Intérieurs harmoniques Elizabeth Hoffman

Cover art: Giles Lyon, Blood and Ice (2011), acrylic on canvas, 198 x 137 cm, detail
  • New York University

… a questo misterioso ed ampio spazio moderno della musica… Percorsi Musicali, Italy

Elegant, rich compositions Monsieur Délire, Québec

New York City composer Elizabeth Hoffman plunges us into her personal sound universe where matter is decomposed, presented in a unique angle. Hoffman calls an imaginary world where drums are transformed into abstract resonances (Resonants), where water rustling turns into a myriad of textures (Water Spirits), where birdsongs become entangled harmonic frames (Songstressed), where the sound of strings bursts out into euphoric accumulations of micro-elements (d-ness). On this disc, natural sound is reinvented in the pure acousmatic tradition where the coherent compositional discourse will profoundly and actively engage the listener.


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Intérieurs harmoniques

Elizabeth Hoffman


Harmonic Design

To some extent, all of the works on this disc are obsessed with harmonic design and with an often unnatural sonic resonance. There is an intended tactility to all of the pieces, and so sounds seem more palpably to be moving through space than through time. Throughout, sources are alluded to via connotative strangenesses in their virtual images.

Elizabeth Hoffman, New York City (New York, USA) [i-12]

Some recommended items

In the press

Elizabeth Hoffman

Ettore Garzia, Percorsi Musicali, July 5, 2013

Mentre da una parte la “computer music” sembra volersi aprire nei suoi sviluppi più concreti all’interazione con il pubblico fino a svilire la funzione del compositore e costruirne una collettiva non si sa con quali risultati, dall’altra continua a favorire quella buona dose di compositori “convenzionali” che sfruttano algoritmi e software applicativi allo scopo esclusivo di creare situazioni sonore disponibili ed accettabili sia come prodotti artistici che come prodotti per l’ascolto. Una delle compositrici più vicine a questo concetto è la newyorchese Elizabeth Hoffman: il caso della Hoffman è emblematico di come le tecniche elettroacustiche vadano sfruttate per arrivare ad una formula efficace di suoni che possa elevarsi dalla marea di combinazioni di suoni che da decenni imperversa nella ricerca elettronica. Dopo un cd per la Albany Records Modus Nodus - Chamber Music 2002-03 che la ritraeva in composizioni da camera con modelli forse troppo riferibili al passato (Varèse, Carter, Xenakis), la Hoffman pubblica Intérieurs harmoniques, un cd di sue composizioni totalmente assemblato al computer per l’etichetta canadese della empreintes DIGITALes, specializzata nel ramo dell’elettroacustica e in cui partecipano molti compositori di rango del settore (purtroppo specie in questo settore musicale, il materiale registrato è sempre piuttosto limitato rispetto a quello composto). In Modus Nodus spiccava l’ottima simulazione sonora di Barissement d’éléphant, una composizione per più strumenti con plurime tecniche estensive specie ai sassofoni, che potrebbe essere un buon viatico per entrare nel mondo di Intérieurs harmoniques: nei fatti si propone la forza d’impatto dei suoni e la preoccupazione della professoressa di New York nel cercare di costruire disegni armonici traendoli dal mondo sonoro dell’apparente inarmonico. “… To some extent, all of the works on this disc are obsessed with harmonic design and with an often unnatural sonic resonance. There is an intended tactility to all of the pieces, and so sounds seem more palpably to be moving through space than through time. Throughout, sources are alluded to via connotative strangenesses in their virtual images…”. Le ricostruzioni al computer attraverso tecniche digitali fanno di tutto per dare ai suoni una loro identità che sia quanto più naturale e vicina alla fonte che l’ha prodotta: che siano percussioni squillanti, rigurgiti di acqua o cinguettio degli uccelli, quello che è importante è che la loro combinazione / manipolazione produca una sovraesposizione sonora in cui dare un senso estetico al lavoro del compositore: non si tratta di prendere in considerazione solo risapute risonanze o soluzioni “concrète”, quanto di collocarle in una dimensione reale e diversa dell’ascolto in cui deve rimanere vivo il fascino sonoro della creazione musicale e contemporaneamente deve essere lanciato il messaggio umano implicito nella realizzazione anche se ottenuto con fonti sonore modificate. L’alea mistica che si respira in Allamuchy e Soundendipities è un bel rebus per chi si è stancato di trarre giovamento da ascolti siffatti della musica elettroacustica, ma è anche l’unico modo concettualmente più avanzato per restare avvinghiato a questo misterioso ed ampio spazio moderno della musica dove le credenziali di arrivo sono quelle immacolate dell’equilibrio psico-sonico.

