Fuzzy IDEAS: Using Fuzzy Logic to Make Sense of Avant-Garde Music

Presenter: Wendy Suiter

This thesis touches on a broad range of topics within musicology.  Indeed, many of the basic questions addressed by my research are not new, yet comprehensive answers prove elusive.  Current approaches to music analysis use a variety of procedures to address different genres of music, as well as ways of dealing with both the inherently inescapable subjectivity of analytical decisions and, the complex problems associated with making sense of the intangible unfolding aural process we know as music.  I have addressed this challenging backdrop by the innovative practical application of fuzzy logic to visually represent the multi-dimensional subjective nature of a single experience of listening. 

In the late 20th century, computer scientists developed fuzzy logic to explicitly incorporate human subjectivity when solving problems involving imprecision and uncertainty.  This thesis argues that fuzzy logic provides useful and informative principles for visually representing the subjectively-experienced characteristics of music during listening.  This practical implementation of fuzzy logic within Fuzzy IDEAS (Fuzzy Inclusive Dialectical Expression Analysis System) translates both personal cognitive responses and momentary technical perceptions into a detailed yet transparently meaningful visual display, which bypasses music notation, yet is systematic, while being extremely flexible and adaptable and is relatively straightforward to analyse.  This new contribution to listener-oriented music analysis is explicitly designed to explore the compositional decisions reflected within the qualitative listening observations from a single lived experience of the music as it unfolds over time to suggest a plausible idea being expressed by the composer in this music. 

Because Fuzzy IDEAS is designed to be inclusive, transparent, systematic and transferable the new method is explained using my own experience of listening to four pieces of avant-garde art music.  The data collection and coding methods have been evaluated by testing two other listeners, a skilled composer and an enthusiastic listener.  This suggests that Fuzzy IDEAS can be a constructive and open-ended method for making sense of music composed using any materials, techniques and forms, thereby making a contribution to compositional pedagogy, and music appreciation.  Fuzzy IDEAS also contains the possibility of new data collection strategies for academic research into general listener responses, or to inform the marketing of Western art music.  Fuzzy IDEAS also has promise for new technological applications to provide additional modes of listener engagement during concerts, thereby contributing to audience development for contemporary art music.

Wendy is currently completing her PhD using Fuzzy Logic to make sense of avant-garde music.  She has presented peer-reviewed papers on aspects of this work to several international conferences and local computer music conferences; been invited to speak at Concordia University, Minnesota, as well making presentations at University of Wollongong, University of NSW and the ANU.

Wendy has honours and post-graduate degrees in economics and mathematics from Monash University and the University of Melbourne, as well as majors in music composition in both acoustic and digital domains from Elder Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide and the University of Wollongong.

Wendy composes music ranging from songs to experimental computer music based on digital processing of found sounds to make virtual instruments.  Wendy’s music has been performed in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and regional Australia in a wide variety of settings from art galleries, dedicated concert spaces, to cafes and outdoor performances.  Several performances of her computer music have taken place in Florida, California, and New York, USA.

As a community musician, Wendy was Musical Director of POW Circus, Melbourne, and Composer in Residence at the Jika Jika Community Centre, Melbourne, a regular workshop presenter at the Darebin Music Feast and Heathcote Heartland Festival where participants have been playing her music specially composed for the Federation Bells.

Professional composition achievements include soundscapes to accompany art exhibitions, most recently in Canberra, Sydney and New York; publication of her sheet music by Redhouse Press and Publications by Wirripang (www.australiancomposers.com.au), and the broadcast on ABC Classic FM of her piano trio Carlin.  Wendy’s music has been included in compilation CD’s of Australian flute music, Australian contemporary art music, Australian computer music, and a soon to be released CD of Australian music performed by Charisma Ensemble, Sydney.

Wendy has won several composition awards for her music, and is a represented composer at the Australian Music Centre. 

Updated:  21 September 2016/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications