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University of Huddersfield Repository
University of Huddersfield Repository
Thibault, Dominic
My Physical Approach to Musique Concrete Composition Portfolio of Studio Works
Original Citation
Thibault, Dominic (2014) My Physical Approach to Musique Concrete Composition Portfolio of
Studio Works. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.
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My Physical Approach to Musique
Concrète Composition
Portfolio of Studio Works
Dominic Thibault
School of Music, Humanities and Media
University of Huddersfield
A thesis submitted for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
August 2014
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permission of the owner(s) of the relevant Intellectual Property Rights and/or Reproductions.
Thanks, first and foremost, to Danielle, my dear wife, who gives me the mental space
to dream and create, who shares life in all its little pleasures, who encourages me and
comforts me in times of doubt.
Thanks to Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. His support, knowledge and insight encouraged
me to persist and pursue my research. His influence is significant not only in this text
but, more importantly, in my renewed practice of music. Thanks to Monty Adkins for
his assistance encouragement throughout my doctoral period. Thanks to Alex Harker
for his much needed help and stimulating discussions.
Thanks to Stephen Harvey, my great friend. Creating music with you is a unique, rewarding and challenging experience. Your participation in my affirmation as a musician,
a father and a man is undeniable. You are a model of integrity and enthusiasm. Thanks
to Sebastian Berweck, Ryoko Akama, Sylvain Pohu and Rodrigo Constanzo who willingly
played music with me. Working beside you makes me a better musician. Thanks to the
CeReNeM members who create a work environment conducive to creativity. Thanks to
the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture and the Denis Smalley Scholarship
in Electronic Music for their financial support.
Thank you to my students who challenge me, always. Thanks you to Hélène Roulston
for thoroughly reviewing this text. Finally, thanks to University of Huddersfield for
investing in their music studios. The equipment and the studios they provide have given
me numerous opportunities to express myself, to be highly creative, in a way that would
not have been possible had I sat in my bedroom with my near-field monitors...
My recent practice-based research explores the creative potential of physical manipulation of sound in the composition of sound-based electronic music. Focusing on the
poietic aspect of my music making, this commentary discusses the composition process of
three musical works: Comme si la foudre pouvait durer, Igaluk - To Scare the Moon with
its own Shadow and désert. It also examines the development of a software instrument,
fXfD, along with its resulting musical production. Finally, it discusses the recent musical
production of an improvisation duet in which I take part, Tout Croche.
In the creative process of this portfolio, the appreciation for sound is the catalyst
of the musical decisions. In other words, the term “musique concrète” applies to my
practice, as sound is the central concern that triggers the composition act. In addition
to anecdotal, typo-morphological and functional concerns, the presence of a “trace of
physicality” in a sound is, more than ever, what convinces me of its musical potential. In
order to compose such sounds, a back-and-forth process between theoretical knowledge
and sound manipulations will be defined and developed under the concept of “sonic
In a desire to break with the cumbersome nature of studio-based composition work,
approaches to sound-based electronic music playing were researched. Through the different musical projects, various digital instruments were conceived. In a case study, the text
reviews them through their sound generation, gestural control and mapping components.
I will also state personal preferences in the ways sound manipulations are performed. In
the light of the observations made, the studio emerges as the central instrument upon
which my research focuses. The variety of resources it provides for the production and
control of sound confers the status of polymorphic instrument on the studio.
The text concludes by reflecting on the possibilities of improvisation and performance
that the studio offers when it is considered as an embodied polymorphic instrument. A
concluding statement on the specific ear training needed for such a studio practice bridges
the concepts of sound selection and digital instruments herein exposed.
Keywords: composition, musique concrète, digital instrument, studio performance, improvisation
1 The Home-Studio Generation: Observations on my Practice
A Solitary Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Slow Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Rigid Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Few Words on Improvisation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2 A Music Based on Sound: Reviving Musique Concrète
Sonic Empiricism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Repertoire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ear Training . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Selection of Sounds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Anecdote . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Attributes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Musical Function . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A New Concern: The Trace of Physicality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3 Digital Instruments to Perform Sound – A Case Study
A Definition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Igaluk, the Composed Instrument . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gestural Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Generation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mapping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Observations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
fXfD, an Electroacoustic Improvisation Instrument . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
An Interest in Feedback . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gestural Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Generation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mapping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Observations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Studio, a Polymorphic Instrument . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gestural Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Potentiometer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Generation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Capture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Modular Synthesizers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mapping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Routing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Observations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Package Contents
B Myth of Igaluk
List of Figures
Interaction of sonic empiricism components . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The concept of “trace of physicality” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Igaluk ’s concert patch in presentation mode . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gestural controller configuration for the performance of Igaluk
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Igaluk ’s micro-instruments presentation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tout Croche’s Rack of effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
fXfD’s configuration including gestural controllers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Setup of eight return tracks in fXfD organised for feedback. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
fXfD’s Audio Effect Rack containing a bank of predefined and switchable effects. . .
fXfD’s TouchOSC interface for the selection of the loaded effects. . . . . . . . . . . .
fXfD’s TouchOSC interface for the control of preset creation and callback. . . . . . .
3.10 fXfD’s Max for Live Device that enables more complex or abstract mappings . . . .
3.11 A first version of LucyL as rendered by . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.12 A second and upcoming version of LucyL as rendered by . . . . . .
3.13 Comme si la foudre pouvait durer - Routing of guitar during recording
. . . . . . .
3.14 Tout Croche improvising in a studio session . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
List of Tables
Electroacoustic writing techniques by category . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
List of Sound Examples
Sound Example (Sound selected intuitively) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Anecdotal Sound 1) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Anecdotal Sound 2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Anecdotal Sound 3) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Sound selected for its typo-morphology 1) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Sound selected for its typo-morphology 2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Sound selected for its typo-morphology 3) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Sound selected for its typo-morphology 4) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Lowpass filter performed on thunder recording) . . . . . . . . . . .
2.10 Sound Example (Granulation performed in Igaluk ) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.11 Sound Example (Sound featuring a trace of physicality 1) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.12 Sound Example (Sound featuring a trace of physicality 2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.13 Sound Example (Sound featuring a trace of physicality 2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Improvised Sound Material for Igaluk 1) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Improvised Sound Material for Igaluk 2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Improvised Sound Material for Igaluk 3) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Variable source input in fXfD’s feedback system 1) . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Performative mix of Comme si la foudre pouvait durer ) . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Field recording of the rain in Comme si la foudre pouvait durer ) . .
Sound Example (Field recording of the water running off in Comme si la foudre
pouvait durer ) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sound Example (Field recording of the thunder in Comme si la foudre pouvait durer )
Sound Example (Alternative version of désert’s movement contempler ) . . . . . . . .
My affection for the production of albums in popular music culture has had a huge impact on my
musical decisions. Their rich approach is at the origin of my interest in music. I could not imagine
myself composing electronic music if I had not come across influential albums such as The Shape
of Punk to Come by Refused or Geogaddi by Boards of Canada. It always seemed to me that the
production of an album was a task very similar to what we try to do in electroacoustic1 research.
My practice is in line with the French tradition of musique concrète. The writings of Schaeffer,
Chion and Bayle have greatly influenced my musical creation. Moreover, the inspiring music of
Bernard Parmegiani, Pierre Henry and Luc Ferrari have convinced me of the power and beauty of
fixed-media music2 . Also, my training is the one embedded within the aesthetic of the Montreal
school of acousmatic music (Dhomont, 1996). My practice has integrated the aesthetic and gestures
specific to this school by giving me the opportunity to rub shoulders with its main protagonists:
Robert Normandeau, Gilles Gobeil, Martin Bédard, Georges Forget. Hence the frequent use of terms
such as “cinema for the ears,” “typo-morphology of sounds,” “electroacoustic writing techniques,”
etc. in my writings (Thibault, 2011).
The continuation of my research in Huddersfield allowed me to diversify my practice significantly.
The work environment offered in Huddersfield has opened my mind to divergent practices of musical
exploration and experimentation. Huddersfield is the place where I chose to take an interest in
improvisation, noise, minimalism, analogue synthesis and performance. Huddersfield is the place
where I assumed the plurality of being a digital musician: “A digital musician is typically an amalgamation of performer, composer, engineer and informed listener, all to a certain extent.” (Hugill,
2012, p. 241)
1 The usage in this text of the term “electroacoustic” refers to the definition given by Emmerson and Smalley
(2001) in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians: “Music in which electronic technology, now primarily
computer-based, is used to access, generate, explore and configure sound materials, and in which loudspeakers are the
prime medium of transmission.”
2 The term “fixed-media music” refers to a music that is composed in studio and that has a finished reality on any
kind of support. It has come to replace the notion of “tape music” with the technological evolution of the medium.
Portfolio Content
The present document comments on the musical production undertaken in the context of the doctoral
period. It will focus specifically on 1) the composition of three musical works, 2) the development
of a digital instrument, and 3) the musical explorations of my duet, Tout Croche. Comme si la
foudre pouvait durer is a post-acousmatic3 piece that allowed me to reconnect with the immediacy
of playing in the studio. With Igaluk - To Scare the Moon with its own Shadow, I wanted to develop a
live electroacoustic music which took advantage of its performer’s virtuosity. désert is a fixed-media
work that takes full advantage of the studio as an instrument. fXfD is a digital instrument used for
composition, improvisation and performance that has enabled a varied musical production.
The second part of the body of work is based around fXfD, a digital instrument used for composition, improvisation and performance. It has enabled me to produce varied music. The instrument
has gradually developed from rudimentary Max patches to a extensive Ableton Live session through
testing and validation in the live context. In its current state, fXfD relies on in-software digital
feedback to generate sound. Its development and practice will be commented upon in Section 3.3.
The third and last part of my doctoral research deserves to be mentioned in this document:
the duet Tout Croche. Tout Croche is the meeting point of two musicians, myself and Stephen
Harvey. We originally wanted to make music outside of the academic box. We ended up realizing
that the academic box is bigger than we expected as I find myself discussing our production as
part of my research. Within the scope of this thesis, Tout Croche’s full-length album titled Super
Silent and a cassette titled zero dBFS will be considered. This project merits some attention in
order to understand how improvisation and performance has gained importance in my compositional
approach. Please note, in the context of a collaborative project such as Tout Croche, attribution
of ideas can be problematic or blury. At all time when Tout Croche’s production is discussed, it
will be attempted to make this attribution of ideas as clear as possible. The intention here is not to
present Tout Croche’s music as solely my own but, instead, to show how influential it has been on
my solo production.
The portfolio submitted is a diverse corpus of electroacoustic pieces that consists of acousmatic
music as well as electronica music, which borrows from the aesthetics of metal music and takes
advantage of free improvisation. Yet, there is a strong cohesion between the pieces. All of them
are composed with sound as a central concern; they are, in effect, musique concrète. The reasoning
underlying the selection of such sounds is therefore important to reach an understanding of my
creative process. A sound is selected firstly for its morphological attributes and, simultaneously, for
3 “Hence cross-arts work is ideally ‘post-acousmatic’ in the sense of ‘taking account of and moving beyond’ and not
necessarily (as is sometimes supposed) ‘anti-’.” from (Emmerson, 1998) who himself cites Simon Waters’ Electroacoustic Music: Composition Beyond the Acousmatic (1996).
the function it plays in a given music. The referential and anecdotal aspects of a sound also play a
role in this choice. Yet, the presence of a “trace of physicality” in a sound, in reference to Smalley’s
gestural surrogacy and embodiement theories, is more than ever what convinces me of its musical
The back-and-forth between theoretical knowledge, sonic manipulations and composition will
be defined and developped under the concept of “sonic empiricism.” However, this trial-and-error
process has so far been very arduous in my practice. The result is a generational observation that
work in a home studio is too often solitary, slow and rigid.
In order to revitalize my practice and find those “traces of physicality” within the sound, I
have explored various ways to integrate the digital instrument in my practice. I herein undertake
a case study of the various solutions explored as part of my musical production. The text reviews
them through their sound generation, gestural control and mapping components. Igaluk enabled
the design of a “composed instrument”, specific to the performance of the musical piece. fXfD is
an instrument designed for electroacoustic improvisation. In light of my production, it seems clear
that the studio is the instrument central to my research. It is the range of means the studio offers
to control sound that converts it into a polymorphic instrument. The potentiometer, the sound
capture, my modular synthesizer named LucyL and the routing will be the central components of
this analysis. A sound-based composer must know how to interpret such a polymorphic instrument
in order to develop a practice where physicality has its place.
Of course, this discussion on the instrument also refers to the subjects of performance and improvisation. Comments on performance will be included in the observations made on the instruments.
Improvisation has taken on a very special role since I became interested in the instrument. It has
now become an integral part of my musical practice. In fact, its impact on my musical production will be discussed as a conclusion to Chapter 1 (see Section 1.4) and will be identified in the
Conclusion as a key element of my future research.
I would like to draw attention to the fact that the perspective offered in this document is essentially poietic4 . An aesthesic5 description of my work is out of the question, as I am convinced
that my perception of my own work is deeply flawed. Instead I will focus on describing the poietic
process of my creation in order to identify habits, techniques, sonorities but also mannerisms and
clichés that characterize my work as composer. Such awareness of the creative process will enrich
the musical discourse and allow me to develop as a composer.
4 Nattiez (1990, p. 92) definition of poietic: “By ‘poietic’ I understand describing the link among the composer’s
intentions, his creative procedures, his mental schemas, and the result of this collection of strategies; that is, the
components that go into the work’s material embodiement.”
5 Nattiez (1990, p. 92) definition of aesthesic: “By ‘aesthesic’ I understand not merely the artificially attentive
hearing of a musicologist, but the description of perceptive behaviors within a given population of listeners; that is,
how this or that aspect of sonorous reality is captured by their perceptive strategies.”
Chapter 1
The Home-Studio Generation:
Observations on my Practice
I would like to start by establishing some observations made through my practice. In the context
of this document, these remarks are important because they have justified several decisions in the
creation of attached works. Needless to say, I am a Digital Native6 . Born in 1984, I always had
access to a computer at home. Even if they worked with 51/4 floppy disks, the fact remains that
computers have always been part of my daily life: “[...] immersion in a digital environment tends to
be the most important variable in predicting if someone is a digital native in the way they interact
with the technology.” Helsper & Eynon (2009) In the context of my musical production, I will argue
that I am a “digital native composer.” As a musician, I made the choice to use the computer rather
than the guitar as a means of musical expression. No matter how much effort I would put in my
guitar practice, it seemed then that the computer provided a means of expression more suited to my
life experiences. Subsequently my training was mainly organized around the teaching of techniques
performed on a computer. In addition to learning numerous software applications, I chose to develop
my programming skills in order to have control over the music making process. Over the years, I
have developed a working method that used the computer almost exclusively as its creation tool.
For example, the composition of my piece L’instant en vain (2009) required a considerable amount
of sound manipulation on the computer since sound capturing was minimal. It was my belief then
that the majority of sounds could be crafted by some computer manipulation. My participation in
the revamp of Cecilia7 , a front-end interface for Csound, was another example of this assumption
that computers were omnipotent. The essence of my practice resided in the interaction with this
little box full of buttons, the computer. I have long thought that I could use solely the computer in
order to produce all aspects of my music. I believe this is symptomatic of my education as a first
generation “digital native composer”. This thesis is, in a sense, a statement of the failure of this
6 “[Digital natives are] ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.”
Prensky (2001)
computer-only practice, a statement of the shift from the computer as a unique interface to a more
diverse musical practice. Yet, it does not deny the influence that this tool has had on my musical
My development as a “digital native composer” has happened in parallel to the advent of the
home studio. Suddenly, it was possible to make music with minimal equipment (a computer, a sound
card and a pair of monitors, even headphones) for a fraction of the cost of studio-grade equipment8 .
This democratization of tools has led to the obsolescence of a wide range of studio equipment.
For instance, I never had to learn sound design on magnetic tape. The operation of an analogue
console is understood to me in great part because the interface of a DAW9 borrows heavily from
this paradigm.
With the home studio, my work now focused exclusively on a single object, the computer:
“[...] the emergence of the personal computer disrupts the cultural and social landscape. The
big change here is the appearance of an “all-in-one” tool. The computer is the Swiss Army knife
of electroacoustic music.”10 (Normandeau, 2004) The possibilities offered by the computer indeed
suggested the existence of an all-in-one solution. It could record, edit, process, compose, mix and
diffuse our sounds. However, I will argue that the computer as a unique musical interface in fact
had an impact that exceeds its technological features. The computer has influenced my approach
to electroacoustic composition. Perhaps, the “digital immigrants,”11 professors, in their boundless
enthusiasm for home studio technology, have underestimated the extensive change that the computer
has imposed on electroacoustic practices. Without intending to be reactionary, I will assess my
practice and identify aspects of my compositional work that are imposed by the computer. Thus I
will determine that my practice is marked by a blatant lack of spontaneity; the art I’ve made so far
is slow, rigid and lonesome. This information will prove useful in understanding the choices made
for the continuation of my research.
A Solitary Art
The social impact of the computer on music production is considerable. Undoubtedly, my electroacoustic music production takes on an individual nature because of the context of creation in the
home studio. This is understandable since the computer, this all-in-one tool around which the home
8 Operating
costs of a home studio are paltry given the easy access to pirated software on the Internet.
Audio Workstation
10 Original quotation in French: “[...] l’apparition de l’ordinateur personnel bouleverse le paysage culturel et social. Le grand changement ici, c’est l’apparition de l’outil ‘tout-dans-un’. C’est le couteau suisse de la musique
électroacoustique.” (Normandeau, 2004)
11 Prensky (2001) states that “[t]hose who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in [their]
lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are [...] Digital Immigrants”
. He adds that “as Digital Immigrants learn [...] to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree,
their ‘accent,’ that is, their foot in the past.”
9 Digital
studio revolves, was conceived and designed as an individualistic interface (Hamman, 2002). For
example, it is hard to imagine multiple users simultaneously controlling a mouse or a keyboard to
edit and process sounds. The solo use of the home studio is also determined by the positioning of
the commonly used near-field monitors in home systems. The ideal listening position (sweet-spot)
is often so limited that it can hardly be shared (Fazenda & Davies, 2001). And the situation is
even worse with headphone listening, which imposes total isolation from the environment. Yet,
this solitary practice comes in opposition to the culture of studio collaboration in popular music
(Moorefield, 2005). Somehow, the advent of the computer has invalidated the means that made
studio performance a social process.
The possibilities of home musical production mean that the studio has lost its status as a gathering place:
[The composer] can ‘write’ any time he chooses, he can work out the details to perfection. He
can leave his work on stand-by, no one will change the settings of his equipment [...] And this
freedom promotes the appearance of a much more personal music, closer to the personality of
its author.12 (Normandeau, 2004)
Unfortunately, I have found that the glorification of personal aesthetics is often achieved through selfimposed isolation. This is especially true now that Internet offers a dehumanized music distribution.
The presentation of one’s music, which was once an opportunity to meet with the community, has
now become, with online distribution, a message in a bottle sent into a digital ocean. All of these
factors suggest that my music is a lonely computer art, at times disconnected from the humanity of
exchanges between musicians. In his text The Digital Musician, Hugill (2012, p. 243) summarizes
that state of lonesomeness I am trying to describe here:
There has been one very significant consequence for music-making from these changes to the
workplace. The typical computer workstation is designed for the single user, often further
isolated under a pair of headphones. The act of making becomes an act of production, with
perhaps a CD or DVD, film or website as the outcome. This object may be passed on, once
again, with only minimal social contact. If the musician in question does not engage in live
performance, then he or she becomes an almost completely isolated figure. It should be stated
and restated that music is a social activity. Isolation can be musically unhealthy, and a pervasive
culture of individualism has a downside.
However, this tendency to individualism is being overturned by a new generation of musicians,
which I find inspiring. More than ever, digital musicians are taking action in order to meet and
play together. Perhaps the democratization of electroacoustic music is actually happening as I write
these lines. Perhaps more time was needed for the electroacoustic music composer to understand the
creative potential of the computer. I have many examples of students in the Computer Composition
12 Original quotation in French: “[Le compositeur] peut ‘écrire’ à l’heure qui lui plaı̂t, il peut peaufiner les détails
jusqu’à la perfection. Il peut laisser son travail en suspens, personne ne viendra modifier les réglages de ses appareils...
Et cette liberté favorise l’apparition de musiques beaucoup plus personnelles, beaucoup plus proches de la personnalité
de leur auteur.” (Normandeau, 2004)
class who have regrouped to make music collectively13 . This solitude of the home studio has been
addressed in several of my musical projects. The inviting of guest musicians into the studio was a first
solution in order to humanize the sound sources in my compositions. Although this solution allowed
me to create pieces such as De velours et d’acier and Reckless Brown Dream, solitude was still a
major factor in the pursuit of my research. What became apparent is that the guest musician has
not made a commitment to actually participate in the creation of a piece. Therefore, the composer
is left alone to work on sound recordings , although they at least have the contribution of a musician
embedded in them.