… a questo misterioso ed ampio spazio moderno della musica…

Listening Diary

François Couture, Monsieur Délire, June 19, 2013

First album from Elizabeth Hoffman on empreintes DIGITAL, on CD (the label seems to have dropped the DVD-A format — its four latest releases are on CD). Six acousmatic works realized between 2000 and 2011. Themes and sound materials are simple (resonances, water, birdsongs) and less simple (densities, movements). Elegant, rich compositions, but there is something lacking in the matter of narrative or drama.

Elegant, rich compositions


Ross Feller, Computer Music Journal, no. 37:1, March 1, 2013

Although she has released pieces on compilations since 1995, Intérieurs harmoniques is composer Elizabeth Hoffman’s first full-length CD. It features six fine electroacoustic works realized at her New York City studio between 2001 and 2011, and mastered for this recording by Dominique Bassal. After listening to this CD it is clear that the composer is adept at juxtaposing separate timbral layers, related through various processing techniques, into kaleidoscopic collage forms. These pieces, unified through conceptual or abstract exploration, are firmly situated within the acousmatic tradition.

According to the composer’s liner notes, Resonants, the first piece in this collection, presents an “aural puzzle” in which the sounds “seem to be both activated and self-activating.” The listener is pulled between what she calls “reduced listening” and “source sound listening” (Pierre Schaeffer’s terms). I take reduced listening to mean a focused type of listening in which one notices subtle changes of timbre, as if listening to an object close-up. In Resonants one hears readily identifiable objects such as cymbals or bells, often manipulated via amplitude modulation. The collage form favored by the composer is one in which distinct material layers sound simultaneously in juxtaposition. For example, repeated groups of percussive sounds in the foreground are placed against a drone backdrop. But the effect is so much more than mere juxtaposition since Hoffman’s layers shift in and out of perceptual focus, which she achieves through careful changes of amplitude and spatial trajectory. Nothing is static in this piece. Sounds morph from one extreme timbre to another. This is evident when about a third of the way into the piece a low, rumbling timpani-like sound changes into a brittle swarm of insects. All of this culminates, at the golden section, into a poignant moment where a highly resonant, low-pitch drone comes into the foreground, followed by drum-like sounds that serve to mark this moment while also supplanting it. Resonants is a continuous, through-composed piece, though materials are obviously reused and transformed. During the last 40 seconds or so the texture finally thins out, revealing an intriguing palette of “timbral resonance.”

The second piece, Water Spirits, combines water and vocal sounds that are sonically transformed by algorithms created by the composer to modify microrhythmic and timbral details. The effect sounds very close to granular synthesis. According to Hoffman, the algorithms she uses “rearrange or eliminate data [to create] statistically accurate but temporally jumbled waveforms or sequentially accurate but incomplete waveforms.” Her description might imply a messy, inconsistent array of sounds, but this is not the case. Hoffman wants the listener to experience “a slightly askew tactility of otherwise familiar sounds.” She is largely successful in this endeavor, though the algorithms she uses work over her material without coming up with much that one might describe as novel or surprising. This might have occurred if she had submitted the water and vocal sounds to more variation, or combined them in a more timbrally unified manner such as one hears in many electroacoustic pieces by Paul Lansky. Also, one gets the sense that this piece would carry more tactile or visceral weight if heard in a concert setting on large and powerful speakers, which would allow the low frequencies she uses to literally move the listener’s body.

