In the press
Laurie Radford, Computer Music Journal, no. 25:1, March 1, 2001
Laurie Radford, Computer Music Journal, no. 25:1, March 1, 2001
Laurie Radford, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:4, December 1, 1998Autour is exemplary as has come to be expected from releases by empreintes DIGITALes.
Laurie Radford, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:4, December 1, 1998Harrison’s music is a feast for the ear.
Laurie Radford, Contact!, no. 9:1, September 1, 1995… the disc takes us from concision and refinement back to a time of searching and discovery. Try reprogramming your CD player and follow the composer’s original journey!
Laurie Radford, Contact!, no. 9:1, September 1, 1995… musique concrète at its purist and leanest, perhaps also at its most profound.
The 45th release from Montréal’s bastion electroacoustic label, empreintes DIGITALes, is a collection of works produced between 1994 and 1997 by the Montréal composer and radio producer, Daniel Leduc. Mr. Leduc has worked extensively in the medium of radio, a fact that helps explain his penchant for the voice as the primary sound source in most of the works included in this compilation. The first, the intriguingly titled Réponse impressioniste donnée par Josef K. lors d’une fin de soirée hivernale à une touriste française qui passait en face de la gare (Impressionistic answer given by Josef K. to a French tourist walking by the railway station at the end of a winter’s evening), may have the longest title but is the shortest piece. Réponse impressioniste is an “electroclip,” which introduces the listener to the fundamental sonic and gestural world that Mr. Leduc has gleaned from the François Bayle/Michel Chion legacy of acousmatic composition: the predominance of the voice as both semantic and sonic subject and object, either unadulterated or highly modified and processed; ringing quasi-inharmonic drones which encompass the sound stage and serve a structurally unifying function; a variety of sound materials drawn from natural sonic environments including, in this instance, wind and passing trains; and the sometimes bombastic entrances of punctuating, climax-building synthetic materials, raw, rough, and vibrant in contrast to neighboring sounds.
Réponse impressioniste, in addition to providing an initial summary of Mr. Leduc’s sonic world, proves an appropriate thematic opening for the disc which includes the 42-minute opus, Die Winterreise (Winter Journey), from 1997. In this extended composition, the composer sets the original German poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827) as a suite of 24 electroacoustic miniatures plus a coda, each ranging from 30 sec to 3 min in length. (Yes, these are the same poems Franz Schubert set in his song cycle of the same name in 1827!) The text is wonderfully recited by the actor Erwin Potitt and is provided in its entirety in German, French, and English in the CD booklet for reference.
One has several compositional choices available when approaching a work employing text and voice, especially when the words elicit such potent visual images and are of such sonic richness on their own: establish and maintain a distinct sound and space for the voice and for the accompanying materials such that they are parallel but nonintegrated; integrate the voice materials into the timbral and metaphorical workings of the composition such that sound and sense achieve equal status; or--a hybrid of these two approaches--provide an accompanying “soundtrack” to extend and illustrate the words and semantic content of the text while keeping it the focus of attention in the forefront of the sonic image. Mr. Leduc chooses, for the most part, the latter option. He investigates several approaches to the vocal setting of the Müller text, including clear, unencumbered recitation, degrees of parallel signal processing of the voice that oscillate between accompanying and replacing the original vocal recording, and a more exaggerated and fragmented presentation. Despite these variations of approach, the vocal element is always maintained as the motivating agent in the piece, thus remaining faithful to the time-honored tradition of the lied as championed by Schubert.
A ringing, bell-like vocal sound (a recognizable offspring of the GRM’s Syter system) serves throughout the work as a unifying element, a refrain which haunts the speaker of the poems and accompanies the diverse collection of natural sound materials which populate and attempt to give dimension to Müller’s poignant and often desolate images. The short pieces that make up this substantial work run seamlessly from one to the next in a successful pacing of vocal declamation, interjected non-vocal materials, and more extended electroacoustic interludes.
