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Robert Seaback: Embodied/Encoded: Presence in Digital Music

Embodied/Encoded: Presence in Digital Music investigates how the material dimensions of sound can be creatively reconfigured through processes of digital abstraction and subsequent re-embodiment.

Field of study: Artistic Research


Compose a body of work, including multichannel acousmatic music, mixed work for ensemble, and sound installation, that explores the hyperreal potential of sound field simulation and the effect of interventions via experimental recording and synthesis techniques. In parallel, explore anacoustic modes of composition - which functions as a dualistic foil to the acoustic—following the concept as it is defined in my article, "Anacoustic Modes of Sound Construction and the Semiotics of Virtuality".

(Robert Seaback, 2020)

Embodied/Encoded: Presence in Digital Music

In many ways, presence is what characterizes the acoustic experience — by which Seaback means the physical circumstances of sound and perception and the interaction between our bodies and environments. When dimensions of presence are abstracted from the material world and encoded as digital data, they are unbound from any particular meaning as origins may no longer act to ground signification. This allows creative interventions which can preserve, enhance, transform, degrade, or erase traces of presence when information is converted back into sound.

Embodied/Encoded: Presence in Digital Music seeks to foreground the poetic dynamics which arise from this process — tracing the reflexive loop between sound making, listening, and composition and identifying how presence emerges differently at each site as a source for meaning. This research aims to go beyond the electroacoustic semiotic discourse concerned with the recognition of sound sources or codified musical patterns to suggest instead that peripheral aspects of the acoustic experience are meaningful in an embodied context, contributing to a sense of ‘being somewhere’ … a sense of presence.

An opposing status to presence which articulates a digital-informational ontology is invariance characterized by stasis, quantization, or replication—metaphors or technical descriptions of the digital medium. Invariance is most relevant to digital sound design as a method to manipulate traces of presence—forming a sonic continuum between physical complexity and digital stasis.

Research Questions

Seaback's research draws from embodied music cognition, extended reality, musical semiotics, and Hayles’s posthumanism to answer the guiding research questions:

  • To what degree do informational renderings, re-mappings, or manipulations remove the ‘implicit substance’ of presence (to which concepts of gesture and embodiment are closely related)?
  • What continuums exist between the communication of human presence and digital invariance?
  • How are orientations toward materiality and informational abstraction expressed technically and metaphorically?

Seaback's project will culminate in a body of electroacoustic music featuring immersive acousmatic works, performer collaborations, and documentation tracing connections between concept, method, and artwork.

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Published: Nov 16, 2020 — Last updated: Jan 9, 2024