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Hot Air

Jonty Harrison

Programme notes

One of the principal source sounds for this work — balloons from children’s parties — gave rise to a train of thought which, after linking ‘toy’ balloons to ‘hot air’ balloons, went on to draw in numerous other concepts of air (breath, utterance, natural phenomena) and heat (energy, action, danger).

As work on the sound material progressed, other notions of air became important: motion through space; a certain fleeting quality; and air as the principal medium for the transmission of sound itself. The manner in which this happens (each air molecule vibrating about its current position and passing its energy on to its neighbor in alternating patterns of compression and rarefaction) became a model for the structure of the piece itself — a free association of sounds and references, each linking with and influencing its neighbor. Gradually, the referential, mimetic and environmental aspects of the piece revealed another, altogether more worrying image: that of the inflated balloon as a metaphor of the fragility of that very environment, of the Earth itself — capable of being manipulated, but not infinitely so.

But beware! Danger! I run the risk of becoming too pompous, too ‘inflated’ with the importance of my theme. We should not forget that, in colloquial English, if what someone says is “hot air,” it means it lacks real substance, is rubbish, meaningless, bluff, all talk and no action, empty words…

Hot Air was realized using the Groupe de recherches musicales’ (GRM) SYTER and GRM Tools systems for the development of sound materials and the later stages in the compositional process took place at the composer’s studio and in the Electroacoustic Music Studios of the University of Birmingham (UK). The work was first performed as part of the Son Mu concert series in the Salle Olivier Messiaen of the Maison de Radio France (Paris, France) on May 22, 1995. Hot Air was commissioned by the Groupe de recherches musicales (Ina-GRM). Thanks to Daniel Teruggi of the Ina-GRM for his help and patience.


  • May 22, 1995, Son-Mu 95: Concert, Salle Olivier Messiaen — Maison de Radio France, Paris (France)


  • Composer(s): Jonty Harrison
  • Year of composition: 1995
  • Instrumentation: stereo fixed medium
  • Commission: Ina-GRM
  • ISWC: T9247804666
  • Publisher(s): Ymx média
  • Duration: 22:12
  • ISRC: CAD509611670