Dimension

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An aspect applicable to a single sound and continuous.

Aspect/parameter/dimension

This article introduces some clarity in terminology for the usage on the wiki. Historically the basic term in the literature is parameter, but it's used quite inconsistently from author to author.

Usage

Dimension is a specific, continuous type of Parameter. Stressing the continuity of parameters was important for some post-war composers, who developed abstracted approaches, mainly Karlheinz Stockhausen (translated by CBN [1]):

"First, to fit all isolated phenomena into a continuum, and then work out and compose contrasting elements from this continuum"

The most important dimension for music game design is probably Dynamics, as the only one in this category without any caveats. It is followed by Pitch, Duration, and Timbre which are used in a less obvious way. The hierarchy of these dimensional parameters within the Western tradition is clearly seen in the ease of coding by a musical notation — in this context pitch takes the lead, while timbre is at the end of the pack. In general, there are many "music games" which focus on just learning the notation for those parameters, but those will need another wiki1.

Dimensions allow you to change a musical quality in some "direction" by an arbitrary small value. That gives them unique opportunities in music game design, for example a possibility of translating spatial relations to music. We will now see a few features of chosen dimensions, and at the end of this entry there are a few activities that engage with geometrical properties of a line. In the library there is a dimensions tag which often describes games at least convertible to be played with parameters listed here.

Dynamics

This parameter is of importance to music games because of its accessibility. It's usually relatively easy to produce and control without much experience on the instrument and with no theoretical knowledge.

Dynamics depends on amplitude of a sound wave. Dynamics is one-side bounded (by silence) but has unsafe values towards the other side of the spectrum.

Duration

Duration is often considered a universal parameter, applicable to any material of any scale. But to treat it as a dimension, you need a bit of flexibility. Only after the "end" of a single "note", you learn the value of its duration. In real time, within a subjectively single moment of measurement duration is not perceivable.

Often, an activity works as well, or even better, if you build it around approximated, averaged dimensions of density or tempo (in case of a pulse present). These are easy to change gradually and are naturally connected to duration as (in general, and on average) the more notes you need to pack in a same amount of time, the shorter they need to be.

Pitch

In music game design the usefulness of pitch depends on types of available instruments and the number of values relevant for the game. Pitch is often used in a non-continuous, tempered manner. The amount of available values depends then on the instrument, although pitch is an exemplary dimension when working with vocals.

Pitch depends on a frequency of the sound wave. Because of the properties of human ears, pitch is strongly bounded from both low and high, but this is even more limited by the sound sources used, and there are quite popular percussion instruments where pitch is very limiting to work with (although usually there are at least some "low" and "high" sounds at disposal). In music game design the "low"/"high" is often a useful metaphor — an intuitive mapping to use for your advantage.

Timbre

In classical music, timbre was gradually more and more important to composers.2 Insterestingly, without additional constraints it's a parameter that is multi-dimensional in itself.

Extended technique — Any unusual way of producing sounds with your instruments or voice.

The easiest trick to use timbre is to consider it on a scale "clean — dirty" (hint from Roman Stolyar) and this is good for most acoustic instruments. From a traditional "proper sound" of the instrument on one end you may gradually shift towards a typically more loose extended techniques on the other end.

As for physical properties the timbre of the sound depends mainly on frequencies of its compounds (its "aliquots"), so a special usage can be set for electronic instruments. Synthesizers showcase a high degree of control over the timbre — you can treat changing the filter, the amount of compounds, vibrato, and many other aspects as separate dimensions.

You can choose specific direction of timbre change depending on the needs for recognizing the game state by ear and the skill of intended performers (skill floor). In this approach a sine wave may be considered a one-side limit of the spectrum as the most basic, "timbre-less" frequency.

Comparison

Not a fact, but fun: Depending on a genre context there seems to be a negative correlation between tolerance to loudness and to length. (If people like loud music, they may not like long pieces of music and vice versa). But there are a few more relations and dependencies between the dimensions. Let's start with a table of usability for instrumentation:

Vocals Perc. Piano Guitars Bowed Sample Synth
Dynamics 1 3 2 1 1 2 2
Duration 1 2 1 1 3 2 3
Pitch 2 0 2 2 3 1 2
Timbre 2 1 1 1 2 1 3

Some relations between dimensions are worthy of exploring in a form of a game.

Dimensional Exercises

In this scenario-based activity you will explore four basic dimensions in basic configurations that may be represented with three graphs:

(A)

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(B)

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(C)

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Your task will be to focus on the selected aspect of music from out of: pitch, duration, volume, and (maybe) timbre. There are many options for details and timing — these are up to the group or the facilitator. The biggest difference is naturally between groups of improvisers and participants new to open music.

For inexperienced players, the tasks are usually hard enough as presented. This group might even need a gesture from the facilitator at some point to finish the performance, maybe even conducting the changes, depending on participants' skill.

(As for) Improvisers: you should not only follow the basic rule given at every stage, but also keep as quite constant all the parameters that are not assigned in your task. Play each stage as a medium-length piece, and please start with Stage 1 (skip Stage 0).

Stage 0 - Pitch

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For this introductory stage, make sure that everyone is familiar with basic definitions. The first task will be graph (A) as pitch, done vocally.

Start singing with a low-pitched voice, slide up to your top range, and then down back again. Try to stay together with other players.

This is a quick performance, segue it to Stage 1 that should be a longer piece done either instrumentally or for voice.

Stage 1 — Volume

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Treat the graph (A) as showing the volume of the piece in time. In other words, realize this structure:

Start quietly — crescendo — diminuendo — end quietly

Stage 2 — Duration

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In your improvisation, use sounds and pauses that are gradually longer and longer (on average).

You now realized the Duration task as for your own part. Now, let's explore some emergent properties of Duration.

Stage 3 — Duration II (for more than 5 players)

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Consider how the change in Duration of single sounds and pauses translates to the general Density of notes in time (they are opposite to each other). Now, try a different task, but with the aim of making the overall effect similar to the result in Stage 2 (use similar improvisational approaches).

Play with short notes at first, then at some point switch to a clearly larger Durations. Time the moment of your transition carefully.

Stage 4 — Timbre (optional)

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There are some accessibility considerations with Timbre. You will be working on the spectrum of "clean — dirty" sounds which may require some skill or some care towards your health during the performance.

Go from dirty sounds to clean ones.

For non-improvisers, one of the easiest ways to do it vocally is to start with "sh" and "r", and go towards open "oh" and "ah".

Stage 5 — Pitch+Duration

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After controlling single parameters, let's now try final stages with combinations. This one should be easy, and often results in a comical effect:

Start with sounds that are high and short and go towards sounds that are long and low-pitched.

Stage 6 — Timbre+Volume

A bit harder:

Start loud and clear, end quiet and dirty

Stage 7 — Volume+Duration

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Finally:

Start with long and loud sounds, end with short and quiet.

In case the last stages were difficult for you, that is because the basic dimensions associate in different ways with the aspect of Intensity. If you're so inclined, you may now continue with different combinations, but the "Dimensional Exercises" activity… has ended.

See also

There is a tag dimensions for activities on the wiki which explore the dimensionality of some parameters. Line following is used in different ways in books Formalized Music and Music is Easy.

Bibliography
1. Bergstrøm-Nielsen, C. (2006). Sound is Multi-Dimensional: Parameter analysis as a tool for creative music making. link

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