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Electroacoustics, the Quebecois Way

François Couture, electrocd.com, March 22, 2004

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right? Wrong — at least when it comes to electroacoustics, the beautiful province of Quebec compares very well to any other region of the world. Call me chauvinistic, I don’t care: Quebec is home to several composers of tremendous talent and influential professors.

My goal is not to turn this article in an analytical essay, but, as a music reviewer and unstoppable listener, I am convinced that there is such a thing as Québécois electroacoustics. Despite the stylistic variety among our composers, I detect a Québécois “sound,” something that sounds to me neither British nor French or German; something that calls to me and speaks to me in a language more immediate and easier to understand.

This “unity in diversity” is probably, at least in part, due to the lasting influence of a small number of key composers whose academic teachings have shaped our younger generations. I am thinking first and foremost of Francis Dhomont and Yves Daoust. So let’s begin this sound path with a Frenchman so Québécois at heart that he was awarded a prestigious Career Grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec. I can sincerely recommend all of Dhomont’s albums: his graceful writing, his narrative flair and his intelligence turn any of his works into fascinating gems. I have often publicly expressed my admiration for Forêt profonde (including in my first Sound Path, so I will skip it this time), but Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, his first large-scale work, remains an international classic of electroacoustic music, and his more recent Cycle du son shows how close to perfection his art has grown — the piece AvatArsSon in particular, my first pick for this Sound Path.

If Dhomont’s music is often constructed following large theoretical, literary and sociological themes, Yves Daoust’s works lean more toward poetry and the anecdote. Most of his pieces betray his respect for the abstractionist ideals of the French school, but his seemingly naive themes (water, crowds, a Chopin Fantasia or a childhood memory) empower his music with an unusual force of evocation. His latest album, Bruits, also displays a willingness to grow and learn. One is tempted to hear the influence of his more electronica-savvy students in the startling title triptych.

To those two pillars of Quebec electroacoustics, I must add the names of Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil. Normandeau is a very good example of what I consider to be the “typical” Québécois sound: a certain conservatism in the plasticity of sounds (the result of the combined influence of the British and French schools); great originality in their use; and an uncanny intelligence in the discourse which, even though it soars into academic thought, doesn’t rob the listener of his or her pleasure. My favorite album remains Figures, in part because of the beautiful piece Le Renard et la Rose, inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel Le Petit Prince – and also because of Venture, a tribute to the Golden Age of progressive rock (a pet peeve I share with the composer, might I add). As for Gobeil’s music, it is the wildness of wilderness, the turmoil of human passions, the sudden gestures, the copious splashes of sonic matter thrown all around. If La mécanique des ruptures remains an essential listen, his most recent album Le contrat, a collaboration with guitarist René Lussier, stands as his most accomplished (and thrilling!) work to date.

These four composers may represent the crème de la crème of academic circles, but empreintes DIGITALes’ catalog counts numerous young composers and artists whose work deeply renew the vocabulary of their older colleagues.

I would like to mention Fractures, the just released debut album by Christian Bouchard. His fragmented approach seems to draw as much from academic electroacoustics as from experimental electronica. Thanks to some feverish editing and dizzying fragmentation, Parcelles 1 and Parcelles 2 evoke avant-garde digital video art. I also heartily recommend Louis Dufort’s album Connexions, which blends academic and noise approaches. His stunning piece Zénith features treatments of samples of Luc Lemay’s voice (singer with the death-metal group Gorguts). I am also quite fond of Marc Tremblay’s rather coarse sense of humor. On his CD Bruit-graffiti he often relies on pop culture (from The Beatles to children’s TV shows). His piece Cowboy Fiction, a “western for the ear” attempting to reshape the American dream, brings this Sound Path to a quirky end.

Serious or facetious, abstract or evocative, Québécois electroacoustic music has earned a place in the hearts of avant-garde music lovers everywhere. Now it is your turn to explore its many paths.