In Songstressed, one of the best pieces on this CD, Hoffman is unafraid to let her textures remain thin and transparent, implying more with less, if you will. The general pacing of events is relaxed and patient. Frequency bandwidths slowly come into focus and then dissipate, wavelike. Near the beginning of the piece there is a low, rumbling timbre that sounds as if one were listening to a chorus of voices slowed down and processed through a low-pass filter. From here, Hoffman gradually introduces birdsong and bird chatter, effectively spatialized via slow panning. The birdcall recordings she uses are amplitude-modulated to create a dynamic warbling effect, which is further manipulated through convolution reverb-like techniques. The overall sense of this piece is of a long build-up to something that never happens, not unlike what occurs in Samuel Beckett’s plays but on a much smaller time frame. The piece seems to end unexpectedly at 9:40, however—about a minute and a half before the actual end. At this point the composer allows the unprocessed birdsong to be heard intact, and then within long trails of resonance.

In D-ness Hoffman uses violin samples in order to explore the violin’s natural resonance characteristics. When I first heard this piece, a surreal image of D major pixies frolicking at a fiddler’s tailgating party came to mind. The composer describes D-ness as “exuberant” and “sunny.” Images and adjectives aside, this piece uses convolution reverb fed with effectively layered string attacks in sharp relief. The delicate, unsteady moments are the most effective, especially where the composer seems to use a fast, pulse-wave modulator to amplitude-modulate the violin materials, sounding as if you’re hearing these materials through a perforated wall in your cochlea. The piece ends with a long fade-out in which the sampled violin sound briefly makes an appearance in an unprocessed form.

Allamuchy, the fifth piece on this CD, begins with a thick, flanged frequency-modulation patch. Other materials carefully surround and interact with this primary timbral focus, palpably swirling around the listener as they are developed. The effect is filmic in scope and quite engaging. About halfway through the piece the composer shifts gears and introduces restless flapping and walking sounds, while continuing the swirling effect from the first half of the piece. About 1:45 from the end a slowed-down, crow-like sound is heard, juxtaposed with low-pass filtered noise, sounding not unlike a subway or ocean environment. The progression from a key-centered texture in the first half, to the noisecentered materials in the second half, is tangibly coherent.

In the final piece, Soundendipities, Hoffman wanted to convey in sound a “hyper-frenetic immobility.” The texture is supposed to “suggest an external world seen too close up for one to recognize any substances.” In this respect the beginning of the piece is promising. One hears a rich, timestretched, convolution-reverb drone texture with sounds that are largely unrecognizable. Various tremolo speeds and depths gradually enter and exit, each time threatening to destabilize the predominant texture. Timbres fade in and out while others remain in an undulating stasis. For the former, Hoffman creates some that sound like a randomized pinball machine. For the latter, she creates some elegant drones from comb-filtering techniques. This is the shortest piece on the CD, and one gets the sense that its length lends a certain kind of intensity, or event compression, that is not necessarily the case with some of the earlier pieces. As the piece fades out one is left with the feeling that it ends a little too early, creating a desire to hear more.

Hoffman favors organic development cast within a collage form. She seems less concerned with the smaller subtleties of timbre than with the big picture. The works on this disc, all between 9 and 14 minutes, tend to reveal their unprocessed sonic materials near the end, after they’ve been thoroughly processed and developed. After listening to this CD you’ll want to hear more by this composer.

Finally, a word about the CD’s packaging: The empreintes DIGITALes package seems a little slapdash, mostly due to the use of extrathin cardboard. In fact it’s so thin that the slightest pressure from the shrink-wrap distorts its square shape. Also, the CD itself is not housed in a tray card, but instead is partially contained in a haphazard half piece of folded cardboard that easily falls out, and is much more difficult to return to its original configuration. Nevertheless, the package features a nicely rendered, Chagall-like painting by Giles Lyon.

