In what seems like an ever fast-forwarding world, what would it be like to slow things down a notch, to see (and hear) the world pass by in slow motion, as Neo dodges the bullets in The Matrix?

ZOOMED is a series of musical studies investigating the fascinating relationship between the passage of time and musical perception. With the aid of technological tools and through various means of musical expression, the three movements zoom in to stretch the fabric of time, both literally and metaphorically, and explore a world of warped perception and new musical possibilities.

The project was completed in 2013 as a Senior Thesis at Princeton University, in consultation with Professor Paul Lansky.

Movement I - SPUN

What lies beneath the pitches and timbres of sound, which are, after all, but an illusion cast by our perceptual apparatus working in time? When would be the precise moment that an observable oscillation becomes a pitch, and a pitch becomes a timbre? SPUN is a musical portrayal of the microscopic aural world as imagined by a composer. The spin of a coin slows down...and down... to yield entrance into the domain of beating sine waves, resonating harmonics, and acoustic “particles” that sway and swirl in elegant randomness. As the particles fade into infinity, the spooky beckoning of the stretched-out drum beats manages to pull us back up to the “real” world, where the sound of the same coin finds us rather startled and disoriented.

Below are the recording and graphic score of SPUN:

Movement II - GROOVED

The perceptual limit for being able to organize consecutive sound events into a rhythmic or metric unit is said to be approximately a 2-second interval between their onsets.* At the absence of other contextual information, sounds that are spaced apart farther than this are likely to be heard as disparate events rather than part of the same rhythm or meter. By stretching out a musical phrase well beyond this boundary, GROOVED breaks down the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic logic that is often taken for granted in music, revealing the fragile nature of such perception and its contingency upon the linear passage of time. As the phrase progresses slowly, one note at a time, any sense of chord progression, melody, or groove is annihilated, but only to open the door to a different kind of sonic experience, laden with the details and imprints of each little moment.

As the passage gets repeated at faster and faster speeds, each iteration seems to deliver distinct music through the same musical material. Not until the fastest tempo is reached do we start to dance, though the notes and beats must have been grooving along all the while.

Below, you will find the recording and score of GROOVED:

Live Recording at Princeton University
Date: 05/02/13
Performers: Hana Shin (piano), Billy Fang (violin), Lilia Xie (flute), Noah Fishman (bass)

Movement III - TO BE CONT'D

Is your Red the same as my Red? Well, I don’t know, but certainly your Time could be different from my Time. Every day, we scurry away from each other with our own deadlines to meet, schedules to follow, trains to catch. We get on that train at seven in the morning, and you might attempt to make up for your all-nighter with a precious, all-too-short half-hour nap (and hopefully not miss your stop!), while I stare nervously at my watch and fidget through the longest thirty-minute ride ever. TO BE CONT’D depicts such multiple and relative nature of Time through the sounds of a busy city, intertwined with three instruments that zoom in and out of each other in a precarious race against the (literal) clock.

The chase continues, and the Times get piled up on each other, until...

Below are the mock-up recording (with Sibelius playback for the instrumental parts) and the score for TO BE CONT'D:

*Justin London, Hearing in Time: Psychological Aspects of Musical Meter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 33.