The piece utilizes an ample assortment of recognizable wintry sounds such as the wailing winds, snow-crunching footsteps, and jingling bells that make up the first poem, Gute Nacht (Good Night). The sound world becomes immediately more diverse and evocative in the succeeding poems, Die Wetterfahne (The Weathervane), Defrorne Tränen (Frozen Tears) and Erstarrung (Numbness). While an incessant string timbre and a vivid, chattering, high-frequency texture propel Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree) and Wasserflut (Flood) respectively forward, Auf dem flusse (On the River) is illustrated simply with running water and the return of the ringing, bell-like refrain. Speed-varied voices and traffic sounds harry the voice in Rückblick (Looking Back), while a raging fire and rapidly moving filtered white noise provide a backdrop for Irrlicht (Will-o’-the-wisp).
A curious, noisy, orchestra-like interlude introduces Rast (Rest) and brings to the fore the most predominant electroacoustic timbre in the piece, a high frequency noise that seems an appropriately illustrative element for a winter topic. It is, though, overused in this long work. Frühlingstraum (Dreams of Spring) stands out as one of the work’s most successful segments in terms of both illustrative measures and vocal integration. The voice is tracked with a parallel stream of chattering vocal fragments while the sound stage is filled with a joyous din of cymbals and whirling synthesizer drones. Waves of filtered noise return as a staple of the sound world in Eisamkeit (Solitude) and Die Post (The Post), as does the parallel voice-tracking in Der Greise Kopf (The Grey Head) and Die Krähe (The Crow), where it is complemented by the more-than-obvious use of cawing and chirping birds.
The final segments of the cycle begin to grasp at ways of supporting the voice: the descending tom-tom solo at the end of Letzte Hoffnung (Last Hope) as an illustration of falling; the honking and baying cacophony in Im Dorfe (In the Village); the crackling storm of Der Stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning); the punctuation of a passing airplane in Täuschung (Illusion); the still unaltered bell-like refrain in Der Wegweiser (The Sign Post); more snow-crunching feet and tolling of bells in Das Wirthaus (The Inn); reversed, distorted, and tolling bells, as well as a distant church organ hymn in Mut! (Courage!); telephone push buttons, busy signals, and answering machine bleeps in Die Nebensonnen (The Phantom Suns); and finally, an out-of-tune plucked instrument and reversed versions of the same in Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man). The minute-long coda is a bewildering final touch to this lengthy opus with its initial outburst of breaking glass followed by footsteps (now on a wooden surface) moving off into the distance and the roar of a motorcycle, the latter two sounds accompanied by the twittering of a music box melody.
Mr. Leduc shoulders a huge challenge in setting this quantity of text and image in the context of an electroacoustic work. His decision to concentrate on the vocal recitation and to provide simple electroacoustic illustrations in support of the text succeeds in many instances but not in sustaining the grand span and depth of the original poems. The piece is ultimately radiophonic in nature and origin and would unlikely be as suitable for an acousmatic concert experience as for a hörspiel-type broadcast.
A second short electroclip, Traverser les grandes eaux (To cross the great waters), follows Die Winterreise and serves as both an interlude and a transition to the final extended work on the disc. Its droning string textures, rapidly panning metal rattles, wisps of wind, and aperiodic pulses of tonality provide a point of repose from the flanking works. A central swell of string pads, as well as the well-orchestrated entries of muffled voice and high string drone, contributes to this brief sonic essay’s convincing shape.
The concluding work on the disc is the most recent of Mr. Leduc’s creations to be presented. Troposphère, from 1997, is a suite of four pieces in “minimalist style,” lasting over 15 min. The objective is alluded to by the titles of the four pieces: Stratus, Cumulonimbus, Altocumulus and Cirrus. The music is “realized through a heuristic composition process by stratifying layers of sound.” Combining similar or dissimilar layers of sound is a standard process in many if not most types of electroacoustic music (from hard-core acousmatic works to electropop). The success of such an approach lies in both the possible implications of the materials used and the interplay that results between the coexisting sound streams, a result of either conscious design or haphazard chance. At times, the composer’s choice of materials fuses admirably into an engaging polyphony where time and timbre cavort and produce a meaningful texture, gesture, transformation, or punctuating event. But too often the layers of sound remain isolated from each other in terms of both gestural and timbral attributes and implications, leaving one with the sense of listening to improvising musicians who are oblivious to each other. There is an obvious attempt to produce programmatic textures and a sense of gravitational suspension in keeping with the tropospheric subject of the work. Unfortunately, these attempts are overly static and underdeveloped, lacking a sense of dialogue between or fusion of the contributing sound materials. The over-use of materials such as storm, rain, and high frequency noise, in combination with the chattering of hammers and the cliché of passing cars on wet pavement, simply does not create a sonic statement worthy of the title Cumulonimbus. The continued predominance of a thick band of noise and gurgling lo-fi sounds in Altocumulus, although briefly punctuated by a singular, large bell sound that gradually distorts in an interesting manner, does nothing to stem the impression of a gratuitous combination of materials. The fleeting entry of a soprano voice, intoning a melodic fragment amid a jumble of garrulous sounds reminiscent of analog sequencers circa 1975, seems an all-too-obvious and forced attempt to elevate the work into the ether in the penultimate moments of Cirrus.
