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Space as Timbre Project

Robert Hasegawa (McGill University) [PI] with Carmine Cella (University of California, Berkeley), with ACTOR student members Pedram Diba, Jeanne Côté, Charles Eric Fontaine, Jonas Régnier (McGill University), Anqi Liu (UCSD), and external collaborators Alex Huyghebaert (McGill University), Matias Perenetti-Piniagua (McGill University), Éric Bourgeois (McGill University), Paul Celebi (McGill University), William Boivin (McGill University), and Seungwoo Han (McGill University).

The purpose of the Space As Timbre (SAT) project, is to collect qualitative data in order to analyze and understand the perceptual effect of timbre in composing new spaces for an acoustic ensemble, thereby creating the opportunity to treat space as a form bearing element in music.

SAT enables the collaboration between student composers and performers from two ACTOR partner institutions (McGill University, and University of California, San Diego) in the creation of new works for an ensemble of 6 instruments. Additionally, SAT composers use computer-assisted orchestration in the process of synthesizing various spaces for the composition of their works. The outcome of this research-creation project includes a public presentation followed by the premiere of the pieces.

SAT’s research method focuses on creating various spaces in a sound. This is achieved by applying different impulse responses to a recorded sound. By doing so, we are able to create a variety of spaces for that particular sound. These new sounds are then used both as sonic material and as a structural model for orchestral synthesis. The orchestral synthesis of these sounds/spaces is achieved by employing technology (computer-assisted orchestration) as well as the creativity of trained musicians.

For the technology portion, Orchidea is used to create various solutions for the orchestral synthesis of each target sound. During this process the goal is to experiment with various settings for partial filtering and sparsity to achieve the closest timbral result to the space of the target sound. In addition to Orchidea, the musicians of the ensemble are asked to listen to the audio files and to try to achieve the closest spatial effect of a particular sound by experimenting with various playing techniques (extended techniques, pedaling techniques, bow placement, etc.). These experiments are based on the results created on Orchidea; however, the musicians are also encouraged to come up with completely new solutions as well. This could result in solutions with innovative playing techniques that Orchidea may not have suggested.

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Musicians Auditory Perception Project

Shahrokh Yadegari (University of California, San Diego) [PI] with ACTOR student members Jeanne Côté (McGill University),

Pedram Diba (McGill University), Min Seok Peter Ko (UCSD), Sang Song (UCSD), Berk Schneider (UCSD), and Tiange Zhou (UCSD) plus external collaborator Florian Grond (McGill University).

The purpose of the Musician Auditory Perception (MAP) project is to collect quantitative data via sonic ethnography in order to promote and analyze, both literally and metaphorically, (a) sonic collaboration between auditory learners, (b) modes of sound information gathering, and (c) the creative expression of musicians, while disrupting common pedagogic practices that reinforce hierarchical education. Auditory learning is not necessarily a linear process, but a dynamic one — a skillset synergistic and deeply connected with creation. Therefore, MAP will enable three student composer-performer duos from two Analysis, Creation, and Teaching of Orchestration (ACTOR) partner institutions, UC San Diego (UCSD) and McGill University (McGill), to document their creation processes with binaural recording devices and first-person vision — captured by earpiece microphones and wearable HD cameras — effectively mapping audiovisual boundary objects. The outcome being that these sonic and visual boundary objects promote skill sharing between all participants by bridging differences in perception during the creation and reproduction of musical timbres, allowing a digital transfer of knowledge via an individual perspective in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Through analyzation of boundary objects, MAP’s interdisciplinary-participatory research design seeks to understand how musicians balance cognitive and technical dimensions within their practice in order to produce timbres that cannot necessarily be measured in totality, especially when it comes to unearthing tacit knowledge, where typical interviews and text-based case studies are only partially successful. How does ACTOR’s developing ontological classification of timbre, including its descriptors, interact with tacit knowledge and the epistemic authority of each participating musician, e.g., gut feeling with know-how, creativity with problem-solving, intuition with skills, and perceptions or judgements with lessons learned? In addition, a cross-referencing of thematic analysis through quantitative thick descriptions and signal processing of binaural audio will provide more objective constructs for evaluation. For example, If a sound is deemed “bright” by the majority of participants the term will be measured in conjunction with its spectral centroid.

MAP’s research methods focus on data mining of spatial sound-field recordings — reflecting the acoustics of the space in which a musical work is conceived, rehearsed, and performed. These recordings will be conducted remotely between October 1, 2020 and January 15, 2021. During this period, each composer-performer duo will be responsible for the creation of a single three-minute unaccompanied solo work with the goal of exploring extended timbral performance techniques on the violin, cello, or trombone. MAP will culminate in late January with a webcast featuring the performances of all three compositions, followed by a presentation of early research findings and a Q&A session with each participant. The research findings will be assembled into a joint publication by 2022.



MOAASER is a non-profit online music academy that aims to provide accessible workshops and courses on contemporary music for Farsi-speaking students.


Formerly known as MMCiran, founded by Nasim Khorasaani, MOAASER is now co-founded by Nasim Khorasaani, Pedram Diba, and Sohrab Motabar. All courses and workshops are taught and supervised by a group of Iranian academic musicians from around the world. MOAASER’s activities have been supported by generous grants from the University of California San Diego Music Department.

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