Québécois electroacoustic music has earned a place in the hearts of avant-garde music lovers everywhere…

Introduction(s) to the Delights of Electroacoustic Music

François Couture, electrocd.com, October 15, 2003

Electroacoustic music is an acquired taste. Like it or not, radio and television have conditioned us from an early age into accepting some musical (tonal and rhythmical) molds as being “normal.” Therefore, electroacoustics, along with other sound-based (in opposition to note-based) forms of musical expression like free improvisation, is perceived as being “abnormal.” That’s why a first exposure to this kind of music often turns into a memorable experience — for better or worse. Many factors come into play, but choosing an album that offers an adequate (i.e. friendly and gentle) introduction to the genre will greatly help in letting the initial esthetic shock turn into an experience of Beauty and mark the beginning of a new adventure in sound.

My goal with this sound path is simply to point out a few titles that I think have the potential to encourage instead of discourage, titles opening a door to a new musical dimension. Of course, this selection can only be subjective. But it might be helpful to new enthusiasts and to aficionados looking for gift ideas that would spread good music around. After all, Christmas is only a few weeks away!

Bridges

We usually develop new interests from existing interests. What I mean is: we explore music genres that are new to us because a related interest brought us there. That’s why when it comes to electroacoustic music, mixed works (for tape and instrument) or works related to specific topics are often the best place to find a bridge that will gently lead the listener into the new territory. For example, people who enjoy reading travel literature will find in Kristoff K.Roll’s Corazón Road the sublimated narrative of a journey through Central America. Those still young enough to enjoy fairy tales (I’m one of them) will find in Francis Dhomont’s Forêt profonde an in-depth reflection on this literary genre as inspired by the works of psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, in the form of a captivating work with multiple narratives (in many languages) and electroacoustic music of a great evocative strength. Lighter and more fanciful, Libellune by Roxanne Turcotte finds its source in childlike imagination and is in part aimed at children without over-simplifying its artistic process.

Guitar fans can turn to Parr(A)cousmatique, a wonderful project for which classical guitarist Arturo Parra co-wrote pieces with some of Quebec’s best electroacoustic composers: Stéphane Roy, Francis Dhomont (Quebecer at heart, at the very least), Robert Normandeau, and Gilles Gobeil. The latter has just released an album-long piece, Le contrat, written with and featuring avant-garde guitarist René Lussier. Lussier’s followers and people interested in Goethe’s play Faust (and its rich heritage) will find here an essential point of convergence, another bridge.

Essential listens

Those who want to explore further will probably want to venture into more abstract electroacoustic art. I recommend starting with the Quebec composers. Chauvinism? No way. It’s just that the music of composers like Dhomont, Normandeau, Gobeil, Yves Daoust, or Yves Beaupré seems to me to be more accessible than the music of British or French composers. It is more immediate, has a stronger impact (Gobeil, usually hitting hard), a more pleasant form of lyricism (Daoust, Beaupré), more welcoming architectures and themes (Dhomont, Normandeau). If you need places to start, try Normandeau’s Figures, Gobeil’s La mécanique des ruptures, Dhomont’s Cycle du son, and Beaupré’s Humeur de facteur.

That being said, there are hours upon hours of beauty and fascination to be found in the works of Michel Chion (his powerful Requiem), Bernard Parmegiani (La création du monde), Jonty Harrsison (Articles indéfinis), Denis Smalley (Sources/Scènes), and Natasha Barrett (Isostasie), but they may seem more difficult or thankless on first listen. And for those interested in where these music come from, the EMF label offers L’œuvre musicale, the complete works of Pierre Schaeffer, the father of musique concrète and grandfather of electroacoustics.

Tiny ideas

A compilation album has the advantage of offering a large selection of artists and esthetics in a small, affordable format. Available at a budget price, eXcitations proposes a strong sampler of the productions on the label empreintes DIGITALes. The albums Electro clips and Miniatures concrètes, along with the brand new volume of the DISContact! series, cull short pieces (often under three minutes) to trigger interrogations and discoveries in those with a short attention span.

And finally, for those of you who want to take their time and explore in short steps, the Cinéma pour l’oreille collection produced by the French label Métamkine contains many wonderful 3" CDs, 20 minutes in duration each, for a reduced price. The catalog includes titles by renown composers such as Michel Chion, Lionel Marchetti, Michèle Bokanowski, Bernhard Günter, and Éliane Radigue. These tiny albums are perfect for gift exchanges.

