Research —> CompositionA grammar that minimizes all implied periodicity in ratios formed within successions of up to 4 timespans. Carson, “Hearing Time Freely,” research in progress (2008-2010).

My writing and scholarship over the last several years has  concentrated on theoretical questions, for example: ‘why do we feel some musical pulses with more confidence than others? what compels us to tap our foot?’ and ‘what ideas and ideologies are at play in the transition between tonality and atonality?’ I ask both of those questions with an interest in supporting musicians’ practical approaches to composition and improvisation.

Two main interests—already hinted at above—drive my work as a theorist. The first is a concern  about pulse, how we feel it, and how we feel when it’s absent. The second regards the way ideology takes form in musical acts, and particularly in acts that determine something about the shape of a “whole” musical expression.

Pulse is perhaps the simplest kind of musical experience, but aside from attributing it to different kinds of repetition, scholars have little to say about what’s going on when we have strong or weak urges to tap our feet. To study this, I conduct empirical studies of pulse perception: “Perceiving and distinguishing simple timespan ratios without metric reinforcement” (Journal of New Music Research 36/4, December 2007) is my most recent, and most extensive, exploration of this question. I also co-authored (with Ian Saxton) a software environment called Unpulser that helps us to visualize the properties of timespan pairs, and compose with those properties in mind.

I have been thinking about ideology and musical form in a wider variety of ways. My first exploration was Having a word with you: an exploration of how this piece will be received (1993), a computer program that when evaluated in LISP, produced a specific musical piece, and when read aloud on stage, produced intelligible English prose about that piece, and about musical experience in general.

The most recent expression of this interest has been “Schoenberg’s ambivalent thought: subjectivity in ‘Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide…’”, a study of form and musical development, in Search: Yearbook of Contemporary Music and Culture (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2012). In it I combine harmonic analysis, social production theory, and established research in historical musicology, to formulate a challenge to contemporary assumptions about Schoenberg’s early music.

A number of shorter essays also fall into this category: three in dialogue with the bassist/composer/critic Christopher Williams (who contributed four of his own) to the series “On the Piano Music of Ben Carson”, in The Open Space Magazine, Issue 5, December 2005. These have been reshaped into program notes, and can be found in various places around this site. My critical essay about John Adams’ “El Niño”, in Echo 5/1 (2003), also extends this area of interest more generally.

Where does it all lead? I’m motivated toward all of these questions because thinking about them excites me as a musician and artist. Sometimes the music that results is another experiment, a kind of “found” idea that I test with the help of an intrepid musician. On other occasions—as with my diary-like piano works—what emerges is a personal exploration. And then there’s always opera