There are no stunning, ear-melting timbres or moments of gestural ecstasy in Mr. Leduc’s work. He endeavors to create a type of hybrid sonic poetry where voice, natural sound, and processed or synthetic sound combine to buoy textual content or carry abstract compositional goals to fruition. The harvest is at times rich and promising, at other times wanting in depth and content.
The World Soundscape Project (WSP) was initiated in 1971 under the guidance of composer R Murray Schafer. It brought together individuals such as Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp to conduct sound and acoustic studies and to speculate on sociological and environmental implications of urban sound pollution and the intrusion of human sound into natural habitats. In 1993, The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology was established, “an international association of affiliated organizations, and individuals, who share a common concern with the state of the world soundscape as an ecologically balanced entity.”
This growing global community of concerned and active individuals and organizations has created a need for demonstrative materials for pedagogy, lobbying, and research. It is therefore only fitting that the work of the pioneers in this area of research and activism be reviewed and renewed for present and future generations. The re-release of Mr. Schafer’s seminal work, The Tuning of the World (reissued in 1994 as The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, www.destinybooks.com), and a 1996 conference and CD entitled The Vancouver Soundscape Revisited (www.sfu.ca/~truax/vanscape.html) have revealed some of the rich activities of the original WSP.
The reissue of Barry Truax’s Handbook for Acoustic Ecology in an easily searchable, cross-platform CD-ROM (Mac/Windows) version makes available one of the fundamental theoretical works of the WSP. Mr. Truax is well known to the Computer Music Journal readership as a composer, programmer, teacher, and author. He is also the keeper of the Soundscape Project archives as well as a practitioner of what he preaches in his unique compositional output. Originally published as Volume 5 of The Music of the Environment Series in 1978, the second edition of the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology brings Mr. Truax’s classic lexicon of sound terminology in hypertext format to new generations of students and practitioners. As the back of the CD-ROM states, the Handbook contains “500 terms defined, with 125 graphics and 150 sound examples covering the areas of: Acoustics, Psychoacoustics, Environmental Studies, Noise Measurement, Electroacoustics, Music, Linguistics, Audiology, Communication.” If you want a definition of audiocentric, sociocusis, EPNLs, or thermal noise, they are now just a click away!
The Handbook consists of a collection of HTML and audio files. A copy of Netscape 3.4 is included on the CD-ROM for convenience, but for this review it was perused with more recent browsers from Netscape and Microsoft. There are numerous ways of searching this vast cross-referenced database of audio terms. Besides fixed alphabetical and keyword search facilities available from the main index page, one can also access an Interdisciplinary Thematic Search Engine based upon Mr. Truax’s years of cross-referencing these terms and definitions while using the text in his teaching at the School of Communication and School for the Contemporary Arts of Simon Fraser University. An interesting aspect of the thematic search engine is that the principle disciplines (as listed above) are indicated by a background color scheme (e.g., “Acoustics” terms are on gray pages, “Soundscape” terms are on orange pages, etc.). A search that leads from “electroacoustic” to “microphone” to “directivity” to “minimum audible angle” to “ambience” traverses the disciplines of Electroacoustics, Psychoacoustics, and Noise. Terms that belong to more than one discipline are indicated as such on the appropriate page. For example “transmission” is clearly labeled as belonging to the areas: Acoustics/Electroacoustics. The colorblind among us may have difficulty discerning the related discipline of a term that belongs to only one category since there is no indication of a term’s category on this type of page. A more flexible and updated alphabetical and keyword search mechanism would also be very welcome.
