Vincent Meelberg

Composing the Body Electric: The Bodily Aspect of Using Software in Musical Creation


Traditionally, musical composition seems to be a cognitive activity only. The composer sits at her/his table, thinks about the sounds she/he wants the musicians to play, and jots the appropriate visual representations down on a sheet of paper. The only actual physical action here is the writing itself; everything else happens in the composer’s mind. Embodied cognition research, however, has refuted this view of musical composition. Cognitive processes such as creating a piece of music depend on what is happening in the body as a whole, and how that body is situated in its environment. Musical composition is a whole-body activity that cannot be reduced exclusively to mental processes.

In this paper I will explore this thesis. More specifically, I will discuss how the use of software influences the bodily aspect of musical composition, by relating the concepts of gesture – a physical action through which human subjects structure their environment – and affect – an autonomous bodily reaction when a subject is confronted with a sensation such as sound or an image – to three aspects that are pertinent to the use of software in musical composition: materiality, interface, and movement.
This investigation will be carried out through a practice-based approach. I will describe and analyse, using auto-ethnographic methods, the process of composing an electronic musical piece with the aid of music software. In this way I intend to articulate the impact the visual representations of sound, the software's user interface, and the possibility of instantly hearing what I have composed, have on my embodied engagement in the process of musical composition.