I have drawn my inspirations from a book by Joachim-Ernst Berendt which discusses an Indian musical term named Nada Brahma meaning ‘The Universe is Sound’. The book describes how marine mammals have communicated by using sound waves long before technological advancements were developed. I feel that my piece connects closely with these ideas and I have entertained themes of technology and nature within the piece.
Fathoms is a sonic journey which embodies the notion of communication through the medium of the sea. It unfolds with the sounds of waves lapping on the shoreline of Portsmouth beach and continues on a journey far out into the wide ocean on a boat. The vessel’s sonar rig can be heard bleeping quietly in the background and then gradually increasing in volume as it begins to detect an object in the water. The image on the screen darts around rapidly and it is unclear what lurks below. Suddenly you are plunged deep into the cold, dark water and after a spate of confusion and panic, calm prevails as you are met by a host whales which majestically soar into the depth.
Within my piece I have entertained themes of technology and nature using various manipulation techniques. I have recorded the sound of a seagull ‘bird-call’ as it resonates with my inspirations from Berendt’s book that the ocean is filled with sound. He describes that maritime mammals have had the technology to communicate “long before man invented the radio” (Berendt, p. 77). This has inspired me to relate my sample to forms of communication via the animal species, especially in and around the water as this is where seagulls reside.
Marine mammals such as whales and dolphins for example, have the capability to “produce sounds, to transmit and receive and interpret them” and they achieve this with “the aid of echo effects” (p. 77). These ‘echo-effects’ are much like sonar, a communication technology which provides “an underwater acoustic means of determining distance” (UIA, 2005) that maritime mammals have implemented to “locate partners, targets, objects and enemies as well as fathom the depth of the water” (Berendt, p. 77). I think that sonar is like a technological copy of marine species’ communication methods. I have put this process into practice by collecting a natural sound from its environment, i.e. a seagull, and manipulating and reproducing it using technology. I have used an audio editor and computer sequencer, Audacity and Cubase respectively, to facilitate my ideas for the piece. A seagull’s call usually begins with a tone that slowly rises in pitch and suddenly jolts in to a series of loud repetitions of identical tones. With the intention of capturing the most variation, I cut my 1 second sample from a section which contained both the rising tone and part of the repetition.
Pierre Schaeffer was a French enthusiastic experimenter who pioneered electro-acoustic sound manipulation techniques. He was a “technician with Radiodiffusion Française” in 1936, (Dhomont, 2007) who “invented musique concrète”in 1948 (Smalley, 2007)and later went on to establish Studio d’Essai from which he produced many pieces of work (Dhomont, 2007). Pierre began his experimentations with (78 r.p.m.) record technology until “the introduction of tape machines in 1951” (Emmerson, Smalley, 2007).
Musique concrète “originally conveyed the idea that the composer was working directly (concretely) with the sound material”. This opposed the alternative method whereby composers used a “symbolic system of notation” to represent “sounds to be made concrete by instruments and/or voices”. The latter method was named ‘Musique Abstraite’ by Pierre Schaeffer which literally means abstract music (Emmerson, Smalley, 2007). Pierre stressed that musique concrète was as a process which did “not, as is frequently thought, refer to the musical use of noises” but instead with the organisation of sounds. He believed that all recorded sounds such “music, noises, animal cries” should be regarded as ‘sound objects’ as they are all “experienced in the same manner” (Dhomont, 2007).
Pierre discovered that in order to “remove major problems of association” i.e. timbre (Manning, p. 31), it was vital to “remove the sound from its context in order to eliminate “any sources retaining a significant proportion of their identifying characteristics” (p. 34). I employed this technique so that I could assign certain ideas with the sample in a compositional method. I altered and manipulated my sound object to remove its identifying characteristic’s especially with one technique of time-stretching the audio (altering the tempo but not the pitch). This is exactly what Schaeffer had done by “investigating the effects of playing recordings at different speeds” in his studio (p. 32). However, at the start of the piece where I clearly wanted to represent the sounds perceived at a beach, I deliberately used the sample without alteration. What fascinated me was that I was able to create harmonies and tones, some of which sounded very similar to real instruments.
Pierre created a piece called “Suite pour quatorze instruments”, (p. 33), which contained five different movements. One of which, called ‘The Gavotte’, used “interpretations of one short musical phrase on different instruments, juxtaposed to create a set of variations”, (p. 33). I have developed a library of sounds in this manner but instead of using instruments to create variations, I have worked ‘concretely’ with the sound by using numerous processing effects on the sample. Schaeffer found that the Gavotte proved unsuccessful because “despite many interpretations and transpositions it retained many of its original characteristics (p. 33), Pierre was limited to analogue tape techniques such as speed changing, repetition, mixing and cutting with his tape machines (Emmerson, Smalley, 2007) whereas I had access to significantly advanced technology and a vast number of processing effects at my disposal so that I could overcome this problem.