Of course, all of the above are only recommendations. The best sound path to discovery is the one you follow by yourself, little by little.

Best listens!

Review

Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, October 29, 2001

When you peer into the electroacoustic antecedents of Gilles Gobeil you encounter the names of well-known as well as more obscure organizations throughout the genre which have all rendered him awards; Biennal Acousmatic Composition Competition (Belgium), International Electroacoustic Music Contest (Brazil), Ciber@rt (Spain), Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition (France), Stockholm Electronic Arts Award (Sweden), Ars Electronica (Austria), Luigi Russolo International Competition (Italy), Newcomp Computer Music Competition (USA), Brock University Tape Music Competition (Canada) and so on and so forth. Impressing! Undoubtedly, this wizard of the electronics, spinning all around his hat, is amply worthy of all this havoc, because he is one of the most talented and sensitive jugglers of sounds we’ve heard.

His new CD is one of a batch of new issues from the prolific empreintes DIGITALes of Canada, wherein we can monitor the present vibrancy out of his creative act. The works presented were conceived between 1995 and 2001, so we are provided with new music, which is always very interesting, since all acts of creativity, throughout the arts, are mirrors of our present day life and the position and state of humanity and affairs of the moment! The similarity between visiting a modern arts gallery down the street and listening to a new CD with electroacoustics is striking. It is often about shapes, shadings, light, movements, contours – and… associations. The richer one’s own scope of references and the wider our frames of reference, the richer and more rewarding our experiences of art. That experience, in its more evolved stages, doesn’t come for free. It takes initial time and effort, but as Pete Seeger once sang in a song called Maple Syrup Time: “Everything worthwhile takes a little time”. The electroacoustic village is pretty sparsely populated, even though worldwide – interconnecting through the Internet – we’re a growing bunch. For the newcomer it’s all about finding a way into the soundscape, and it might be all too easy for someone completely unaware of the electroacoustic goings-on to just bump off the surface, on hearing these weird sounds… However, in later years there seems to have been an up-surge of the idiom, hopefully indicating a wider public interest too, and an uncanny assortment of very good electroacoustic releases have helped pave the way. empreintes DIGITALes constitutes one of the main outlets of high quality sound art, and this CD by Gilles Gobeil is no exception.

Derrière la porte la plus éloignée… (“Behind the Remotest Door…”) (1998) presents a few images from a journey through Italy. A deep murmur opens the piece, harboring sounds as of a deep, slow breath. Jingle jangle wrenchings are inhaled, exhaled, as if you were deep inside the belly of the monster, or maybe hid away on an old wooden bench in a dark corner of a cathedral or age-old church… The liberating sound of running, trickling water refreshes for a while… but suddenly the echo of the sounds indicates a much smaller space, and you hurry in flight down stinking sewers. A sound as of an elevator maybe means that you’re reaching safety, but an enormous, dense factory wall of noise holds you back… A richness of timbre and of millions of grains of sound suddenly halts, as a distant propeller airplane sound is detected from a distance, in the sudden silence. Once again the sounds hit head on, like someone just pushed a button or pulled a lever, but then again this music could be an illustration to the travels after death, through the bewildering landscapes of Karma that are described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead… so just aim for the Light, and fear not these grim faces staring at you from the walls, these murky hands reaching out at you from the slimy corners, because they’re just remnants of bad deeds, manifestations of ill thoughts… so hold on to the best within yourself and aim fearlessly ahead…