Over the doctoral period, collaborations with composer friends have become a priority. The
respect I have for these collaborators gave me the confidence to share the tasks of creation. Tout
Croche, introduced earlier, is one example where we create improvised noise music. The project has
been highly influential in the renewal of my creative process and has inspired multiple subsequent
collaborations. Electroacoustic improvisation is also central to the project with Sylvain Pohu, Gros
Castor. My collaboration with Ryoko Akama is rooted in a common passion for the EMS Synthi
VCS3 synthesizer. The music produced in this context has a minimalist aesthetic. In such collaborations, each plays a role according to his/her abilities. Through playing together, they ultimately
expanded my knowledge as a musician. Collaborations have been important in the context of this
Ph.D. because they have stimulated a practical research in my solo practice. Works created collaboratively will be included as part of the appendices and will be referred to to explain the unfolding
of certain essential ideas of my approach.
A Slow Art
The nature of the interaction with the computer also makes my music a slow art. In the first place,
repeated listening, which is characteristic of the electroacoustic medium (see Chapter 2), has always
promoted an offline type of editing that focuses on details:
[The composer is] in a position of being able to listen again and again to a performance, to
become familiar with details [he] most certainly had missed the first time through, and to
become very fond of details that weren’t intended by the composer or the musicians. The effect
of this on the composer is that he can think in terms of supplying material that would actually
be too subtle for a first listening. (Eno, 2008)
I have found that, with the proposed interface of the computer (mouse, keyboard and monitor), the
embedding of details in the work has reached unprecedented levels, and this observation seems to
be shared by many: “While [graphical editing] enables greater experimentation, it also heightens
tendencies for the artist to become obsessive about their work as the majority of audio tools can
isolate and zoom in on minute details in a composition.” (Homer, 2009, p. 91) The edition of audio
13 Among
others, Birkhouse Recordings ( comes to mind, who not only releases music but also
organizes events.
samples and the control with automation curves offers such precision that the composer finds it
difficult to put into perspective the microscopic editions in the macroscopic structure of his work.
That phenomenon is amplified by the infinite number of tries (without consequence) allowed by
the “undo” function. This feature complicates my composition decisions, as I continually face a
multitude of possibilities. Vande Gorne (2008) has reported in a private interview that composition
decisions were much more definitive back when magnetic tape was in use. The snip of the blade and
the mixing on tape required a complete acceptance of each decision, the analogue technology made
it difficult to revert to an older state. In short, the number of microscopic choices the contemporary
electroacoustic composer must make can transform his job into a slow process focused on detail.
Alongside the arrival of home studio technologies, a significant transfer of knowledge was taking place between a generation of “digital immigrant” composers and I, a “digital native.” The
generation of composers who taught me had first learned to work the studio using analogue technologies: magnetic tape, mixing console, synthesizers, etc. The sound manipulations were physical
and required tape handling on the reel-to-reel recorder, mixing at the console and séquences-jeu
recordings. For that generation, the development of digital technologies came as a blessing to alleviate their strenuous, imprecise and restrictive work with tape. The computer provided unexpected
control, accuracy and simplicity to those who had had to synchronize multiple machines, file pieces of
magnetic tape and tune drifting synthesizers. Music made by “digital immigrants” was reactionary
to the difficulties they had encountered in the analogue studio. As a proof of that statement, the musical production of a generation of Montreal composers is based on precision and control (Dhomont,
1996). This generation formed in analogue studios now taught composition almost exclusively on
computer. I argue that part of their knowledge has not been transmitted to the “digital natives”.
The physicality of the studio work, which was intuitive to my teachers, was not an obvious concept
in the context of my work on the computer. The physicality of studio practice was lost to the benefit
of precision offered by the tools.
Strangely, the precision offered by computer tools is first and foremost visual. The edition
of sound is accomplished on the computer screen using a graphical representation of the sound
phenomena. There is a disconnection between the aural perception of a sound phenomenon and
the visual manipulations that the tools permit. Are we guided by our ears when we edit a sound
with our eyes? The illogic of this paradigm did not stop me from spending a considerable number
of hours on the edition of sounds to include in my musical pieces. I now question this slow and
tedious work that seems to have lost its musical significance14 . My intention is not to criticize the
editing possibilities the computer offers (I still use them abundantly) but the works that focus almost
14 The
accuracy of the process is such that one wonders if this precise editing of sounds can actually be heard or if
it is only imagined by the composer.
exclusively on microscopic sound edition to create music. I have no interest in such music anymore
since it contains a sensibility only accessible to the creator who has heard his work repeatedly.
Instead, I am searching for a music that creates connections between the creator and the listener by
including a certain humanity, a trace of physicality, to his music.
At first glance, désert may seem contradictory to this argument. The structure of its movements
and the articulation of the materials suggest that the piece is one of those precision music pieces.
It is not. My intention (and the realisation of piece) was to regain the power and energy that
acousmatic expression offers without falling into a tedious work of edition. The majority of the
articulations and gestures contained in the piece were performed on the synthesizer following a
constructivist approach15 and, therefore, required minimal editing. Therefore, désert is by far the
most reactionary piece of my portfolio as regards this concern of slowness. This reactionary tendency
to slowness has emerged within the context of Tout Croche. Most musical pieces by Tout Croche
were composed from the editing of preceding improvisations, which borrowed from the aforesaid
constructivist approach. In summary, performance in studio now occupies a significant place in the
revitalization of my musical practice. Assuming my role as a musician in the studio limits the offline
manipulations that slow down the creative flow. Section 3.4 demonstrates that the studio is the
instrument that allows me this direct expression in electroacoustic music.
A Rigid Art
I perceive an inherent rigidity in my early production of electroacoustic music with computer. This
rigidity is not due to the fixity of the electroacoustic medium. A music is considered fixed onto a
media if it sounds identical16 every time it is played back. The rigidity discussed here corresponds to
an artificial, inflexible character that a certain electroacoustic music takes on because of its creation
on the computer. It is the result of musical parameters being controlled by perfectly reproducible
computer processes that offer little or no subtlety. For example, this phenomenon of rigidity occurs
when MIDI notes are perfectly aligned to the time grid of the sequencer. When automation curves are
performed systematically (using straight lines for instance), sound parameters evolve in a mechanical
way which is perceivable to the trained ear. Repeated use of a sound in a composition can also have
this effect. What follows is a computed, artificial evolution of sounds that I describe as rigid.
Now, this feature of computer music production appears to be a manufacturing defect, a lack of
subtlety and blatant control. Indeed, the tool, in its most standard use, easily generates these rigid
15 The constructivist approach of composition is discussed by Tremblay (2012b, p. 4): ≪ [...] composers tend to
talk about composing in the studio as a two-part process: generating a pool of material, and then composing with
it. We could define this approach as constructivist, as they use the studio itself as an instrument to experiment with
their source material, before deciding what to use from this experience to compose the piece. ≫
16 If one does not take into account the wear of the media and the acoustic space which can both change.(Bates,
sounds. So when they are heard, one actually detects a lack of rigour and control by the creator17 .
Not extensively documented in the literature (Ostertag (2002) discusses it), rigidity is a factor that
may explain the apathy experienced by a certain audience in response to electroacoustic music. It
may also explain why physicality and embodiment have become predominant topics of contemporary
musical research. As an early attempt to tackle this problem in my doctoral period, a place was
made for performance in the studio with Comme si la foudre pouvait durer and the live electronics
field was explored with Igaluk.
My music has suffered from this rigidity. Listening to the piece De velours et d’acier reveals
a form of rhythmic rigidity imposed by the sequencer’s tempo grid: “These perfectly aligned cuts
can reveal the underlying writing technique and impoverish the musical discourse.”18 (Thibault,
2011, p. 35) The phenomenon is discernable in various ways in my body of work and in the fixedmedia music repertoire. The doctoral period has enabled an emancipation from this rigid use of the
technology. Most of all, my research integrated the practice of electroacoustic improvisation and
comprovisation (Dudas, 2010) to overcome the technological rigidity:
Using the studio as a composition tool is powerful and contemporary, and allows the listener’s
judgement to be at the forefront. Brainstorming is kept as a fluid process, without the hindrance
of a long production process, and this swiftness is a key element to keep the music alive, with a
sense of performance to it. Critical improvisational practice allows that immediacy of judgement
over different versions, yet with enough instrumental control to give the ability to reproduce
and improve gestures. (Tremblay, 2012b, p. 13)
This methodology has become an integral part of my practice. Performance and improvisation come
in response to the rigidity imposed by automatic computer processes.
A Few Words on Improvisation
“ There are those for whom [free improvisation] is an activity requiring no instrumental skill, no
musical ability and no musical knowledge or experience of any kind, and others who believe it
can be reached by employing a highly sophisticated, personal technique of virtuosic dimensions.
Some are attracted to it by its possibilities for musical togetherness others by its possibilities
for individual expression.” (?)[p.85]bailey92
As Bailey expresses, opinions on free improvisation differ widely. In this brief section, I will try to
elaborate a personal opinion on improvisation based on my playing experiences.
In my Master’s thesis (Thibault, 2011), a brief section explained the importance of improvisation
in the revitalization of my composition practice. It mainly focused on improvisation as a technique
for generating lively source materials. In relation to the corpus discussed here, this usage of improvisation has remained highly pertinent. Free improvisation in the studio has been abundantly
17 I do not doubt that some knowledgeable composers are conducting informed research on artificial sonorities
obtained with the computer
18 Original quotation in French: “[C]e découpage trop parfait permet de déceler la technique d’écriture sous-jacente
et appauvrit le discours musical.” (Thibault, 2011, p. 35)
practiced in order to discover, explore and exploit the musicality of a sonorous process to its full
potential. In this procedure, the studio acts as a witness and captures the ephemeral moments of
creativity that I have encountered. Séquence-jeu is the term most commonly used by the electroacoustic community (Reibel, Dhomont, Vande Gorne, Normandeau, Tremblay, etc.) to describe the
process of recording an improvisation made with a sounding body in order to produce sound materials for subsequent composition. This method of improvisating in the studio clearly has affinities
with the concept of comprovisation discussed by Dudas (2010, p. 30):
“[I]mprovisation [...] is this kind of musical play and experimentation with technology that has
accompanied us from the studio into the home studio of today’s electronic musicians, and this
relationship of improvisation as a material-generator for composition is still an important aspect
of much electronic and computer music today.”
It also resembles the creative process often found in the pop culture and described by Eno (2008)
and Moorefield (2005). A good example of this sound generation process imparted to improvisation
can be found in the piece Comme si la foudre pouvait durer, which involves a series of improvisations
edited down to a fixed composition.
As I consider myself a composer before an improvisor, it has been easy in the past to reduce
the impact of improvisation to the subordinate function of a writing technique for my compositional
process. But during this doctoral period, a thorough practice of improvisation within the live context
was initiated. This has considerably modified my perception and appreciation of improvisation. I
now see improvisation as a powerful companion to composition, not its subordinate :
“Written compositions are fired off into the future; even if never performed, the writing remains
as a point of reference. Improvisation is in the present, its effect may live on in the souls of the
participants, both active and passive (ie audience), but in its concrete form it is gone forever
from the moment that it occurs, nor did it have any previous existence before the moment that
it occurred, so neither is there any historical reference available. ” (Cardew, 1971)
Cardew offers a eurological perspective to free improvisation (Lewis, 1996) but it certainly is the one
that resembles most my practice of improvisation. I strongly believe in the potential of improvisation
in order to create new and authentic music that fully takes advantage of the improviser’s musical
knowledge and personality. The purity and beauty found in those unpolished, highly irregular
musical moments are valued. It is by improvising that I realised the beauty and difficulty, the control
and prediction, the vocabulary and expertise, the intellectual and sensory acuity that the practice
required; one must compose in realtime and, simultaneously, perform a music with conviction.
There seems to be a tendency in literature about improvisation to compare its practice with
composition. As Bowers (2002) explains, improvisation has been often regarded as a lower, less
complete form of music creation than composition. Yet it seems to me that improvisation and
composition are two complementary disciplines which are important to the development of musicians
who are close to both their musical sensibility and knowledge:
“I do think that composition and improvisation are different aspects of the same process. [...]
I think the process of creating just about anything involves combinations of rational thought,
intuitive choice, ingrained memory, and desire. I could apply all of those words to both composition and improvisation. The process is different, and occupies different time frames, but other
aspects are essentially similar.” (Fehrenbach, 2002, interview with Fred Frith)
In my practice, improvisation and composition are reconciled instead of being opposed. Each project
takes advantage of a variable amount of both. Improvisation offers a lively and human feel to the
music, whilst composition offers precision and perfectibility. For instance, improvisation plays a
predominant role in the production of Tout Croche. I first encountered free improvisation in the
context of the duet. Now, music produced by Tout Croche presents itself as both improvised music
performances in concert and studio albums based on improvisations. In this particular context,
virtuosity resides in the listening and synergy between the two performers in order to form and
explore musical worlds. désert appears as a project that takes advantage of both the creative
potential of improvisation and the organisational potential of the studio. Improvisation at the
modular synthesizer allowed the development of sonic materials and primitive musical forms. The
subsequent reorganisation of these improvisations has generated a series of musique concrète pieces
that retain a sense of liveliness and physicality. Finally, fXfD is essentially a musical instrument
for the practice of electroacoustic improvisation in concert. With this instrument, electroacoustic
improvisation is revealed as a negotiation of the various characteristics of the sounds (anecdote,
sound attributes, musical function and the trace of physicality) by “sonic empiricism”.
During the doctoral period, improvisation has gained an important place in my creative process.
This assimilation of improvisation now allows me to develop projects that integrate both my preoccupations for organisation and precision as well as my interest for alive and physical music. In
the next Chapter, my creative process will be analysed in relation to the selection of sounds in my
Chapter 2
A Music Based on Sound:
Reviving Musique Concrète
[...] le son concret est une réalité sensible, stable et qui présente à la perception
une inépuisable richesse d’aspects, tout comme une photographie ou une
Michel Chion
Recording has been a powerful tool for the democratization of music. The proof is that music
is now everywhere in our daily life: from background radio to phones ringtones and the concert
of cars rolling to techno beats. Over the twentieth century, however, the impact of recording has
also been felt in the way music is made. The recording of sonic events has given us access, through
repeated listening, to a wealth of information that was previously imperceptible in live music. Sound
is somehow zoomed in on by the aural magnifier that is recording:
The effect of recording is that it takes music out of the time dimension and puts it in the space
dimension. As soon as you do that, you’re in a position of being able to listen again and again
to a performance, to become familiar with details you most certainly had missed the first time
through, and to become very fond of details that weren’t intended by the composer or the
musicians. (Eno, 2008, p. 127)
I strongly agree with Chion (2009), who said that music has undergone a schism from the moment
it became recorded. Live music and recorded music do share a common vocabulary but they serve
different purposes. An analogy can be drawn to theatre and cinema which are two related yet
different art forms. Live music aims to share a communal experience between performers and
audience in a specific place (Cardew, 1971) as recorded music is interested in the perfectibility of
the resulting sound offered to the listener (Eno, 2008). Since its inception, musique concrète has
sought to exploit the particularities of recorded music to develop a new art form:
[...] when I proposed the term “musique concrète”, I intended [...] to point out an opposition
with the way musical work usually goes. Instead of notating musical ideas on paper with the
symbols of solfege and entrusting their realization to well-known instruments, the question was
to collect concrete sounds, wherever they came from, and to abstract the musical values they
were potentially containing.19 (Schaeffer, 1977, p. 23)
19 Original
quotation in French, translated into English by de Reydellet (1996, p. 10)
Thus musique concrète has triggered a research that still continues today on the creative possibilities
of recorded music.
Since its conceptualization by Schaeffer, the concept of musique concrète has evolved considerably. It has changed in conjunction with technological developments, from the locked groove of
a vinyl record to the magnetic tape to the computer (Chion, 2009). It has also transformed and
multiplied to keep pace with aesthetic and formal discoveries, engendering, for example, acousmatic,
electronica, sound art and industrial music (Landy, 2007; Adkins, 2007). Despite these technological
and stylistic changes, the premise of musique concrète has always remained. Sound bears a musical
potential that the creator recognizes, sublimates and organizes into a work: “In the case of musique
concrète, we produce sounds [...] as fragments of speech whose position in the puzzle that is our
piece then determine.”20 (Chion, 2009, p. 36) In this light, my musical production can be considered as musique concrète because my creative process first focuses on the collection, the fabrication
and the manipulation of sonic materials, which afterwards inspire me to produce a more elaborate
construction, a music. Sound itself triggers the composition act. As I am particularly attached to
the concept of sound as a music generator, it is undoubtedly the term “musique concrète”21 that
best summarizes my practice – even if Chion’s definition refers only to the art of fixed sounds. I will
argue that the term “musique concrète” refers first and foremost to a state of mind, a disposition
for sound in the composition process of a work.
From early on in my composition practice, the concept of a sound-based music has been inspiring.
It seemed very natural to craft “beautiful” sounds that would end up making music when properly
organised altogether22 . I invested time and energy in order to learn techniques to collect sounds, to
manipulate them and to perfect them. Sound capturing became an integral part of my practice. I
perfected my programming skills in order to develop my own tools, the development of Cecilia being
an example of this. New software applications have always seemed like exciting opportunities to
craft sounds differently. Ultimately, selection of these sounds has always been done in an intuitive
Sound Example 2.1 (Sound selected intuitively). The sound of this bowed metallic string could be
described as beautiful. Its grain, its gesture and its tension are attributes that seemed important in
its selection. It was included intuitively in the pre-doctoral piece Un pied dans ma poubelle (2010).
Yet, that moment of awareness when the musical potential is heard within a sound constitutes
the heart of my musique concrète creative process. This process of negotiation between the material
20 Original quotation in French: “Dans le cas de la musique concrète, nous produisons les sons [...] comme des
fragments de discours dont nous déterminons ensuite la place dans le puzzle de notre pièce.” (Chion, 2009, p. 36)
21 Rather than the term “acousmatic” which has taken on a stylistic connotation over the years.
22 Varèse refers to the concept of “organized sound” to describe his music ((Varèse & Wen-Chung, 1966))
and its organization (Chion, 2009) will be defined by the term “sonic empiricism.” The concept will
thereafter enable me to specify the considerations in the selection of sounds.
Sonic Empiricism
How does one become aware of a particular sound’s musical potential? This questioning is central
to this research of a dynamic composition process. The creative process of musique concrète is not
as linear as its original definition would imply; although the interest in sound in musique concrète
is primordial, compositional judgment remains an important role in the design of successful music:
One must not dissociate composition from sound determination. Both are closely related;
but not in a univocal, redundant way in which either the material indicates the direction the
composer should follow or, conversely, the composition imposes itself on the material creation.
Composition is an act achieved both with and against the sound by antagonizing its natural
movement via montage or superimposition with conflictual sounds.
A new kind of awareness is required during which the composer of musique concrète remains
throughout his work in a constant state of perceptual availability and compositional activity.
He must not consider his sound materials as pre-existent, nor relax his aural vigilance, since he
is in a constant process of production and discovery until the last moment.23 Chion (2009, pp.
It is indeed true that the discovery of a sound as a result of sonic transformations may well
inspire a musical segment. This was the case for several synthesized sounds in désert: sound exploration with my synthesizer LucyL has allowed me to discover unique sounds with a strong musical
potential. It is also true that a musical intention can lead to the production of sound materials. For
example, the composition of Igaluk was essentially realized by following the narrative thread of an
Inuit myth. But mediation between sound production and musical intentions can only occur with
great knowledge of the electroacoustic medium. Therefore, there is a third scenario in the musique
concrète composition process: knowledge can generate musical ideas and/or sound experimentation.
Improvisations produced with my instrument fXfD would fit into this scenario (see Section 3.3).
This tripartite organization of the musique concrète creative process will be defined as “sonic empiricism”24 . “Sonic empiricism” is the process of interaction between the “making,” the “organizing”
and the “know-how” by which the creation of musique concrète occurs (see Figure 2.1).
23 Original quotation in French: “Il [ne faut pas] dissocier la composition de la détermination du son. L’une et
l’autre sont étroitement liées ; mais pas dans un sens univoque, redondant, où le matériau indiquerait la pente qu’il
suffirait dès lors de suivre, ou bien inversement où la composition soumettrait le matériel totalement et sans résidu.
