Mixed Signal (2017)
for string quartet
Mixed Signal musically explores the concept of signal-to-noise ratios. When thinking about signal-to-noise ratios in human speech, noise is often utilized as an expressive tool. For example, when whispering, we introduce a lot more noise into our phonation than we would in ordinary dialogue. As a result, it becomes harder to understand what we are saying (a “weakening” of the signal). But at the same time, whispering also communicates to the listener that privacy or discretion is needed in that moment. Thus, the excess of noise adds an important layer of meaning and expressivity to what is being said, which we can also refer to as the signal.
Similarly, this piece utilizes a variety of factors such as bow pressure, bowing speed, bow placement, and finger pressure to “control” the signal-to-noise ratio. The “signal” being the clear, resonant sounds from the “ordinary” playing style of a bowed string instrument, and the “noise” being all other sounds that result from playing styles such as overpressure, sul ponticello, tapping the instrument, col legno, battuto, and so on. The majority of the piece rests heavily on sounds created by these various noise-making playing styles, where the dominance of noise seeks to enhance the expressivity in the music.
Mixed Signal was premiered on April 9th, 2017 at New York University, and performed by the JACK quartet.