Projet Proust (1995, 2001) is “a personal reading” of the first pages of Du côté de chez Swann (“Swann’s Way”) (1913) by Marcel Proust. The narrator is Marc Béland. In a classical electroacoustic manner, the voice of the narrator is heard as from inside soothing spheres of bliss, whereas the sound web in which those spheres of French morphemes are expressed is ominous, spatial, dark, threatening, as from a furnace of destruction or the core of energy on the verge of exploding into a supernova of the intellect, spreading your desperate identity in a dissipation of fragmented thoughts and remnants of words throughout the abyss within… Like in the first piece on the CD the sounds at times start behaving in an inhaling/exhaling manner, indicating Time through Breath, Life through moving Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide. Chanting of angelic choruses are hallucinated through the whining of bee swarm timbres and the occasional occurrences of grinding machines in a large, smoky hall of a steelworks on the Baltic coast, into which diagonal rays of sunlight through semi-transparent windows on high cut through the rising smoke and hovering dust of iron particles, producing rhombs and squares of light on the dirty brick walls and the littered floor, and on the hell-like machinery of industrialization… Minuscule binary progressions of grains of sand wisp back and forth in the panning of the artisan’s tools, as cut up blisters of cries and hollers are ground down to oblivion, until one short second of a real-life scream plummets into water and relative silence… and the softness of speech continues… Nocturnal atmospheres are introduced, from silent Mediterranean nights of dark heat, wherein insects talk to themselves… but is this also a regression of evolution, back to dinosaur pastures of plenty, where the grass is green and where the giants of the earth rule…? … because I hear growlings of primeval forests and plains… or is it just the Unconscious in fast reverse, down the branchery of evolution inside the halls of mirrors of my mind…?

Point de passage (“Crossing Point”) (1997) is, says Gobeil, “a free adaptation of ‘The Time Machine’ (1895) by HG Wells (1866–1946)”. It begins in a furious speed, accelerating in volume, but dissipates into – once again – a “breathing” state of relative silence… Anyone who has read the book by Wells knows and remembers the story, so this is supposed, then, to be programmatic music, re-enacting the story of the British scientist who invented a time machine and went to a distant future - 800 000 years ahead! - where humanity was divided into a naïve and innocent breed (the Eloi) living on the surface of the planet like we do, and a dark, evil and intelligent breed (the Morlochs) residing beneath the ground, in tunnels and halls deep inside the earth, appearing on the surface only to abduct the fair and gentle ones, tearing them apart for the sake of their flesh. Of course, the plot is inspired by the findings of Sigmund Freud and his concept of the Subconscious and the Unconscious, and particularly the sexual and creative implications for the individual, who has to balance the surge and might of millions of years of evolution – tucked away in his unconscious – on a razor’s edge of civil varnish.

There is a lot of movement in this piece; rushing sounds as from haywire subway trains, and I can feel the cold steel of the evil subterraneans’ machinery, and the smell of oil and fuel… A cold rain is falling over the steel dome into which the scientist has pulled his time machine… These sounds from Gobeil’s fantasy are immensely lonely, as from a god who has given up his supremacy… A slow breath, on the verge of snoring, pictures this god asleep in his loneliness.

Nuit cendre (1995) is the last piece. Again Gilles Gobeil has turned to a classical science fiction novel; Voyage a centre de la terre (“A Journey to the Center of the Earth”) (1864) by Jules Verne (1828–1905), the originator of modern science fiction. Initial sounds are abrupt indeed, but soon you are taken into watery, descending swoops of motion, apparently inside some hollow place or craft, and the grinding force of a landslide or dark matter being shoved aside grows into a relentless noise of lithophonic qualities. Lighter metallic rings of timbres sooth for a while… Unusually withheld nuances of sound lurk in the crevasses of the passage… There is an ominous apprehension inside this music… and the tubular rhythms of machinery once again grows in intensity, albeit in softer, brownish timbres of clay and wet slices of soil, seeping down the outside of your listening sphere like venomous honey… It is undoubtedly a crude environment, dark with clay, granite and bedrock strata. The music moves in this environment with diamond edge and boring vibrations… but the sounds of air through vents or steam through pipes transform the event into a softer impression, and suddenly it feels as though the space opens up, perhaps into a giant subterranean hall, so large and extended that you cannot see the roof up there in the dark, even though you point your torchlight upwards… and then you see it; a low-intensity, bluish light that sort of hovers inside the giant subterranean cathedral… Later on sounds of what appears to be thousands of winged creatures flapping about – maybe giant bats – sends fear down your spine, or are these sounds the stumbling feet of shadowy beings skipping towards you in your vulnerability, towards the core of the planet…?

… one of the most talented and sensitive jugglers of sounds we’ve heard.