Si l’on compose, c’est à la fois avec et contre le son, en contrariant éventuellement, par montage ou par mise en
conflit avec d’autres sons, son mouvement naturel. [...] Un nouveau type d’attention est requis, où le compositeur de
musique concrète se maintient d’un bout à l’autre du travail en état constant de disponibilité perceptive et d’activité
compositionnelle. Il ne doit pas penser à son matériau sonore comme existant déjà, ni relâcher sa vigilance auditive,
puisqu’il est toujours en train de le faire et de le redécouvrir, jusqu’au dernier moment.” Chion (2009, pp. 46-47)
24 The term came to me after reading a passage from Eno (2008): “[...] the making of music [...] becomes empirical
[...]. You’re working directly with sound, and there’s no transmission loss between you and the sound - you handle
Figure 2.1: Interaction of sonic empiricism components
In an empirical process of trial and error, I refine and validate sound materials with a musical
context in progress, thanks to an understanding of the sonic, technical, technological and stylistic
possibilities available to me. The concept of “sonic empiricism” puts into perspective my composition
process of musique concrète. Not only do I have to negotiate between the production of sounds and
their organisation in a composition25 , I must also be an expert in techniques and technologies of the
studio, have a vast knowledge of the electroacoustic repertoire and, above all, have an ear training
specific to the electroacoustic medium. Those essential elements of the musique concrète’s knowledge
will be discussed in the following subsections.
Technological knowledge is the ability to utilise a set of tools in order to realize an intention, which, in
this case, is musical. This is not an exhaustive list of these tools as they are numerous, with various
functions and, most of all, are replaced at a tremendous pace (Tremblay, 2012a). Nevertheless,
my practice is characterized by the use of programming tools as well as sequencers. The modular
synthesizer and the mixing desk, as much as the electronic tablet and the MIDI controllers, are
regarded as tools that help me create music. Not to mention that the characteristics of microphones
can be exploited musically as well as the features of analogue and digital sound processors. In short,
my musical journey has led me to develop a range of tools which can be used as required by the
composition intention or the sound production.
An important requirement of the technological aspect of my approach is the need to understand
and control multiple technological tools in order to include them as part of my musical language. By
studying in depth the functionalities of a tool (and by knowing a variety of tools), one becomes aware
25 Chion
(2009) talks about the material/organisation pair.
of the creative potential it offers and the limitations it imposes on the sound production: “A sound
device never is neutral, and that is for the best for the musique concrète composer whose range of
possibilities is thereby expanded”26 (Chion, 2009, p. 59). Thus, one can choose whether a tool is
adapted for a particular task or whether it is more pertinent to search for another means. Also,
when the limitations of a tool are understood, methods to corrupt or subvert its normal operation
can be identified. The sounds resulting from corrupted operations are often more interesting than
those obtained by the standard use of the tool (Cascone, 2000). In summary, technological fluency
is a method I use in order to surpass the technological determinism which electroacoustic music is
so often accused of.
First, let me state the obvious: technique does not mean technology. A technique is a process
applied to an object or a substance in order to obtain a result. Technology is the means (physical,
mechanical or computerized) by which this process is employed. Consequently, a technique can be
implemented in several different technologies. It is also true that a technique can be developed by
the use of a particular technology. For the electroacoustic medium, a technique represents the means
by which a sound can be produced, processed, edited or diffused (see Table 2.1). Note here that the
table does not indicate specific software or effects. Instead it presents concepts that are put into
practice in electroacoustic tools (hence the difference between technique and technology) (Verfaille
et al., 2006). In the book The Digital Musician, Hugill (2012) provides an overview, although
somewhat imprecise, of contemporary electroacoustic techniques. Albeit dated, the texts by Chion
& Reibel (1976, pp. 203-250) and Schaeffer (1977, pp. 405-409)27 on the production techniques are
nevertheless still relevant in their remarks. It appears that the literature shows a lack of a proper
description of electroacoustic techniques regardless of the technologies that engender them28 .
Traditionally, musique concrète has sought to use these techniques in a transparent manner, says
Chion (2009). In order to achieve a stylistic ideal, one had to avoid at all cost any reference to the
tools that were used in the production of the sound:
Technological listening occurs when a listener ‘perceives’ the technology or technique behind
the music rather than the music itself, perhaps to such an extent that true musical meaning
is blocked. Many methods and devices easily impose their own spectromorphological character
and clichés on the music. Ideally the technology should be transparent, or at least the music
26 Original
quotation in French: “Un appareil de son n’est jamais neutre, et c’est tant mieux pour le compositeur
concret, dont la palette de possibilités s’en trouve d’autant élargie.” (Chion, 2009, p. 59)
27 Schaeffer entitled this section of his text The electroacoustic chain where an interesting table summarizing some
of the techniques is presented.
28 Observation made after a personal discussion with Robert Normandeau, professor at Université de Montréal, who
teaches electroacoustic writing techniques in his course Typology and Morphology of Sounds
Space Design
Sound recording/capturing
Table 2.1: Electroacoustic writing techniques by category
needs to be composed in such a way that the qualities of its invention override any tendency to
listen primarily in a technological manner. (Smalley, 1997, p. 109)29
Certainly, this ideal of transparency can be linked to the concept of reduced listening, which seeks
to discriminate a sound from its source. In such an ideal, music offers the listener a purely musical
sound, devoid of its production history. I will argue in Section 2.2.4 that this insistence on concealing
the technical production of sounds leads to the lack of a human presence in music. In fact, the detection of a tool’s usage in the fabrication of a sound equates to the disclosure of compositional choices
made by the musician. Giving a greater importance to “technological listening” could produce a
more physical and embodied musique concrète.
This does not mean that any technique creates music if applied to a sound. The discovery of
the “beautiful” sound does not form music instantly. As a matter of fact, one must be cautious
when using electroacoustic techniques: “Not only have most of the basic techniques been explored a
thousand times, but hundreds of archetypes have been created since the beginnings [of electroacoustic
music]”30 (Normandeau, 2006, p. 39).
29 Smalley’s use of the term technology conflicts somewhat with the previous definition. Still, the concept of “technological listening” remains relevant to the current discussion as it implies the perception of a tool or technique
embedded in a sound.
30 Original quotation in French: “Non seulement la plupart des techniques de base ont été explorées mille fois, mais
des centaines d’archétypes ont été mis à jour depuis les débuts [de l’électroacoustique]” (Normandeau, 2006, p. 39).
To avoid repetition and to demonstrate originality in the use of such techniques, there is only one
solution: be familiar with a vast electroacoustic repertoire. Here I not only refer to an academic
music that developed as a result of musique concrète but all kinds of music that utilize electroacoustic
means in order to thrive. Hip hop and IDM are part of that list, as well as noise, electronica
and acousmatic music. Each of these genres has exploited properties and techniques specific to
the electroacoustic medium. They have collectively developed a sensitivity that is specific to the
medium. The composer must now be able to take advantage of these developments of the medium
by borrowing them freely in order to develop a sonic personality. After all, one never creates in a
And what could be easier than finding music to listen to in our hypermodern time? The internet
is an inexhaustible music library that has reached a size unimaginable just ten years ago. For
example, my discovery of Krautrock31 through the digital channels was a revelation that revitalized
my practice toward the end of my Bachelors degree. Every day new quality music confronts me,
comforts me, motivates me in a personal approach to making music. This is especially true now
that instant and free distribution on the internet, in conjunction with home-studio technology (see
Chapter 1), has multiplied the number of music productions (Homer, 2009). It is more than ever
essential for a musician to have a strong personality that acknowledges musical advances made by
an impressive repertoire of electroacoustic music.
Ear Training
Finally, ear training is an essential knowledge in the process of “sonic empiricism.” The very nature of
musique concrète requires the development of a specialized mode of listening32 . One must recognize
in the sound the references that it conveys, perceive its intrinsic attributes, identify the tools and
techniques that have enabled its production and recognize the psychoacoustic limitations of the
human ear. In short, the notion of a specialized ear training for electroacoustic music plays a major
role in the selection of sounds that compose a music (see Section 2.2).
An example involving technological listening can demonstrate this type of listening specialisation.
It seems quite natural for an electroacoustic composer to hear a filter sweep or the density of
granulation. Yet here is a knowledge that has been acquired through practice and that few listeners
can recognize. This ear training is so specific to the electroacoustic discipline that it can even be a
barrier to sharing our sound experimentations with the most skilled musicians.
31 As
defined by Cope (1995).
(1977) refers to this mode of listening as “écoute praticienne,” translated to “practical listening” by
Landy & Atkinson (2002)
32 Schaeffer
The concept of ear training specific to electroacoustic music will be thoroughly discussed later
in this text. Among other things, it will support an argument on the development of dedicated
performers for live electroacoustic music, justify many choices in the design of my instruments and
facilitate the appreciation of the “trace of physicality.”
The Selection of Sounds
The legacy of musique concrète is, as we have seen, significant for composition. Influenced by this
music, I state that my work of sound production and transformation is what triggers the development
of my music. Therefore, if sound is the basic unit of musique concrète, it is appropriate to detail
the factors that motivate the selection of sounds that will form the composition. First, the role of
referential and anecdotal sounds in my compositions will be discussed. Sound selection accomplished
on the typological and morphological basis of the sound attributes will then be addressed. In a similar
manner, the musical functions played by a sound as a decisive factor in its selection to be discussed.
Finally, a section will be devoted to the description of a “trace of physicality” embedded in sound.
This set of factors will highlight the cohesion between the various works of my portfolio. A better
understanding of this sound selection process will develop further the observations made in Chapter
1 and will guide my future research.
An essential aspect of my work requires the acceptance of sound for what it is. Sound has
a personality that should be enhanced rather than reduced by forced sound manipulations. In
Huddersfield, my encounters of several composers interested in post-Cagean sound indeterminism
changed my perception considerably on that matter. I had until then a tendency to control sound in
order to impose a meaning on it. Considerable energy was spent trying to shape a sound to match
a given music. More than ever, I restrain this obsession with counter-productive work of sound
shaping, instead valorising the intrinsic qualities of a sound to develop musicality.
The Anecdote
It is human nature to hear a sound and listen for its cause. Schaeffer (1977) speaks of “natural
listening” to describe this identification process. Regardless of the anthropological reasons for this
behaviour, “natural listening” implies that the listener of musique concrète will seek the causality
of a recorded sound that is presented to him (Smalley, 1997). My music uses this predisposition to
causal listening in order to create a cohesion at the formal level of the work.
On a first level of causal perception, sound refers to physical, natural and human phenomena.
Smalley (1997) uses the term “source bonding”33 to describe the mental association between a
33 “the natural tendency to relate sounds to supposed sources and causes, and to relate sounds to each other because
they appear to have shared or associated origins” (Smalley, 1997, p. 110).
sound and its source. The suggestion of acoustic spaces through “source bonding” is a common
practice in my musical research. Comme si la foudre pouvait durer offers a striking example of such
a reference to an acoustic location. The sound recordings of rain and thunder were produced in a
reverberant courtyard. Their selection became obvious when I decided to evoke a stormy tumult
in the piece. Such recorded sounds would refer immediately to natural phenomenon. This sort of
sonic landscape is reminiscent of the Vancouver soundscape movement popularized by R. Murray
Schaefer and Barry Truax. Tout Croche’s Super Silent Gypsy also refers to a sonic location. It is
based upon an outdoor, along-the-canal improvisation performed with the guitar and harmonium,
and accompanied by a hydraulic pump.
However, the reference to musical instruments is most prominent in my corpus. Each work
contains sounds that refer to an instrument that inspired its composition. The reference to the
electric guitar is clear in Comme si la foudre pouvait durer. The piano is omnipresent in Igaluk and
whoever is interested in its extended techniques will recognize them on a first hearing. désert is
based on the multiple sonorities that can be obtained with my modular synthesizer, LucyL. Even
the studio is presented as an instrument (see Section 3.4) in my improvisations with fXfD. In short,
sounds referring to musical instruments are predominant in my compositional work. It will be
argued in Section 2.2.4 that this attraction to the instrument comes from a desire to find physicality
embedded in the sound. As sounding bodies, instruments offer considerable sonic and acoustic
possibilities that can be shaped efficiently via performance. Their use in my musique concrète
is a way to purge my unsuccessful experiences with the acoustic instruments. The electroacoustic
medium helps developing a virtuosity that I have not been able to obtained by practicing the acoustic
Furthermore, sound has an evocative power that greatly surpasses the reference to its source. It
allows a complex, delicate and subtle narration; the sound is anecdote. Luc Ferrari is an influential
composer of fixed-media music who exploited the anecdotal power of sound:
For me, anecdotal music represented more than the affirmation of sound sources, it was also the
basis [...] for narration. In my design, recognizing sound sources was equivalent to surrealist
collage, in other words, to create a succession of recognizable sounds and unrecognizable invented
noises [...]34 (Gayou, 2001, Interview with Luc Ferrari)
In my portfolio, the sound anecdote is recurrent. Already in my Master’s thesis (Thibault, 2011),
I reinterpreted the notion of “cinema for the ear” in order to explain my construction of musical
tableaux evoking cinematic scenes. In my current approach, the anecdotal issue is still present but
it is important only to the creator. The anecdotes sustained by my pieces are always clear at the
34 Original quotation in French: “Pour moi, la musique anecdotique c’était plus que l’affirmation des sources sonores,
c’était aussi les prémices [...] de la narration. Reconnaı̂tre les sources sonores équivalait dans ma conception au collage
surréaliste, c’est-à-dire faire se succéder des bruits reconnaissables et des bruits inventés non reconnaissables [...]”
(Gayou, 2001)
time of composition. Sometimes it is a story I narrate with sounds. At other moments, it is an
image that I am trying to translate or a feeling that I evoke with music. Always, the anecdote is
the extra-musical argument which suggests the choiceeand the organisation of sounds; the anecdote
is transcended in order to structure sounds into musical ideas.
However, it is hard to know what is left of the original anecdote once it has been integrated in
a musical piece. Igaluk was inspired by the Inuit creation myth of the moon35 . A reading of the
myth generated a set of images that I freely converted into sounds (refer to Sound Examples 2.2,
2.3 & 2.4). What remained of the narrative thread was a title, a sound bank, a structure for my
piece and a reference in the program notes. The listener has no need of this poietic information
in order to listen to the resulting music. The observation is similar in désert, which is inspired
by the image of the desert and a questioning on asceticism36 . In the absence of a narrative, the
various anecdotes instead become movements that evoke both emotions related to asceticism and
concepts attached to the desert. The titles of désert’s movements illustrate these anecdotal links.
Comme si la foudre pouvait durer may be the piece of my portfolio that comes closest to anecdotal
music. With complementary delayed guitar and thunderstorm recordings, the resulting piece evokes
a romantic-kitsch cinematic scene. In summary, the anecdote remains an extremely important factor
in the choice of sounds that compose my music.
Sound Example 2.2 (Anecdotal Sound 1). The following sound enunciates the starry firmament
that is the backstory of the myth of Igaluk. Similarly, the sound acts as a background to the musical
Sound Example 2.3 (Anecdotal Sound 2). Those sound punctuations represent ghost melodies
that haunts Malina, Igaluk’s sister.
Sound Example 2.4 (Anecdotal Sound 3). The rhythmical, machinic and accelerating sound was
designed in reference to the race between Igaluk and Malina.
Needless to say, then, that I am opposed to the traditional position in acousmatic composition
that insists on the separation of a sound and its source37 . Such a causal separation was originally
intended “to ensure complete and exclusive devotion to the hearing phenomena, to happen upon instinctive pathways that lead from pure sound to purely musical”38 (Schaeffer, 1977, p. 98). However,
my vision of acousmatic composition is a complex and rich form of art that resembles sculpture in
35 See
Appendix B for a summary of the myth of Igaluk
a result of reading F. Nietzsche On the Genealogy of Morals
37 The second commandment for musique concrète written by Chion (2009, p. 24) states that: “2. [The composer]
completely distinguishes sounds and their original sound source.”
38 Original quotation in French: “[...] à se consacrer entièrement et exclusivement à l’écoute, à surprendre ainsi les
cheminements instinctifs qui mènent du pur sonore au pur musical” (Schaeffer, 1977, p. 98).
36 As
that it produces a fixed, finished object that can be seen (or heard) from various angles over time.
Sculpture does not have to reject figuration and embrace only abstraction in order to be art. This
might have been true for a period of time but, after all those years of post-modernism, the opposition
of abstraction and figuration in art is obsolete. I believe that we can perceive the beauty of a sound
for itself even if we recognize the source that produced it, especially when it is out of context like
on a CD or in a public listening environment39 . This dual perception of the sound (anecdotal and
interested in sound attributes) is exploited in Comme si la foudre pouvait durer. A dialogue with
neighbours was unexpectedly captured during a recording session in the rain. It is found almost in
its entirety in the piece except that it was smeared in order to conceal its meaning. What remains
is a rhythmic and melodic sound material that retains its bond with the voice. Metaphorically, the
dialogue, once inserted into the work, is the remembrance of a meeting where the meaning of each
word was not really important.
Interestingly, one of the great theoretician of acousmatic, Chion (2009, p. 17), suggests that
anecdote, after all, is a characteristic of the composition process in musique concrète: “A wealth
of musique concrète lies in its ambivalence towards the issue of the anecdote, constantly dismissed
then reintroduced.”40 Certainly, the anecdote is not the sole determining factor in the selection of
a sound. The intrinsic characteristics of a sound also justify many choices during the composition
Sound Attributes
My musical training has familiarized me with Schaefferian phenomenological theories of sound perception. My goal here is not to summarize them41 ; Schaeffer’s writings on sound perception constitute a vast ocean of knowledge that could hardly be shared in this document without changing its
nature. Instead, I propose to analyse how such a theory influences my way of composing musique
To make my point clear, I nonetheless must address one of the most discussed concepts of
Schaeffer’s theory: reduced listening. Rather than redefining it here for the umpteenth time, let us
look at what Michel Chion says about it:
In Schaefferian theory, reduced listening is the attitude which consists in listening to the sound
for its own sake, as a sound object by removing its real or supposed source and the meaning it
may convey. [...] In reduced listening our listening intention targets the event which the sound
39 A
good example of that disconnect once sounds are on a medium would be La Selva (1998) by Francisco López.
quotation in French: “Une des richesses de la musique concrète réside en effet dans son ambivalence par
rapport à la question de l’anecdote, sans arrêt congédiée puis réintroduite.” (Chion, 2009, p. 17)
41 Landy (2007, pp. 73-105) manages to describe this theory in a concise and detailed manner in his book Understanding the Art of Sound Organisation. Also, a translation of Schaeffer’s Traité des objets musicaux by John Dack
and Christine North is available, although I personally always refer to the French version of the text. Finally, Chion
(2012) has a glossary available on his website that defines the main terms of the Schaefferian theories.
40 Original
object is itself (and not to which it refers) and the values which it carries in itself (and not the
ones it suggests)[sic]. The act of removing all our habitual references in listening is a voluntary
and artificial act which allows us to clarify many phenomena implicit in our perception. [...]
Thus, the name reduced listening refers to the notion of phenomenological reduction (Époché),
because it consists to some extent of stripping the perception of sound of everything that is
not ‘it itself’ in order to hear only the sound, in its materiality, its substance, its perceivable
dimensions.(Chion & Schaeffer, 1983, pp. 30-31)
This “practical listening” focuses our attention on intrinsic characteristics of sound, of the sound
object42 . Now, the attributes of a sound distinguished with reduced listening can be described with
Schaeffer’s typo-morphology theory. Sound typo-morphology is a discipline that provides a vocabulary for classification (typology) and description (morphology) of the sound objects. It provides a
method to discriminate sounds and evaluate their attributes with a set of criteria: mass, harmonic
timbre, dynamic, grain, oscillation (allure), melodic profile, and profile of mass. The implementation
of reduced listening in conjunction with sound typo-morphology offers a great tool to discern and
exploit the full musical potential of a sound object.
In my music, this reduced way of listening to sound is omnipresent. If désert marvels at sound
materials produced by my analogue modular synthesizer, it is primarily because these materials
are attractive on a typo-morphological level. They are spectrally rich and have a variety of shapes
suitable for the composition of musique concrète. Despite their electronica aesthetic and frequent
use of tonality, Igaluk and Comme si la foudre pouvait durer offer much to the ear that is attentive
to the sound attributes. Moreover, Tout Croche’s production features a constant exploration of a
variety of timbre, produced by fed back electronics. The following few sound examples (2.5, 2.6,
2.7 & 2.8)43 will highlight the typo-morphological process used in the selection of a sound. Sound
attributes which have been significant in the choice of each of the sound examples are listed below.
Sound Example 2.5 (Sound selected for its typo-morphology 1). This excerpt from Comme si la
foudre pouvait durer was chosen because of its fragment typology. Sounds with artificial edges, the
fragment reveals the techniques of edition and cutting in electroacoustic music.
