Architecture and Aesthetics: the Construction and the Objectives of Elektronikus Mozaik

David Keane

Elektronikus Mozaik is a tape composition made with a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer. This paper is a considered and vigorous attempt to articulate clearly and precisely the philosophical and psychological architecture of the work. My objective in the composition itself was, by reducing the role of other parameters, to allow timbre to occupy the primary focus of the listener's rational and intuitive mental processes. The work is very much concerned with the role of expectation operating at very limited local levels. It is further concerned with the concatenation and integration of these levels to produce a vast, many-tiered system of possibilities for the listener to engage in mental interaction with the processes of the piece. This approach requires many assumptions about the nature of the generalized listener as well as the individual listener. The approach also requires some serious thought about the relationship of the composer's own response in relation to that of listeners, and to that of any particular listener. The paper outlines specific aspects of repetition, pattern, and progression and illustrates these principles. The potentials of the DX-7 for precise timbral control and flexible, reliable, real-time, manual operation were major determinates in the construction of Elektronikus Mozaik.1


Elektronikus Mozaik [electronic mosaic] for stereophonic tape was commissioned by Ivan Patachich, Music Director of the Hungarian National Film Board [MAFILM] in cooperation with the Hungarian performing rights agency, ARTISJUS. The work had its official first performance at the Ferenc Lizst University of Music in Budapest in May, 1984. Elektronikus Mozaik was realized using the Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer and the resources of the Queen's University Electroacoustic Music Facility in Kingston, Canada.

          This paper began as an attempt to describe how I have applied to the structure of the composition some basic assumptions about how music works. I have found in the writing, however, that the assumptions demand more explication than the actual applications. My title proposes a tour of the architecture of this work for tape and I offer as much as time and practicality will allow. I wish it were a walk through the rooms and corridors to show you what the place is like during normal working hours. But at least I can let you look at the plans. I am not going to give you the statistics of how many man/hours it took to build it, or how many bricks have been stacked upon one another. If those things matter, it will tell in the daily operations; if they do not matter, there is little point in raising the topic, anyway. I want you to see how it is supposed to work.

        I am belaboring this point because composers' analyses are too frequently discussions of what the composer did when the piece was constructed, what step was followed by what step. It is almost as though the analysis and the piece of music is a monument, a mausoleum to those actions. In this paper, I wish to present a discussion of the workings of Elektronikus Mozaik with reference to those mechanisms which have been set up for the functioning vital processes of the music, processes which give this work its identity in time and space. I am concerned not with what /did to make the piece, but, rather, with what the piece of music does when it is lived in.

         Having made the point that my emphasis is upon the dynamics of music and listener, I must temper what I have already said by admitting that my concern is, after all, with my intentions (in the past) for what the music will do when it is performed (in various futures). Music is a highly interactive process. What a piece of music is doing at any particular moment in any particular situation is very much a product of not only the physical qualities of the sound, but also the contribution of each listener. The workings of a piece of music, then, are really an assessment of what the music does, or may do, to each listener, all listeners, a cross-section of all listeners; and what the listener does in response. The following is merely one modest attempt to understand a ponderous piece of our world; but I am determined to try to penetrate the dank fog of musical arcana, if only a few inches at a time, rather than stumble blindly ahead, as I otherwise must do.

        It is very much my bias that the way the general public listens and responds to music matters. I would, however, qualify general public to refer to that portion which actually listens to some type of music. Those individuals who have learned to use music around them as an ambient-noise mask to quell the sonic variety of the world may be beyond the potential for any music to register upon their consciousness. Nevertheless, the quest for successful means of attracting and engaging the mental processes of those individuals who still have the potential, has the highest priority in my work as a composer.

Other Listeners

        When I speak, (as I have done in my last sentence) of listeners and how I think their mental processes behave or might behave, I am occasionally criticized: "How dare I presume to know anything about how people listen to music?" That is, people other than myself. There seems to be a common view that it is acceptable, even desirable, for a composer to be consumed with his/her own musical responses, but there is something a little disreputable about considerations for any other listener.

