Syzygy

syzygy |siz i jee|
noun ( pl. -gies) Astronomy
• a conjunction or opposition, esp. of the moon with the sun : the planets were aligned in syzygy.
• a pair of connected or corresponding things : animus and anima represent a supreme pair of opposites, the syzygy.

At just over 4 minutes, this work is my first attempt at combining ambisonic sound with animation.

The structure of Syzygy

All of the sonic and visual elements in Syzygy are organized as a 'phasing structure'. A phasing structure is a compositional device I have been developing over the last few years. The principal is simple in that I lay out several lines of repeating events, as displayed below.

Each successive line has one less event, while the total time of all events is equal from line to line. This arrangement creates set of nodal points where the attacks line up. In the picture above, the purple events denote total synchronicity at strong nodes, while the red and blue events denote partial synch at weak nodes.

The real phasing structure is more complex than that shown above. In reality, I used 90 instead of 30 events for line 1, and one less for each subsequent line. Also, in order to create a strong node in the middle, the entire structure repeats.

visual design

The visuals are based roughly on the shape of a gong and inspired by a vision of sound radiating through space. The system consists of 7 objects, each of which is a tall torus that moves independently but similarly to the others, as defined by the phasing structure. The central objects are more rigid and sharp, while the outer objects are more gelatinous and transparent. It is at the nodes, when the objects line up, that the juxtaposition of charged energy causes transmutation of the entire system.
Through the use of texturing, the visual elements have taken on an animal-like appearance, and combined with the motion, have an alluring appeal.

sound design

Because the shape of the geometry resembles a gong, and the phasing structure is reminiscent of Javanese musical structure, I used recorded gamelan samples and an underlying gamelan aesthetic to shape the piece around nodal points.
First, each event was assigned a unique sample. There is phasing happening between the chiming sounds and the video so that the sound and video line up at the weak nodes, as well as the strong nodes.
I took each node to be the end of a gongan, the gong cycle. At those points I placed a gong sound. Because of the strongly hierarchical nature of the structure, I used strong and weak gongs to reinforce the strong and weak nodes and provide a sense of balance and hierarchy.
Finally, in order to provide counterpoint, another voice was added consisting of a rapidly beating ostinato that serves the larger scale phrasing across the piece.
The sound was ambisonically encoded with spatial and spectral effects to enhance the dramatic shape of the piece.

performances

Syzygy was performed April 12, 2006 at UW Meany Hall.

recording

syzygy-small.mov (H.264 video, AAC audio)

what's next?

I am quite pleased with the outcome of this first animation and already have ideas for a 3d animation based on the physics of sound and large-scale stochastic organization. I want to find a way to unite the control of Maya particle systems and granular score generation to create the piece. I also intend to work with more advanced camera motion and a more comprehensive 3d environment.