Sound Example 2.6 (Sound selected for its typo-morphology 2). The example taken from Igaluk
suggests a formed note with a complex mass, even thought a fundamental can be perceived. Its sharp
attack and exponential release has made it a prime candidate for creating slow rhythms.
42 “In Schaefferian theory the term sound object refers to every sound phenomenon and event perceived as a whole,
as a coherent entity and heard by means of reduced listening which targets it for itself, independently of its origin or
its meaning. [...] It is a sound unit perceived in its material, its inherent texture, its own qualities and perceptual
dimensions. On the other hand, it represents a global perception, which remains identical through different hearings;
an organised unit which can be compared to a ‘gestalt’ in the meaning of the psychology of form.”(Landy & Atkinson,
43 I could have chosen many other sounds as my pieces are filled with them, chosen for their sonic attributes.
Sound Example 2.7 (Sound selected for its typo-morphology 3). Taken from the croire movement
of désert, this synthetic sound gives the impression that it emanates from a single source, exploring
the possible articulations that can be obtained with that source. Hence, its considered as a sample
in the Schaefferian typology and has a great musical value. Its grain helps it stand out from the lot
when put into musical context.
Sound Example 2.8 (Sound selected for its typo-morphology 4). The sound presented here was
taken from désert’s movement perdre. It is characterised by its fixed mass (pitch), its iterative
allure, its slow morphology and space movement. It is used at several occasions in the movement
with variations over its pitch and speed of iteration.
From the description of the sound examples, we first note that the evaluation process of sound
objects is not as rigorous as Schaeffer’s approach suggests. In my implementation of the typomorphology, I do not dwell on describing all of the attributes that characterize a sound. Instead, I
focus on a specific sound quality that inspires in me a potential musical use. In view of the examples
given, the “grain”44 appears as an important morphological criterion in the selection of my sounds.
For a long time, the “iterative pad”45 has been part of my musical vocabulary. It is frequently used
to energize and add relief to a slow musical movement. The “sample”46 is also a group of typologies
that is valued in my music. This is because of a strong link between the “sample,” as irregular and
human as it is, and the search for a “trace of physicality” described in Section 2.2.4
Smalley (1997) proposes a descriptive theory of sound that continues the discussion initiated
by Schaeffer: spectromorphology47 . More than simple methods of analysis, these theories are both
inspiration and validation for my sound choices.
Although spectromorphology is not a compositional theory, it can influence compositional methods since once the composer becomes conscious of concepts and words to diagnose and describe,
then compositional thinking can be influenced [...]. In the confusing, wide-open sound-world,
composers need criteria for selecting sound materials and understanding structural relationships. So descriptive and conceptual tools which classify and relate sounds and structures can
be valuable compositional aids. (Smalley, 1997, p. 107)
In its method of describing the sounds, Smalley succeeds in reinvesting the field of music; something
that Schaeffer was not able to accomplish with his theory. With the concept of “structural functions,”
44 “Grain is a microstructure of the matter of sound, which is more or less fine or coarse and which evokes by analogy
the tactile texture of a cloth or a mineral, or the visible grain in a photograph or a surface.” (Chion & Schaeffer,
1983, p. 171)
45 “The name iterative is given to sounds whose sustainment is prolonged by iteration, i.e. by repetition of impulses
at close intervals.” (Chion & Schaeffer, 1983, p. 131)
46 “a prolonged excentric sound, continuous but disordered, which is nevertheless perceived as a unit because we
recognise behind the oddness the permanence of a cause, the persistence of a single agent in pursuing its aims.”
(Chion & Schaeffer, 1983, p. 152)
47 “ [...] the concepts and terminology of spectromorphology [were developed] as tools for describing and analysing
listening experience. The two parts of the term refer to the interaction between sound spectra (spectro-) and the ways
they change and are shaped through time (-morphology).” (Smalley, 1997, p. 107)
spectromorphology gives a perceptual importance to the context within which sounds are used. In
other words, the composer also selected the sound object for its intended musical use.
The Musical Function
If Smalley’s explanations on the “structural functions” are succinct, Roy (2004), in his book L’analyse
des musiques électroacoustiques : modèles et propositions, develops a method of “functional analysis”
intended for electroacoustic music. The author asserts that sound objects (sound units as he refers
to them) have musical functions in the context of a work that can be revealed by means of analysis:
The function [of a sound unit] forms through a network of relationships between units in a
local context as well as in the global context of a work [...]. These networks of relationships
set up relations of both opposition and referral between units. They confer a great meaning to
some short units as they are articulations that delimit larger units. Some units are assigned
driving roles because of their inner movement [...] while layered textures generate a hierarchical
organization that assigns specific roles to specific units/layers.48 (Roy, 2004, p. 344)
He lists and describes the possible musical functions of sound objects as part of four categories:
orientation, stratification, processes and rhetoric. This theory, originally conceived as an analytical
tool, is an integral part of my training and has made me aware of the functional vocabulary. In
retrospect, it is highly influential in the process of making compositional decisions. The functional
theory is a much needed help in the organization and structuring of the sounds that compose music.
Most importantly, it allows me to connect typo-morphological characteristics of a sound object to its
use in a musical context. In short, the concepts introduced by Roy (2004) in his functional analysis
raised awareness to processes that are highly useful to electroacoustic music composition49 . I now
use it abundantly in the design and composition of my musique concrète.
In the light of Roy’s functional analysis, we understand, for example, that thunder is a disruptive
element that structures Comme si la foudre pouvait durer. Often, it introduces or interrupts the
musical flow by its dynamic morphology as well as its irregular and complex mass. The movement
titled contempler in désert is a clear example of the layering work suggested in the functional
vocabulary. In the background, a sustained note serves as an “axis of tonal polarisation”50 while a
48 Original quotation in French: “La fonction [d’une unité sonore] prend forme grâce au réseau de relations qui se
tisse entre les unités dans un contexte local comme dans un contexte global d’une œuvre [...]. Ces réseaux de relations
mettent en scène des rapports d’opposition et de renvoi entre les unités. Ils font de certaines unités brèves d’importants
lieux d’articulation qui, en définitive, constituent des indices pour la délimitation de plus grandes unités. La présence
de progressions concentre sur certaines unités des rôles moteurs [...] tandis que les textures stratifiées génèrent une
organisation hiérarchique qui attribue à certaines unités/strates des rôles spécifiques.” (Roy, 2004, p. 344)
49 Although functional analysis was developed with electroacoustic music analysis in mind, its use is not limited
to a particular genre. Roy (2004, p. 386) himself proposes “to extend its use to very different musical repertoires
that include contemporary instrumental music, or non-Western repertoires which require the most unbiased approach
possible [...]”
50 The “axis of tonal polarisation” function (axe polarisateur tonal in French) is attributed to a sound unit with
an homogeneous and stable morphology as well as a perceptible mass. It acts as an attracting tonal centre for other
units that tend to disturb its homogeneity (Roy, 2004, p. 354).
bouncing sound acts as “figure”51 with its precise attacks and variable-speed iterations. This “figure”
is supported52 by a distorted and erratic texture which is noticeable mainly in its interruptions. In
the first half of its structure, the movement also presents an orientation process which has greatly
influenced the production of sound objects: the intensification53 . Meanwhile, the movement titled
perdre is organized around a deceleration54 process that suggested the morphological changes of my
sounds during composition. The movement titled vouloir of the same piece offers some striking
examples of rhetorical relations between sounds. The sudden rupture55 of the rich sound texture
(1:35) is followed by some brief sound reminders56 of the density that was previously there; these
reminders follow a dispersion57 pattern, becoming shorter and shorter until they are forgotten.
In summary, the functional classification of Roy is omnipresent in my music. It is an efficient
tool to discern the musical potential of a sound. Although the previous examples shed some light on
my argument, the analysis of functional relationships within music can be extraordinarily complex.
I therefore leave to the curious listener the pleasures of a more thorough analysis of my music.
A New Concern: The Trace of Physicality
In the light of the observations made in Chapter 1, a new criterion seems to impose itself in the
quality of a sound: the “trace of physicality.” In order to understand that notion, first we must
state that a recorded sound is the unaltered result of its production. In a more or less concealed
manner, sound testifies to the manipulations that led to its conception. Schaeffer (1977, p. 413)
refers to the term “facture” to describe the traces of a sound’s manufacture present in the sound. I
argue that one can perceive humanity and a sense of physicality in this facture. For the composer of
musique concrète, the trace of physicality has the potential to dynamise its rigid and slow practice;
it accelerates the workflow by giving performance58 a place in the composition process, thus giving
the sound fluidity:
This trace of a human presence on fixed media works, and captured embodied gestures as a
mean of testifying that the music is alive, brings an interesting perspective on liveness. [...]
The perceived liveness of a performance over a recorded media is a fascinating problem, defying
51 The “figure” function is a sound unit featuring an unstable morphology which allows it to be prominent, to be in
the forefront of a layered texture (Roy, 2004, p. 354).
52 A “support” (appui in French) is a subordinate function of the “figure” that features similar morphologies yet
has a distinctive timbre. (Roy, 2004, p. 355)
53 The “intensification” function describes sound units featuring dynamic, spectral and melodic profiles that increase
in time. (Roy, 2004, p. 357)
54 The “deceleration” function describes the sound units organized according to a progressive stretching of time
between the attacks that form it. (Roy, 2004, p. 357)
55 The “rupture” function is a dramatic cutoff in the sound accentuated by a previous intensification. (Roy, 2004,
p. 364)
56 The “reminder” function (rappel in French) reiterates at various locations in the work a prominent musical
moment. (Roy, 2004, p. 359)
57 The “dispersion” function is attributed to sound units which feature a gradual disappearance of its perceptible
components. (Roy, 2004, p. 357)
58 “Performance” is here used in its broadest musical sense, signifying the action of “playing” a musical instrument.
Such a form of performance can be accomplished in studio without the presence of an audience.
taxonomy, yet is too important a concern for the current generation to be ignored. (Tremblay,
2012b, p. 7)
For Aldrovandi (2000), the act of listening is sensitive to performative musical gestures. He
argues that this perception can have a major impact on our way of composing electroacoustic music:
We may intend to listen to a certain behaviour in sound with an intentional body movement, or,
we may discover macroscopic properties of sound while manipulating with attentive listening.
[...] We may imagine that control of gestural performance can underlie the development of a
composition. (Aldrovandi, 2000)
In other words, it is possible to compose a music that incorporates musical gestures by methodically
exploring the sonic possibilities of a sounding body59 . However, Aldrovandi applies the argument
almost exclusively to the creation of séquences-jeu using acoustic sounding bodies during recording.
Variations pour une porte et un soupir by Pierre Henry is a classic example of the trace of physicality
achieved from the recording of a sounding body. It takes little time to understand that the creaking
door is played expressively by the composer who exploits a range of subtleties from that sounding
body. My use of recorded guitar (in Comme si la foudre pouvait durer ) and piano (in Igaluk ) were
clear attempts to confer a sense of liveness and physicality to my music. “The use of extended
passages of ‘performed’ instrumental phrases in a fixed media work [...] changes our perception
of the instrument as a site for sounds to one that implies a performing presence, no matter how
disembodied this presence is” (Adkins, 2012).
However, my search for a trace physicality is not exclusively limited to the perception of a sounding body performed in studio. It is also possible to recognize a physicality specific to electroacoustic
music which is heard in the manipulations and processing of the sound: “When a sample or processed sound gives a sense of the journey of that sound [...] could this be what we call “live” in the
age of technically enhanced performance” (Milutis, 2008, p. 72)? Here Milutis raises the question of
the recognition of a musicality specific to the electroacoustic tools. A practitioner ear can recognize
a large number of sound archetypes developed by studio tools (see Section 2.1.4). Furthermore,
the musician’s ear of the practitioner can recognize a musical performance with those tools. It can
recognize, for example, the gradual opening of a low-pass filter in the first moments of Comme si la
foudre pouvait durer as presented in Sound Example 2.9. This sweeping of the spectrum is articulated in an organic, fragile and restrained way that suggests the performance by means of a rotary
controller. The use of edited automations to compose this gesture would have produced a more
dramatic, sudden and explosive articulation. By rehearsing a performed articulation, I developed
a more contained gesture relevant to the opening of the piece. In Igaluk, a granulation process is
performed to create a varying texture as Sound Example 2.10. A trained ear can recognize the
change of index in the granulation process in addition to hearing a parallel filtering process.
59 Schaeffer
(1977) uses the term “sounding body” to describe any physical object capable of producing sounds.
Sound Example 2.9 (Lowpass filter performed on thunder recording). In this example, we can hear
a lowpass filter sweep being performed as the thunder rumbles. The performance aims to amplify
the explosive character of the natural thunder sound. One does recognise both the morphological
changes imposed by the filter that sweeps the spectrum of sound and a form of physicality specific to
the electroacoustic medium.
Sound Example 2.10 (Granulation performed in Igaluk ). The performance of this granulation
process consists of changing its index position with an expression pedal, as explained in Section 3.2.
Smalley (1997) proposes the concept of source bonding 60 to describe the phenomenon of correlation between a sound and its cause. He also argues that sound can reveal the gesture that conceived
it: “When we hear spectromorphologies we detect the humanity behind them by deducing gestural
activity, referring back through gesture to proprioceptive and psychological experience in general”
(Smalley, 1997, p. 111). As a result, he classifies the perceptual distance between a sound and its
cause in terms of gestural surrogacy levels:
First-order surrogacy [...] is concerned with sonic object use in work and play prior to any
‘instrumentalisation’ or incorporation into a musical activity or structure. It is here that musical
potential begins to be recognised and explored. [...] First-order surrogacy includes recordings of
sound-making not intended for musical use. On the other hand, first-order surrogacy may involve
more developed gestural play purposely used as compositional material, a sort-of personalised,
nascent ‘instrument’ which never achieves, or can never achieve full cultural, instrumental status.
But we can only award such sounds first-order status if we can recognise source [sic] (the type
of material) and type of gestural cause. [...]
Second-order surrogacy is traditional instrumental gesture, a stage removed from the first
order, where recognisable performance skill has been used to develop an extensive registral
articulatory play. An acousmatic music which, for example, uses only recordings of identifiable
instruments remains in the second order. Much music which uses simulation of instrumental
sounds can also be regarded as second order since, although the instrument may not be real, it
is perceived as the equivalent of the real. Commercial synthesizer usage is of this type when we
recognise both the gesture involved and the instrumental source simulated.
Third-order surrogacy is where a gesture is inferred or imagined in the music. The nature
of the spectromorphology makes us unsure about the reality of either the source or the cause,
or both. We may not be sure about how the sound was made to behave as it does, what the
sounding material might be, or perhaps about the energy–motion trajectory involved. [...]
Remote surrogacy is concerned with gestural vestiges. Source and cause become unknown
and unknowable as any human action behind the sound disappears. The listener may instead
be concerned with non-sounding extrinsic links, always, of course, based on perceived spectromorphological attributes. But some vestiges of gesture might still remain. To find them we
must refer to tensile, proprioceptive properties, to those characteristics of effort and resistance
perceived in the trajectory of gesture. (Smalley, 1997, p. 112)
In short, the higher the level of surrogacy of a sound is, the more distant and independent it
appears to be from any source or cause. In our quest for the “trace of physicality,” we would like
electroacoustic manipulations to be perceived as second-order gestural surrogates, in a similar way
60 “the natural tendency to relate sounds to supposed sources and causes, and to relate sounds to each other because
they appear to have shared or associated origins” (Smalley, 1997, p. 110).
as any other instrumental gesture. However, the author warns us of the insistence of a direct link
between sound and its cause:
I venture to suggest that an electroacoustic music which is confined to the second order does not
really explore the potential of the medium, while a music which does not take some account of
the cultural imbedding of gesture will appear to most listeners a very cold, difficult, even sterile
music. (Smalley, 1997, p. 112)
Consequently, a well-balanced musique concrète composition will feature only a few second-order
surrogates that emphasize a direct trace of physicality. The majority of sound objects will be closer
or more remote from their cause depending on the musical context.
Comme si la foudre pouvait durer contains several sound materials that could be perceived as
second-order surrogates. However, the presence of acoustic instruments, and their palpable physicality, relegates the sound objects resulting from electroacoustic manipulations to a third-order
surrogacy. For example, the guitar recordings highlight a perceptible hesitation in the guitar playing. The superb bass part played by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay also imbues a physical and human
character. In comparison, the performance of the filter described above can only take on a subtle
accompaniment role that represents a barely perceptible level of physicality. In short, the level of
perception of a trace of physicality is greatly dependent on its musical context. In contrast, désert
presents synthetic sounds that maintain, more or less, the same distance from their source, my
modular analogue synthesizer. The sound materials feature perceptible traces of physicality as the
Sound Examples 2.11, 2.12 & 2.13 shows. Of course, the relevance of these examples is debatable as
I am the musician who crafted them and can therefore easily identify the musical gesture embedded
in them. I will therefore not speculate on their level of surrogacy.
Sound Example 2.11 (Sound featuring a trace of physicality 1). The sound example taken from
the movement contempler features a simultaneous performance of the rate of a synthesised pulse and
its filtering. The result is a physical sounding material used in its present condition in désert
Sound Example 2.12 (Sound featuring a trace of physicality 2). In the croire movement, the
quantized pitch of two oscillators is performed to create this synthesised sound. The result, by its
irregularities and surprises if embedded with physicality.
Sound Example 2.13 (Sound featuring a trace of physicality 2). In this example taken from the
movement titled vouloir, a chaotic system implemented with the modular synthesizer is performed
by changing the parameters of various modules. The link between gesture and sound result is here
more abstract. Yet, it features a certain physicality that is showcased in the sense of timing and
decisiveness that the sound material required in order to be performed.
In electroacoustic literature61 , we assume that the electroacoustic manipulations are third-order
(even remote) surrogates because their sonic results are multiple and little known to the public.
However, as Adkins (2012) declares, “the idea of live-ness in contemporary art is one in which
traditional notions of the bodily, presence, actuality and artifact are continually being redefined.”
It is true that the order of a gestural surrogacy is dependant on the socio-cultural context. In fact,
however, it appears that the means of electroacoustic music production are increasingly known by a
large group of listeners, thanks to the democratization of the studio (Homer, 2009). We can therefore
contemplate the idea that, once the studio is fully integrated in our common conception of music,
this trace physicality will be perceived by all, not only practicing musicians. I now value the trace
of physicality in my musique concrète in the hope of cultivating this connection between a musical
gesture and its musical result specific to the electroacoustic medium. Hence an avid interest for live
electroacoustic music has developed.
Furthermore, embodiment theories seem to confirm the gradual acceptance of electroacoustic
gestures. Already, it has been proven that a listener is able to recognize trajectories in electroacoustic sounds (Godøy et al., 2006). The development, already well under way, of a culture of live
electroacoustic performance will give the listener the mental images necessary to decode this trace
of physicality:
The idea of mental re-coding of sound into multi-modal gestural images [...] rests on the idea
of embodied cognition. Embodied cognition means that there is an incessant mental simulation
going on in our minds of whatever we perceive, so that perception is not a matter of abstract processing of sensory data, but rather a process of re-enactment of whatever we perceive. (Godøy,
2006, p. 155)
With his notion of “gestural-sonorous objects,” Godøy (2006) even combines Schaeffer’s typomorphology and gestural theories. In fact, his intention is to describe musical gestures using typomorphological vocabulary. Van Nort (2009) will even use this idea of “gestural-sonorous objects” to
rethink the manufacture of digital instruments.
Throughout this discussion, a definition of what is meant by “trace of physicality” seems to take
shape. The trace of physicality appears to be an embodied perception of an interaction between
a musician and a sound-generating process that was recorded as part of a composition (see Figure
2.2 for a visual representation). The interaction between a musician and a sound-generating process
(regardless of whether it is acoustic or electroacoustic) is the site where the original physicality
occurs. The recording of this physical performance and its usage in a composition confers on it the
status of a trace; it is a reproduction of the gesture (rather than the original) which is presented
to the listener. The listener perceives the particular gesture because he is able to conceive that
the resulting sound was produced in response to a gesture. This embodiment is informed by his
61 (Smalley,
1997; Young, 1996; Landy, 2007)
electroacoustic knowledge and, most of all, his past experiences. Ultimately, my use of this trace
of physicality aims to offer the listener a more lively, less rigid musique concrète, which takes into
account the characteristics of fixed-media music.
Figure 2.2: The concept of “trace of physicality”
Chapter 3
Digital Instruments to Perform
Sound – A Case Study
The instrument is not just a tool but an ally. It is not only a means to an end, it is a source of
material, and technique [...] is often an exploitation of the natural resources of the instrument.
