Emmanuel Lorien Spinelli

Composer / Sound Designer / PhD Researcher


 (More to come in a few months...)

MPhil/Phd outline:


The territory of the disembodied voice in electro-acoustic music
and the perception of Acousmatic Identities


    In recent years, Acousmatic music has become a growing field of research in musicology. Issues related to environmental awareness, notions of place, placelessness, language and identity remain largely unresolved despite an already extensive literature written on the subject. As a composer and researcher, I am interested in working with Language as my main source material, focusing on the disembodied voice as a potential representation of one's psychological and socio-political identity, one’s persona. In order to discuss this issue, through the presentation and analysis of my own work but also looking at other pieces and recordings ranging from early sound-poetry (and Dadaism) to contemporary art practices and sound-art, I intend to tackle the issues of transcendence, cognition, memory, text and data manipulation, technology, presentation techniques and the implications of hyperreality, using some of the tools of phenomenology and philology, Lacanian theory, and post-structuralism. I shall discuss as well the semiotics of archives and diaries (as pre-existing documents and/or "audio-diaries" in the form of recorded interviews based on one's personal confession, both used in the composition as source material and informing the overall structure of the works, therefore constituting as well a compositional strategy). I will also question to what extent technological rendering and aesthetic choices participate to the enhancement or alter the disembodied nature of the subject, leading me to challenge and eventually redefine the condition of existence of a "disembodied" voice (what does it imply?), and the resulting consequences on our perception and comprehension of Acousmatic Identities . 

    Discussing at first, but also going beyond mere environmental considerations, I would like to explore the characteristics of "human presence" focusing on the relationship between one's personal life and one's specific soundscape. Of course, since I intend to explore the "voice element", theories surrounding the construction of language and identity shall be central in the discourse. I will particularly discuss the importance of contemporary trans-identities and double-consciousness and consequently their influence on my practice and on the cognition phenomenon implied in my work. In A Thousand Plateau, Deleuze and Guattari assert that the first musical operation is “to machine the voice”, and that “words do not represent things so much as intervene in things, performing “incorporeal transformations” of bodies through speech-actions” (1987: 303; 86). In my practice I see the disembodied voice through the process of “schizo-narrative”  as a “body without organs” which Deleuze describe as “a decentred body that has ceased to function as a coherently regulated organism, one that is sensed as an ecstatic, catatonic, (…) degree of intensity.” (Deleuze 1983: 329 as quoted in Buchanan, 2004: 110)

    I intend to carry out a series experiments  around specific case studies, certain characters or types, in order to engage with a better comprehension of contemporary "city life" and constructed cultural identities in both their psychological and social contexts. In an era where multiculturalism is too often associated and viciously mixed up with religious, cultural clashes and international terrorism by politics and the medias, identities, contexts and subjects have remained fundamental and challenging issues for thinkers and in the art field in particular. Although not being in anyway a limitation in the work, it is precisely the recent politics of fear and paranoia (post 09/11) that motivated my area of research in the first place.

    One of the main objectives of my thesis is to bring about and discuss a number of concepts and analytic tools designed for a better understanding of some the issues surrounding contemporary sound-art practices as well as providing the key problematic of my own work as a composer. Those different ideas include notions of "sound-subject", "schizo-narrative", "alias environment", and "tessera processes", leading to the introduction and explanation of the core concept of my research: the idea of "Acoustic Phenotypology", that is to say the perception (and semiotic) of individual identity through sound.    

In my music, I tend to link (and mix) two practices, on one hand I am interested in soundscape composition, particularly the implications of the capture and manipulation of environmental sounds, and on the other hand I want to explore the potential of speech, utilizing language and the problematic of expressing one's self. Of course this does not constitute an aesthetic limitation and some pieces may adopt techniques borrowed from different trends in electro-acoustic music such as acoustic-ecology, granular synthesis, text-based and radio works, as well as musique concrète, sound poetry and algorithmic processes.

    Most of the time two elements constitute my source material: first a series of studio interviews with the person(s) "studied", the sound-subject(s), (often foreigners living in London who have felt a need for defining their identity, which help me initiating a discussion on how polyglotism has an influence on their persona as well as exploring the sonic quality of "accents"), and then a series of field recordings made around and inside their place, family house, (and when possible in their country of origin as well) and different locations where the subject usually spends time (work or leisure). Very often, these two elements form the fundamental limitation of the material used and inform the subject and structure of the resulting composition. Each sound must have a relationship, in one way or another, to the people interviewed during the composition process, and all these sounds are part of their sonorous environments, their personal soundscape. Prior to the field recordings, I always ask my interviewees to map the different locations where they usually spend most of their time and, when appropriate, sounds they remember from those places. I usually record much more material in those locations to capture other sounds they might not be aware of and seemed less obvious in order to highlight other sound-marks that are part of the sound-subjects' surroundings in a more detailed fashion.

      I often consider and use the sounds that surround us (and the sound-subjects in particular in my compositions) as a form of language, an abstracted form of comment that enhance and complete the discourse of the audio-diaries in which they represent the non-verbal, or sub-conscious if you will, narrative element. Jacques Lacan explains that language (and speech particularly) in all its content: silences, fatic expressions, highly complex statements or simple lapsus, and however “empty” the discourse may seem, is often perceived only “at its face value: that justifies the remark of Mallarmé’s, in which he compares the common use of language to the exchange of a coin whose obverse and reverse no longer bear any but effaced figures, and which people pass from hand to hand in silence. This metaphor is enough to remind us that speech, even when almost completely worn out, retains its value as a tessera .” (Lacan, Ecrits: a selection: 1966; 48) In a way, language and environment could therefore be seen as bearing the same function in that context. By mixing the voice of a subject with a part of his sonorous environment, I intend to create a representation of what I call the “Acoustic Phenotype ” of the subject studied in a particular piece.

      The concept of “tessera processes” as links and token of recognitions (and as compositional strategy) as well as the construction of “acoustic phenotypes” are to me fundamental as much for the study of the territory of the disembodied voice, as for the functions of environmental and alias sounds in my practice and, I would argue, to large number of Acousmatic works.

      © Emmanuel Lorien Spinelli, 2008-2010