        I am compelled to respond to that view before I proceed, because what I have to say in this paper is predicated upon my right to think about those people who will listen to my music. If opposition is supported by the assertion that the only listener whose thinking a composer can know about is his/her own, I would ask for some important qualifications: I would agree that, of course, it is formidably difficult to understand just how anyone else thinks in response to music. Nor would I urge that overt or inferred attitudes of any other person(s) should be models for a composer's aesthetic judgements. On the other hand, I would observe that the composer of a piece of music is quite different from any other possible listener to that particular piece of music in that he/she knows 1) how the piece was assembled and 2) what his/her objectives for the piece were. For me, an essential aspect of listening to a piece of music is the act of gathering a sense of what it is doing, where it is going. That essence begins only with the piece itself. When I listen to someone else's music, it is what the piece tells me (and my act of listening to what it tells me) that is important. What is not important is what the composer actually did or what the composer was actually trying to do. If the piece does not tell me, those things are of no consequence - except perhaps to a musicologist for purely historical reasons. Consequently, what the composer knows a posteriori not only competes with what the music might have to say to him/her, but may completely obscure it with the stuff of dissertation appendices.2

Thus, what the composer, prejudicially numbed by expectations and burdened with extensive experience of the fragments in isolation as well as the whole, thinks he/she comprehends from one hearing of the piece is about as far removed from what someone else may hear as is conceivable.  Yet I would urge that the composer try to overcome those very obstacles.3

Moreover, I would hasten to point out that I am not here concerned with what might be called taste. That is something that, for the composer, is exerted at more elementary levels of the making process: deciding what to do. The decisions made at that level are then evaluated from his/her perspective as a listener: deciding how to make it work. The task is to apply the experience of hearing the music of others to listening to one's own work. As difficult as this may sound, it seems to me better than making no attempt at all to assess how others may respond.

The assessment of whether or not the structure works (that is, does it do something useful toward some apparent end) is the evaluative process with which I am concerned. Taste poses what to do, and, once tried in some way, the second kind of evaluation determines whether to keep it or throw it out. The two assessments get terribly tangled in reality because the composer frequently moves back and forth from the one to the other in the making process. However, one can separate the two in analysis of the process. I would illustrate this by pointing out that someone else's music may not be to our taste, but that does not necessarily prevent us from appreciating, or even enjoying, the music if it appears to work.

I maintain that the most practical of objectives that a composer might choose to embrace is to undertake to construct a framework in which his/her listeners might engage in a dialogue with the music. This may seem to imply that the composer cater to the listener, but, please, do not understand me to be suggesting that the composer pander to the market; to the taste of others. What I do propose is that the appeal be made to the potentials of the human mind as best as the composer can comprehend them; to provide where to look for the first time listener and more places to look for the second time listener (although the listener will increasingly take care of him/herself in subsequent listenings, if motivated to do those listenings). The composer considering listeners in the making of a composition does not make unwilling choices, but, rather, where there are choices, has one more level of guidance to make the selection that much less arbitrary.

What a Working Work of Art Offers

        I sincerely believe that the most effective forms of art are those which are self-explanatory. That is, they require as preparation for understanding the elements and forces of the artwork no more specific experience of the world than that which can be assumed to be possessed by an average or typical member of the culture. Within itself, such a work contains fundamental principles of how, and why it was made.

        Just one example of this is the architectural instance of a pyramid. An observer may look at a single block, comprehending its shape and position in space - first relative to the observer, then relative to the blocks around it, and eventually relative to the structure as a whole -understanding how the nature of the single block caused the pyramid to be what it is. The pyramid is a reasonable, if not compellingly appropriate, consequence of the single block being placed in a particular juxtaposition with another, and these two with a third, and so on. Further consideration on the part of one person may encompass the sense of proportion, symmetry, and reconciliation of triangle and square. Another person may have an involvement in a sense of the massive weight of the blocks and the enormous energies called for in moving and erecting the elements of the pyramid, while another person may become concerned with the effects of time and the elements which have imparted individuality to blocks that were made to be essentially uniform. But all these considerations, and many others, are nevertheless founded upon the essence of the pyramid. All these musings spring from an appreciation of the internal relationships of the structure. Each person may muse, sooner or later, upon those considerations pondered by the others, to some degree, at some point. But fundamental to all these senses of the pyramid is the action of the mind pondering matter, suggested by the sensations stimulated by the pyramid.

        Of course, thoughts need not begin with individual blocks. One may well observe the pyramid from a distance and obtain a sense of the structure as a whole, without particular awareness of its parts. Should one begin with the whole and work down to the single block, the sense of the relationship remains as compelling: in this case, how the nature of the pyramid caused the single block to be what it is.

