An Aesthetic of the Irreducible

Author: ORCID icon
Maguire, Ryan, Music - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Coffey, Ted, AS-Music, University of Virginia
Carson, A.D., AS-Music, University of Virginia
Dahl, Luke, AS-Music, University of Virginia
Kasra, Mona, AS-Drama Operations, University of Virginia
Lobley, Noel, AS-Music, University of Virginia

This practice-focused dissertation is about my artistic efforts to develop an aesthetic of the irreducible. In the portfolio of almost thirty individual works created over a period of five years, I locate the irreducible in sounds and images discarded by perceptual coding algorithms such as the MP3. Perceptual coding economizes signals by excising information deemed perceptually irrelevant to formalized models of human audiovisual sensation. When digital signals are encoded using such algorithms, subtle details are irreversibly dissolved. These abandoned particulars, which could not be compressed into perceptually coded signal, exemplify the irreducible. Attending to them is to affirm their value.

In addition to the irreducible, this dissertation explores adjacent concepts through varied acts of composition. First, I develop the breath as a vital metaphor for its ephemerality and dynamism. Following this, I relate ghosts to the information deleted by the compression process. I value noise (that which resists reduction) as a wellspring of the atopic (that without place). In practice, I employ sonic allusions to allow multiple meanings to emerge. I accumulate textures through parallel and serial processes of embodiment and materialization. Throughout, I demonstrate how the techniques I've developed for working with perceptual coding detritus affirm the irreducible.

A brief introduction establishes key concepts supporting an aesthetic of the irreducible. Chapter one describes my work with Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner,” famously used as a test track in the development of the MP3. A detailed account of practical techniques for working with compression detritus is interspersed with poetic, historic, technical, and theoretical excursions. A meditation at the midpoint of the document develops the idea of the atopic as that which exceeds a given conceptual system. I identify my compositional materials as atopic and consider their varied potentialities. The second chapter describes additional creative experiments with compression remainders, reinforcing key themes throughout. A final reflection is followed by detailed computer code used in the creation of the portfolio.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Irreducibility, Atopia, Perceptual Coding, Breath, Ghosts, Noise, Deletion, Subtraction, Excess, Inversion, Allusion, Detritus, Remainders, Digitality, Music, Technology, Media, Sound, Embodiment, Materiality, Improvisation, Composition
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