Derek Bailey
As discussed in Chapter 1, the doctoral period was initiated with observations on my electroacoustic music production. In order to overcome the slowness and rigidity of the home studio
practice, I immediately turned to the design of musical instruments. The instrument seemed to
allow spontaneity, fluidity and musical performance that was sorely lacking in my practice. My very
first impulse was to return to the guitar, an instrument I had cherished during my teenage years
and studied intensively in a college degree. But after a few unsuccessful attempts, I reaffirmed the
observation made at the beginning of my musical journey: the guitar no longer corresponds to my
musical sensibility. It must be said that over the past decade, I have mainly focused my practice
of the creation of electroacoustic music, developing a solfège, techniques and, most importantly, a
sensibility specific to the medium. In short, it seemed to me that I already had developed a form of
virtuosity with electroacoustic tools. Consequently, research was initiated to develop direct interaction with the electroacoustic medium. I was confident that the integration of the instrument into
my practice would renew my composition methods.
The realization of the present portfolio provided the framework for this research of an instrument
suitable to my needs. It now appears that this research was accomplished naively, without a prior
identification of the instrumental needs to fulfil. Through trial and error, instrumental instances
were developed to meet the needs of specific musical projects. While this may seem like a flaw in
the research methodology, I believe that this wandering has allowed me to define the parameters
and limits of my music creation. Through this instrumental development, I have not only found
specific solutions to particular musical projects, I have also understood the attitude that I wanted
to maintain in relation to performance in electroacoustic music.
The case study present in this chapter highlights the path of my reflection on the concept of
the instrument in electroacoustic music. Three instrumental instances will be analysed in order to
reveal their impact on my various projects. In a first working hypothesis, a composed instrument
was developed specifically for the performance of Igaluk. In parallel, an interest in electroacoustic
improvisation initiated the development of fXfD. The instrument also integrated functions for more
efficient composition. In retrospect, the three practices of improvisation, composition and performance are all essential to my instrument research. These concerns are central to the study of a third
case: the studio. The studio is presented here as a polymorphic instrument which facilitates the
performance of electroacoustic music. To avoid any ambiguity, the definition of “instrument” will
be reviewed first.
A Definition
If “‘[m]usical instrument’ is a self-explanatory term for an observer in his own society” (Wachsmann
et al., 2014), then this observer has been considerably challenged in his definition of the instrument
in recent decades. In view of the developments in computer music, the notion of instrument has
taken on a new meaning, freeing the sound production of its physical constraints. Research in the
fields of sound synthesis and interface has helped develop the concept of the “digital instrument”:
“digital musical instruments can [be] divided into a gestural controller (or input device) that takes
the control information from the performer(s), and a sound generator that plays the role of the
excitation source.” (Jordà, 2007, p. 96)
The “digital instrument” is composed of three founding components chosen by the creator: a
gestural controller, a sound generator and mapping strategies. A gestural controller captures the
gestures of a performer via an interface, transforming them into discrete values and transmitting
them to a music system. Many types of controllers can transmit various gestural values62 : biometric
sensors, keyboards, augmented instruments and joysticks are to name but a few. The sound generator is the computing device that calculates the resulting sound produced by an instrument. It
implements processes based on various synthesis, sampling and signal processing techniques. Finally,
the mapping strategies form “the connection[s] between gestural parameters [...] and sound and music control parameters.” (Jordà, 2005, p. 141). Those connections can be convergent, divergent or
one-to-one and often use the concept of energy (Rovan, Wanderley, Dubnov & Depalle, 1997).
62 Wanderley (2001) distinguished three types of controllers: instrument-like controllers, extended controllers and
alternative controllers.
The definition of digital instruments has always been inclusive, embracing personal visions of how
a musical instrument can be implemented. This is evidenced by an imposing literature that covers
the development of countless instruments, each with its peculiarities. This chapter is not intended
to provide a description of yet another in a long line of digital instrument (see NIME)... Instead, it
emphasizes that the instrument has become a malleable concept that fits the needs of the designer.
On a personal level, the instrument has become a way to energize my concrète approach to musical
creation. It provides a gestural and musical control over electroacoustic sound manipulations; sound
production, editing, processing, diffusion, in short, electroacoustic techniques (see Section 2.1.2)
could now be performed with the virtuosity that an instrument implies.
Because the computer is central to my practice, it is through the prism of the “digital instrument”
that the various instrumental instances developed will be studied. Each instrument will be analysed
in the light of the three components of the digital instrument (gestural controller, sound generator
and mapping strategies). The case studies of the software instrument for Igaluk and the integrated
instrument fXfD will lay the groundwork for a discussion on the studio as a polymorphic and versatile
Igaluk, the Composed Instrument
Igaluk – To Scare the Moon with its own Shadow is a piece that was initiated during a residency at the
Technische Universität Berlin in the summer of 2011. During my doctoral studies at the University
of Huddersfield, I had the opportunity to visit the German capital for two months, during which time
I met weekly with the pianist Sebastian Berweck63 . The project was at that point to develop a mixed
music piece for piano and electronics. However, during our meetings, we found a common interest in
electroacoustic music played live. Thus the commission became one for a live electroacoustic piece.
The composition process of Igaluk was characterized by a constant exchange with Berweck that
made possible the development of a digital instrument specific to the piece. In order to validate
the software development of the instrument, instrumental drafts were repeatedly submitted to the
performer for an experimental evaluation. Through this process, I wanted to submit design ideas
for the approval of Berweck, who had strong opinions on performance concerns. In the past, I
had already developed such a collaborative process with percussionist João Catalão in the piece
Enfant Robot au cœur fondant (Thibault, 2011). However, this was a first experience of sharing my
electroacoustic composition process with a performer. I was still the sole composer but someone was
now overseeing my electroacoustic decisions under a new perspective, that of performance.
63 His
personal website:
The sonic signature of Igaluk emerged during an improvisation session in the studio with my
collaborators Berweck and Harvey (member of duo Tout Croche). This recording session was organized around a series of séquences-jeu and improvisations on a prepared piano. It became a pivotal
step in the development of the project. Exploring extended piano techniques with the help of such
an endlessly resourceful musician as Berweck, a set of sound materials was collected which provided
a direction and a unity for the following compositional work (see Sound Examples 3.1, 3.2 & 3.3).
Only then could I begin the design of a dedicated instrument for the performance of a composed
piece64 .
Sound Example 3.1 (Improvised Sound Material for Igaluk 1). Sound recorded during the improvisation session. This sequence has provided the sounds for a micro-instrument that was later
Sound Example 3.2 (Improvised Sound Material for Igaluk 2). Prepared piano improvisation that
has provided the PrepPiano sounds.
Sound Example 3.3 (Improvised Sound Material for Igaluk 3). Improvisation with an ebow and
a slide directly on the piano strings. The sounds obtained were integrated also as is in the piece.
After defining the sound materials that would be used for the composition of the piece, I was
able to develop a series of micro-instruments that provide a specific manipulation over a subset
of these sounds, presented in detail in Section 3.2.3. The micro-instruments developed with Max
(Cycling ‘74, 2014) were, in fact, prototype instruments developed to test a design with the help
of Sebastian Berweck. Together, we could evaluate the best suited gestural controller for a sound
generator given of the various mapping strategies. The Max patch titled Piano Painting in the
appendix is a micro-instrument that was tested by Berweck and me. It consists of a playback engine
that can read a piano improvisation by Berweck. It is controlled with a toggle button that activates
the looping of a short fragment of the improvisation and a rotary potentiometer to set the length of
the loop. Although it offered interesting sonorities, the micro-instrument was rejected as it could not
provide a precise control or notation. Another, more successful example of this selection concerns the
micro-instrument titled GranulaChords, also found in the appendix. A linear potentiometer would
determine the position of a granulation index that would return to a stable position following the
physical properties of a spring-mass system. Although the micro-instrument GranulaChords was not
used in the final version of Igaluk ’s instrument, it inspired the creation of another micro-instrument,
DarkScratch. The latter has retained the concept of a granulation controlled by a linear interface
while adding some processing functions.
64 Note that at this stage of the composition, the concept of the piece was to ask the performer to manipulate his
own recordings with electroacoustic techniques. Controlling multiple recordings simultaneously, the performer was
becoming a sort of contemporary one-man band.
Upon agreement on the relevance of a number of micro-instruments, a simulation inside Ableton
Live (Ableton, 2014) was designed, thanks to the Max4Live module, to allow composition with these
micro-instruments. Ableton Live’s sequencer provided a simulation environment for the gestural data
that would cause the sound generator of the instrument to produce sound. Thus, this simulation
environment provided an efficient method to compose a music that respected the instrument’s design.
Once satisfied with this simulation, I had to develop an instrument specifically designed for the
performance of the piece in concert. To that effect, it was necessary to build an instrument that
met the enabled the live performance of such a set of micro-instruments: “Over the years while
performing and composing [...], I have come to create MaxMSP patches that are not meant to work
for all occasions, but often work only in a ‘case-specific’ way in terms of musical context” (Kimura,
2003, p. 294).
The next step in the creation was to develop a concert instrument. The concert instrument
described here can be labelled a “composed instrument” in the sense intended by Schnell & Battier
(2002, p. 156): “The term [...] ‘composed instrument’ underlines the fact that computer systems
used in musical performance carry as much the notion of an instrument as that of a score, in the
sense of determining various aspects of a musical work.” I was to integrate a complex set of musical
information together into a single musical system, the concert Max patch. In this patch, all gestural
controllers had to be connected to the sound generators by a series of mapping strategies. Also,
structural information regarding the music had to be managed by this patch along with live mixing
data. The whole had to be packaged with a technological transparency that is required by most
professional instruments (Berweck, 2012; Tremblay, 2012a). Here again, the intervention of Sebastian
Berweck helped validate and adjust the instrument design before a final version of the instrument
was produced. The result is the Max patch pictured in Figure 3.1 which allows the performance of
Igaluk after a few initialisation mouse clicks.
In parallel to the development of the concert instrument, the score required a considerable amount
of work. The notation for the gestural controllers was divided into 4 standard staves and a continuous staff to match the interaction with the micro-instruments. This configuration of the score
is a compromise between readability and understanding of what is played for the performer. The
technical description attached to the partition accurately describes the relationship between gestural controllers and written parts. A translation from the simulation to discrete musical values was
necessary to produce the score. Fortunately, the MIDI norm has allowed an easy transfer of much
information between the DAW and the score editor. Nevertheless, several manipulations had to
be completed manually. Moreover, the interface of the concert Max patch shown in Figure 3.1 is
organized according to the staves so that the performer can understand the links between the score,
his playing and the mechanisms triggered in the Max patch.
Figure 3.1: Igaluk ’s concert patch in presentation mode
Gestural Control
In the development of the instrument, a constant preoccupation was the adaptation of the design
to the skills, sensibility and virtuosity of the performer. For Sebastian Berweck, a concert pianist,
it seemed important to preserve the keyboard in the design of a gestural controller adapted to his
experience, “thus recycling the virtuosity acquired on the [...] instrument with a trivial learning
curve” (Tremblay & Schwarz, 2010, p. 447). After all, he had had thousands of hours of practice
with this interface. The gestural controller for Igaluk was therefore built around a keyboard. To
the keyboard were added a series of MIDI pads providing visual feedback (on/off toggles) and an
expression pedal. These controllers were added to the configuration because some of the sound
generators required a different interaction from the performer with the keyboard. Figure 3.2 depicts
the gestural controllers used by Sebastian Berweck for the performance of Igaluk
Note here the exclusive use of MIDI interfaces, which uses a protocol that has remained relevant
to electroacoustic music despite its 30 years. Its advantages are clear for the integration of interfaces
in the development of a draft instrument. It provides a standardized format of 7-bit resolution
discrete values and is compatible with numerous programming environments. For more details on
the implementation of MIDI in Igaluk, the technical requirements sheet provided in the appendix
Figure 3.2: Gestural controller configuration for the performance of Igaluk
describes the MIDI assignments required to connect the gestural interfaces to the concert Max patch.
Sound Generation
The sound generator of Igaluk consists of a set of micro-instruments, a set of limited instrumental
instances that performs a single sound function. Overall, the concert instrument contains ten microinstruments organized in parallel. They each receive the gestural information concerning them and
emit an audio stream accordingly. Audio streams are mixed down to stereo following automated
mixing controls. This mixed down stereo signal is forwarded to the speakers diffusing the musical
Each micro-instrument has a different sound signature which contributes to the polyphony of
Igaluk. Most of them base their operation on sampling to generate a sound result. The samples65
used all originate from the recording session presented above. Hence the sampler Kontakt (Native
Instruments, 2011) is loaded during initialisation of the Max patch. Synthesis and digital processing
65 “A sample is a portion of sound locked in digital memory, which can be played back, transposed and undergo
several other transformations which are possible in a dedicated device such as a sampler or on a computer’s hard disk.
Most of these functions can be triggered either by the sampler’s controls, by a MIDI instrument or through other
digital interfaces: computer software or hardware, MIDI data boxes.” (Landy & Atkinson, 2002, see the “Sampling”
also play a role in the manufacture of some micro-instruments. However, the mapping strategies
will bridge the gestural controllers and sound generators of Igaluk. Their analysis will enable a more
detailed description of each of these micro-instruments.
Each micro-instrument implements a mapping strategy to connect the gestural interface to the sound
generator. These mapping strategies were also decided in collaboration with Sebastian Berweck.
We sought to determine an appropriate mapping for ergonomic keyboard playing. Some microinstruments seemed destined to be played on a keyboard; their mapping was then obvious. Others
required a large number of keys for triggering the different samples; a space was also kept for
them on the keyboard. Similarly, melodic micro-instruments were mapped to the interface. This is
also how we determined that micro-instruments played frequently should be mapped to the central
section of the keyboard while those requiring infrequent use could be assigned to the extremities
of the interface. In the end, the keyboard was divided into three zones controlling three different
It is also in this perspective of instrumental ergonomics that we added a series of MIDI pads,
used to start and stop binary processes. The pads also serve as triggers for one-dimensional microinstruments. The expression pedal was selected to control a micro-instrument requiring uninterrupted values while both hands were already occupied. At this point, it seems difficult to determine
whether gestural controllers determined which sound generators were valid or vice versa if the sound
generators dictated the gestural controllers in the development of the piece. It appears that the design of the instrument was accomplished through a dynamic approach of cross-pollination between
the development of sound generators and their testing with various gestural controllers.
Table 3.3 summarises the mapping strategies that have been implemented in the concert instrument of Igaluk. In the interest of clarity, the names of the micro-instruments are those found in
the Max patch. Also, audio examples are provided to contextualize each micro-instrument while
listening to the entire piece.
The creation of Igaluk allowed me to make several observations on the development of electroacoustic
instruments. First, a “composed instrument” encompasses significantly more components than a
mere digital instrument that clearly fits the tripartite model of gestural controller, sound generator
and mapping strategies: “[...] computer-based instruments can surpass the sound and note levels,
Figure 3.3: Igaluk ’s micro-instruments presentation
flirt with composition and respond to performers in complex, not always entirely predictable ways,
even acting not only as instruments, but almost as performers, composers or conductors” (Jordà,
2007, p. 91). In fact, the concert Max patch holds much of the personality of the musical piece,
simultaneously realising the capture of gestures, the sound generation and the automated mixing.
Igaluk has also made me rediscover the power of the sampler as a tool for sound design. The
functionalities it offers enable a great creativity through sample programming that is reflected in
the performability of the instruments designed.
It seemed to me that the most successful micro-instrument in terms of performance control and
subtlety was also the most daring micro-instrument in its design: DarkScratch. Undoubtedly, the
choice of a gestural controller has a significant impact in the creative potential of the instrument
developed. In the case of Igaluk, the determination of the gestural controller early in the creative
process had a considerable influence on the design of the instrument. The keyboard is a restrictive
interface both stylistically and in terms of mapping strategies that it can implement (Miranda
& Wanderley, 2006). I must add that Sebastian Berweck, the collaborator in the design of the
instrument, is a pianist specialising in the performance of mixed and electroacoustic music. Without
a doubt, his role was decisive in the selection of the gestural controllers for Igaluk. However, I am
not trying here to lay blame on my collaborator for a certain disappointment in the design of the
instrument. Quite the contrary. The interface was deliberately chosen to match the skills of the
performer; I wanted Berweck to make use of his virtuosity in order to perform a pleasurable and
challenging piece of music. Somehow, I think that goal was achieved as he has performed Igaluk
several times since its creation in November 2012.
The fact remains that, due to the choice of interface, some bolder, more daring micro-instruments
were discarded because of their difficult implementation on a keyboard. In preliminary tests, it was
observed that a high level of abstraction in the gestural control–sound generator mapping made it
difficult for the performer to understand the interactions established. This observation had already
been made in the above presentation of the micro-instrument Piano Painting. In the design of the
instrument, the abstraction level of mapping was a constant cause of rejection for various microinstruments. A micro-instrument called Bell Ringer found in the appendix allowed the creation
of bell-like patterns through the cyclical playback of a number of sounds. The last notes played
on the keyboard would periodically be heard and fade until they were replaced by other notes
input. The intervention offered by this type of micro-instrument seemed too atypical to be kept
in the final version of the instrument. Of course, the level of abstraction of mapping is dependent
on the electroacoustic knowledge of the contributor. For example, the control over variations of a
rhythmic pattern in a step sequencer seemed too abstract for Berweck while the concept seemed
clear to me. In order to limit this level of abstraction, in recent versions of the piece I established
that a sound would be played when the performer interacted with a controller, hence obtaining
an audio-visual concomitance (Chion, 2012). In short, technical and technological knowledge as
well as ear training discussed in Section 2.1 play a significant role in the performative approach of
an electroacoustic piece. In fact, the composition of Igaluk enticed my interest for more original
electroacoustic performances that are closer to the sound manipulations made in the studio. We
will see in Section 3.4 that the studio is a polymorphic instrument offering many opportunities for
performance that benefits from my knowledge of the electroacoustic medium.
The composition of Igaluk was a first experience of live electroacoustic music. The realization of
such a project was significant for the progress of my research on instrument design and physicality.
Following this project, I chose to pursue my research in a different direction as my practice had
not been energized by the approach used. This is to say that Igaluk was a project that focused
primarily on the performance aspect of the electroacoustic music. The instinctive choice of involving
a performer in the creative process did not resolve the observations of slowness and rigidity discussed
in Chapter 1. In this context, my involvement in the creative process remained the same; I still was
the composer sitting behind a computer. For the following projects, I would choose to have a much
more active and physical involvement in the realisation, one that did not necessarily implicate the live
performance of my music. I would develop an instrument adapted to electroacoustic improvisation
– fXfD, and would consider the studio as a definitive instrument, full of potential.
fXfD, an Electroacoustic Improvisation Instrument
fXfD is a digital instrument originally designed for the practice of electroacoustic improvisation.
Through its use, the instrument was also found to have applications for composition and live performance of my music. Its development is based on the concept of feedback, in this case digital feedback
created within a DAW. fXfD was designed throughout the doctoral period, passing through different
stages of development. Recently, the musical results obtained with the instrument have become conclusive. As a matter of fact, I have developed a form of virtuosity with the instrument as I practiced
it. The production realised with fXfD is included in the portfolio as a series of improvisations. My
wish is to port this type of electroacoustic improvisation to the live context of concerts. Already, I
have performed using this setup in a concert at Collège St-Laurent on February 1st, 2014. In the
near future, I intend to present this kind of performance to the experimental music scene.
In order to explain the development of the discussed instrument, it is necessary to investigate
my ever growing interest in feedback. As a result of the rigidity and slowness described in the
beginning of this text, I undertook the development of a digital instrument similar to Casserley’s
(1998) DSP instrument to perform sound processing in real time. Designed in Max, the early versions
consistently became convoluted due to the several connections between its constituents: the MIDI
management, the design of a GUI66 and recording system presets, the development of a modular
audio engine, etc. In short, the concept imagined required a considerable amount of programming,
which reinstated the slow work in the studio in addition to disengaging the concrète manipulations
of the sound. Those early versions of fXfD are available in the appendix for reference. However, note
that none of them is fully functional for the reasons stated above. At this point, the development
of fXfD was suspended until I transitioned to Ableton Live as a host for my instrument. But before
continuing this discussion on the development of fXfD in Ableton Live, it is necessary to make a
digression and explain my interest in feedback.
An Interest in Feedback
The reason for my interest in feedback is first and foremost the resulting sounds. Sounds obtained by
means of feedback have compelling morphologies that meet the desired sound attributes discussed
in Section 2.2.2. As described in Section 2.2.1 these sounds are also references to “glitches” and “
failures” in digital technologies (Cascone, 2000). The term feedback has multiple meanings in regards
of my research. In its most inclusive audio definition, feedback is established when an audio signal
is introduced recursively in an amplification system. For example, when a microphone picks up the
signal emitted by a speaker to redirect to the same speaker, an audio feedback occurs. Improvisations
included in the portfolio illustrate the type of sounds that can be obtained in fXfD through feedback.
