Object Oriented Composition

by devinking

Timothy Morton’s been blogging about musique concrète and its connection to OOO today and I’m interested in this:

I suppose an OOO related fact about musique concrète is its necessary inclusion of hidden depths and withdrawn features of each sonic object.

I just sent off an abstract on this idea where I connect these ideas to Harman’s and figured I’d post it up here as a response.

In Greg Milner’s recent history of recording media, Perfecting Sound Forever, Roger Linn—creator of the first programmable drum machine—calls “the idea of building music based around looped samples…‘object oriented composition.’” My talk will connect Linn’s idea of the sample as an object to the later, word-counted line poetry of Louis Zukofsky. In so doing, I will investigate how an object oriented composition can be informed by Graham Harman and others’ recent work within object oriented ontology. The two major questions of this paper will be: 1) how can we define one type of object oriented composition and 2) how can object oriented ontology inform an object oriented composition?
The use of sampling within music has changed the building blocks of composition from notes—pitches described in time—to, well, anything: melodic phrases, drum loops, duck calls, sirens, etc. can all be used as musical building blocks. By using software instruments these sounds can still be “played” in real time as a drummer plays a drum but, more often, pictorial representations of samples are arranged on a computer screen. The computer screen becomes the score and these representations of samples replace traditional notation. Musical events become musical objects.
A similar shift occurs in the later work of Louis Zukofsky, in which he builds his line by counting words rather than syllables. This type of measuring creates an interesting musicality to Zukofsky’s work—a chunky dissonance that reminds one of the serialists— while also introducing an idea of space to his poetry. The word as a unit of syllables is not only a sound in time meant to convey linguistic meaning, but also an object in space on the page. Like sampling in music—where a musical event in time becomes a picture in a computer program or a chunk of memory on a disk—Zukofsky’s counted line effectively re-orients the readers’ perception of the word as meaning center to the word as compositional object.
In thinking through this shift, I would like to use Graham Harman’s language of the sensual object to suggest that the word (as sample) within Zukofsky’s work can be considered as a sensual object. This brings up a few questions that will form the conclusion to my paper. With Harman, I will ask what it would it mean for the sample to “submerge its real eidos.” Even more interestingly, I will ask how the many sensual objects of a song or poem—the many different samples, the many different words— mediate between each other to form a new object. Finally, I will ask how samples “enter into some sort of genuine relation, [to] form a new integral reality” as a work of art.

I’m a little unsure of the specifics of that last paragraph–how to connect the ideas of sampling in music and Zukofsky to Harman and other work in OOO. Is it unfair to call the sample a sensual object? Is Morton’s term of the hyper-object a better one? etc. etc. Or, I’m pretty confident in the set-up–musical objects and poetic objects–but I’m less sure as to where it will take me.

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