Persona offers a beautiful and evocative word. An off the cuff guess as to its etymology might associate per (for) with sona (or son) as “sound,” thus per-sona meaning “for sound.” But, apparently this isn’t the case. The word persona circulated among the Etruscans of ancient Italy to designate a mask spoken through by an actor during theatrical performances. A notion of mask implies vehicle or point of transfer, while the word persona itself recalls its kindred terms, such as personage, personality, person, personal.
A sonic persona constitutes a composer’s audible mask. It’s an identity — as protagonistic as in theatre — that articulates an image of agent or actor; and it accomplishes this through neither words, gesture nor facial expression, but conjures this impression instead out of no more than sound alone. Persona sounds the tip of a composer’s index finger: Listen here! Listen to this! Listen! It articulates its presence through achieving a distinctive way of assembling sound, a pattern and flavor of compositional choices that establish a cumulatively recognizable identity.
Relatively stable sonic imagery that’s been collaboratively invented and maintained bit by bit by many contributors over time exerts more of a community persona, but this presents a persona nevertheless. No one person in particular may be responsible for the music’s design, but regardless of this, the music has still been composed, and its sound chronicles as much discerning and preferring as would any other. Likewise, interpretive performers, musicians whose choices supplement a predetermined sonic image, compose to the extent that their decisions modulate the quality and presence of the music they’re playing; and as with actors, there’s enough discretionary latitude in interpretation that many inspiring performers achieve uniquely identifiable personae of their own.
Where an interpretive performer cultivates persona through execution, a composer effects persona more through musical design, through choice of patterns and patterns of choice. Sonic imagery doesn’t self generate, nor is it self-sustaining. It has always to be built, constructed, put together, composed. Options have to be considered. Decisions have to be made. There are uncertainties — and there grows an ongoing dialogue with conditions. What becomes audible from all this is not necessarily autobiography or self expression (however powerfully each composer’s peculiar affinities inevitably color these events). What insinuates among the sounds is the relationships of all of these protagonists in interaction.
Individuals, however, are not at all disposable options. The resonance of the individual person that emerges in music derives from the topographical specificity and uniqueness of the intersection where that particular human being is happening. The irregular, the unpredictable, the anomalous, the capacity to recognize, sort and integrate the random and surprise, the generative sources of new life in music originate, as elsewhere, with microcosmic individual exceptions to statistical averages. The sounds that speak as an exception, as music, display an accrual of these individual divergences. Musical sound resonates as distinctly personified sound.