Graphs and illustrations of acoustic, psychoacoustic, and electroacoustic terms and phenomena are copious and for the most part clearly presented. Most of these illustrations are gleaned from the on-site measurements and studies made by members of the WSP in the early 1970s, as well as various scholarly journals and texts. Because they seem to have been scanned from the original printed version, some aspects of the more detailed graphs are difficult to discern clearly at a typical viewing resolution. This is a minor criticism and many of the tables from the original hard version have been updated in a more browser-friendly format.
The most noticeable and welcome addition to the Handbook is the collection of sound examples in AIFF format illustrating many of the entries in the database, easily auditioned from within the browser environment. “All of the environmental sound examples are drawn from the tape library of the World Soundscape Project and its catalogues of soundscapes from Vancouver, across Canada, and Europe, as recorded by Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, and Robert MacNevin. The synthesized sound examples were produced with [Barry Truax’s] PODX computer music software.” The access to this substantial, and in many ways historical, collection of audio examples alone is well worth acquiring the CD-ROM.
An extensive set of appendices is included which provide details on several fundamental tools of value while perusing the remainder of the text. These include: A List of Abbreviations and Symbols, Units of Measurement, Comparison of Tuning Systems, Conversion from Power or Voltage Ratios to Decibels, Examples of Critical Bandwidths, and Loudness Summation.
The Handbook will not necessarily serve as a primary dictionary for sound engineers or digital audio enthusiasts. Its origins in the days of analog synthesis, tape recorders, and the infancy of computer music is evident--for example, on the Synthesis page where FM, AM, and Magnetic Tape are prominent entries, while physical modeling and other more recent synthesis strategies are nowhere to be seen. One must take into account the title of the work and its original purpose, that of a resource for the study of disciplines relevant to sound ecology. Perhaps in a third edition, the addition of terms that have entered the vocabulary and working methods of individuals in sonic art, popular electronica, and the areas of digital audio, MIDI, and network applications to audio and music can be added in a manner that expands upon the product as a knowledge resource, while maintaining its important disciplinary focus.
Despite a few minor criticisms as noted, the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology is an invaluable resource for educators, sound designers, composers, students of electroacoustic music, and anyone baffled by the lingo of sound, acoustics, and sound ecology. It should also be noted that the second edition of another important work by Mr. Truax, Acoustic Communication, is forthcoming from Greenwood Press (www.greenwood.com) and will include a copy of the Handbook CD-ROM.
Awareness of the diversity and wealth of sounds around us, a respect for “indigenous” sounds, the sounds of nature, of humankind, of the winds and oceans as well as the machines that dominate our daily aural experience, and the use of these sounds in a powerful artistic form embodied in electroacoustic musicthese are some of the objectives of a growing number of composers over the past quarter century. The World Soundscape Project (WSP) was founded in the early 1970’s at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver by Canadian composer R Murray Schafer as a means of confronting and revealing the sounds that surround and accompany us in our daily lives, about their effects upon us, and our effects upon them. Several prominent composers such as Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp were part of this seminal project in soundscape archiving and the development of methodologies for acoustic ecology.
The recent founding of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) has brought to the fore several young composers who have taken up the cause and spirit of the WSP and developed and integrated its concerns and objectives into their own creative pursuits. Claude Schryer has been very active in this movement for over a decade and the 1997 release of Autour on the empreintes DIGITALes label gathers together some of his most representative work. The first selection on the disc, Musique de l’Odyssée sonore (1996-97), is a revised and condensed version of the music for a National Film Board of Canada (NFB) documentary on the soundscape of Quebec City and the theories of R Murray Schafer (as embodied in his 1977 text, The Tuning of the World). Film soundtracks do not always make for great pieces of music. But in this case, the origin of the film and its sounds are one and the same. Schryer’s sensitive shaping of sound materials, and his subtle timbral and temporal transformations blend the diverse array of materials into a convincing whole that confidently bridges the gap between original sound source and radical manipulation with obvious respect for the materials involved.
El medio ambiente acústico de México (1995-96) takes us to the southern point of the North American acoustic experience. Schryer, referring to this work as a radiophonic soundwalk, takes the listener on a sonic journey through six dynamic and evolving Mexican soundscapes. From the opening fragmented Mosaico, through the undulations of Océano, the raucous interjections and bombardment of Transportación, to the children’s choirs and street festivals of Música, the buzzing, snorting, chortling and spattering of Naturaleza, and the irregular rhythms of the final meditative Campanas, there is a sense of unity and cohesion, of crafted phrasing, of a care taken in the presentation of these beautiful urban and rural sounds such that the listener is invited to share in the awe and wonder with which the composer approaches his materials.