Portrait

François Couture, AllMusic, September 1, 2001

Canadian electroacoustician Gilles Gobeil is one of the important composers associated with the Montréal label empreintes DIGITALes. His works show an obsession with machines and extreme sonic textures: delicate soundscapes blown to smithereens by the thunderous “bang!” of a door slamming shut. Not as prolific as labelmates Robert Normandeau and Yves Daoust, he has nonetheless a more personal style.

Born in Sorel (Québec, Canada) in 1954, Gobeil studied music at the Université de Montréal where he earned an M.A. in composition in 1986. He was selected for residencies at the Groupe de musique électroacoustique de Bourges (France, 1991), the GRM (France, 1993), and the Banff Centre for Arts (Canada, 1993 and 1995). He has won prizes at many international competitions, including Ars Electronica and Bourges. In the late 1990s he co-founded Réseaux, a Montréal-based organization dedicated to promote electroacoustic music concerts. His first CD, La mécanique des ruptures, was released in 1994 by empreintes DIGITALes. The composer’s style was immediately recognizable: industrial sounds, ample gestures, violent contrasts. A second CD, … dans le silence de la nuit…, came out in 2001.

His works show an obsession with machines and extreme sonic textures…

Spectro-morphological Structuring Process in Gilles Gobeil’s “Le Vertige Inconnu”

Joseph Harchanko, SEAMUS Journal, no. 16:2, September 1, 2001

Introduction

Gilles Gobeil’s 1992 composition Le vertige inconnu has quickly gained a reputation as a masterpiece of electroacoustic music due to its explosively dynamic and expressive structural direction.

The purpose of this analysis is to explain the perceived integrity of a work that continues to achieve a positive consensus among composers, students, and audiences, or what Smalley refers to as a “consensus about the efficacy or failure of particular musical works, thus indicating an instinctive evaluation of the newer spectro-morphological values.” [Denis Smalley, Spectro-morphology and Structuring Process from The Language of Electroacoustic Music, ed. Simon Emmerson; Hardwood Academic Publishers: New York, 1986: 63.] Its expressive shape denotes an underlying structural cohesiveness transcending the mimetic qualities of its source material. The consensus on this piece points largely to structuring principles wholly independent of the concrete meaning of the subways, crickets, and other noises within this work. Instead, abstracted shapes work to create a sense of direction wholly independent of any associative meaning created by the sounding objects themselves. Spectro-morphology is by no means the only method of analysis for electroacoustic works; however, it is a means of describing the processes of the sounds themselves. In other words, spectro-morphology is the language of non-mimetic material, or at least the non-mimetic aspect of sonic material. Therefore, spectro-morphology requires disassociative listening - divorcing oneself from any external context, social or linguistic, presented by the sounding objects themselves.

This analysis makes use of spectrographs to document the sounding energy of Le vertige inconnu. In these spectrographs, the Y-axis represents frequency bands, the X-axis represents time, and the color intensity represents relative energy within the frequency band. Our perception of sound is inescapably linked to our familiarity with physical gesture. The listener associates high-energy sound with high kinetic energy causation. The morphology of a sound is concerned with the onset of sound, either by physical or electronic means, and its motion towards the termination of the sound. The attack-decay archetype is a common physical model as it suggests a strong kinetic causation and the gradual diminishment of energy towards termination.

Below is a spectrograph of a basic attack-decay gesture:

Attack-decay Archetype

This image from 58 second into Le vertige inconnu represents the primary structural motive of the work. As the gesture moves towards termination, the high frequencies diminish in energy more quickly, moving the attention towards the sound’s low frequencies, thus creating a descending attack-decay gesture. By contrast, the next image is of a reversed attack-decay gesture. Its onset is less causative in the morphology of the sound and its motion towards termination is through an increase in spectral energy:

Attack-decay Archetype

The morphologies that exist within a sound are reflected on various structural levels of the composition. The generative role of the onset, the motion towards termination or a new onset, and the presence of sustain portions of the sound, or continuants, occur at the lowest structural level. Likewise, larger structures will move away from the generative onset gestures towards terminating gestures. As textural-carried material is concerned with internal motion and not with external goals, it presents the higher-level corollary of the continuant. At the highest structural level, texture and gesture work as a dynamic dichotomy, reflecting similar motion patterns found at lower structural levels.