Sensorial feedback also has a particular significance in music as it is an important factor in the design
of an instrument: “Auditory feedback concerns the learning of musical quality; visual, tactile and
kinesthetic feedback concerns the integration of relationships between gesture and produced sound,
which help to understand the behaviour of the instrument as well as rules and limits induced by
gestures” (Jordà, 2005, p. 139). Through auditory feedback, a musician adjust his/her playing on an
instrument to reinforce musicality. In my search for the instrument, this notion of auditory feedback
is particularly relevant.The objective is to manipulate the sound gesturally in realtime with the help
of auditory feedback. Auditory feedback is therefore an essential factor attaining a spontaneous
“sonic empiricism” (see Section 2.1) for musique concrète composition.
In an early phase of sonic experimentation, Tout Croche began to connect all kinds of processing
modules together to manipulate Stephen Harvey’s guitar sound. To obtain a certain flexibility in
the configuration of the effect modules, the signal was routed through a DAW so that the processing
paths could be made dynamic and variable. The method enabled signals to be easily sent from one
effect to another. At that time I created, probably by accident, my first feedback loops between
66 Graphical
User I nterface
effects. I immediately found that these feedbacks offered stimulating sonorities and a surprising
freedom in terms of control:
Once you start really playing with feedback it almost begins to feel like a living entity. It is
something that speaks to your intuitive side more than your intellect, because even with fairly
simple setups, the behaviour of the fed back sound goes beyond what you can easily understand,
and it simply boils down to how you interact with it in the moment. (Lumens, 2013)
The research was then made more insistent and we incorporated more and more equipment in this
type of experiment67 .
Concurrently, I was discovering the “no-input mixer” practice through artists such as Toshimaru
Nakamura and Marko Ciciliani who have widely explored the musical possibilities of a fed back
mixer. As Lumens (2013) explains, the no-input mixing technique consists of feeding back the
output of a mixing desk into its inputs, hence creating a feedback loop that can be controlled with
onboard gain, eq and faders. Outboard effects can also be inserted in the feedback loop to produce
more creative sounds with added controls. But the use of a mixer seemed restrictive since a fairly
large console was needed to develop multiple routing options. By contrast, the software DAW option
offered great flexibility in terms of routing and did not require an large — and thereby difficult to
obtain – console; a sound card with multiple inputs and outputs was sufficient. In this context, I
have developed and refined what is still today my main instrument when I play with Tout Croche:
The Rack.
The Rack pictured in Figure 3.4 constitutes a set of effect units68 packaged together with a sound
interface into a transport case. Each effect unit has its inputs connected to outputs of the sound
card and, vice versa, its outputs connected to inputs of the sound card. Using Ableton Live and
its send and return functions, the signal is routed from one effect to another without restriction69 .
Not only is complex processing layering made possible from this configuration, one can potentially
create complex feedback loops that offer great musical control. Tout Croche’s music (found in the
appendix) exhibits the character of the sounds produced by this feedback instrument, The Rack.
67 The creative use of feedback is definitely not new. One can think of works like Pendulum Music by Steve Reich,
Mikrophonie II by Karlheinz Stockhausen or the playing techniques put forward by Jimi Hendrix. However, the idea
here is not to present the history of the creative use of feedback.
68 The case contains: one Ibanez HD1000 harmonizer/delay, one Zoom 1201 multi-effects, one Lexicon MPX 100
multi-effects, one TC Electronics M300 multi-effects and one Drawmer DL251 dual-channel compressor and a MOTU
828mkII sound card.
69 One restriction of audio signal routing through software would be that a latency is introduced due to the sound
card analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue conversions.
Figure 3.4: Tout Croche’s Rack of effects
At this point, I restarted the development of a digital instrument intended for solo electroacoustic
improvisation. On the one hand, the hiatus had confirmed the benefits of pursuing the development
of fXfD within Ableton Live: a solid audio engine, a well laid out routing scheme, numerous effects
already programmed, the integration of MIDI, a responsible GUI, etc. On the other hand, my current
considerations on feedback had confirmed the direction in which to pursue my instrumental research:
the digitisation of the entire feedback chain. An almost literal translation of Tout Croche’s Rack was
therefore attempted within the Ableton Live environment. But Ableton Live functionalities helped
to further develop and expand the concept of an instrument based on digital feedback. In addition
to the advantages of a DAW70 , Ableton Live offers attractive features for the development of an
70 A
DAW allows easy routing, mixing, editing of a patchwork on the timeline, etc.
instrument: the “Session View”71 redefines the triggering of sound files, “Audio Effect Racks”72 can
create amalgams of variable and interactive effects and the Max for Live module gives access to
several hidden parameters of the application by direct commands to the API73 . All these functions
allowed the design of an instrument that benefits fully from the intrinsic characteristics of the host
However, it should be noted that Ableton Live is not my instrument even though many of its
functions are used. fXfD is much more restrictive in its design than the software that hosts it: “It
is necessary in an instrument for improvisation to give oneself both sufficient freedom and sufficient
limitations. The palette of available processes must be rich enough to encompass many situations
and controllable enough to adapt to them quickly” (Casserley, 1998). In fact, fXfD comprises an
Ableton Live session, a set of controllers and programmed extensions to the host program. To that
effect, fXfD is symptomatic of what we will later define as the bastardisation of digital instruments:
In digital music there are no fixed instruments [. . . ] there is only bricolage, or instruments constructed from a range of available software and media. Digital musicians are always responsible
for building their own instruments. [. . . ] The choices digital musicians make, and their ability to
handle what results, will do much to define both aesthetic of music and their musical expertise.
(Hugill, 2012, p. 139)
In fXfD, specific digital feedback processes are implemented to create a music that has a strong aesthetic: the no-input DAW74 . Perhaps it is time to analyse the constituents of this digital instrument
in order to understand the creative potential of fXfD. To illustrate its functioning, a screencast was
also added to the appendix.
Gestural Control
On the gestural side, fXfD is composed of a fairly standard set of commercial interfaces. Since
Ableton Live is the tool that has to be controlled, the gestural controller should use interfaces that
connect efficiently and embody the paradigms contained in the software application. Linear and
rotary potentiometers, encoders and buttons remain the best interfaces to control a DAW. And this
is exactly what is proposed with fXfD’s gestural controller as Figure 3.5 shows.
A Novation Zero SL Mk II controller75 was chosen as the central interface for fXfD’s gestural
controller as it offers a wide range of controls assignable to Ableton Live parameters. The lack
of motorized faders may be the missing functionality that would make it an excellent interface.
71 “[...]
the Session is a real-time-oriented ‘launching base’ for clips” (DeSantis et al., 2014, p. 18).
Rack is a flexible tool for working with effects, plug-ins and instruments in a track’s device chain. Racks can
be used to build complex signal processors [...] and more” (DeSantis et al., 2014, p. 239).
73 Application Programming Interface
74 In reference to the no-input mixer practice
75 Referred to as Zero SL hereafter
72 “A
Figure 3.5: fXfD’s configuration including gestural controllers
Still, it is quite light and portable for a controller. In a previous development of fXfD evident in the
improvisation titled take 02, a Behringer BCF2000 was used instead of the Zero SL. It advantageously
offered motorized faders but was considerably heavier. As Richards (2006) asserts, weight and
portability are non-negligible factors in the choice of digital interfaces. Moreover, the “page” function
of the Zero SL is useful to assign multiple functions to a single controller.
The Novation Launch Control offers 16 MIDI-compliant rotary potentiometers. The controller
is used to control sound processing parameters. In this context of sound processing, I prefer rotary
knobs over infinite encoders as their limited range offers a much better sensory-motor perception of
the controller’s position. Perceptual awareness of the current position of a controller is a definite
advantage in the performance of sound processing. In contrast, encoders offer more control for tasks
that require precision. Indeed, their increment is proportional to the acceleration applied to the
controller. One can thus obtain a wide range of control according to the speed and energy with
which the encoder is turned. However, a visual contact with the interface is necessary to know the
current position of the controller.
An Android tablet with the application TouchOSC (, 2013) installed and customized is
also included in the gestural controller of fXfD. A multi-page TouchOSC template offers control over
a variety of non-musical and abstract functions. We shall discuss the functions that are assigned to
the interface in the Mapping Section. Finally, the computer is within easy reach in order to visualize
and control certain parameters that are essential to the performance. VU meters76 , the state of
DAW, interface configuration, etc. are parameters controlled directly with the computer. But as a
general rule the computer is not used to input gestural data during improvisations.
Sound Generation
It now goes without saying that feedback is central to the design of the sound generator fXfD. The
audio signal circulates repeatedly in a network and creates a self-oscillating system that produces
a sound. The network and all its components will be designed as the feedback system. The implementation of the concept in Ableton Live will be examined. After a series of tests, the use of
return tracks proved to be the most versatile and flexible method to produce digital feedback. In the
paradigm established by Ableton live, the return track is the digital equivalent of an auxiliary bus in
an analogue mixer. One or more audio signals are routed to an auxiliary send in order to assemble a
signal processing chain that is parallel to the original signal (Izhaki, 2013). The advantage with the
return track in Ableton Live is that the processed signal can be forwarded to another track return
using the send function as Figure 3.6 shows. The output of a return track can even be routed to
its own input. Thus, the implementation of a feedback loop is fairly straightforward. Sends in fXfD
are set to pre-fader mode, allowing the creation of feedback systems in which the signal flow can
reach values above its unitary level (0dBFS). This use of pre-fader send also has the advantage of
offering an independant control over the output levels of each track without changing the nature of
the feedback system. Considering that Ableton Live can have up to twelve return tracks, one can
easily design complex feedback systems with the combined send and return functions for all of these
tracks. In fXfD, the number of return tracks that constitute the network of digital feedback was set
to eight to allow efficient mapping with the gestural controllers available.
Figure 3.6: Setup of eight return tracks in fXfD organised for feedback.
In order to enrich the sonorities produced by a feedback loop, an effect module is added to each
return track. The effect module processes the input signal and therefore changes the nature of the
feedback. Inspired by the use of multi-effects units in Tout Croche’s Rack, fXfD in fact offers a
bank of effects that can be dynamically loaded on each return track in order to process the incoming
signal. The “Audio Effect Rack” shown in Figure 3.7 in conjunction with the Max for Live module
is used to load an effect without clicks and a crossfade of a variable duration. With Tout Croche’s
Rack, a change of processing meant a cut in the sound. The internal functions of Ableton Live
help overcome such technological problems and further develop a digital feedback instrument. Four
different banks of effects are assigned to the eight return tracks of fXfD so that every bank of effects
is found on two return tracks. These two return tracks contain the same processing options but
remain fully independent with regard to the selection and control of the processing.
Furthermore, as feedback is a recursive amplification phenomenon, a minimum signal is required
to initiate the physical phenomenon. In an analogue system, the noise floor of the equipment is
76 Volume
Unit Meter
Figure 3.7: fXfD’s Audio Effect Rack containing a bank of predefined and switchable effects.
sufficient to trigger the sound intensification process. But this is not the case with the digital
calculations of a DAW, which, as long as there is no noise dithering, has a noise level equivalent
to −∞dB when the system is idle. It is therefore necessary to insert an external signal in the
feedback system in order to initiate the amplification process. This definitely changes the nature
of the no-input practice. However, I see it as an advantage since the insertion of different sources
in a feedback system changes its sonority. Sound Examples 3.4a & 3.4b present the impact of
variable sources on the sound produced by a feedback system. In my present use of fXfD, I favour
my analogue modular synthesizer as a trigger source for the feedback. LucyL is an instrument on
its own that can be analysed in terms of its gestural controls, its sound generators and mapping
strategies as we discussed in Section 3.4. Nevertheless, in the context of the discussion on fXfD, we
will only say that the synthesizer acts as a sound source fed into the feedback system in order to
trigger and influence the sonority of the process. In a future development of the instrument, the
implementation of methods to trigger sounds with the “Session View” of Ableton Live will increase
the possibilities of sound sources intervening in the feedback system. In the observations made at
the end of this section, we will justify these future developments from a perspective of composition
and performance.
Sound Example 3.4 (Variable source input in fXfD’s feedback system 1). This example presents
two different sound sources input in an identical feedback system created with fXfD. In both cases,
the sound source is first heard alone then the feedback system is unmuted. One can notice the impact
of the sound source in the timbre produced by fXfD.
A tendency in the no-input practice appears to be the limiting of the fed back signal after each
recursion. Thus, the signal is reinserted in the effect at a nominal level, emulating the clipping that
would happen in an analogue system and avoiding digital distortion. But after a series of tests, I
noticed that the addition of a limiter in a feedback loop would prevent the desired gain structure that
would overload the feedback system and bring out its best intrinsic qualities. Therefore, my digital
feedback method does not limit the signal between the different stages of system feedback; signal
feeds back at levels above unitary, tapping into the dynamic overhead of the software (Katz, 2007).
I am in search of sounds specific to digital feedback, and digital distortion is part of these sonorities.
In any case, I found that the limiter had a negative impact on the sounds produced, making them
less interesting in terms of their attributes. Still, the dynamic level of Ableton Live’s master output
is controlled: a digital overdrive limits and clips the output signal before its digital-to-analogue
conversion. The purpose of this procedure is to obtain a consistent sound result by decreasing the
gain of the signal output, ensuring that the distortion is consistent rather than dependent on the
converters of the sound card77 . The bounces of pieces therefore retain the same sonorities as when
they were first recorded.
NIME is a major music conference that brings together a community of researchers dedicated to
developing New Interfaces for Musical Expression. This community seems driven by a digital lutherie
that continuously reinvents the interaction of the musician with the machine. However, such concerns
are far removed from my views on digital instrument design. In general, the NIME community seems
to value complex convergent and divergent mappings as well as devalue one-to-one mapping which
they see as unfit for music:
The total effect of all these convergent and divergent mappings, with various weightings and
biasing, is to make a traditional acoustic instrument into a highly non-linear device. Such a
device will necessarily take a substantial time to learn, but will give the user (and the listener)
a rich and rewarding experience. Many computer interfaces concentrate on simple one-to-one
mappings and, though easier to learn, can give an impoverished experience to the player and
listener. (Hunt & Kirk, 2000, p. 235)
Through the example of fXfD, I will argue that one-to-one mappings give access to great musical
possibilities. One of the main interests of the no-input practice resides in the exploitation of the
creative potential of a standard studio tool (in our case the DAW) to turn it into an instrument:
“[...] the tools themselves have become the instruments, and the resulting sound is born of their use
in ways unintended by their designers” (Cascone, 2000, p.16). By directly controlling the parameters
of the DAW, we change the configuration and the routing of the feedback system. By extension,
the resulting sound is simultaneously modified. The practice requires a deep understanding of the
paradigms established in a DAW. Consequently, most gestural controllers are assigned directly to
DAW functions through a one-to-one mapping. I believe that the direct transformation of the
feedback system offers the most efficient and musical way of controlling the sound:
77 By sending a distorting signal to the sound card’s converter, one rely on the individual converters to reproduce the
sound as accurately as possible. However, it cannot be guaranteed that the result will sound identical from converter
to another. By clipping the signal at -6dBFS, we ensure that the intersample peak does not distort when translated
by any converter (Lund, 2006).
The overriding goal of conventional human-computer interface design is to reduce the inevitable
distance between agent and medium, ideally to the extent that the user comes to conceive of the
task domain directly in the terms of the representations that comprise the interface. (Armstrong,
2006, p. 18)
One-to-one mappings are made using the internal function of Ableton Live which allows to link a
MIDI controller to be linked to a GUI function.
An obvious mapping strategy concerns the binding of the Zero SL linear potentiometers to the
volume sliders of the return tracks. However, the signal in each of the return tracks can reach high
levels due to the nature of the feedback; it is sometimes necessary to reduce its volume significantly
in order to obtain a balance between the different tracks. The 127 values of a MIDI controller offer
too little resolution to control a volume slider correctly in its lowest range. In Ableton Live, a direct
assignation of a linear potentiometer to a volume slider results in large dynamic jumps of 3 to 6db
at the bottom of the slider range. To address this problem, the scaling of the potentiometer was
readjusted with the help of a Max for Live device (see Figure 3.10) so that it provides a better
resolution in the lower part of the GUI slider. We can therefore precisely adjust the volume of a
return track even if its level is very low e.g. -60dB.
In Tout Croche’s Rack, effect sends were directly controlled with the mouse. This gestural
controller sorely lacked the precision required to adjust and carefully perform the feedback around
its point of generation. In fXfD, the return tracks’ sends were assigned to the eight Zero SL encoders
in order to provide precise control over this parameter. The assignation of the eight sends for each
of the eight return tracks requires the use of the “page” function on the Zero SL in order to reassign
the encoders dynamically. For example, when page 1 is loaded on the Zero SL, the encoders display
and control the eight sends of the first return track. By switching to page 2, the encoders are
automatically updated to display and control the sends of the second return track and so on. The
eight rotary potentiometers of the Zero SL have been directly mapped to the eight panning controls
of the return tracks. Finally, eight toggle buttons alternately mute and unmute the return tracks.
The selection of the currently active effect on each of the return tracks is achieved through the
custom TouchOSC interface on the tablet. In the first page of this interface shown in Figure 3.8, eight
columns corresponding to the eight return tracks each contain eight effects that can be activated
in fXfD with the touch of a finger. The transition between the previous and the new effect is
accomplished without click and pops, thanks to an automatic crossfade of variable duration. On the
second page shown in Figure 3.9, the TouchOSC interface gives access to the preset functionalities
of the instrument. It is possible to save, load and interpolate between saved configurations of the
Figure 3.8: fXfD’s TouchOSC interface for the selection of the loaded effects.
Figure 3.9: fXfD’s TouchOSC interface for the control of preset creation and callback.
feedback system. Both the effect selection and the preset system are managed via a Max for Live
device (illustrated in Figure 3.10) developed to communicate directly with Ableton Live’s API.
Figure 3.10: fXfD’s Max for Live Device that enables more complex or abstract mappings
The mapping strategies used to control the processing effects in fXfD are heavily inspired by the
use of multi-effects in Tout Croche’s Rack. These multi-effects usually offer a control limited to just
a few buttons on their interface. In fXfD, this minimal design was adapted by restricting control
uniquely to processing parameters that are musically relevant. Using the “Macro Controls”78 of the
“Audio Effects Rack,” the gestural information from two rotary potentiometers is forwarded to two
parameters of the active effect of each return track. Thus, the sixteen rotary potentiometers of the
Novation Launch Control are dedicated to controlling sixteen parameters of the eight effects on the
return tracks. The two potentiometers offer a limited control over each effect, forcing design choices
regarding the controlled parameters. Mappings between potentiometers and effect parameters are
always one-to-one but their range has been adjusted so that they offer interesting sonic results. Also,
the potentiometer maintains its position even if there is an effect change. It therefore gives its value
to the new effect loaded. This transfer of the controller value surprises the musician who can hardly
predict the resulting sound that the effect change creates. This phenomenon is confronting but also
inspiring for the improviser.
The development of fXfD came in direct response to the criticism of computer music enunciated in
Chapter 1. In order to energize my practice, I developed an instrument that exploits my electroacoustic knowledge by subverting the functions of a common studio tool, the DAW. The resulting
instrument relies on the concept of digital feedback and is designed for electroacoustic improvisation. The portfolio includes a series of improvisations performed using fXfD. The improvised pieces
informed by a noise aesthetic feature a double research on spontaneous, articulated and virtuoso
musical control as well as on unheard sound material. On the one hand, I developed an interest for
glitch and noise sonorities which had a considerable repercussion on my music production. On the
other hand, my practice with fXfD has offered a direct and musical control over sounds generated
78 “The Macro Controls are a bank of eight knobs, each capable of addressing any number of parameters from any
devices in a Rack. [...] Macro Controls keep things manageable by taking over the most essential parameters of a
Rack” (DeSantis et al., 2014, p. 241, 254).
by feedback thus meeting the criteria of musicality and physicality in the selection of sounds, as
discussed in Sections 2.2.3 and 2.2.4.
