Maps, Topography, Terraformation

If Deleuze and Guattari, challenge us to think with the world, then is it also possible to compose with the world? How would such a composition sound like, or in the case of the creative, how would its composition be undertaken? In this post I outline a personal methodology based around analogies inspired from the reading Bonnet’s Order of Sounds : A Sonorous Archipelago and the Rhizome chapter from A Thousand Plateaus, both of which have stirred in me a change of perspective in regards to listening and composing. And since in both these texts there is a reference to maps, whether directly or indirectly, I will be exploring the parallels between the production of creative sound work with maps, topography, and terraformation.


Had we to consider briefly what a map is, one can recognise it as a representation of a series of points (buildings, landmarks, spaces, etc.) which are connected to other points by a network of possible trajectories (through roads, walkways, public transport, etc.). A map to an extent is a notational entity which references, in two-dimensions, a multiplicity of three-dimensional objects which relate together through rhythmic degrees of density and volume with the voids that permit movement. Nonetheless, albeit tightly linked to the material constitution of a particular city, the latter of which is tied directly to the  landscape it is built on, a map is an open plan of possibilities, of which viscosity is up to the user. For although a map of a small town may reference sixty roads, someone in a rush might choose to take only one road leading directly to their University, on the other hand, someone out for a casual stroll with their dog might choose three.

Ultimately, what this points out, is that a map is a system of symbols that interact with their material object and together form relationships with the user’s capability and intention of movement from one location to another, and that these relationships and potentialities are above all, are tied to the topographic character of the land the map references. What is most interesting however, is that a map even though an abstract supplement to a material reality, it grants us an understanding of how complex objects which interweave signification and materiality, can remain a single ontology irrelevant of how these are used or traversed. An excellent account of the integrity of objects in the face of their seeming fragmentation is Harman’s Immaterialism.


However, thinking in terms of composition, a major feature separating a map from a sound piece is that the latter is incapable of having signification inscribed upon it to be later referenced as coordinates, but instead gives us a topographic outline of the environment the composition expresses. From this perspective then, sound is the material that composes a particular environment, while the end result of a composition, is the result of something similar to a geological force, both of which permit signification to happen, but are not significant entities in themselves, but raw material.

Consequently, if one starts to compose in terms of tensions, compression, and rarefaction, we can start to imagine musical movement in sound works as crevices, faults, depressions and variations in altitude –all of which influence the way a piece is aurally negotiated and how signification is formed as a consequence, in the same fashion as the formation of a particular body of water due to plate interaction might instigate the growth and proliferation of local flora and fauna. For compositions, similarly to a landscape, have features similar to landmarks, which attract particular contexts, significations, and aid in the formation of cultures (neighbourhoods, towns, cities, etc.) around that particular sonic outcrop. Think of how soundmarks such as the squelch of the TB-303 had people gather into warehouses in the late 80s, or how the Hoover transformed the cultural landscape of Rotterdam by becoming a defining characteristic of the Gabber genre. In spite of how intriguing an idea such as this is, it will be discussed in a future post.


Terraforming is a hypothetical form of planetary engineering aimed to create habitable environments, through the deliberate manipulation of an environment which is hazardous, poisonous, or simple barren, into one which is capable to safely harbour life, as a means towards permitting interplanetary colonisation. Albeit theory and at this point in time only the stuff of science fiction, it fits in perfectly in the sequence of our analogy; for if a composition grants us a topography of a particular sonic landscape, then as a consequence, to compose a sound work is to terraform silence through the use of whichever equipment one prefers composing with.

With this post already peaking past my intended word limit, I would like to end this post by sharing a few processes which I have adapted from this analogy into a compositional methodology for creating my own work:

  1. Rhythmicity, polyrhytmicity, arhythmicity: Geological forces do have a pace, but their are not restrained by meter, since such pace is a product of a complex relationship with other geological forces. A mixture of these elements are necessary, however one lets the density and viscosity of material as they interact together define the intervals separating the presence and absence of rhythmic material.
  2. Gates, compressors, triggers: Since materials vary in density, or exist at different depths or altitudes, their presence or absence is emphasised according to their friction with other materials. With the use of gates, compressors, and triggers, one can mimic the geological forces necessary to form soundmarks that generate a gravitational pull among elements in a composition.
  3. Landmarks/Soundmarks: Terraforming is efficient when it creates an environment where there is potential to sustain flora and fauna, and subsequently develop the resources necessary for the infrastructure of a town or a city. Creating and following a soundmark which is attractive permits the sound piece to develop according to a specific intended environment. Geological forces may sometimes become a landscape which can contain a lake or a river, meaning that later population may or may not be dictated by such a feature. It is important to note that some environments however, such as deserts and seascapes, do not have a landmark, as a defining feature in itself.

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