A remarkable system of understanding and classification, analogical, concrete and figurative, Taoism permits acousmatic composition founded on materials, energies, transformations. A cyclical type of sequence made up of five elements, forces of nature, that destroy each other, Tao brings about transformations, substitutions of symbols, concrete indications, because of the interdependence between these elements. It is the regulator of alternation. Chinese thinking doesn’t concern itself with opposites, but rather with contrasts, with correlatives, with exchanges of attributes.
Written in a relatively long a posteriori time period, the following comments do not reflect the ‘author’s intentions’ (of little importance), but rather the structuring of the ‘meaning to me’, as it is recognized today, long after the time of the music-delight has gone.
To Jacqueline Gezels
•• Perception: Nature here is presented to the listener as it is. Eau (Water) opens the door to a universe of sensations, the first step to the awakening of knowledge. This “phonogram” — an expression coined by François-Bernard Mâche — consists of raw material, recorded up close and unaltered. It is the reflection of my perception and understanding of such a varied element, dissimilar even, in spite of appearances.
•• Energies / images: White noise. Opaque curtain. Fullness. Sizzles. Crackling of water. Rain. Storm. Transparent curtain. Lines and beads. Drops. Shelter. Emptiness. Fluids. Flow and repetition. Lines. Water mill. Waves. Undertow. Stagnation.
•• Symbols (Life and Death): Water, a symbol of life for Western man also a symbol of rebirth in the Judeo-Christian ethic, water is a metaphor for death for the Taoist: it is connected to the myth of the ‘yellow springs’ in the land of the Dead, dead who were buried to the north of the cities located far into the septentrion. However, the winter solstice, connected to the septentrion, is a favorable time for conception; the dynamic, solar energy (Yang) that spends winter surrounded by Water (Yin) recovers its full strength.
•• Form: The general form moves from Fullness to Emptiness through successive sequences of the different energy types encountered during listening. The alternation with the Emptiness of the ‘cave’ causes silence to be perceived in a different way every time, and gives rhythm to time (like these fragments of Chinese paintings that are revealed little by little as the roller turns).
•• Anecdote: Many recording ‘campaigns’ were necessary in different locations. I immersed myself with sheer delight in a universe of fascinating beauty, using the microphone as a magnifying glass that makes audible the infinite diversity of conditions in which water can be found (speed of flow, nature and location of the boulders, rocks, pebbles, sand) and taking advantage of any surprising encounter like that of a bell tolling midnight as I ran around a four-branched Provençal fountain (the initial houang tchong pipe, the ‘golden bell’, is associated with the ‘yellow springs’, in the middle of the night, at the winter solstice…).
•• Spatialization: Four or six loudspeakers allow a level projection, which gives greater importance to stereophonic pairs and divides the work in geographical areas. The changing water flows over my senses I stand still.
Eau [Water] was realized at the Métamorphoses d’Orphée studio of Musiques & Recherches in Ohain (Belgium) and premiered on April 21, 1984 by Violette Beaujeant in an initial mixed version with amplified zheng during the 1st acousmatic festival L’Espace du son at L’Orangerie — Le Botanique in Brussels (Belgium).
To Pierre Philippot
•• Action: This piece tells a story. It is a narrative — the second step towards knowledge — with often metaphorical characters that move about and meet according to the two apparently opposite sides of the same substances: inside/outside, matter/artifice, Reality/Symbol, with varying ‘listening perspectives’ (borders).
For example: the (external) breath of fire and that of man (internal); the small natural explosions (matter) and their synthetic imitation (artifice) with the big explosions (zoom) of the fireworks, which can also be a metaphor for war seen as a show under the applause of each side, filtered through the television screen and the loudspeakers…
•• Energies / movements: Breathing, swaying. Granulation, accumulation. Explosions, projections. Trails, tracks, whirling. Line, stillness.
•• Symbols: Fire. Picture of life, of love. From the vital breathing to the quivering of the whole being (nerve ramifications). From comforting warmth to love-explosion, love-destruction. From celebration to death. Life: variations on the same…
•• Form: Constant moving from one type of energy to another with inlays of a same image, that becomes more and more asserted. Growing dynamic process and brutal collapse. Silence. Re-using of the main elements in a fragmented order and in accumulation, behind an iron curtain.
