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Sound-producing actions

From the physical to the cognitive: AIexander Refsum Jensenius introduces sound-producing actions. They can be impulsive, sustained and iterative.
We use motion or movement to describe the continuous displacement of an object in space over time. But we have also a few other words that are related to this. And the first one is action. Here, we move from the physical into the cognitive domain, since actions only exist in our minds. We can define an action as a motion sequence with a beginning and an end. Actions are often also conscious and goal-directed, although they do not necessarily have to be. We live our lives through actions. We open a door. We lift a glass. We play a key on the piano. And all of these actions are movement sequences with a beginning and an end.
That sounds simple enough, but it’s actually quite difficult to understand precisely what an action is. For example, consider that I’m performing what we could call a basic sound-producing action, like this. When you watch this, it may appear like one coherent action. But if you’re trying to measure it, we run into question about when it actually begins and when it ends. Is the beginning here, or here?
Technically, we may say that such a sound-producing action consists of three different parts. We have the prefix, the excitation, and the suffix.
So the prefix is the part before I hit the stick in which I build up the momentum and speed of the stick. Then comes the excitation part, which is when sound is actually produced when these two elements collide. So here we have an impulsive action with a quick and sudden excitation. Finally, we have the suffix, which I move the stick back and prepare for a new hit. Of course, in real life, these are highly connected. But it may still be useful to think of these as three separate elements when we go into an analysis of the sound-producing action.
Also, musicians spend a lot of time on perfectionising these elements, and they all play together when it comes to producing the final sounding result. Things, of course, become more complicated when adding several actions together. For example, if I played two such strokes, when does one end and the other start?
And if I combine several actions, it gets even more complicated.
Are we now talking about eight separate actions? Could they be grouped into two, or could they be grouped into any other combination? We here talking about the phenomenon we call coarticulation, which means that two or more elements are grouped together– both in performance, but also in the way we experience them. We’re identifying that there are several individual strokes with a distinct quality, but we also identify that these are being grouped together in one or even more ways.
Up until now, we have only considered what we call impulsive actions. But we have two more main types of sound-producing actions– sustained and iterative. The sustained actions are defined by continuous energy transfer, and such actions typically lead to a continuous sound.
Here, I have brought a kazoo as an example instrument of sustained actions. But the same principle applies to most other wind and brass instruments as well as string instruments. So in an instrument like this, we have a continuous excitation leading to a continuous sound.
One important element here is that the performer is also in continuous control of the sound, while for an impulsive instrument, the performer cannot do much to change to sound after it has been played. But here we can do, while playing.
The third group of sound-producing actions is called iterative. This is, in many ways, a combination of the two others– impulsive and the sustained. Iterative instruments are often based on some kind of continuous excitation, but in such a way that there’s a rapid succession of impulsive attacks. One example is the cabasa, which I have here.
So to summarise, we have three different types of sound-producing actions with different motion energy profiles and sound profiles that match these– impulsive, sustained, and iterative.

What are sound-producing actions?

In this video we look at the difference between motion and action. We learn about different types of sound-producing actions: impulsive, sustained and iterative.

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