Yafo – Composition

This composition portfolio is largely inspired by Catherine Malabou’s, What Should We Do with Our Brain (2008) and her writings have similarly inspired the title: ‘Networks and Flows’.[1] The concept of ‘Networks and Flows’ describes the complex interconnected performances of individual and collective brains working in a series of interrelated webs across culture, time and space. At the beginning of her text, Malabou refers to Marx’s statement: ‘Humans make their own history, but they do not know that they make it,’ noting that his intention in making this observation was to ‘awaken a consciousness of historicity.’[2] Malabou adapts this premise to a concept of awakening human consciousness; in what she terms the ‘plasticity’ of human brains: ‘Humans make their own brain, but they do not know that they make it.’ She defines ‘plasticity’ as derived from the Greek plassein, meaning ‘to mould,’ and as having two basic, but opposite, meanings; one of which is the ability to receive form and the other, the ability to give form (as in plastic surgery). Thus, the plasticity of the brain refers to something that is both formable and formative at the same time and, as she asserts, essentially “contradicts rigidity”[3] and enables perpetual evolution. The intensely complex ‘networks and flows’ of human neurons,[4]  demonstrate the intricate ways in which brains are engaged in this perpetual formative process. In recent research, the focus on genetic determinism, the notion of a ‘set’ identity, has been very much superseded by the study of epigenetics.  Malabou states that the constant development of human brains is as a result of epigenetic stimuli and asserts that, rather than being genetically determined, humans are able to continually ‘sculpt’[5] their own identity and history. My compositions aim to illustrate the networks and flows of both individual and collective human brains in response to epigenetic cultural, religious, societal and environmental stimuli.

The first piece ‘Yafo’ describes the intricacies of religious influence on human identities over time (in terms of history as well as time zones) and geographical location.  As such, the description of this ancient and contemporary practice in this piece can be recognised as familiar but as also intensely disorientating.



“A great deal of the development of the human brain is accomplished in the open air, in contact with the stimuli of the world, which directly influence both the development and the volume of the connections.”[6] Call to prayer is ‘performed’ in an ‘open air’ environment, and Malabou’s use of the word ‘volume’ could imply either the number of connections or the power of them, for example, the amplitude or the geographical distance in which the sounds are transported.

This installation/application should always commence at 00:00. Every hour is marked with a spectral interpretation of St.Peter’s clock tower/ church bell, Yafo, Israel. There are six daily ‘calls to prayer’, each constructed from my own transcriptions and spectral analyses (See Appendices A, B, C and D). The installation lasts for 24 hours, and is designed to mirror a predetermined soundscape that is dictated by religion on a daily basis in Yafo. By displacing time-zones, my arrangements for oud will be played in counterpoint to the religious calls in Israel.

Call to prayer is an ancient practice, but has demonstrated a gradual metamorphosis from live performance (Muezzin), to recorded sound (loudspeakers on a Minaret), and in this case, I have displaced these ‘networks’ forming an installation that can be played anywhere in the world, with audio playback in unison with Yafo’s religious calls. By displacing the vital site-specificity of these sounds, my intentions are not to disregard the religious purposes of call to prayer, but to draw attention to, and to transport the sonic qualitiesf that particular soundscape. This will bridge a new ‘network’ that can, in theory, transcend the site specificity of this particular soundscape.

My choice to write for two ouds was inspired by the vast amount of music of this type I was exposed to on my visit to Israel; hence I felt that this choice of instrumentation was appropriate. Similarly, the musical material was derived from my own spectral analyses of field recordings in Spear. Through approaching the task in this way I was able to decipher the integral fundamental and partial frequencies, melodic contour (horizontally) and harmonies (vertically) of my field recordings. This defined more than just the notation, and depictedmore accurate portrayal of the environment. Extraneous sound such as resonant frequencies characterised it’s site specificity, and thus this information provided me with melodic phrases, sequences and harmonies that extended beyond the traditions of call to prayer, and in turn, act as a counterpart soundscape that can be performed in unison anywhere in the world.

My application was built using Max MSP, however the audio playback remains unaltered and true to my original acoustic performances. I felt that this aesthetic had to remain constant much like a loudspeaker on a minaret, where recordings are designed to mimic an acoustic performance. My application provides a sonogram analysis of the oud, which should demonstrate a visual key to corresponding sonic similarities to my transcriptions, but more importantly an environment completely unique to my own arrangement. I have also provided an audio file with a condensed performance of the compositions for oud. My workings in Max MSP can be seen at appendices E and F. On opening the application, the required audio files must be dragged/dropped into the corresponding folders/audio players.

[1] Malabou, C. (2008) What should we do with our brain?. New York: Fordham University Press


[2]  Ibid. p.1

[3]  Ibid. p.5

[4]  Ibid. p.10

[5]  Ibid. p.20

[6] Malabou, C. (2008) What should we do with our brain?. New York: Fordham University Press




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