After listening to this CD you’ll want to hear more by this composer.


Klaus Boss, Hifly, October 17, 2012

Elizabeth Hoffmann who works as Assistant Professor in the Department of Music, Faculty of Arts and Science at New York University, releases her first solo album for Montréal-based Empreintes DIGITALes. The album totals six tracks exploring the shades and possibilities of electroacoustic music. Personally I’ve always been more interested in the final and audible result rather than the process behind creating the music. That being said, Hoffmann manages to captivate six different moods on the album starting off with the gentle chime ringing, organic and battering murky drums but yet still dead clinically sterile and icey environment of Resonants, onto the subtle and elongated modulations of rippling water present on Water Spirits. Songstressed shares much of the same audible qualities as Resonant but introduces a shrilling pipe sound , which in nature appears to be recorded in a sardonic wind tunnel, inhabited by abhorrent creatures. Songstressed transforms into d-ness which is a symphony of spiralling high-pitched sounds, shrouding the composition in a mulitude of layers. Towards the end of the album Soundendipities reveals a vortex of eeire malevolence and as the tracks proceeds in its development, the mood turns from eerie into a ominously clangorous orchestration of which Pascal Laugier would be proud. Out now on Empreintes Digitales.

… six tracks exploring the shades and possibilities of electroacoustic music.


Vito Camarretta, Chain DLK, October 7, 2012

Even if Intérieurs harmoniques is officially her debut album, it’s quite clear since the first seconds of listening that NYC-based composer Elizabeth Hoffman is not a callow improviser and the fact her solo-release comes out on Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes, one of the most appreciated in the field of electroacoustics and acousmatics by many demanding followers of the genre, is fairly meaningful.

Once the listener can easily ascertain her skillfulness in modelling mainly percussive sounds, related to her passion for electroacoustics, which has been accrued over many years of academic background, the most remarkable aspect of Elizabeth’s sound maybe lies in the fey facets of her visionary (lasting about ten minutes each) sound collages. Listener’s imagination immediately meets its match in the intial (and most recently recorded) track Resonants, where the seducing texture of bells, glockenspiel and cymbals seems to echo back listener’s phosphenes after closing eyes and the following movement could be associated to a fictitious pebble nearby the rail in the act of listening the coming, the arrival and the departure of a train in the subway. This imaginary ear-transplant or cochlear implant into a molecular entity could be imagined while listening to Water Spirits — listeners could easily think about the vicissitudes of a water particle since the moment it arrives on earth from a storm cloud, which travels across conduits, sewer pipes, sinks, entrails and viscera afterwards — and Songstressed — its listening could let you think about microphones on a particle of dust which during its mishaps falls into a bird’s syrinx! Similarly fictional microscopic journey could be inspired by remaining tracks: Allamuchy reminded the initial track of Autistici’s Beneath Peaks I recently reviewed due to the recordings of different moments (including a nap), which have supposedly been recorded in the natural set of Allamuchy wood in New Jersey, while d-ness sounds like the sonic translation of some emotional set which couldn’t be explained but through sounds. The effected squeaks and every tessereas of the sonic mosaic of the final Soundendipities, which costantly sounds on the edge of a cliff, closes this interesting listening experience with a sinister note of acousmatic self-irony indeed!

