Track listing detail

step, under

Benjamin Thigpen

  • Year of composition: 1998
  • Duration: 14:00
  • Instrumentation: 8-channel fixed medium
  • Commission: Ina-GRM


  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits

To Nikki Halpern

step, under is an exploration of the polyphony and heterophony of time.

“What do I mean. Time is multiple. And not just because it is passing in a certain way now and will pass differently tomorrow.” — Bergson

Time is always already passing differently, time is always already other — non-identical, differing from itself. And music cuts it open like a knife, passing into its organs, arriving at its tiniest particles — shimmering, vibrating, shifting — flying along rapidly and motionless…

step, under was composed at the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM, Paris) using the MARS (Musical Audio Research Station) workstation, and spatialized in eight channels via my program Octopode. Commissioned by the Ina-GRM.


not even the rain

Benjamin Thigpen

  • Year of composition: 2000
  • Duration: 9:49
  • Instrumentation: 8-channel fixed medium


  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

E E Cummings

When I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, I read a short story about a man who was to be hanged. He mounted the scaffold; the noose was placed around his neck; the flooring dropped out from under him; he fell, and… the rope broke. Since he had survived his own execution, he was instantly set free. His wife ran up and hugged him, and they walked away from the scaffold together. The man went on to lead a long and happy life, prospering and fathering a family. When, an old man, he lay upon his deathbed at last, he was surrounded by family and friends… And then the noose broke his neck and he died.

I have since been fascinated with this sort of temporal pocket, in which years of experience can be folded into a fraction of a second. The temporality of not even the rain is based on this model.

All the sound events of the piece evolve out of two groups of percussive attacks — one at the very beginning, the other about a third of the way through. As the resonance of the initial attack-group slowly fades away, the music sinks into it, tracing something like a descent into its tiniest elements. These then become increasingly animated, shifting and evolving in sometimes unpredictable ways. The two halves of the piece (following the two attack-groups) sketch similar gestures — descending through layers of soundspace — the second moving more quickly, speaking more emphatically, falling more drastically. And arriving, in the final section of the piece, at something like the “heart of mystery.”

What it’s about. The vast energy concealed within any object, the infinite mystery beyond every surface. Perceiving this energy, piercing through the world-as-surface, plunging through mysterious layers. Falling. Exploring this endless, ungraspable energy.

not even the rain is entirely dependent on “the speaking of the object”: objects speaking unknown languages. The experience of composing it was not one of imposing my will upon the sounds to make them express something I feel, but rather one of getting out of the way. Of allowing something to come into being through me. Of being surpassed.

All the sounds were generated by sound processing programs I wrote in Max/MSP. The music was composed and spatialized in 8 channels using Pro Tools at the studios of Musiques & Recherches (Ohain, Belgium). not even the rain was a finalist in the competition Città di Udine (Italy, 2002).


Benjamin Thigpen

  • Year of composition: 2001
  • Duration: 15:36
  • Instrumentation: 8-channel fixed medium
  • Commission: Ina-GRM


  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits

… but I let you fall back into chaos,
like diving bells.


balagan is a study in disintegration. In Hebrew, the title means “mess.” As I composed the piece, the principle problematics for me revolved around the issues raised by this title: disintegration, chaos, disorder. But disorder is not just the absence of order; nor is order the simple exclusion of disorder. The two opposites do not exclude each other; they are folded into and founded on each other. The question (or one of them) is how things fall apart, and how in falling apart they take on orderly, coherent shapes.

I like to think that the form of balagan resembles that of the “constructures” my daughter used to make when she was 2 or 3 years old. There are many small objects arranged on the floor. Seen from a distance — as you enter the room, say — they give you the impression of a big mess; but if you look more closely, you become aware of a strong coherence in the juxtapositions and successions of objects. If you follow these links, you discover a changing, evolving logic; you get the feeling that it could lead almost anywhere, but never arbitrarily — that each step, however unforseeable, would display an inner necessity. In the end, if you continue, you are drawn into a kind of labyrinth, filled with interconnections and relations.

The sounds, all of acoustic origin, were transformed primarily by fragmentation — the extraction and superimposition of small bits of sound — and hybridization — the combination of the spectral energies of two different sounds. This processing was done by programs I wrote in Max/MSP; for the octophonic spatialization, I prepared a streamlined version of Ircam’s Spatialisateur, to which I added numerous modules for automation and control.

Commissioned by Ina-GRM, and composed in their studios in Paris (France). balagan was a finalist in the Concurso Internacional de Música Eletroacústica de São Paulo (CIMESP 2003, Brazil).