        It is not at all important where one begins - it is the action of the mind moving between and among conceptions of the whole and conceptions of the part that gives artistic experience its quality. Dilthey, after Schleiermacher, suggested that to understand any linguistic unit (a paragraph), we must approach it with a comprehension of the constituent parts (sentences, phrases, words, morphemes), yet we can understand the parts only by having a prior sense of the whole. Dilthey maintained, however, that this apparent dilemma (known as the hermeneutic circle) is not a vicious circle, in that we can achieve a valid interpretation by a sustained, mutually qualifying interplay between our progressive sense of the whole and our retrospective understanding of its component parts [Abrams, p. 84]. This is not true of language alone.


Fundamental Conception of Elektronikus Mozaik

        I need now to be more explicit about parts and wholes of Elektronikus Mozaik. If the work did not begin as an analogy to a technique of the graphic arts, it did begin, in fact, as a strategy for the employment of the DX-7. I had ordered the synthesizer with the commission for MAFILM in mind as its first use, but by the time I had received the instrument, less than eight weeks remained for the completion of the work. Thus, I looked for an approach that used the best aspects of some of the elementary functions of the DX-7.

        That thinking began to frame a fundamental objective for the work. The timbral range of the DX-7 is impressively vast and yet may be precisely controlled with a minimum of programming. Thus, I determined to allow similarities and differences of timbre to occupy the primary focus of the listener's analytic and relational mental processes and to form the principal activity of the piece within that realm. One analogy frequently made in reference to musical timbres is colour. At this point I could see common bases between, on the one hand, the small regularly placed stones of the mosaic and my short regularly placed durations; and, on the other hand, the colours of the stones and the timbres of my points of sound. I could quite readily see that what could work for the mosaic could as easily work for a musical mosaic. I stress the commonality. Mosaics are not the rationale; the common features of perceiver interaction provide the rationale.

        I chose to manually operate the instrument by means of the keyboard and, because I had no time to determine whether I could easily develop instrument descriptions which were any more interesting or flexible than the canned ones, I chose to use the factory supplied ROM cartridge instruments [frequently amended to suit my immediate purpose]. In that these were indeed the elementary functions of the instrument, the question was: what could I, with my distinctly unremarkable keyboard technique, offer that the average fifteen-year-old visiting the local music store to play a few licks on the DX-7 could not? The answer was: restraint.

        By means of an intensive use of a limited feature, rather than an extensive use of the range of the instrument's possibilities, I hoped to put the raw resources to personal and much less trite or commonplace application. This approach was strongly reinforced by my past experience, working occasionally in studios other than my own. When one cannot use all the available resources in a virtuosic way, one can isolate a severely limited range of possibilities, examine that finite range to its reasonable limits, and offer intensity born of familiarity, careful selection, and thoughtful application (i.e., virtuosity) from a different perspective.


How the Mosaic Works

        An essential aspect of the visual mosaic is that the artist makes no attempt to deny the nature of the raw materials from which the work is fashioned. The mosaic resides in a twilight world: that of stones which are obviously just that, and at the same time that of assemblies of these elements configured in geometrical patterns or representational scenes. The individual identity of the smallest element of the work resists, to a discernible degree, being subordinated to the larger form, yet the larger form would not have palpability if it were not for that stone and the others like it. For that very reason, we can engage in moving our mental attentions from the level of the individual element, to the whole, and to the stages between these extremes, much as I have illustrated in the example of the pyramid.

        The Russian formalist, Victor Shklovsky, has said, that the object of art is to estrange or defamiliarize; that is, by disrupting the ordinary modes of perception, art makes strange the world of everyday perception and renews the perceiver's lost capacity for fresh sensation [Abrams, 166]. Shklovsky has also said that the point of art is to make the stone stoney [Scholes, 83]. The mosaic does just that. By taking the stone out of its usual context and placing it in one which not only calls attention to the stone itself, but uses the stone in a completely un-stoney way our experience of the stone is heightened. I would stress that the point is to elevate to greater awareness, not stones, but experience itself. An important distinction between a visual mosaic and a piece of music is that the former holds still while the experience of it is structured by the movement of the eyes of the observer over the mosaic's surface. Music, on the other hand, speeds by in time essentially in the manner determined by the composer. The implications for this are considerable.