… fictional microscopic journey…


multipara, De:Bug, no. 166, October 1, 2012

Sechs Stücke, die vorbeiziehen, ohne sich festzubeißen, fein und sanft mutieren, in sich gekehrt ihren Textur- und Farbraum auskundschaften, je nach Ausgangslage. Ob räumlich verwischte Rauschwirbel und Resonanzen metallischer Percussion, algorithmische Collage aus Wasseraufnahmen, deren Farbe durch Filter oder mikrozeitliche Verwirbelungen modifiziert wird, harmonische Analyse gedehnter kurzer Vogelrufe mit fast klassisch orchestral wirkendem Ergebnis: Die Musik von Elizabeth Hoffman, Gründerin und Leiterin des Computermusikstudios an der NYU, bleibt akusmatischer Ambient. Auch in den spannenderen Ausgangslagen der zweiten Hälfte, die sich klangfarblich auffächert, auch technisch vielseitiger wird, sich dem strahlenden Klang des D-Tonraums auf zwei Violinen widmet, Naturgeräusche eines Parks in den flugzeuglosen Tagen nach 9-11 in frei bewegliche Klangaggregate verwandelt, oder Physical Modelling körperloser Vibrationen zum Ausgang nimmt: Schön, aber zu brav, um herauszuragen.

Tapage nocturne: Actualité discographique 2

Éric Serva, France Musique, September 28, 2012

Sur le même label est également disponible un très bel album de l’artiste new-yorkaise Elizabeth Hoffman, un disque intitulé Intérieurs Harmoniques. Elizabeth Hoffman est une compositrice talentueuse et déterminée, c’est elle qui a créé le Washington Square Computer Music Studio au sein de la faculté des Arts et des Sciences de NY. Son travail est essentiellement basé sur la textures, le timbre, l’harmonie et la spatialisation des sons. La pièce que je vous propose d’entendre s’intitule Soundendipities, on est ici entre le mouvement et immobilité, entre les phénomènes de résonances libres et une volonté très claire de modeler une sculpture sonore.

… on est ici entre le mouvement et immobilité, entre les phénomènes de résonances libres et une volonté très claire de modeler une sculpture sonore.


RNE3: Atmósfera, September 9, 2012

La compositora neoyorkina Elizabeth Hoffman nos hace entrar en un mundo sonoro en el que el material se descompone y se expone desde un ángulo increíble. Hoffman exhorta un imaginario donde las percusiones se transforman en resonancias abstractas, el bullir del agua sugiere una miríada de texturas o los cantos de los pájaros se transforman en marcos. En el disco de Hoffman Intérieurs harmoniques, el sonido natural se reinventa en la más pura tradición acusmática.

… entrar en un mundo sonoro en el que el material se descompone y se expone desde un ángulo increíble.


Pierre Durr, Revue & Corrigée, no. 93, September 1, 2012
… le recueil offre plutôt une quiétude d’ensemble…


Wolfgang Kabsch, Musik an sich, September 1, 2012

Elizabeth Hoffman ist eine amerikanische Klangart Künstlerin, die mit Intérieurs harmoniques ihr erstes Solowerk vorlegt. Auf den enthaltenen, jeweils um die 10 - 14 Minuten langen Tracks erzeugt sie mit den eingesetzten Klängen (zumeist Perkussive: Glocken, Becken, Windspiele etc.) sehr atmosphärische Sounds. Diese sind im Gegensatz zu vielen anderen gleichgelagerten Arbeiten fast schon eingängig, da Elizabeth Hoffman nicht nur auf das Aneinanderreihen von seltsamen Sounds setzt, sondern eine hörbare Dramaturgie in die Stücke bringt. So bauen sich im ersten Stück die Perkussionen immer weiter auf während die surrende Elektronik im Untergrund für die Atmosphäre sorgt. Im Stück Water Spirit, Songstressed verarbeitet sie über den dunklen, sakralen Elektrosounds verzerrte Stimmen, welches dem düsteren Charakter verstärkt.

Elizabeth Hoffman ist mit Intérieurs harmoniques ein äußerst hörbares Album im Feld der Klangkunst und Musique Concrète gelungen. Eine einstündige Symphonie der Geräusche, verfeinert mit interessanten elektronischen und akustischen Sounds. Ein entspannender aber auch aufregender SOUNDtrack, der bei jedem Hören neue Facetten Preis gibt.

Ein perfektes Album für Einsteiger in diese ebenso interessante wie auch schwierige Seite der modernen Musik. 18/20

… Album im Feld der Klangkunst und Musique Concrète gelungen.