, to develop a combinatorial view of the elements of experience, resulting in complex counterpoint and harmonic relationships. The second is a stochastic view of evolution by probabilistic processes. It represents the evolution of thought. It begins with the idea of an undifferentiated field of evenly distributed energetic events. Asymmetries develop inside the field, from which the concept of resonance arises. As these resonant warpings of the field recruit more and more of the surrounding events into an ordered relationship with them, patterns emerge, resulting in the creation of an alphabet. The third view of evolution symbolizes social organization. It attempts to juxtapose a scale of primitive to advanced imagery against the other two views and provide a counterpoint of semantic references examining ideas of meaning and context. The drama in the work involves a tension between these three views of evolution. At various points in time, the relative strengths of each view vary. All three progress in time simultaneously. The final, single evolutionary trajectory that results mixes and balances the three views in an essential tension. I call this way of composing by imagining potential models of worlds, propositional music.

The piece unfolds through a Prologue and six additional sections. The sounds for Systems of Judgment were created through digital synthesis with non-linear wave-shaping algorithms, sampling and re-synthesis with digital transformations, hybrid analog synthesis with computer control, unstable circuits whose behavior is described by chaos dynamics, voltage-controlled frequency dividers, pitch and amplitude tracking, and analog computer circuits. Information I applied on higher levels of compositional form came from algorithmic pattern generation and manipulation of pre-composed themes, along with patterns extracted from dominant resonances contained in concrète sound sources, including rainstorms, waterfalls, trains, birds, voices, motors, engines, outdoor environments, and sounds from acoustic instruments and transformed ensembles. Non-electronic instruments used in live performances include violin, piano, and light percussion from Africa, the Middle East, North America, and Aboriginal Australia.

D.R. (2016)