The Workings of Elektronikus Mozaik

        These are the implications which I sought to exploit in Elektronikus Mozaik. I have already indicated my wish to focus the listener's attention on timbre by means of considerable restriction of the role of the other parameters. The most important restriction was the limitation of sound objects to, at least for the most part, only one approximate durational value. By severely limiting rhythmic activity to similar envelopes with equal durations I hoped to direct the listener to similarities and contrasts of timbre. I felt that the simplicity of the short durations would facilitate immediate identification and comparison [in the present] and, further, that those short sounds which were followed by silences would be conducive to reflection upon what has been heard [in the recent past].

        The principal constraint, from the standpoint of the manual operation of the instrument, was to limit myself to striking the keyboard with the briefest possible stroke and to using instruments with relatively short attack and decay times. The careful selection and control of spectrum, attack, and decay of individual points of sound is not unlike the careful selection and grading of the pieces of stone that will be set in a mosaic. The linear and simultaneous juxtaposition of the resultant musical colours and textures relate to the mosaic setting itself.

        Although Elektronikus Mozaik might have been conceived as a sonic analogy to a visual mosaic, it is significant for the thrust of this paper to point out that the title is meant strictly to create an initial frame of reference for the listener, rather than to provide an accurate accounting of the provenance of the piece. The title offers the listener guidance for the approximate placement of the focus of the mind's ear at the outset of the piece. By the same token, the model of the mosaic may serve to illuminate the processes in music that may be somewhat more readily identified in examining the parallel visual domain. I present the discussion in the context of both media in the hope that, should what I am saying not be entirely clear in reference to music, it may be so in reference to visual art and that the reader's reflection upon the latter will itself illuminate the musical issues where I have failed to convey successfully the idea directly. This might be rephrased to read: in order to offset the ease with which discussions of aesthetic issues may go greatly amiss, I approach those issues by means of triangulation in the hope of gaining greater precision.

        Elektronikus Mozaik is very much concerned with the role of expectation operating at very limited local levels as well as the concatenation and integration of these levels to produce many kinds of potential mental interactions (on the part of the listener) with the processes of the piece. The initial stage of placing the component points of sound in their setting, and a further means of offsetting the obvious fresh-out-of-the-box quality of my material, was implemented by the use of multitracking. Caution dictated avoidance of focus on obvious harmonic or orchestrational layers. Attention was given instead to simple rhythmic/spatial distribution.

        Because the attention, or focus, of the ear (as well as the eye) is drawn by those elements which are most active, it is important that those elements not of primary importance be subordinated by making their activity constant or highly repetitious. To highlight or, more precisely, to isolate the timbral qualities as the principle focus of my material, I attempted to limit the amount of attention drawn to other parameters by means of the following expedients:

        Rhythmic structure is limited to simple regular subdivisions of the pulse, producing a steady stream of eighth notes throughout the piece. Only slight violations of this appear in the piece and these are limited to the second section (of 6), appearing in one voice only. Harmonic activity is limited solely to octave and fifth relationships, with the exception of semitones briefly used approaching the end of the second section.

        Frequency range, however, is employed in a dominant way to define and shape sections of the work. Melodic activity could be considered to be completely absent with that same exception, one voice of the second section.4

The harmonic and melodic restrictions had the added advantage of reducing the characteristic stock-instrument quality by obscuring formant cues or, as is particularly the case with electroacoustic instruments, the lack of rich formants. The brief durations also aid a bit in camouflaging the stock qualities, since steady-state conditions are essentially eliminated and only the active processes of attack and decay are preserved.

Analytic and Relational Mental Processes

To this point, my discussion has largely concerned what the music does or does not do. But, as I have indicated, I am also very much concerned about what the listener does in relation to the music. Earlier, I said that I wanted to address my music to the primary focus of the listener's analytic and relational mental processes. Allow me to explain why I feel that it is important to describe mental processes in this way. In the writings of many philosophers, psychologists, and others who would try to understand the workings of the human mind, there is an overpowering sense of the dichotomy that I have represented with the words analytic and relational. David Loye presents a table of 52 pairs of terms attributed to nearly as many authors describing what he calls the two kinds of consciousness. I have selected those dichotomies which especially well reflect my own sense of how this division functions (although I find those pairs that I do not list here also supportable):