•• Anecdote: Through sight, a flame gives the sensation of a diaphanous, powerful and ethereal energy; however, upon listening, no other element conveys such a feeling of profuse raw material, of sharp edged ‘matter’.
•• Spatialization: Perspective and mobility in cinemascope: with a minimum of 12 loudspeakers, most of them placed in a frontal arrangement, play with the existing levels of depth, create new ones, create widthwise movements. Do not hesitate to strengthen the dynamics.
Feu [Fire] was realized at the Métamorphoses d’Orphée studio of Musiques & Recherches in Ohain (Belgium) and premiered on June 6, 1986 at the Synthèse Festival of experimental music in Bourges (France). Énergie / Matière, made of the works Feu and Métal, was awarded the 1985 SABAM Special Prize of the Year of Music. Many thanks to Violette Beaujeant, Jacqueline Gezels and André Van Belle for their spontaneous sound recordings when I was unavailable.
•• Imitation / development: Based on proliferation and brassage [‘stirring up’ in French, is a sound processing function of the SYTER system], Bois (Wood) is part of a broader investigation into nature as model, a very old process of the human mind that has recently regained popularity via computer modelling in computer graphics for example.
Each movement starts with an image-model whose energy flow system will later be expanded: repeated blows of a tree being felled, endless rotation of a mill, swinging/swaying of a ping pong game.
•• Symbol: The felling and the death of a tree as a symbol of the forest, of Nature being truly murdered. “Miller, you are asleep…” and the world is turning crazily in Your absence.
•• Form: While the first part maintains and directs listening in a linear fashion, the second opens the space and the third superimposes a polyphonic proliferation of oscillating materials in all fields of perception (registers, durations, matters, movements, spaces), and ends after a moment of stillness by taking up again the two other energy models, again in a polyphonic fashion. The whole is an attempt to transpose the tree morphology in time.
•• Anecdote: The door (an electroacoustic cliché since Pierre Henry) opens and closes the book of Bois whose story is told between the cutting down and the fall of the tree.
•• Spatialization: This piece is played in fast, rich, abundant, and ‘stirred up’ movements. Everything moves, except the images. A relatively complex multiphonic device, with a minimum of twelve loudspeakers, is therefore essential.
Bois [Wood] was realized at the Métamorphoses d’Orphée studio of Musiques & Recherches in Ohain (Belgium) and premiered during the Cinéma pour l’oreille concert series, organized by the Première université de la radiophonie, on August 14, 1986 in Arles (France). Many thanks to Christian Debecq (traverso flute), Éliane and Raoul Debrus, Thierry Génicot and André Van Belle with whom I was able to produce most of the material, as well as to Vania Dantas Leite for lending me her recordings of the Amazonian forest.
To Violette Beaujeant and André Van Belle
•• Abstraction: Perhaps it is here that we come closest to what is ‘musical’ in the sense of an abstract writing (fourth step of knowledge), a voluntaristic writing, pre-existing to sound. Also abstract is the écoute réduite [Schaefferian term, in French, for ‘sound object perception’] of the allures [Schaefferian term, in French, for ‘sound behaviour’] or vibrato, their amplitudes, their speeds.
•• Energies / vibrations: Percussions / decreasing free resonances (allures).
Percussions / resonances kept constant (itérations [Schaefferian term, in French, for ‘constant retriggering’]).
Percussions / penetration of resonance (vibrations). Smooth rubbing.
Free bounces. Controlled bounces. Swaying. Rolling.
•• Form: Starting out in silence, contemplation of a still line on an asserted tonic axis — pipe 3: Chang —, the form moves towards the diversified and the complex. The first part of Métal deals with the sustain of resonances; the second deals with their spectral content, before gradually returning to the original line and ending with the same material already encountered in Eau (but transposed a fifth above the pipe 4: Yu).
•• Anecdote: As with fire, metal inverts the perceived object depending on whether sight or listening filters the stimuli. A solid matter, it becomes, after impact, pure vibration.