Spectral Overview

The perception of sectional structuring is very common even among first time listeners in beginning electronic music classes. The work has been divided into five sections for this analysis. The dividing marks have been placed at the following times: Section A (0:00 – 1:46), Section B (1:47 – 3:10), Section C (3:13 - 4:27), Section D (4:37 – 6:37), and Section E (6:57 – 8:20).

Section A

A reverse attack-decay gesture opens the work, functioning as an anacrusis to the first descending attack-decay gesture. The opening gesture is extended from 2 to 5 seconds by several descending gestures (visible in the spectrograph below) before a second decisive descending attack-decay gesture signals the termination of the first gestural area. While the tessitura of the terminating gesture remains constant, the faster decay of the high frequencies creates a prolongation of the descending gesture, preparing the listener for the first texture-carried subsection.

Gesture-carried Subsection - 0:00 to 0:15

The first texture-carried area is delineated by the primary descending attack-decay motive, acting as an onset to the subsection. The main textural area consists primarily of mechanical iterations. A great deal of motion is visible in the spectrograph, but it is motion without direction. The attack-decay gesture terminating the texture-carried area is weaker than those heard previously. Thus the texture continues beyond the gesture until a second descending attack-decay gesture brings the subsection to a more decisive close. The terminating gesture itself exhibits the same construction as the higher structural levels, as illustrated below:

First Texture-carried Area - 0:16 to 0:34

One of the curiosities of this composition is the collection of disparate sounding sources, particularly the presence of both naturally and mechanically produced sounds. In examining the second textural subsection, however, one discovers the morphological connection between the sounding sources. Textural areas throughout the work are dominated by repeated iterations – short periodic sounds without gestural direction. The second textural subsection consists primarily of insect noises sounding over a rooted pitch-space. However, a need for termination develops as the rooted pitch-space begins to climb in tessitura. It cannot continue indefinitely and therefore tension is created, transforming the texture-carried material into gesture-carried material. The gestural nature is reinforced both by tessitura and with an increase in aggregate spectral energy as the sounding objects increase in amplitude. A third sounding object is introduced between the frequencies previously occupied, complimenting the frequency spectrum to produce maximum effect. At 55 seconds the continuant stops with an interrupting gesture, clearly different than the preceding sounds due to its complimentary pitch-space. However, the terminating function is inconclusive since the gesture lacks the descending morphology of the primary onset/termination motive.

End of Second Texture-carried Area - 0:41 - 0:57

The tension created by the ambiguity of this gesture is increased by the silence that follows. At 58 seconds the interrupting gesture is repeated, followed by a strong descending attack-decay gesture, bringing the subsection to a decided close. Within the first minute of Le vertige inconnu, Gobeil has established a functional spectro-morphological vocabulary so effectively that it can play upon expectations to create deceptive terminating gestures used to prolong the structural areas.

0:51 - 1:03

The third texture-carried area contains a similar structural process to the first texture-carried subsection. An increase in spectral density creates motion away from the texture-carried continuant towards termination. A descending attack-decay gesture at 1:32 anticipates the final build towards termination. However, the gesture at 1:37 lacks the terminating spectral energy to bring the section to a close. It is followed by a return of the mechanical iterations, which function as a textural prolongation. The final terminating gesture is a strong descending attack-decay gesture, prepared sufficiently though the prolongation of the terminating gestures to act as a final decisive termination to Section A.

End of Section A - 1:31 - 1:46

Section A contains four subsections. The opening gesture-carried subsection serves to introduce the primary descending attack-decay motive. The following texture-carried subsection presents three important concepts: periodic iterations as texture-carried material, sectional prolongation by an interrupting motive, and the transformation from texture-carried material to gesture-carried material through the use of increasing spectral energy. The third subsection presents the ambiguity of the relationship between the sounding sources, which is to be addressed later in the composition. The fourth subsection serves to bring the section to a close by repeating the ideas of increasing spectral density and textural prolongation. Section A is summarized below:

Section A - 0:00 to 1:46

Section B

Section B provides a contrast to the more gesture dominated section A. The gestures within section B fail to give a sense of direction and therefore function as what Smalley terms “texture-framing.” [Ibid: 84]. An increase of spectral energy from 2:35 to 2:50 provides the first sense of gestural motion in Section B. However, the morphology of the terminating gesture is an upward motion in spectral energy and lacks the decisiveness of the primary motive.