  A B
Observed by Left Brain Related Right Brain Related


intellectual   intellectual  


deductive imaginative


rational metaphoric


analytic      relational


active   receptive


directed      free

I Ching 

the creative   the receptive


lineal         non lineal

Levy & Sperry   

analytic gestalt
Lomas & Berkowitz                   differentiation   integration
Luria                  sequential   simultaneous


rational  intuitive


neat   sloppy
Neisser              sequential  multiple


successive   simultaneous


objective  subjective


Figure 1: Adapted from Loye, p. 41

        Those attributes in column A suggest a part of the mind which deals with one thing at a time, stringing things out according to some kind of strategy that pulls individual elements together according to some easily comprehensible commonality: things are selected and spread out on a table to be rearranged in a search for some order that satisfies. I have borrowed from Cohen in choosing to refer to this aspect of consciousness as analytic. The attributes in column B are very different: these have to do with large amounts of things swept up simultaneously, not considered separately but swallowed whole. The considerable degree of voluntary control of the rational aspect of mind is exchanged for the ability to scan enormous amounts of detail in many ways at once. This I am calling the relational aspect of consciousness.


As a composer, I am not particularly concerned about where in the brain these activities happen, but I am compelled to believe that these levels of mental activity are simultaneously operative when we listen to a piece of music (and when we do everything else). I would add that while there do indeed seem to be two such conscious functions, I am convinced that these very different kinds of mental responses to music (and to everything else) talk to each other. Moreover, either there is a variety of blends of these qualities or there is a continuum of levels that spans the extremes.


I stress the importance of the two kinds of consciousness and their role in musical experience because I believe that the most satisfying aspects of the experience of music are, in fact, the sensations of our own minds working. Music's special quality is not found in the physical dimensions of the sounds so much as the fleeting quality that makes the mind grasp for impressions, engaging the processes of exploring, examining, turning, pondering. We do not savor the perturbations in our ears; we savor our own reconstruction of the gossamer, ephemeral qualities that have flashed through our consciousness, leaving only what we thought about them in their wake.


Impression upon impression offers a changing view of the perceived experience. For each individual the order, kind, and depth of impression will vary greatly. But let me try to give an example, using the opening of Elektronikus Mozaik, a portion of the piece that is really a microcosm of the processes of the work as a whole.

An Example

The functions of the beginning section are to attract attention to an aspect of the music and to hold that attention. It is easy to do the first, but as time passes, holding attention requires increasingly greater provision. The piece begins with a moderately loud burst of sound which allows little doubt that the piece has begun. It is perhaps useful that this device draws attention although I believe that the average audience member will give the composer the benefit of the doubt and attend for at least the first few seconds. One is conscious of approximately the following sequence. Although I must, of course, use words to convey these impressions, I believe that non-verbal thoughts are more frequently the agents for handling this kind of information in the mind:

a.    rapid, free articulation on one high pitch

b.  the free rhythm is resolved gradually to regular pulsations

c.    the pulsations gradually sort themselves out into specific spatial locations

d.    the unisons gradually transform to octave and fifth relationship with the original pitch

e.    a consonant tone emerges and overwhelms the other activity; there is a sense of anticipation


f.   the tension of the anticipation is resolved by an entry in the lower register and that entry generally 

    releases tension by means of a slower, much less driving rhythm, and a less strident timbre.

There is nothing very remarkable about any of this, except that its genesis was the desire to attract and hold the attention of a listener. The holding is attempted by beginning very simply and then gradually adding - in a number of senses and more or less simultaneously - greater activity and complexity. The key word is gradually. That is one of the principal sources of the continuity that engages and holds attention. If numerous gradual processes are underway at once, there is a greater likelihood that one of them will draw the precepent into the piece. When fatigue, or other stimuli cause that line of eventfulness to be abandoned by the listener, there are others waiting to draw and hold the attention. The mind seems rarely to remain for very long in its attention to a single thing, but moves rapidly from aspect to aspect. Attention is, in essence, held if only the mind turns its attention to the same aspect frequently, comparing the present state of the aspect to previous assessments of its states.

At work here is the most significant mechanism of music. That mechanism is expectation. If a work raises no particular expectations for the percipient, he/she has little more involvement than a moment-to­moment sensation of the physical properties of the work. But if a sufficient accumulation of experience suggests one or more impending possibilities, mental activity directly related to the experience of the work can move beyond relational mental activity to analytical [asking where is the process going? when will it get there? is it indeed a simple process or are there new aspects emerging?]. If the mind is drawn to recalling what has already happened, comparing that to what is happening, in order to consider possibilities for what will happen, the listener is involved well beyond simple moment-to-moment monitoring and is involved simultaneously in at least three aspects of the work at once. The percipient is taking an active, rather than passive, role in the work. It is that activity that comprises attention.