The pioneering spirit and activity of the WSP was highlighted and honored during the 1996 Vancouver New Music Festival where a number of new soundscape compositions were created utilizing the WSP archives at SFU as well as new recordings from Vancouver’s unique sound and seascape. One of these works, Schryer’s Vancouver Soundscape Revisited (1996) is included on Autour. (The entire series of compositions, as well as examples of original 1973 World Soundscape Project archive materials, is available on the Cambridge Street Records Soundscape Vancouver 2CD set [CSR 9701].) As with the other two works mentioned so far, this piece is a suite of short, thematically focused movements. They alternate calm, spacious waves of sound with frenetic exchanges of wildly diverse materials. The pandemonium of call and response between boat horns, trains and power line oscillations in Fire, or the granular cascades of Industry, contrast vividly with the calm of the opening movement Eagle, the duet between boat horns and a resident itinerant in Dronesong, or the gentle conclusion of Blowin’. A favorite is the visceral and politically charged juxtapositions in Beans. Schryer confidently leads us through diverse sound environments in a way that subtly clarifies the constituent sounds, their context, their shape and intrinsic character.
The artistic use of the sound-producing potential of natural objects as well as man-made mechanisms is a fundamental premise of much audio art, sound installation work, and soundscape composition. Stemming from this is a tradition of harbor symphonies where the horns of various seafaring vessels, moored in various cities around the world, are used as a euphonious, bigger-than-life orchestra (that taking place in the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, part of the bi-annual Sound Symposium, is perhaps the most well known). Autour d’une Musique portuaire (1996), created in collaboration with radio producer Hélène Prévost, documents a similar event in the harbor of Montréal where ships, trapped by the frozen St. Lawrence River, serve as instruments for several composers each spring. The original performance included six boats and their distinctive horns, the bells of the nearby Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as the bells of two Canadian National Railway trains (in motion!), all coordinated by written scores and walkie-talkie communication with the composer. This ensemble’s performance was then recorded and broadcast live by Radio-Canada FM. The original recording captures the vastness of the Montréal port as it resounds and shapes the music of the horns and bells. The particular recording offered on this disc presents a group of soloists on saxophone, trombone, and bass clarinet improvising in a large studio with the original harbor recording. The sonorous impact and rhythmic possibilities inherent in the original piece are expanded upon and refined within the original framework. The inclusion of Schryer’s opening countdown and the cheering crowd assembled at the Vieux Port de Montréal at the work’s conclusion lend an air of exhilaration to this version of the piece.
For those who have been intrigued by the idea of ‘soundscape’ composition, have never had a chance to experience it, or have wondered what could be done with that great series of recordings captured on your last exotic vacation, Claude Schryer’s Autour may offer your some ideas and a rewarding listening experience. The accompanying booklet and overall production of Autour is exemplary as has come to be expected from releases by empreintes DIGITALes. For those wishing more information about electroacoustics and ecology, check out the Spring 1998 issue of [Canadian magazize] Musicworks dedicated to individuals involved in soundscape composition.
Another British invasion!? UK electroacoustic composers over the past several decades have been actively focused on fortifying the compositional and theoretical foundations and potential for acousmatic art music through high standards of teaching, production and performance. The works of Wishart, Emmerson, Lewis, Barrett, Stollery and Smalley are heard worldwide on concert programs and their ideas and writings have appeared in scholarly publications with increasing frequency. Jonty Harrison, based in Birmingham [UK], is among these talented and dedicated individuals who have taken up the cause of musique concrète, écoute réduite (reduced listening), and objet sonore (sound object) along with other aspects of the work pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer and the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) in the 50’s and 60’s. They appear to have set themselves the task of profoundly expanding the limits of this art as well as establishing and re-evaluating the means of discussion and analysis for an art form which often suffers from a lack of shared terminology and theoretical principles.