The following subsection appears as a different sounding environment through the use of reverb and resonance. Also significant to this subsection is the strong presence of harmonic frequency spectra, contrasting with the inharmonic spectra that dominate most of the work. This transition to the second subsection of B is shown below. The resolution and color are varied to better highlight the harmonic spectra.

Iterations from another source, perhaps a flute or an air brake, are mixed with the more harmonic iterations. Like previous textural areas, the continuant moves towards termination through increasing spectral density. Underscoring the importance of the principle motive, one can now intuitively hear how the final descending attack-decay gesture fulfils the terminative function that the upward gesture, bisecting this section, could not.

Section B - 1:47 to 3:10

Section C

Whereas section B is marked by a lack of gestural direction, section C brings back the mechanical iterations with an increase in gestural direction. This forceful motion is interrupted by the descending attack-decay gesture and is followed by a return of the high-frequency iterations from section B. Another descending attack-decay gesture acts as the onset to a slow textural build, as previously heard in section A. As in previous instances, the strong gestural activity of this section cannot be easily concluded with a single gesture. For this reason, the textural section at 4:14 is heard as an extension of section C. This section is decisively concluded at 4:24 with the descending attack-decay gesture, indicating the onset of Section D.

Section C - 3:13 to 4:27

Section D

Like section C, section D serves to further develop both previously heard sounds and structuring principles. The textural iteration motif from section A returns in section D. The spectro-morphological connection between the mechanical sounds and insect sounds was presented in section A when they were introduced in consecutive textural subsections. Now Gobeil’s brings the spectro-morphological connection of these disparate sound sources into high relief. As seen below, the insect iterations and mechanical iteration are neatly aligned, demonstrating to the listener their morphological similarity.

The role of the iterations is no longer textural. As they increase in amplitude they lead towards termination or a new onset. Their alignment serves not only to demonstrate their structural similarity, but also to increase the gestural direction. Their ultimate termination in the descending attack-decay archetype is strengthened by the careful alignment of this motive to the tempo of the iterations.

A second subsection of D is reminiscent of the slow textural build heard in section A. However, this motive is now combined with the sort of interrupting gesture heard in section A (0:55). Instead of being immediately followed by the concluding gesture, the gradual build starts again after the interruption, increasing the tension as the sectional termination is further postponed. Strong gestural activity terminates this build and acts as an onset to the return of the iterations, now in their new gestural role. The iterations move the listener to the climax of the work at 6:45, the strongest descending attack-decay gesture yet heard.

Section D, although containing previously heard material, is unprecedented in gestural activity. The direction towards termination never wavers as interruptions only serve to heighten the tension. Just as the interruption of the middle subsection at 5:30 serves to prolong the tension, the middle subsection itself acts as an interruption of the gestural iteration motive which dominates this section. The material presented in the opening of this work has been transformed into the primary engine of structural motion towards the work’s ultimate goal.

Section D - 4:37 to 6:57

Section E

The need for preparation and balance before termination demonstrated in the individual sections and subsections of the work can also be found at the highest structural level of the work as a whole. The sudden conclusion of this piece at 6:45 would be anticlimactic. Therefore, the final section presents a simple structural idea that is consistent throughout the work: decisive termination through prolongation. Section E contains three subsections, each growing towards termination with a slow spectral build. The second subsection termination is less decisive than the first, leaving room for the ultimately decisive termination at the end of the work.

Section E - 6:57 to 8:20

Summary

The continuity of this work is based on repeated and varied use of similar material: long increases in spectral energy, repeated iterations of both insect and mechanical origin which are used both texturally and gesturally, sectional interruptions and prolongations, and strong descending attack-decay gestures used to delineate structural sections. Morphological ideas are clearly working at all structural levels: the shape of the sounds, how those sounds are combined to create larger gestures and sections, and the overall structure of the sections through the entire work. The first section acts as a large structural onset, the second as the start of the continuant phase, with sections C and D leading upwards in energy to the climax at the end of section D. Section E works as a prolongation of the terminating gesture used to round off the work. The structural principles of textural continuant transforming into gesture through spectral building with interruptions to heighten the sense of direction, and the use of prolongations to round them out occur simultaneously throughout the structural levels. On the highest level, the relationship between onset, interruption (I), termination (T) and prolongation are summarized below.