The experience of fXfD has brought to my attention the importance of routing in creativity and
musical expression. Playing with fXfD is sensitive and subtle as it has a direct impact on the sound
produced. A complex feedback system is set up with which I interact without fully controlling
the finality of the sound. In other words, the feedback system, i.e. the machine, has a musical
character that I take into account when I improvise with it. This interaction with a chaotic feedback
system forces me to assume each of my improvisation gestures. I have to accomplish them with
confidence, memorize them, vary them and transform them in order to develop a musical meaning
that corresponds to sound fluctuations. Pete Swanson cleverly summarizes the interaction of the
musician with his instrument in electroacoustic improvisation:
There’s a serious push-pull relationship that occurs when musicians are improvising and I developed my setup to reflect that sort of relationship without involving another human. My gear
pushes back and makes me make decisions I wouldn’t otherwise make. There’s some ego-crush
going on there even though everything I’m doing is something that I’ve built up. I’m a bit of a
control-freak in certain regards, but I find control to be awfully boring. If I always knew what
every change I would make to my gear would result in, I’d get so frustrated. I like a lot of
push-back. (Myers, 2013, Interview with Pete Swanson)
Therein probably lies my discomfort with the attitude of the NIME community which wants to
confine the machine to their musical aspirations rather than play with the machine. It is for this
reason that I consider fXfD a successful instrument, since it brings me such enjoyment when I perform
and play it. Thanks to its chaotic nature, fXfD is continually surprising. Each improvisation reveals
a new character of the instrument and the music it allows me to produce is unique.
Of course, such an instrument has a limited type of manipulation which suffers from a lack of
articulation, as Casserley (1998) notes:
While I could frequently contribute much to the musical development, I envied my collaborators’
capabilities of articulation and nuance. It was always a challenge to find a satisfactory middle
ground between a series of ‘effects’, a secondary layer of the musical argument, and an overdominating texture of complex sound.
Aesthetically, the music created therefore tends to be drone-like and have a slow evolving structure.
The improvisation titled take 02 is symptomatic of such a slow, drony evolution. The recursive
nature of the feedback process creates sounds characterised by their slow morphological contours.
In the current version of fXfD, the functions enabling recording, loading and interpolation of presets were developed to fight this lack of articulation: “The solution to slow individual control of
parameters and loops was to implement dynamically-created presets interpolated by a single pedal”
(Tremblay & Schwarz, 2010, p. 447). With the added control offered by presets, it is possible to
recall a particular soundscape and therefore articulate a musical discourse. Even if the functionality
adds more flexibility to the performance, further research is warranted to enable the articulation of
sound materials.
fXfD is an instrument that is in constant evolution. The practice of the instrument not only aims
to develop a virtuoso control over sound, it also informs the programming work to refine and extend
the instrument functions. The more it is used, the more implementation ideas emerge. The most
significant and promising idea is to transform fXfD, an instrument for electroacoustic improvisation,
into an instrument for composition and performance. With fXfD, the Ableton Live sequencers can
record audio streams as well as control parameters of the improvisation. All the improvisation data
are therefore available to the composer for edition. Consequently, improvisation becomes a founding
material for the composition. Any successful articulation or sensitive segment can be developed into
a composition by techniques of overdub, expansion, compression, variation, etc. Thus, fXfD may
also become a composition instrument. Exploitation of this feature was one of the original reasons
for the transfer of the instrument design to Ableton Live. One thing led to another and I never was
able to implement the idea but I intend to do it soon. Furthermore, fXfD is currently used as an
improvisation instrument for the live context. With minimal adaptation, it would be possible to
make it an instrument for prepared improvisation and composed performance. The “Session View,”
together with the preset function in fXfD, offers the possibility of preparing and structuring a set of
materials that can build a reproducible soundscape. I propose in the near future to compose pieces
using these functions in order to enable their performance in concert.
In summary, the development of fXfD has had a significant impact on my practice, giving way to
an instrumental practice specific to the electroacoustic tools and giving importance to improvisation.
The implications of fXfD’s development can be traced back in all of my recent production. Also,
fXfD has been the instigator of a reflection on the possibilities of the studio as an instrument. The
studio as an instrument is the subject of the next section.
The Studio, a Polymorphic Instrument
Since the slowness and rigidity of my solitary practice of musique concrète in the home studio
was revealed, a considerable amount of research has been accomplished in order to develop an
instrument that would dynamise my method of composition. In a first attempt, programming was
abundantly used to conceive a “composed instrument” that would allow the live presentation of
my piece Igaluk by a performer. fXfD, a DIY instrument79 that takes advantage of the DAW
functionalities, was designed to perform electroacoustic improvisations. In this last case study, I will
79 A
Do It Yourself instrument (Richards, 2006).
submit the hypothesis that, in fact, the studio itself is the real instrument that allows me to energize
my practice of musique concrète.
Before the beginning of the doctoral period, my definition of the concept of instrument would
have been similar to the one given by Schaeffer (1977, p. 51) in his Traité des objets musicaux :
Any device that makes it possible to obtain a varied collection of sound objects – or various
sound objects – while keeping us aware of the permanence of a cause, is a musical instrument,
in the traditional sense of an experience common to all civilisations.80
Having always been a composer before being a performer, my attention focused first and foremost
on the sound production of said instrument. With a growing interest for improvisation, my practice
as a “digital native composer” has proven deficient, just like Schaeffer’s definition, of the concept
of performance. It is precisely the research and development of that same instrument that was
presented as the solution to integrate the concept of performance to my solitary, slow and rigid
With the piece Igaluk, my work focused on the development of a “composed instrument” for
the performance. Simultaneously, a preliminary version of fXfD was developed to meet an uninformed instrument ideal that reflected my lack of practice. Both projects have highlighted recurrent
difficulties in relation to the programming of virtual instruments. When programming consumes
a large part of the time in the design of an instrument, it is difficult to obtain a balance between
practice (repetition) and development (programming) of the instrument. At the slightest challenge
or difficulty, the programmer will be tempted to find a software solution to the problem rather than
to develop an instrumental practice through repetition that will overcome it:
[...] the programmability of computer-based musical systems often make [sic] them too easy
to configure, redefine, remap, etc. For programmers and composers, this provides an infinite
landscape for experimentation, creativity, writing papers, wasting time, and never actually
completing any art projects or compositions. (Cook, 2001, p. 2)
Another problem with virtual instrument development lies in the infinite design possibilities that
computer processes offer. The interaction between a musician and the virtual instrument can be
constantly redefined. For each new instrumental instance, the musician must relearn how to play
every control as it may have a different impact on the sound. In short, the virtual instrument in no
way encourages the development of a musical practice based on the control:
New digital instruments conceived holistically and not as a conglomerate of several interchangeable components are scarce; even worse, in most cases they are only performed by their creators.
This situation complicates any progression in the field, both from the design and from the performance perspective. It is not only that electronic music controllers evolve so rapidly that it
is rare for a musician to work long enough with one to develop virtuosic technique; it is that
every new incarnation seems to come out of the blue. (Jordà, 2007, p. 100)
80 Original quotation in French: “Tout dispositif qui permet d’obtenir une collection variée d’objets sonores – ou
des objets sonores variés – tout en maintenant présente à l’esprit la permanence d’une cause, est un instrument de
musique, au sens traditionnel d’une expérience commune à toutes les civilisations” (Schaeffer, 1977, p. 51).
Through my projects, I realized that my programming skills should be an asset rather than a
final solution. More than ever, I can put them to use in order to customize existing tools with
personalized functionalities. This is the case, for example, of fXfD, in which programming played a
limited role in development, serving as a helpful tool to extend certain functions of Ableton Live.
Yet, I consider fXfD worthy of the time and energy that I have put into it in order to develop an
instrumental practice. Thus I understood the futility of developing an instrument in its entirety
in the hope of appreciating its instrumental qualities. This statement may seem insignificant but,
in today’s digital culture, a great value is placed on the development of new instruments rather
than on the use of available resources. To that effect, I subscribe to the post-digital instrumental
development trend:
What would seem more central to a post-digital aesthetic is the bastardisation of technology.
This certainly goes beyond the digital (this will be discussed in more detail later). Bastardisation
implies forcing a system in to a state in which it was never intended, or appropriating something
for a use other than what it was initially designed for. [...] The process of bastardisation is as
much about success as it is failure, where the musician is able to find a latent ‘music’ inside the
technology. (Richards, 2006, p. 2)
In any case, I have discovered that the appropriation of existing tools is an acceptable means to
develop an electroacoustic instrument that suits my needs.
In practice, my solution to overcome the problems of “time-consuming tasks” and “infinite possibilities” has been to reappropriate existing tools in order to use them as legitimate instruments.
More often than not, this appropriation of the tools was accomplished by feeding the tools back
into themselves. The fed back tool would start “singing,” giving the sound a particular tone that
is unique for each tool. This discovery of the creative potential of feedback was made through my
instrumental research. The originality of the sounds feedback produced and the immediate control
it offered encouraged me to research new methods to make electronic music. After completing rudimentary experiments, Tout Croche developed The Rack, a first instrument that used commercial
effect units to create feedback systems. Using that same principle of tool reappropriation, I developed an analogue modular synthesizer that I called LucyL. LucyL revealed its full creative potential
through the connections and chaotic systems it offered. Above all, this reappropriation of tools
drove me to exploit existing software applications further as though they were instruments. Thus,
I developed fXfD as a particular instance of the generic concept of DAW. My research focused on
transforming the DAW into a digital feedback instrument. fXfD is particularly satisfying because
it is flexible and allows a virtuosity specific to electroacoustic music. It provides a direct control
over the sound morphologies, thanks to an interface that matches my electroacoustic knowledge.
In addition, the instrument provides a conducive environment for the perfectibility and mastery of
performance through rehearsal and practice. Its versatility, complexity and richness encourage the
development of a vocabulary specific to the instrument.
As we have now seen, the appropriation of studio tools as instruments was thoroughly investigated
in my portfolio. In fact, this insistence holds the main argument of this thesis: the studio is an
instrument characterised by the variety of its tools and techniques. First and foremost, the studio
is a location where high creativity enables the production of music. It gathers tools, techniques
and means that enable the production of electroacoustic music81 . These tools and techniques are
ways to control, process, transform, capture, produce and influence the sound that will be added to
the composition. Individually, they can hardly be seen as instruments since their sonic possibilities
are limited and their functionalities are very prescriptive of the possible usage. Collectively, these
means of production offer a variety of interesting gestural control for the production and processing
of sounds. This multiplicity and complementarity of means available in the studio is what enables
the development of a complex and rich instrumental practice. Therefore, when Chion (2009, p. 60)
questions the existence of an instrument adapted to the electroacoustic music,
the tendency has been, in the field of electroacoustic music, to dream of a universal machine,
the ‘sounds organ,’ a kind of Swiss Army knife to do everything from recording to electronic
montage [...] without forgetting the processing. This machine still does not exist [...]82 .
would this instrument not be, quite simply, the studio and its many sonic possibilities?
In the following sections, we will consider the studio as an instrument characterized by its polymorphism; that is to say, the studio takes a different form depending on the purpose of its use. We
have seen that it offers a variety of methods and tools to manipulate the sound and reach musical
expression. To that effect, the studio is not different from any other instrument:
The instrument is not just a tool but an ally. It is not only a means to an end, it is a source
of material, and technique for [the] improvisor is often an exploitation of the natural resources
of the instrument. He might develop certain aspects of the instrument that appeal to him, that
seem particularly fruitful. The unorthodox technique is commonplace, its function being to
serve only one man’s purpose. (Bailey, 1992, p. 99)
The studio is the instrument of the musique concrète composer just as the orchestra is the instrument
of the orchestrator83 . The composer of musique concrète, just like the orchestrator, utilizes the parts
that constitute the whole of his instrument to achieve a desired musical result. Both the composer
and the orchestrator employ techniques and means to compose a music that takes advantage of the
rich colours offered by their instrument. The studio is my instrument because it constitutes the
collection of means and methods that I have developed over years of practice in order to play with
the sound and to compose music.
81 I
would like to recall the broad, gender-agnostic definition of electroacoustic given in the Introduction, Note 1.
quotation in French: “[...] on a eu tendance, le champ de la musique électroacoustique, à rêver de la
machine à son universelle, de l’“orgue à sons”, sorte de couteau suisse permettant de tout faire, de l’enregistrement
au montage électronique [...] en passant par les traitements. Cette machine n’existe toujours pas [...]” (Chion, 2009,
p. 60)
83 Berlioz et al. (2003, p. 293, original publication in 1844) says in his Grand traité d’instrumentation et
d’orchestration modernes that “[the] orchestra can be considered a grand instrument capable of producing at once or
in succession a multitude of sounds of various kinds [...]”
82 Original
Now the studio can hardly be viewed through the paradigm of the digital instrument in a similar
way to Igaluk and fXfD. Due to its complex polymorphism, it is difficult to analyse the studio
in terms of gestural controls, sound generators, mapping strategies without falling into an oversimplification. In turn, some important components of my studio production can be considered
gestural controllers, sound generators or mapping strategies:
In [...] digital musical instruments, we talked about the independence of gestural input and
sound production units. Electronic music studios then, fit perfectly well in these definitions.
Knobs, faders and switches constituted the gestural input unit. The mapping layer was the
patching bay and the cables that connected the unit generators, modulators to speakers or to
the magnetic tape. (Oliver La Rosa, 2008, p. 21)
The studio appears to be an instrument suited for the implementation of “sonic empiricism,” offering
an environment where one can efficiently go back an forth between sound manipulations and organisation, thanks to immediate access to electroacoustic techniques and technologies. In the following
section, I will focus specifically on the potentiometer, the sound capture, the modular synthesizer
and routing as key components of the studio, a polymorphic instrument. The discussion will highlight the particular importance of these examples in my approach to musique concrète composition.
The tools and techniques discussed are presented for illustrative purposes only; they do not form
an exhaustive list of all the resources available in the studio. They constitute a series of examples
that illustrate my argument on the polymorphism of the studio as an instrument. It should be
emphasized that the means of production in the studio are multiple and they respond to personal
approaches to music playing. Through this analysis, the studio will be identified as the instrument
that unites all the parts of my portfolio.
Gestural Control
I am not a digital luthier, therefore I have little interest in the research and reinvention of gestural
control interfaces for the performance of electroacoustic music. On a theoretical level, new interfaces
often are interesting as they redefine the interaction with sound. But rarely are they attractive to
the outsider musician as they require that one relearn its interaction with electroacoustic processes
that were already assimilated. In contrast, the studio is, in my opinion, perfectly controllable with
the standard controllers it features:
Simple means like pedals, keyboards and faders may be less attractive and more limited than the
latest multidimensional sensor, but their sublimation by years of experience, working with the
same interface, within the same limits, allows a deeper and subtler expressivity, in the manner
that a guitar player reaches a level of seamless musical fluidity. (Tremblay et al., 2007, p. 3)
The assumption is that the studio as an instrument requires that we, for the most part, accept the
interfaces it provides. Therefore, I prefer to explore the expressive potential offered by standard
controllers such as the linear and rotary potentiometers rather than seek to redefine my relationship
with electroacoustic processes implemented in the studio.
Strangely, it appears to me that standard controllers are underestimated by the digital lutherie
community. The connection between standard controllers and sound is perhaps too direct. For
example, these two quotations discusses the use of the linear potentiometer in a pejorative way:
1) “In electrical terms, mixing implies the adjustment of variable-resistance controls (faders
or potentiometers), which are standard components for electronic devices. Thus, these are the
controls which have been traditionally used in mixing desk design. This potentiometer-based
interface design has been used up until our days, even if it is not necessarily ergonomical or
adequate.” (Carrascal, 2011, p. 100)
2) “Being that live electronics and laptop music is so widespread [5] it is symptomatic and
frustrating that so many performers prefer to still rely on the mouse, or at the most, on generic
and dull midi fader boxes.”(Jordà, 2004, p. 59)
On what basis does one assumes that these “dull” controllers are not ergonomical or adequate?
Perhaps it is time to restore the credentials of interfaces that have now become classics, controllers
used so regularly that they are hardly perceived as valid interfaces for musical expression. For
example, few interfaces are as used in the electroacoustic music as the potentiometer. Over the past
sixty years, the potentiometer has become indispensable in the control of electroacoustic processes.
The Potentiometer
The potentiometer has been used as an instrument for numerous musical purposes. It is the instrument of choice for diffusing electroacoustic music on a loudspeaker orchestra in concert: “ [...]
the interface adopted for sound diffusion has been the mixing desk and the ‘fader’ has become the
diffuser’s instrument”(Richards, 2003, p. 2). The potentiometer is an essential gestural controller in
the practice of the previously described “no-input mixer” practice. It is also found in my adaptation
of the no-input practice: fXfD. Additionally, those who still doubt that the potentiometer or the
mixer is an instrument should watch the documentary titled Here is What is featuring Daniel Lanois
playing the mixer and stating the following:
[...] about technology and consoles, I found that because of the size of my hand I can reach a
lot of faders at once. [...] because of my musicality, I can move faders in a musical way. So I
don’t see the console as a piece of technological equipment particularly. I see it as a musical
instrument. (Lanois et al., 2008, 42 min)
The digital potentiometer is particularly interesting for the digital native composer as it is coupled
to the automation functions of the DAW. In L’envers d’une oeuvre (Mion et al., 1982), Parmegiani
(1975) explains that the mixing of De Nature Sonorum movements was realized in one go, performing
the faders for all of the tracks at once and recording the results directly on a master tape. The result
is an inspiring piece of music characterized by a mix impregnated with this trace of physicality
described in Section 2.2.4. With the automation functions of a DAW, not only is it still possible
to accomplish such a performative mix, it is also possible to develop the work further by recording,
replaying and perfecting each gesture captured by the fader:
[automation recording] is also very potent, as it allows keeping the performance of the music
within the DAW session for future reference and modifications. Performing as many parameters
as possible, on faders or other physical control devices, is also a very good practice: a very
subtle physical sensibility can be developed, and then mapped to many parameters, therefore
recycling the acquired virtuosity. (Tremblay, 2012b, p. 13)
Thus, we take advantage of the physical aspect of performative mixing whilst also benefiting from the
editing capabilities of the DAW. For example, the piece Comme si la foudre pouvait durer was the
subject of a performative mix. Sound Example 3.5 presents a segment of the piece in two versions:
a pre-mixing stage and a post-performative-mixing stage. The project has allowed me to improve a
technique that I now consistently reuse in my projects.
Sound Example 3.5 (Performative mix of Comme si la foudre pouvait durer ). This sound example
is in two part, before and after the performative mix. In Sound Example 3.5a, a section of Comme
si la foudre pouvait durer is presented before the performative mixing process. Sound Example 3.5b
shows the same section of the piece after the performative mixing process. The difference between the
two versions is considerable because many aesthetic decisions were taken during the mixing process.
Performative mixing gives rapid access to many combinations of sounds, hence changing the nature
of the work importantly.
Sound Generation
Sound Capture
In French, the term “prise de son” describes the activity of sound capturing realised by the placement
of microphones. In contrast, the term “sound recording” seems vague, referring more broadly to the
concept of recording in the context of studio work. To clarify the notion of “prise de son,” Chion
speaks of it in terms of shooting, like in cinema:
[...] the act of fixing a sound for which we claim partial or total authorship – either we have
created sounds by rubbing, hitting, agitating, shaking, blowing, etc. on and in diverse materials
and objects, or by operating the controls of a synthetic source – or we have appropriated, by
choice and framing, the recording of an existing phenomenon [...] Cinema does not hesitate to
combine desired actions which are staged, dressed, lighted, etc. with natural elements of light
and decor. Nothing prevents musique concrète from doing the same thing.84 (Chion, 2009,
p. 53)
Chion thereby highlights two important constituents of the “prise de son”: the subject of and the
technique employed (he calls it framing) for the sound recording. The term “sound capture,” a
literal translation of “prise de son,” aims to emphasize the activities of staging a sounding body and
84 Original quotation in French: “l’acte de fixer quelque chose de sonore dont on s’intitue l’auteur partiel ou total
– soit qu’on ait créé les sons soit-même, en frottant, heurtant, agitant, remuant, soufflant, etc. sur et dans des
matériaux et objets divers, ou encore en actionnant les commandes d’une source synthétique – soit qu’on se soit
approprié, par choix et cadrage, l’enregistrement d’un phénomène déjà existant[...] Le cinéma ne se gêne pas pour
combiner des actions voulus, mises en scène, habillées, éclairées, etc. à des éléments naturels de lumière et de décor.
