Applied Abstraction in Analysis

A text published in Blatt 3000 #4 – 01. Oktober 2015

Mauro Hertig

I am in love with simple shapes. I like to listen to music that contains them and deals with them in all possible ways. And I like to talk about them with friends, fellow composers, musicologists or people generally interested in discussing music (no hierarchy intended).

Some of those friends are into structural aspects, like harmonic colours. Or the big-scale construction pattern of a piece. Our concerns towards the matter are different, but we all deal with recordings of instrumental or electronic music. No scores, just recordings and talking to each other.

Our most basic common denominator, however, shows up when we meet: we explain our subject, a laptop is opened, a pair of headphones is pulled out and plugged in, a piece selected in iTunes, the locator adjusted. The laptop is handed over, the other person puts on the headphones and listens. This tedious procedure is only done by people who would meet up for a beer anyway.

So having spent my last year in Berlin, I was looking for a common space, a community of other like minded people who came up with a solution to sharing and explaining music while listening to it. I did not find it.

When I decided to take things into my own hands, questions arose of what this space could or should be: a platform for like-minded people who would maybe never come into contact without it? Or really just an additional channel for friends to share music and words?

Rolling up my sleeves, it became clear that while an answer to that question would have to wait, my forum should become a nice-looking online platform, distinct in its cause, fun to read and inviting to write for.

A big advantage turned out to be the simple fact that an online forum is displayed in a browser. The flash player enables to include audio excerpts into a free flowing text, which is an almost blunt solution to the laptop-handover issue.

My wish for words not only to be an explanatory medium to the actual subject of matter, which is recorded music, but for them to be released from part of their duty got fulfilled when the Forum of Applied Abstraction was brought to life. Inserting audio excerpts into a text opens up a world of possibilities in all aspects of writing, reading/listening and discussing. And above all, it is big fun.

How do audio examples help in a text?

First of all, the author can be much more precise in the point she likes to make. Descriptions of what something sounds like are not needed. Emphasis can be put directly on the structure of the questioned phenomenon. Using audio snippets, the author works inside the matter itself. She writes about music through music.

Secondly, her reader/listener does not depend on his imagination of the sound described. He has the direct feedback of the audio examples to the text and vice versa. Thus also being able to understand an executed analysis much easier. And if he does not agree with how the author analyses her selected examples, he has the chance to contradict – either through a comment of words only, or he might come up with an audio excerpt which displays his own perception of the phenomenon in question. An audible counter-argument, so to speak.

The forum does not bring a resolution to who is right or wrong, but it shows the listening dispositions much clearer than with words alone. It also enables everyone who’s involved to experience how others listen to music, kind of like x-raying everyone’s structural ear.

Working with audio snippets is fun, which helps when trying to convince people to take part in something. It is not enough, however, to create a forum. A space for analysis and discussion requires a direction both broad and targeted.

There lies a certain temptation in defining a common space through a topic, but how to find a topic if the fields of interest of my friends and mine are far beyond the scope of any reasonable term?

A solution lies in using a more abstract approach of connecting the various fields: it is community through methodology. On the Forum of Applied Abstraction, methodology is defined by the use of common analytical tools. All authors are requested to use the forum’s own tools in their articles.

How does it work?

The forum consists of two main areas. One area holds the forum’s own analytical tools (Catalogue of Tools). The other one the main articles, which contain applications of these tools (Workbench). Both areas are open to contributions. An author can either create a tool or apply one to her article.

When writing an article, the author assembles audio examples of the music she wants to work with, say from Youtube or Soundcloud. She includes them into her text according to the tool she applies. One existing tool is the Pool Tool. It defines a musical phenomenon through a short definition and three or more audio examples.

So let’s assume the author wants to describe the difference of the harmonic colours in a couple of very similar melodic lines. She first applies the Pool Tool to indicate the common characteristics of the lines. With the definition and the audio examples as a starting point, she establishes the details of each melodic line. How the difference in colour is evoked, through which instrumentation, which compositional technique…

This approach is a challenge, as it requires for the author to readjust some of her basic analytical habits. In return, the tool provides a very clear disposition and enables her to approach her topic from a very specific angle. And the music she works with can be from any time, any place, any field.

To me, the forum – in its current shape – is a place of experiment. I allow myself to fail on it, to produce completely irrelevant crap. But up until now, it has been of great satisfaction to get my hands dirty in methods and music I would not have discovered without this platform and the people interacting on it.

Having a place to write about how I listen and getting to know from others how they listen makes me happy. It makes me happy, because I learn. And what, if not learning, is analysis about?


Blatt 3000 is an A5 paper for exchange and critical discussion on contemporary music. You can order the current issue here:

One comment

  1. Pingback: Text “Applied Abstraction in Analysis” published in Blatt 3000 – MAURO HERTIG


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