Spectral Overview

As stated previously, spectro-morphology describes but one aspect of a composition. Elements such as space and the meaning and contextualization of sounding sources may provide still deeper and richer insights into this work. However, spectro-morphology is the language of sonic experience. Masterworks of western music have traditionally been considered those works demonstrating skillful mastery of their fundamental materials, be they pitch/rhythm motifs or spectro-morphological motifs. Further, the development of these constructive materials into large-scale formal structures reflected on various structural levels is also a hallmark of craftsmanship. Finally, as Smalley emphasizes, the efficacy of a work is dependant on the listener’s experience. Gobeil’s careful attention to detail provides a dramatically linear work whose meaning deepens on subsequent hearings, a crucial trait for success in the fixed world of tape music. Careful study of the structuring principles of such a work provides a useful compositional model, connecting accousmatic music, “the rightful heir to western music” [Ibid: 61], to its roots.

… a masterpiece of electroacoustic music due to its explosively dynamic and expressive structural direction.

Gilles Gobeil, cofondateur du festival de musique Rien à voir

Dominique Olivier, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no. 4:10, November 1, 1997

Le festival de musique électroacoustique Rien à voir en est à sa seconde édition. Pendant cinq jours, du 12 au 16 novembre, au Théâtre La Chapelle à Montréal, les amateurs d’électro et les autres pourront se plonger dans un bain de musique, entourés par un veritable orchestre de haut-parleurs. Un des trois co-fondateurs de l’évenement, le compositeur Gilles Gobeil, a été très surpris de l’accueil qu’a reçu la première édition en février dernier. «On a fait salle comble, et on s’est rendu compte qu’on ne s’était pas trompé. Il y a un public, une demande pour ce genre de musique-là. Pour nous, ça a été très important.»

Cette seconde édition permettra au public montréalais d’entendre et même de voir quelques uns des meilleurs compositeurs électroacoustiques au monde. Rien à voir recevra également le compositeur québécois Ned Bouhalassa pour un concert Carte blanche.

Le concert d’ouverture du festival sera sur le même modèle que l’an dernier puisqu’il présente des œuvres des trois fondateurs, Jean-François Denis, Robert Normandeau et Gobeil. Ce dernier diffusera sa pièce Point de passage, créée en mai dernier lors d’un concert de l’Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ).

Professeur en technique du son au Cégep de Drummondville, Gobeil est une personnalité discrète. Perfectionniste acharné, il remet sans cesse sur le métier son ouvrage. «Je préfère produire peu et être satisfait du résultat», confie-t-il. Adversaire de la technologie à outrance, ce poète des sons considère qu’il y a un danger à se laisser accaparer par une «machinerie» en constante évolution. «C’est comme un labyrinthe dans lequel on peut facilement perdre son temps et son énergie. Ce qu’il faut, c’est savoir bien manipuler les outils pour passer le plus vite possible à l’acte de création.» Dernièrement, le compositeur remportait le Premier Prix et le Prix du public au Concours international de musique électroacoustique de Sao Paulo, au Brésil, avec sa piece Nuit cendre. L’œuvre sera présentée en avril prochain aux Journées mondiales de la musique 1998, à Manchester, en Angleterre.

Ces temps-ci, Gilles Gobeil travaille sur deux pièces électroacoustiques qui seront prêtes dans le cours de l’année 1998. La première est une commande du guitariste Arturo Parra et sera pour bande seule avec adjonction de gestes de guitare. La seconde, pour bande et ondes Martenot, sera créée par l’ondiste Suzanne Binet-Audet en octobre 1998, lors de la Semaine internationale des ondes Martenot, organisée par l’Ensemble d’ondes de Montréal à l’occasion du 100e anniversaire de naissance de Maurice Martenot et du 70e anniversaire de l’invention de son instrument.