Another Example

The following excerpt, owing to its higher information potential than the opening of the piece, is more demonstrative of what I believe is the kind of exploratory process that we use in listening to a piece of music. Figure 2 is a representation of a pattern used in the piece.



Figure 2: Hocket Pattern from Elektronikus Mozaik

I refer to this kind of material as hocket although I tend to use it monotonally and in much longer series of repetitions than was the case in the work of the 13th- and 14th-century composers who drew my attention to the possibilities of the technique. I have chosen this pattern because it is a very important one for the character of Elektronikus Mozaik and because it is a relatively direct example of the issues that I wish to illuminate. Needless to say, the aural experience of this pattern is very different from the reading of it on the page. A first aural encounter with the repeating pattern might have something like the following chronology of mental activity:

a. In the first moments there is a sense of the whole as an agitated jumble of sound, and there is little if any differentiation except a general awareness of a more or less narrow range of timbre and little variety in sound object durations.

a.    At the same time, there is a vague awareness that the sounds, while generally mechanical and repetitive, are subtly varied; the sources are not simple, there is an organic quality to the sound.

b.    Then an increasing awareness of a regular pulsation as a composite of the sounds coming from various spatial locations

b. Then an increasing awareness of a distribution of the sounds over a number of spatial locations [it is difficult to know whether one of these observations precedes the other or if the two are essentially simultaneous].

c. A sense emerges that there is interruption of identifiably the same timbre coming from fixed spatial positions, this hypothesis is tested and confirmed by isolating at least one of the apparent locations.

d. Once the apparent position in space and timbral identity have stabilized, there is an increasing sense that the rhythm has a complex but regular pattern and this too is tested and retested; perhaps confirmed by following the 7- or 8-note rhythm of a single spatial position only, or by identifying a recurring juxtaposition of two or three voices at one particular point in the pattern (for example the last three eighth notes followed by the first three eighth notes of the combined pattern). Because the loudness of the individual attacks is quite free of the pattern, made up as it is of sounds with a general timbral envelope and attacks at only approximately regular intervals, the task of verifying that a regular pattern is present is not trivial. Thus perhaps the observer will not entirely confirm that there is a regular pattern if the issue does not seem sufficiently important or if the task is beyond the analytical skills of the listener. The pattern is sufficiently complex that the listener may nearly or entirely sort it out only to lose it, doubt the presence of a pattern, and then begin to analyze it again.

e. Even if space, timbre, and rhythm are analyzed completely, there is the variance of attack spectrum and loudness, combined with the slight deviance of attack regularity, that will invite speculation and testing. Moreover, the mind goes back over the issues already examined to determine if change has taken place. Consequently, even if the pattern was not to change for many repetitions, there is enough here to engage the willing mind for some considerable length of time.

        If the above at all represents what a listener might think, I would suggest that there is a general progression of thought from a hasty assessment that the sounds are only very loosely organized, to a considered judgement that they are rather highly organized. The sequence of thinking moves from (a), which is almost entirely a relational impression to (b), an essentially relational impression subjected to rudimentary analysis. (c) is more analytical than (b) but still rather rudimentary. But by the time we have arrived at (d) and (e) [a time span of a score to several scores of seconds], the levels of thinking are highly analytical and we are into a kind of thinking that may emerge, for a time, very much into the foreground of awareness of the listener. I would draw attention to the fact that there is sufficient involvement to provide a significant aesthetic encounter with the passage if the listener merely forms some sense that there is or may be a pattern and undertakes some degree of testing the hypothesis. That the listener comes to a successful conclusion [for example: that (d) is regularly patterned and that (e) is not], is not at all necessary.

        In Elektronikus Mozaik, sonic colors are worked into variously similar and contrasting rhythmic contexts intended to encourage the listener to move his/her mental focus among the larger and smaller levels of structure, lingering where there is some sense of coherence and, in particular, continuity at any of these levels. At the micro-levels of the work, the richness and variety of the individual points is meant to attract in one way or another the listener's attention, while the macro-levels, comprised of interwoven streams of points, merge into structures which are meant to fully engage and hold the listener's attention.