The sound world of Jonty Harrison is that of rich source materials scrutinized for all perceptible attributes and subsequently submitted to an array of transformations. These transformations push the materials further and further from their source while at the same time imbuing the new compositional context with timbral and gestural cohesion. In fact, it is remarkable to listen to the selections on this 1996 release, Articles indéfinis, which span seventeen years and hear such coherence and consistency of purpose, style and technique. In the words of his colleague, Denis Smalley, Jonty Harrison’s music is “volatile in its agitation, its wayward energies, the restlessness of its short-breathed phrases, the unpredictable pushing and shoving of its gestures, its punchy presence, its elegantly controlled aggressiveness.” As Smalley also points out in the introduction of the accompanying booklet, the fact the Harrison is the Director of, and a frequent performer with the Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST), the multichannel acousmatic potential of his materials is always a primary consideration in their choice and compositional placement. This is a music of careful craftsmanship, an etching and molding of objects and textures, a control of motion, speed, direction and distance, a “listening inside sounds… which can give rise to new external(ized) musical forms.”
Pair / Impair (1978) is the oldest work presented on the disc and offers an appropriate introduction to Harrison’s origins. In the form of an extended study in electroacoustic transformational techniques, in a similar vein as Parmegiani’s De Natura Sonorum (1975), Pair / Impair is a search for balance and equilibrium between opposites. There is a supple elasticity to Harrison’s approach to time in this as in all of his work: one moment his objects flutter and rebound, are dashed against one another, explode and recombine; a suddenly, they halt and hover, frozen in textural and timbral configurations, only to give way in due time to further perturbations.
… et ainsi de suite… (1992) is a substantial, ultra-refined study in creating a lot from a little. Here the source material originates with soundsd elicited from some rough-textured wine glasses which are subsequently submitted to a gamut of extreme transformations and re-transformations, producing in the end a work of vast gestural and timbral diversity. Yet once again, a sense of unified character and direction is achieved via the frequent dialogue between original source material and the many levels of mutation and recombination Harrison employs. Eleven movements of varying duration present elements of exposition, parenthesis, commentary and recapitulation as we follow the attacks and resonance of the glass sounds through time-stretching, pitch shifting, truncation, and a myriad of textural constructions. Unsound Objects (1995) continues this compositional path while increasing the element of ambiguity “evoked when recognition and contextualization of sound material rub shoulders with more abstracted (and abstract) musical structures.” Swirling flashes of highly processed sound frequently lead the listener to the initial sounds sources such as walking on granular materials, falling rain, and the electroacoustic archetypal opening of a creaky door. The pendulum-like alternation sets up a sense of global rhythm within which “interconnections and multiple levels of meaning proliferate.”
The final two works on Articles indéfinis arise from the gestural properties of air. In Aria (1988), subtle connections between the frequency and velocity trajectories of gusts of air and the inner workings of the human vocal mechanism are explored. Ascending and descending flourishes, which constantly increase or decrease in speed, are anchored by slowly evolving spectral complexes. One has the impression of the simultaneous presentation of several temporal levels which control and guide the listener in appreciating the unfolding of rich and evocative timbral transformations. Hot Air (1995) is concerned on one level with further implications of the concept of air (balloons, breath, heat). But it goes further in its conceptual base in drawing upon the idea of air as the propagator of sound itself and the resulting association of linkage from one sound to another. The most extreme examples of combinating unprocessed environmental recordings with radically transformed sound materials (often of these same original field recordings) to be found on the disc are at work in Hot Air. The iterative cracklings of a roaring fire, the explosive imagery of claps of thunder, the squeaking of rubber balloons, and the overhead squawking of geese, to name just a few natural sound phenomena which are used, are combined, alternated and linked with sinuous, angular and often granular-like transformed materials in an interplay of timbral and metaphorical exchanges.
Harrison’s music is a feast for the ear. It is decisively concerned with timbre, or to use Smalley’s term, spectromorphological design. Its premise and source is the rich inherent spectral and gestural character of natural sound from which models for exploration and extension arise. The works on this disc were produced at the studios of the GRM, GMEB, and the Universities of Birmingham and East Anglia and have garnered Jonty Harrison awards from Ars Electronica, Musica Nova and the ICMA.
Winner of this past year’s Stockholm Electronic Arts Award and of numerous other international and national prizes over the past decade, Gilles Gobeil has established his refined and singular approach to electroacoustic composition with a growing series of works. This 1994 CD from empreintes DIGITALes brings together eight of his works from the past decade.