In 1974 François Bayle suggested the idea of ‘Acousmatic music’ (Dhomont, 2007) which “ruptures traditional notions of music reception” by removing the listener from “seeing the sources or causes of the sounds” (Emmerson, Smalley, 2007). Acousmatic, referred to akusmatikoi, whereby pupils ofPythagoraswere “required to sit in absolute silence while they listened to their master speak” from “behind a screen”. Schaeffer created a piece called ‘Traité des objets musicaux’ in (1966) which “compared the role of the tape recorder to the screen of Pythagoras” in order to emphasise the “concentrated listening facility” thus encouraging “a better appreciation of the detailed abstract attributes of sounds” (Emmerson, Smalley, 2007). Bayle “developed the concept of ‘images of sound’” which he suggested would “give rise to three kinds of mental images: iconic, diagrammatic and metaphorical” (Dhomont, 2007). By isolating a sound from its environment and transforming it, I was able to create acousmatic music.
I have aimed to convey emotions, locations and imagery with themes of travel, communication, industrial sounds, the ocean, technology and natural creatures using musique concrète techniques. I set out to achieve calm and serene atmospheric music which reflected the calmness of the ocean and I did this by using delays, noise filters to mimic lapping waves on the beach and chorus effects which produces a warm sound.
I have designed my piece to be a collection of mental ideas attached to the sound. To recreate sounds that one may associate with sea creatures, I transposed the whole sample a few octaves which created a peculiar and mysterious sound. Because the sound was a lot deeper than normal, the recognisable attributes had been removed. Also, to further Berendt’s writings about ‘the aid of echo effects’ I have used lots of delay effects within the piece which creates the illusion of space. The “intelligent use of dynamics” creates “an illusion” of perspective (Schafer, p. 34) which I have achieved by automating volume control and pan settings. Pierre Schaeffer recognised this technique and in 1951 he used “four channels to create a play of perspectives and trajectories at the Théâtre de l’Empire in Paris” (Emmerson, Smalley, 2007).
To represent sonar like the type, for example, that is generally associated with submarines from war films; I have cut a small section from the end of the sample and applied a reverb insert with a long decay and a slow attack. I have represented technology as if a computer operating produced a sound. A computer’s fundamental operation relies on processing random strings of binary digits (zero’s and ones) and to mimic this randomness with the sample I have applied time stretching devices and a ‘bitcrusher’ insert. This works by varying the bit depth and sample rate from the frequency bands of the incoming signal and I downsized the sample rate to create a ‘crushed’ version of the sample. I represented electricity by using delays, and bitcrusher’s to imitate pulses of current flowing down wires.
In conclusion I have discovered that musique concrète and electro acoustic processes are an important technique for musicians to experiment with in order to develop originality and avoid clichéd compositions. Schaeffer often encountered issues in which he found that his alterations were constrained to his habits and structures which had “conditioned the way in which he carried out his processes of analysis and re-synthesis” (Manning, p. 34).
By creating a sample library of manipulated sound objects from a single second’s worth of sound, I have discovered that there are endless possibilities for sound design. I was able to represent the sound of ‘boats’, a ‘mechanical’ noise or something similar to a violin being played, for example. This has nurtured my ability to be more creative and less dependant on pre-made sounds and instrument presets that are included with sequencing software. I have enjoyed the challenge of ‘working’ to attain the sound that I was trying to represent by discovering the method first hand.
Berendt, Joachim-Ernst. (1983). The World is Sound. Nada Brahma. Toronto: Destiny Books
R. M, Schafer. (1967). Ear Cleaning. Toronto: Berandol Music Limited
Manning, P. (2004). Electronic and Computer Music. [Electronic Version]. p. 31 of 1-497
F. Dhomont:‘Schaeffer, Pierre’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 9 May 2007), http://www.grovemusic.com/shared/views/article.html?from=search&session_search_id=213300856&hitnum=1§ion=music.24734
D. Smalley: ‘Groupe de Recherches Musicales’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 13 May 2007), http://www.grovemusic.com/shared/views/article.html?from=search&session_search_id=685116323&hitnum=12§ion=music.42131
S. Emmerson, D. Smalley:‘Electro-Acoustic Music’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 9 May 2007), http://www.grovemusic.com/shared/views/article.html?section=music.08695
F. Dhomont: ‘Bayle, François’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 13 May 2007), http://www.grovemusic.com/shared/views/article.html?from=search&session_search_id=1158329428&hitnum=1§ion=music.02386
Ultrasonic Industry Association (U.I.A). (2005). Retrieved May 6, 2007, from, http://home.att.net/~Berliner-Ultrasonics/us-gloss.html