Distort Them as You Please: The Sonic Artifacts of Compositional Transformation (Ghost in the MP3)

Master's Thesis


"moDernisT" was created by salvaging the sounds lost to mp3 compression from the song "Tom's Diner", famously used as one of the main controls in the listening tests to develop the MP3 encoding algorithm. Here we find the form of the song intact, but the details are just remnants of the original, scrambled artifacts hinting at what once was. This thesis discusses a series of compositions created over the past year that combine the use of external data with intuitive aesthetic decisions. I begin with a brief chapter that draws out connections between recent projects by placing them in historical context. In each composition, I bring non-musical information into the creation cycle as novel stimuli, placing myself both in charge and in service of this material. I ask how different representations of data can generate new music and what my role as composer might be. I assess several compositional strategies characterized by the act of transformation. First, a series of pieces entitled Heard incorporate various transcription strategies into the creative process. Next, I present a compositional method which passes digital data through a variety of file formats, audifying the data at each step. Following this, I use MP3 compression to develop musical material and explore the potential of this format as an aesthetic object. Finally, I review all of the compositions and highlight common ideas. Through transcription, reformatting data, and digital compression, each composition makes use of the artifacts of its particular transformation as musical material.