The disc begins with Gobeil’s most successful work to date, Le vertige inconnu (1993), a work that in a sense summarizes the composer’s preoccupations found in varying degrees of evolution in the other works on the disc. He uses visceral sound materials that are drawn from machines, industry and the urban environment; fine attention to structural detail where abrupt, screaming sequences of grinding and whining metal are juxtaposed with the relative repose of whirring gears, hissing steam and rich, throbbing drones; and new spatial environments where these industrial voices are given shape, size, and speed as they collide and combine in ever-new trajectories and textures. Le vertige inconnu is severe, and of a beautiful purity of design and balance of form and material.
Two works on the disc, Voix blanche (1988-89) and Là où vont les nuages… (1990-91), utilize the ondes Martenot in combination with tape and additional sources of sound generation and processing via MIDI (in the case of the Là où vont les nuages…). The ondes is not so much a soloist in these works but rather an equal sonic source contributing to and complementing the materials of the tape part with its crystalline, supple and haunting voice emerging from complex gestural and timbral constructs. It only predominates, like a sole survivor, in the ghostly interludes that hover softly between the main phrases of friction, collision and impending climactic punctuation.
La ville machine (1992), “an electroacoustic drama on the subject of sound ecology”, is the heart of the disc both by its duration and its breadth of expression. There is an unflagging tension between breathless voices sharing images, nightmares, a mission fraught with confusion and apprehension, immersed in an environment constantly shifting from grotesque urban punctuations to collages of human activity, the seashore, the street, the playground… and the hopeful words of children. There is an urgency to the work and its contents, unsettling, yet optimistic in its unabashed confrontation and its embrace of the very source of the destruction it alludes to: the mechanized city.
Rivage (1986) is perhaps the most blatantly visceral of the works presented here. It clearly reveals Gobeil’s early preoccupation with industrial sound materials and formal structures driven forward by the very weight of the sounds they contain. It features a more prominent use of fabricated materials in combination with environmental sources than the later works, but already maintains a darkly pensive character that finds its way into most of the later works.
The earliest work presented on La mécanique des ruptures, Traces (1985) reveals, like Rivage, the seeds of Gobeil’s gestural and structural preoccupations: the contrast between highly charged textures and large, quivering spaces inhabited by delicate shimmers of sound and the chirping of natural environments.
The reverse chronological order of the works on the disc takes us from concision and refinement back to a time of searching and discovery. Try reprogramming your CD player and follow the composer’s original journey!
The twelfth release from empreintes DIGITALes (which now boasts a catalogue of twenty one CDs exemplifying the diversity of the electroacoustic arts) is a collaboration with GRM, and is one of a number of recent projects involving international electroacoustic artists. This disc is of special note since the principal work, Requiem, was first presented on vinyl by GRM in the year of its completion and premiere in 1973.
Chion is a senior French electroacoustic composer and one of the art’s principle theoreticians advocating a return to the noncausal principles at the origin of musique concrète, and composes rigorously in this style. He has a large and diverse œuvre dating back to the sixties including many large scale ‘concrete melodramas’ such as La tentation de saint Antoine and Le prisonnier du son.
Requiem, based upon the text for the Mass for the Dead, presents an array of ‘testimonies’ from various voices in ten movements over the course of 37 minutes. The blending and rapid juxtaposition of electronic sounds, environmental soundbites, a myriad of vocal styles and contexts presenting texts heavy with centuries of meaning,
Requiem creates a lurching and sometimes startling dramatic course which runs the gamut from the maniacal Sanctus to the transcendantal final movement, Libera Me. The mosaic-like Variations which follow arise from a period of technical studies undertaken by Chion in the late 1980’s. Constantly changing blocks of contrasting materials anchored by a short waltz theme, develop into a reflection and “affirmation of the whirlwind of life.”
The final work on the disc, Nuit noire, is a visceral example of Chion’s monodramatic style. It presents an anonymous moaning and groaning hero who wanders somnabulistically amidst a series of nightmarish dream sequences. Anguish, terror, insanity… a portrait of the depths to which mankind can descend.
Michel Chion’s work is musique concrète at its purist and leanest, perhaps also at its most profound.