The role of ring modulation in the formal structure of Roger Smalley's monody for piano with live electronic modulation
Australian Music Centre
Place of Publication
Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts
The notated score for Roger Smalley’s 1972 work Monody consists of a single line performed by a single performer on piano and percussion. The monophonic nature of the work is ambiguous, however, due to the electronic processing of the live performance via ring modulation. Ring Modulation in this work consists of electronically “multiplying” the audio signal from the acoustic instruments against a sine tone to output the sum and difference tones between their waveforms. In his program notes Smalley claims that by “restricting the piano part to a single monodic line throughout (...) only one set of addition and difference tones is produced and their frequencies can be exactly predicted”. However, the timbres of both the piano and percussion (4 Triangles, 2 Congas and 2 Timbales) have complex overtone series, and their interaction with the ring modulation process leads to the production of sounds that arguably have features of both timbre and harmony. This paper seeks to investigate this ambiguity and the role that it plays in the structure of Monody, through the comparison of the notated work and spectral analysis of its actual sound in conjunction with discussion of the psychoacoustic notions of the boundaries between timbral fusion and separation.