        The micro-levels are not less important than the larger levels, however. Byzantine mosaic art, which reached perfection in the 6th century, Hagia Sophia, particularly exhibits small stones which were set by hand in the damp cement mortar, and the resulting irregularities, causing the facets to reflect at different angles were essential factors in the glittering effect of the gold backgrounds. It is just this kind of subtle but highly kinetic quality that I feel is essential as a supplementary or background process in art. It brings additional vitality to the experience. Moreover, the interference with the more stable features prolongs, and may heighten, the richness of the analytical processes. Of course, in sonic terms there is no parallel change of perspective, but the essentially capricious response of a keyboard with activated touch sensitivity can produce this same kind of subtle but highly kinetic quality in the timbral domain. While a repetitive pattern is, on the level of rhythm and general colour, constant, the varied attack qualities call attention here, then there, to provide a highly active context, making the repetition much more durable.

I do not pretend to have covered in the above summary the full range of possible thought processes going on in the mind of a listener to this passage. While thinking in repetitive loops and jumping from place to place among all or most of the modes delineated above, the mind of the listener will additionally flit through such observations as: that sounds like a door bell...the loudnesses are varying without apparent pattern...this rhythm is repetitive -will there be a logical resolution, or will the pattern fade away, or will it go on annoyingly long?...

And even:

did I turn off the stove before I left home?...the man in front of me has a bad cold...this seat is hard - perhaps I will be more comfortable if I cross my legs...

        But if there is sufficient matter in the music to attract the attention [mostly happening at the relational end of the thinking spectrum] and hold it [mostly happening at the analytical end], such thinking will occupy a sufficiently large portion of the mental processes to register a significant and positive experience.

The Point of These Points of Sound

        What is to be gained in all this effort to register for listeners significant and positive experience? What is the significance? Before I try to answer that, it is important that we have a clear picture of what the brain is initially making of these stimuli. John Bransford and Jeffrey Franks [Campbell, pp. 224-5] have amply demonstrated that the individual tends to construct complete meaning out of disconnected elements and it is this constructed meaning that is remembered. During complex experience, the brain goes to work on information while it is being stored in memory, interpreting, drawing inferences, making assumptions, fitting it into a context of past experience and knowledge already acquired. When the information is recollected, the elaborations added by the brain may behave like a memory, so that people have the mistaken impression that the extra information is part of the original message.

        Once placed in memory, observed information and impression information are not easily disentangled. Various strands of meaning can be so thoroughly fused together that they may not be capable of being unraveled. This knitting of parts into one whole experience appears to be a one-way process, not reversible without conscious effort, and not always then. For the composer, it is important to know that what is likely to be the sense of what happened is much more important than what actually happened. Two sentences from Percy Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music beautifully express the implications, for art, of this aspect of the mind: In science, things are what they are. In art, things are what they seem.

        Jeremy Campbell [p. 227] remarks that while it may seem at first that man is a rather flawed creature to possess as unreliable a memory as the above implies, on further consideration, a mechanically accurate memory has only surface conveniences. He says that human beings are not designed to function uniformly. Their success as a species arises in part from their lack of specialization. Mechanical accuracy is not what we are best at, and it is not what people, generally speaking, want to be best at. The brain is not a device for processing information in a one-dimensional, linear fashion only. Unlike a computer, which is subject to very little noise in the form of electrical interference, and which works by performing a long chain of simple operations at high speed, the brain is both noisy and slow, but it uses its colossal number of components to pass information along many different channels at the same time. The brain is probable rather than certain in its actions, arriving at many answers, some more nearly correct than others, and these answers are modified continually by feedback of new information.

        If our minds are not especially suited to accuracy, why is it that we are motivated to engage in exploring, examining, turning, pondering? After rigorous physiological studies, Jerzy Konorski [p. 37] concluded that the active questing of the mind is a basic survival mechanism, that it operates on all levels from the neurons upward, and that it takes two main forms: searching behavior and exploratory behavior. Searching behavior is the response to hunger, sexual desire, the need for sleep. But exploratory behavior is unspecific, we are simply urged to move, look, hear, feel, by a sheer need for stimulation. Konorski asserts: "these stimuli are almost as necessary for ... well-being as is food or water." But as a chateaubriand a la bernaise and a bottle of 1961 Mouton Rothschild offers a more satisfying experience than gruel and water (even though the gruel and water might in fact better serve the interests of the survival of the heart and kidneys), stimulation that has potential for discovery of similarity, interrelationship, complementarity, or continuity offers far more satisfaction than random or monotonous stimulation.