•• Spatialization: ‘Ambiophonic’ spatialization: let the public settle in an atmosphere of meditation, of inner contemplation, by an almost still diffusion on a set of 12 or 16 loudspeakers placed in a circle. Tésseral blocks of gold and enamels radiate a light that bathes the darkness of Byzantine domes; similarly, the loudspeakers here are “radiators” — term taken from French composer François Bayle — of vibrations coming from all over and from nowhere.
Métal [Metal] was realized at the Métamorphoses d’Orphée studio of Musiques & Recherches in Ohain (Belgium) and premiered at the Café-théâtre Stalker in Brussels (Belgium) on December 18, 1983. Énergie / Matière, made of the works Feu and Métal, was awarded the 1985 SABAM Special Prize of the Year of Music. Many thanks to Violette Beaujeant, instigator and performer of the zheng version of Métal, and to André Van Belle who so generously allowed me to explore his vast collection of extra-European percussions.
•• Fusion: Last element in the Tao cycle, the Earth is the place for transformation and fusion, it is the melting pot of the other materials. It is also the last step of knowledge: that of the synthesis between things. Paradoxically — once again sight is deceiving — it is more about Energy than Matter, of primeval energy in two forms: radiation and particles.
The transformations of excerpts from the four other elements fit seven models: mechanism (repetition), wave (ebb-flow), door (opening-closing), breath/ejection, breath/crawling, corpuscles, rotation.
They go through a common process that emphasizes intermodulations, transformations, and, once ‘remusicalized’ and changed in time by the play-sequence technique, they generate strange similarities: from Diversity to Unity. Everything is in everything else: Tao.
Sounds are then reclassified according to dynamic criteria of movements, energies, and development in time: in continuous movement (spiral, fall, projection, crawling); in broken balance (chaos, truncations, clusters, rhythm — Yang); and motionless (rotation, shimmering-allures, repetition, contemplation — Yin).
•• Symbol: Before creation: symmetry and motionlessness. Asymmetry, movement and impact: released energy. Particles, organization of the matter. Magma, flow and ebb. Manifestation of the matter, union. Dance of life. Breath. Upward spiral. Setbacks and new starts. Towards Ω.
•• Form: The general form is a double conical spiral whose base is located in the centre: from creation (radiation, particles) — manifestation of matter and rhythm — to Ω.
It is in constant evolution: variations. The descending fifth (sky/earth of the Tao) constitutes its central tonic axis. The form also integrates 8-track spatialization as a criterion for evolution: space is structured by geometrical figures.
These figures, as well as all the internal movements that run through them, are linked to the temporal structure of the piece, which is based in external time on a gradual lengthening of each of the parts joined together, and on a gradual speeding up of internal (psychological) time.
•• Anecdote: The moral (Pierre Schaeffer’s “Leçon de chose”) to be gained from the experience of Terre (Earth) is the following: the internal energy of a sound, its movement, its morphology, can resist for a long time to any type of transformation process, even cumulative processes. A mark, a trace, of the original remains. Perhaps only the dissociation of a sound into elements arbitrarily redistributed in time can reduce that given sound to a neutral object, fit for any use, a note.
•• Spatialization: The concert 8-track version (of 1991) requires a minimum of 12 or 16 loudspeakers set up in two groups, one of them placed in a frontal position (tracks 5-8) and the other one around the public (tracks 1-4) — in a traditional concert hall —, or one in an inner ring facing the public and the other surrounding the public seated in a circle — in an appropriate setting or outdoors.
Terre [Earth] was realized at the GRM in their SYTER and 123 studios (Paris, France), and mixed at the Métamorphoses d’Orphée studio of Musiques & Recherches in Ohain (Belgium). It premiered on January 30, 1991 in a concert of the Clair de terre series organized by the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), under the direction of Robert Normandeau, at the Planétarium de Montréal (Québec). The work was commissioned by the Ina-GRM. Many thanks to Yann Geslin and Daniel Teruggi for their essential and persevering help.
This version is a stereophonic reduction of the 8-channel original realized in 1992 for radiophonic listening.