Stephen Roddy

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“An experimental composer from Ireland, Stephen Roddy proves equally adept at crushing soundscapes as he does mysterious melodies.”

- Bandcamp New & Notable, March 2022.

Academic Resume
Projects
Sound & Music
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The Human Cost: A Sonification of Ireland’s Economic Crash

Project Overview

The Human Cost is a series of sonifications exploring the impact and fallout of Ireland’s 2008 financial crash. Sonification is the use of sound to perceptualize data and convey information. These sonifications focus on socioeconomic data in order to better understand the human impact of the crash, through the expressive medium of sound. The data in question was provided by Ireland’s Central Statistics Office and the world bank. The majority of these pieces are the result of research undertaken during the completion of my PhD entitled ‘Embodied Sonification’. Tracks 2, 3 and 4 feature in the PhD document while tracks 1 and 5 make use of techniques and materials developed in the course of that research.

Coldwater Pass

Coldwater Pass is a data-driven composition that explores some of the human dimensions of Ireland’s economic crash focusing specifically on the relationship between poverty, drug crime, emigration, and suicide. It exploits the power of sound to re-embody the impersonal statistical data revealing aspects of the human realities underlying the cold hard facts.

The piece uses a complex mapping strategy to map data that represents Deprivation Rate, Unemployment Rate, Emigration Rate, Drug Related Crime Rate and Annual Suicide Rate from 2007 to 2012 to musical features. This mapping manipulates patterns of tension and release in the musical material in order to communicate a sense of the human realities underlying the socioeconomic data.

The piece is driven by a Csound algorithm that maps the data to vocal synthesis parameters defined by in Native Instruments Reaktor synthesis engine. Input data is rescaled and assigned to midi note, pan and CC data that is ported into Logic Pro X. GNP, Unemployment and Emigration Rate are mapped to create a background harmonic material while Deprivation rate and Drug Crime offenses create a type of foreground call and response pattern that is spatially distrusted with Drug Crime presented on the right and Deprivation rate on the left.

All of this is underpinned by a rhythmic percussion pattern for which each hit indicates 60 suicides. Parameters such as vowel shape, note length and formant shape are leveraged in the expression of the data through tension patterns.

The Human Cost

The Human Cost is a data-driven composition that further explores the impact of Ireland’s economic crash. The aim of the piece is to express economic data through the manipulation of musical tension and release patterns.

The Deprivation Rate, Unemployment Rate and Emigration Rate from 2007 to 2012 were used to drive three fof synthesis algorithms. As each of these economic indicators increased the perceived tension in the human vocal simulations would increase also. The outputs of each of these algorithms retain a harmonic relationship.

Algorithms 1 & 2 express the Deprivation and Unemployment rates respectively while algorithm 3 expresses the Emigration rate. The first two algorithms provide a harmonic backing for the third algorithm, which assumes the metaphor of a lead vocal instrument and so undergoes random pitch fluctuations.

An algorithm based on a heartbeat metaphor that is mapped to express the fall in GNP between 2007 and 2012. This adds a rhythmic element to the piece.

Idle Hands- A 31-Part Exploration Of Irish Unemployment From 1983 - 2014 In G Major

Idle Hands is a data-driven musical composition based on the Central Statistics Office’s Standardised Unemployment Rate for period from 1983 to 2014 -the total span of the CSO unemployment record. It is a gently evolving piece in G major that expresses the unemployment contour as a function of pitch and timbre.

A leading tone rises and falls in time with the unemployment statistics over a small accompanying set of evolving timbral motifs -the harmonic complexity of which reference future gradients of the data contour. There are two complementary elements to the composition, the data and the baseline. Evolving timbre and pitch represent the data. Sustained harmonics centered on G major provide a baseline against which to contextualise the data material.

The piece uses granular synthesis, frequency modulation and reverb modeling methodologies and is presented in 31 parts. Each 22s part correlates to a single year in the data and is separated from the next by a rapid instance of rest in the sonification material. The piece offers a unique view of a critical social issue in modern Ireland: the mass unemployment that has come in the wake of the Celtic Tiger’s demise.

It reflects our national unemployment crisis back upon the audience through an exploration of the relevant CSO data contour. This more recent socioeconomic crisis is contextualized against the similar -and admittedly worse- crisis of the mid-1980’s.

This opens a new space that stands independently of politics, media interpretation or public opinion allowing the audience to engage with the statistical profile of Irish unemployment through shared musical experience. Audience members can then decide whether or not to reformulate their opinions based on their experience of the piece.

Idle Hands features on the album ‘Tides - An ISSTA Anthology’. It was released on the [Stolen Mirror label](http://stolenmirror.com() and collects a many important pieces that were performed during the first 10 years of the Irish Sound Science and Technology Association’s existence. You can learn more about the album and purchase it here: http://stolenmirror.com/2021d01-tides.html

Doom & Gloom

Doom and Gloom is a data-driven composition that explores the human cost of Ireland’s economic crash. The piece opens on a conversational montage from Finian’s Rainbow that offers an eerily ironic foreshadowing of the bleak and desolate future looming on the horizon for an Ireland that has lost its “pot of gold”.

This discussion soon falls into chaos twisting and contorting as it disintegrates into a shattered ocean of broken and jagged sound fragments. This disintegration takes place at the same rate at which the Central Statistics office measured the decline in the Irish GNP (Gross National Product).

The timbre of the maelstrom transforms as material driven by the Unemployment Rate (Central Statistics Office) arises through the cracks between each sound shard. These new sound shards slowly reintegrate in time with the data contour to resolve in a young man’s discussion of his experience of unemployment in the post-Celtic Tiger years.

The piece is realized using FOG synthesis techniques (an extension of “fonctions d’onde formantique” to sound file granulation) and is intended to highlight the suffering caused by Ireland’s economic crash through a mixed methods approach based on the sonification of economic data by compositional techniques.

The Good Ship Hibernia and the Hole in the Bottom of the world

“The Good Ship Hibernia” is an Embodied Soundscape Sonification. It uses both soundscape and harmonic materials and employs sonification techniques to reflect the World Bank’s figures for Irish GDP growth rate from 1979 to 2013.

The piece is structured around a number of embodied metaphors (as defined by Lakoff and Johnson 1980) and an embodied balance schema (as defined by Johnson 1987). It uses the metaphor of a maritime journey where “smooth sailing” and “good weather” represent “good times” and “rough seas” and “bad weather” represent “bad times”.

While the growth rate is strong the sailing is smooth and the weather is good. When the growth rate shrinks the weather becomes stormy and seas become rough. The sense of balance in the soundscape shifts in accordance with the data.

Harmonic material also sounds throughout the journey. This material was performed in response to the soundscape of the sea journey with the perceived fidelity and timbral character of the performance determined by the GDP data.

Learn more about the research project from which these pieces emerged here:

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