        There are times when our very objective is to exercise this feature of mind in particular. We call this activity "play." Play is at the very core of artistic experience. Johan Huizinga (pp. 7-19) lists the elementary features of play as 1) voluntary, 2) clearly separated from other life activity in space and time, 3) not real, but 4) serious (sometimes profoundly serious), and 5) distinctly capable of repetition of the whole or any of the parts. The import for music of all five points is too extensive to deal with here, more than to say that the study of play has much to tell us about how art works. The most important aspects of play are how the child chooses to structure the progress of play.

        With no pun intended, the theatre may also be a very useful source of this kind of knowledge. Some years ago, while serving as an instructor for an electroacoustic music workshop in France and following a performance of one of my tape pieces, fellow instructor Guiseppi Englert observed, "Oh, you do dramatic music. I don't do dramatic music any longer." In fact, I had never thought of using that adjective to describe what I did with the music, and at first I thought the description rather a negative one. Upon further reflection, I thought it a particularly apt description. Guiseppi did not say, program music, he used the word dramatic. I am not seeking to tell a story, but I certainly am struggling to make effective use of the basic structural components that one would find in a drama: a specific arena for action, distinguishable protagonists that act and are acted upon, a movement toward a variety of likely but importantly different possible outcomes, and a resolution of the tension, created by the foregoing, through implementation of an outcome that seems as appropriate a consequence of the sum of the action of the piece as possible.

        Perhaps it is appropriate to close with the observation that both the word music and the word mosaic derive from the Greek mouseios or mousikos meaning pertaining to the muse(s). The English word to muse, and the Greek word for those Muses who were such great patrons of the arts, are cognates of an Indo-Germanic root word meaning to think. Mozaics, music, art: these are for thinking. The exploring, examining, turning, pondering stimulated by an effective work of art is not the means to an end, it is the end itself.




Abrams, M. H., A Glossary of Literary Terms, 4th ed., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1981.

Campbell, Jeremy, Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982.

Huizinga, Johan, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Beacon Press, Boston, 1950.

Keane, David, "A Composer's Approach to Music, Cognition, and Emotion," The Musical Quarterly, LXVIII/3, July, 1982, pp. 324-36.

_____________ , "Computer Music: New Tools for Old Problems," The Humanities Association Review, XXX/1-2, Winter, Spring, 1979, pp. 103-13.

_____________ , "Music, Words, Energy: A Dynamic Framework for the Study of Music," Cognition and Perception, (in press).

_____________ , "Some Practical Aesthetic Problems of Electronic Music Composition," Interface, VIII, 1979, pp. 193-205.

_____________ , Tape Music Composition, Oxford University Press, London, 1980.

Konorski, J., Integrative Activity of the Brain: An Interdisciplinary Approach, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1967.

Loye, David, The Sphinx and the Rainbow: Brain, Mind and Future Vision, Bantam, Toronto, 1984.

Scholes, Robert, Structuralism in Literature, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1978.


1 A recording of the work discussed in this paper, Elektronikus Mozaik, is available on the disc David Keane: Aurora [Cambridge Street Records 85021. The disc may be purchased [$11.00 U.S., postpaid or 513.50 Canadian, postpaid) by writing to the Canadian Music Centre Distribution Service: 20 St. Joseph Street, TORONTO, Ontario M4P 1Z5.

2 If telling people what one did in making a piece of music is the stuff of dissertation appendices, why am I writing this paper? The answer is that my objective is not to explain Elektronikus Mozaik, but to try to bring out into the light of day some things about me as a composer and a listener for me. Readers' responses to this paper are the means to my finding how my perceptions relate to those of others. I hope that my reasons for wanting to know this are made apparent by the text of this paper.


3 Whether a composition is performed, broadcast, recorded, or published is determined by how other people respond to the work. And should the work be performed, broadcast, recorded, published or otherwise disseminated, the life, one might say, of the work is rather dependent upon how those who hear it respond. Composers who have no regard for other people's responses are outside my understanding. Those who do have such a regard, must admit that the discrepancy in perception observed here is a serious problem, requiring compensative measures.

4The exception of the second section seems to loom rather imposingly in this summary. While every part of a piece of music - its consistencies, its regularities - makes it what it is, there is no special significance of which I am aware, in the violations of the general principles of the piece in the second section. What I did there seemed an appropriate means for increasing tension and so it remains a part of the piece. It is only in my subsequent analysis that I find the section at all anomalous.