Rien n’empêche la musique concrète de faire la même chose [...]” (Chion, 2009, p. 53).
the placement of microphones in a recording85 . In other words, the “sound capture” is a creative
act that creates a biased, artistic representation of the subject recorded. It is an electroacoustic
technique full of potential as it plays a vital role in the electroacoustic chain and greatly influences
the sound characteristics obtained:
[...] all sorts of musicianly initiatives are possible, which have nothing to do with musical
registration, or acoustic measuring. From the studio point of view, a host of sound bodies can
be made to vibrate in all sorts of different ways. From the listening-booth point of view, as
we have seen, the sound recorder can make an original ‘take’ of the sound object by adjusting
the position and the setting of the microphones [...] This apparent economy of means conceals
immense potential.86 (Schaeffer, 1977, p. 413)
The subject observed by the “sound capture” may have been staged in studio or caught in the
act. For the recording of an ephemeral sonic event, the appellation “field recording” is used to
describe the practice. In such scenario, the creative contribution of the composer is then mainly
oriented towards framing, as Chion (2009) explains. The composer establishes a subjective vision of
the phenomenon by creatively positioning his microphones. Such a creative work of sound capturing
initiated the composition of Comme si la foudre pouvait durer. While the storm raged, several
subjective recordings of the thunder and rain were realized. For some recordings of the rain presented
in Sound Examples 3.6 & 3.7, I benefited from the microscopic feature of the close miking. With the
sound captures of the thunder found in Sound Example 3.8, I attempted to record the reverberant
space that amplified such beautiful rumbles. After the recording session, the subjective sound
captures were so powerful that they inspired the subsequent composition.
Sound Example 3.6 (Field recording of the rain in Comme si la foudre pouvait durer ). By placing
the microphones near an umbrella, I obtain this click-y rain sound that was really useful in Comme
si la foudre pouvait durer. The close miking of the drops falling on a canvas has a microscopic effect
on the sound.
Sound Example 3.7 (Field recording of the water running off in Comme si la foudre pouvait
durer ). This sound example features a particular framing of the sound capture. Microphones were
placed to mainly record the sound of water running off a drain.
Sound Example 3.8 (Field recording of the thunder in Comme si la foudre pouvait durer ). This
third sound example of the recording of a storm present a general sound capture that tried to bring
forward the reverberant qualities of the courtyard amplifying the thunder.
85 The choices and settings of the preamplifiers and recording equipment also play a significant role in the sonic
qualities of the “sound capture.”
86 Original quotation in French: “toutes sortes d’initiatives musiciennes sont possibles, qui n’ont rien à voir avec la
registration musicale, ni avec la mensuration acoustique. Du côté studio, une foule de corps sonores peut être mise en
vibration de bien des façon diverses. Du côté cabine, nous l’avons vu, le preneur de son peut réaliser de l’objet sonore
une ‘prise’ originale en agissant sur la position et le réglage des microphones [...]. Cet apparent dénuement masque
d’immenses possibilités.” (Schaeffer, 1977, p. 413)
When the sound capture is organized and prepared, the composer enjoys the freedom of both
staging the subject and controlling the recording technique. He first selects the sounding body to
be staged. A guitar or a piano can be the sounding body if he is interested in acoustic instruments,
like in the case of Comme si la foudre pouvait durer and Igaluk. However, a sounding body may
actually be any object that can be excited to produce sounds. In a classical conception of musique
concrète, the composer then focuses on the creation of sound materials through séquence-jeu:
The classic séquence-jeu, as defined by the first generation of electroacoustic composers, allows
the composer to get sound material out of an object or a piece of equipment by ‘playing’ with it,
in a sort of improvisatory game. These composers tend to talk about composing in the studio as
a two-part process: generating a pool of material, and then composing with it. We could define
this approach as constructivist, as they use the studio itself as an instrument to experiment with
their source material, before deciding what to use from this experience to compose the piece.
(Tremblay, 2012b, p. 4)
But this constructivist approach of the séquence-jeu is often unidirectional; it is mainly considered
by the musique concrète community as a step for generating sound materials that will be used
as they stand in the composition. The nature of the microphone makes the “sound capture” an
irreversible step in the process of composition. A search for more flexible methods allowing a backand-forth process between the sound capture and the composition is pertinent in the context of
“sonic empiricism.” In comparison, popular music employs various techniques to develop a flexible
workflow during the composition:
[...] the popular music world has embraced an empirical back-and-forth approach to the environment, at least in the most daring and fortunate cases. The idea of brainstorm recording
sessions, later edited, then re-performed, overdubbed or re-arranged, then re-edited, is not uncommon. The idea of multiple versions of a piece is not rare either, starting back to the bare
idea. (Tremblay, 2012b, p. 6)
Such methods were used extensively in désert. The creative process for most movements was initiated
by an improvisatory stage where the basic elements of the music were defined. Then, using overdub
techniques, sound materials were crafted as the composition was constructed in order to complement
pre-existent improvisations. I could then develop, in a minimum amount of time, articulations and
musical gestures that were adapted to the current state of the composition. In the refinement process,
multiple versions of a movement were created to test sound hypotheses. For example, Sound Example
3.9 presents an unfinished alternative version of the désert movement titled contempler. It is my
view that techniques used abundantly in popular music should be exploited more intensively in the
experimental practice of musique concrète. As my experience with désert shows, it would provide
greater efficiency in the process of “sonic empiricism.”
Sound Example 3.9 (Alternative version of désert’s movement contempler ). This unfinished alternative version of contempler , bizarrely, includes a melodic voice, some microphone feedback sounds
and percussive hits. These extra sounds were not kept in the final version of the piece.
Of course, the definitive aspect of the “sound capture” should be taken as a creative advantage,
forcing the composer into a process of definitive and confident decision making. When Chion defines
the notion of framing, he states that the “sound capture” choices are definitive and will have an
impact on the final composition of the work. The microphone is a transducer that invariably colours
the sound it captures. Its positioning also plays an important role in the timbre of the sounds
captured by the microphone. The idea here is not to describe the microphones and their use in the
studio87 but to emphasize the creative potential and impact of the sound capture in the production
of electroacoustic music. This is even truer for a generation of “digital native composers” who have
overlooked this step in the creative process, often resorting to (impersonal) sample packages to create
their music. There is a lot to gain from the personalisation of the “sound capture” process.
Modular Synthesizers
Modular synthesizers were another important discovery for my musical practice during my doctoral
period. As I began to research ways to energize my practice, I had the chance to play with two
amazingly expressive machines – an EMS synthi VCS3 and a double Roland System 100m – that
convinced me to explore this area further. The modular synthesizer is an instrument developed
in the late 1960’s characterized by the design of audio circuits using an interface that physically
connects parameters of the different modules with specific functions to process the sound. During
numerous hours of experimentation, I eagerly discovered the operation of each of the components and
experimented with complex circuits in order to develop an expressivity specific to the instrument.
As the above Bailey’s (1992) quotation explains, understanding the limitations and constraints of
the modular synthesizer motivated me to create a music that takes advantage of the specificity of
the instrument. My early synthesis work on these borrowed synthesizers can be heard in the musical
production of Tout Croche and a duo with Ryoko Akama.
This interest in modular synthesizers inspired the development of my own system, which I called
LucyL. In a first development stage shown in Figure 3.11, LucyL was limited to a single row of modules. The choice of modules was largely motivated by an interest for digital sounding components.
I wanted to put forward a post-glitch digital aesthetics within an instrument that has analogue
roots. However, the development of a modular synthesizer sometimes seems like an endless task
as its expansion gives access to more variations and synthesis voices. I am now in the process of
expanding my system in order to answer some of the needs identified by the performance of the first
version. Among other things, the system needs more modulators, envelopes and amplifiers while
Figure 3.11: A first version of LucyL as rendered by
it should also provide some additional sonic possibilities i.e. filters and oscillators. The upcoming
second version of LucyL is illustrated in Figure 3.12.
Figure 3.12: A second and upcoming version of LucyL as rendered by
My practice is inspired by artists who play modular synthesizers in concert: Pete Swanson, Keith
Fullerton Whitman, Ben Vida to name just a few. Also, the development of LucyL is in line with
a resurgence of interest in modular synthesizers in the current musical culture. The phenomenon is
discussed in detail in the documentary I Dream of Wires (Fantinatto, 2013). The field of research
87 Many works describe microphones and their use in the studio including Rumsey & McCormick (2005); Owsinski
(2005); Eargle (2004) to name but a few.
is progressive, with passionate and original manufacturers88 producing modules that continuously
challenge the practice of modular synthesis. The advantage of such an effervescence for the composer
is the constant confrontation of his practice to new concepts and, most importantly, the development
of a community. In that sense, I believe that my integration of LucyL into my no-input DAW
instrument fXfD brings a certain novelty to this community.
Within the framework of a studio, a modular synthesizer first is a sound generator. The range of
sounds and noises that can be produced by this instrument is astonishing; the most varied timbres
can be constantly refined by a possible modulation. Listening to désert offers a sample of the broad
range of timbres that can be obtained with LucyL, a modular system that is, after all, quite limited.
The creation of original timbres is, more often than not, made possible by the very nature of the
modular synthesizer. Its open circuitry allows the implementation of complex inter-modulations
and feedback systems. These chaotic systems are characteristic by their non-linearity that produce
surprising sonorities:
[...] analogue modular instruments provide two significant advantages: (1) the modular analogue
systems can be patched into a wide range of nonstandard topologies, including various classes
of chaotic systems; and (2) modular analogue systems provide multidimensional wide-range,
wide-bandwidth, high-resolution (continuous) parameter control. (Slater, 1998, p. 18)
What has struck me the most in such machines is the instant musical potential offered by the
different controls of a modular synthesizer’s interface. The simple and straightforward controls,
often in the shape of rotary potentiometers, provide access to a wide range of sounds by changing
the parameters of an inter-modulating system. The musician discovers a unique sensibility to each of
the inter-modulation systems he develops. Thus the experience of playing with a modular synthesizer
is constantly surprising for the musician who wants to improvise in reaction to sound discoveries he
‘Composing’ in this situation meant setting up the connections and parameters of the synthesizer
so as to set in motion the processes one had designed, and ‘playing’ the composition involved
listening to the output and intervening in the evolution of the process one had set up by finetuning parameters and connections as things progressed. (Ostertag, 2002, p. 12)
This interaction with the synthesizer described by Ostertag corresponds to my empirical method of
manipulating the sounds in order to compose music. It is a refreshing mode of interaction that puts
to use similar performing skills that were developed for fXfD.
The goal here is not to explain the operation of the analogue modular synthesis89 but simply to
acknowledge the creative potential of the synthesizer as a component of the studio. Although the
synthesizer can be seen as an instrument in itself, it can also be considered as one of the multiple
88 Amongst others, Makenoise, Harvestman, Intellijel, Malekko, Modcan etc. are manufacturers that are particularly
89 Many works explain modular synthesis in great details including Cann (2011); Strange (1983); Welsh (2006) and
tools available in the studio for composition. The rich sonorities it produces and the control it offers
of sound morphologies make it an ideal tool for the development of a musique concrète that has
an embedded trace of physicality. The composition of désert focuses precisely on this research of a
physicality through the performance of LucyL. Improvisations with the synthesizer are refined by
the editing, montage and mixing functionalities of the DAW. Ultimately, the piece takes advantage
of both the sounds of the synthesizer and the control of the DAW. In short, the musical potential of
the synthesizer is increased tenfold by the studio’s other tools.
As we noted earlier, the studio is characterized by its polymorphism. Emphasis should now be placed
on the fact that this polymorphism is obtained, first and foremost, by the modularity that the studio
enables. The studio is a modular environment that offers creativity through the connectivity of its
individual parts. A unique network of connections between carefully set tools can render a vast range
of sounds. The mastery of mapping and routing in a studio is a key element in the development of
a performance practice with this polymorphic instrument.
When breaking the studio down into its components, the concept of mapping strategies is omnipotent to the operation of each one of them. Historically, creative work in studio has evolved in
parallel to its technological advances. The current reality of the studio being computer-centric, the
interfaces and the mapping strategies nevertheless frequently emulate the technological paradigms of
an analogue era (Homer, 2009). The notion that the DAW is a software adaptation of analogue technologies (mixer, reel-to-reel recorder, etc.) has already been discussed. The interfaces that control
the DAW are often digital imitations of their analogue ancestors. For example, the control surface
almost integrally assimilates the concept of the mixing desk. It is normal to see a lot of one-to-one
mapping between a controller and a computer process that emulates both the different parts (physical control and audio manipulation) of an original analogue technology. It is therefore common to
observe one-to-one mappings between a controller and a computer process that emulates the different parts (gestural controller and sound generator) of what was originally an analogue technology.
Furthermore, this observation was already noted in the design of fXfD within Ableton Live; the
majority of the gestural controllers were mapped directly to the functions of the software. In short,
the studio implements simple mapping strategies that enable direct control of the electroacoustic
The routing functionalities of the studio are an important asset for the musique concrète composer.
I believe an important part of the studio creativity comes from the connection of multiple electroacoustic processes in order to develop personalised sounds. The routing in studio constitutes the set
of possible mappings between the various tools. Various routing strategies, through the patch bay
or with a software application, carry the audio signal from one electroacoustic process to another.
One can thus create a series of processes that colour the sound according to the parameters of each
effect and the order of effects in the chain. Several options are available to the composer: the signal
can be forwarded directly to an effect, multiplied in order to create parallel processing signal paths,
recorded in the intermediate stages of the processing chain, used as a control signal to affect another
signal, etc. In my studio work, the creative potential of routing is used abundantly. Comme si la
foudre pouvait durer provides a striking example of creative work in the studio obtained through
routing. The recording of the guitar that is heard in the piece was obtained by transferring the
instrument signal through a series of processes. Figure 3.13 illustrates the routing schematic devised
in order to develop the unique timbre for the guitar. Individually, the processes of this chain are
not overly creative but their arrangement, thanks to routing possibilities offered by the studio, is a
demonstration of the creative potential of routing. The processing system developed was a unique
setup that was highly motivating for improvisation and performance purposes. The result was a
recording session where the founding sound materials of Comme si la foudre pouvait durer were
crafted through the performance of not only the guitar but a whole electroacoustic chain. The multitrack recording of every stage of the process has given me a subsequent freedom of action in terms
of the sound captures to use. In fact, the routing has allowed me to create variations of the same
material, which has proven very useful for composition.
Of course, part of the potential of routing resides in the quality of the components available to
interconnect. I have been spoiled during my doctoral period as the University of Huddersfield has
well-furnished studios containing all sorts of equipment that could be interconnected. Tout Croche
developed a creative process involving collecting a large quantity of equipment in a studio in order
to develop our albums. The access to all of these pieces of equipment by routing facilitated the
development of complex systems with which we could improvise during long exploratory sessions as
pictured in Figure 3.14. The matter of routing is not exclusive to hardware equipment, however.
DAWs provide important functionalities to route a signal between internal and external processes.
Jack is a software application that is particularly useful for transporting digital signals between
independent software applications. For example, it is possible to route the outgoing audio stream
of Cecilia directly to Max in order to overlay effects on a sound. The particular case of Max is
interesting since it offers intra-application routing capabilities. Over the years, it has proven very
useful in my creative process, helping me understand many concepts of hardware routing as well as
developing new routing possibilities within the digital domain.
Figure 3.13: Comme si la foudre pouvait durer - Routing of guitar during recording
The concept of “digital instrument” has been extremely useful to describe the various instrumental
instances developed within the context of my doctoral research. At this point, however, the tripartite
reality of the digital instrument proves to be unsuitable for my post-digital musical practice. In the
analysis of fXfD, we could already detect an incompatibility between the simplicity of the mapping
strategies implemented and the current trends in the NIME community. Indeed, in my design
of the instrument, the gestural controllers directly control simple functions of the DAW. When
observing the studio through the prism of the polymorphic instrument, the demarcation between
my own definition of the instrument and the concept of digital instrument is even more unequivocal.
The components of the studio analysed have proven to be too complex to be clearly categorized
into the digital instrument without some friction. The modular synthesizer is not just a sound
generator. We saw the importance of its interface in the embodied control of sound and its routing
capabilities in creating complex mapping solutions. Sound capture is not solely a sound generation
Figure 3.14: Tout Croche improvising in a studio session
technique either. The microphone is the interface that modifies the sound captured while the various
positioning techniques can be viewed as the mapping strategies. In fact, it now appears that the
development of digital instruments is irrelevant to me, a musician looking for spontaneous ways to
play and perform musique concrète. Like many post-digital composers, my interest instead lies in the
appropriation of existing tools and instruments in order to develop an “anything goes, hybridization,
approach” to music creation (Richards, 2006). In this context, the studio is the ultimate instance of
the post-digital instrument as it encompasses all possible solutions to not only generate but also to
control the sound.
We have seen in the previous analysis of the studio components that the production of musique
concrète can be freed from its characteristic slowness and rigidity. By performing in the studio,
the sonic empiricism becomes effective, spontaneous and stimulating. In other words, performance
provides fluidity in the back-and-forth negotiation between sound production and organization in a
composition. Of course, the development of such an instrumental practice with the studio requires
a thorough electroacoustic knowledge as my doctoral experience has taught me. Tools of the studio
are creatively exploited by the composer who understands the functions they involve:
[...] the first technical recommendation is to develop virtuosic knowledge of the studio and
of the musical performance of all its apparatus. Nowadays this implies the obvious musical
manipulation, routing and subversion of hardware equipment, but also its virtual counterpart
in the realm of the multi-application workflow, as well as the design of custom virtual instruments
to fit a given musical need. (Tremblay, 2012b, p. 12)
Studio practice has always involved the direct manipulation of technological pieces of equipment that
were not necessarily designed for musical purposes. The magnetic tape, the oscillator, the mixer and
the computer all were technologies designed to address non-musical technical needs that in the end
were adopted to make electroacoustic music. Through practice, a virtuosity specific to these tools
has emerged, raising them to the rank of instrument:
Through repeated performances, a set of implicit assumptions as regards the elements and structure of the task domain begins to solidify, and through a chain of subtle reciprocal influences,
the repertoire of meaningful performance actions becomes more or less fixed in bodily habit.
(Armstrong, 2006, p. 20)
We have already discussed how the console became an instrument through its various uses. In a
similar way, fXfD strives to develop a musicality specific to the DAW. Virtuosity in the context
of the polymorphic studio requires a specific ear training. In terms of technological listening, one
must first understand the impact a tool has on sound. To that effect, Schaefferian reduced listening
helps focus on the attributes of the sound. Most importantly, one must correlate changes in the
morphology of a sound with his gestural input. Once this embodied relation is established, it is
possible to exploit a sound material over which we have control musically. A large vocabulary of
musical functions then becomes a precious knowledge that helps structure and further develop a
musical discourse. In the studio practice, I have found that improvisation offers a vast creative
potential as it enables spontaneous and embodied interaction with electroacoustic processes.
It now appears to me that the technical aspect of production is an integral part of musique
concrète art. As the embodiment theories in Section 2.2.4 showed, it is important to promulgate
the use of technology in our music in order to ensure its reception. Thus, I create with the studio a
music that in turn promotes the studio as an instrument, or more precisely, the performance of the
studio. My contribution to the field resides in the music produced. My composition process arises
from both the studio as an instrument and myself as a physical being who performs this instrument
- the gestures I make, my size, my movements are fundamental to the creative process. Therefore,
the music I produce is unique. The studio as an instrument is not a revolutionary concept. It
has now been sixty years since varied artists promoted it through their musical practices: Bernard
Parmegiani, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Pan Sonic, Radiohead, Björk are artists who have made the
studio their instrument. They accepted the polymorphic reality of the studio in order to produce
an electroacoustic music filled with humanity and physicality. For the generation of “digital native
composers,” there is now a necessity to rediscover the concept of physicality in our music. We are
in the process of reclaiming it by dint of sound experimentations and musical creations.
This concludes the presentation of a practice-based research focusing on the performance of the studio
as a polymorphic instrument in order to create a musique concrète impregnated with physicality.
Initially, a series of creative challenges which had marked my composition work triggered my doctoral
research. My practice as a “digital native composer” was characterised by a slow, rigid and solitary
process, in part because of the home studio culture that nurtured my development as a musician.
This observation prompted me to renew my compositional practice through the reassessment of
founding elements of my musical creation.
The musical potential of sound is central to my composition process of musique concrète, as the
“sonic empiricism” concept has elucidated. Although the portfolio submitted features stylistically
different musical works, sound and its creative potential have acted as the founding and unifying
element to all my music. Ultimately, the musical potential of a sound is measured according to a
set of criteria: the anecdotal aspect, the sound attributes, the musical function and the trace of
physicality. In fact, I was looking for an approach to composition that would stimulate a lively
interaction with sound. The much-needed impetus to such a sound-centric method of composition
was provided by the development of instruments, an important element of the portfolio presented.
In a series of case studies, three instrumental instances have been analysed in order to understand
the needs and attitude required for electroacoustic music performance. My work on Igaluk was a
first attempt to address the concept of electroacoustic performance through the development of a
“composed instrument,” which would be played in concert by pianist Sebastian Berweck; the mixed
results of the instrument design nonetheless revealed the importance of a specific training for the
performance of electroacoustic music. To that end, I would suggest that live electroacoustic music
requires performers who are dedicated to the rendition of such a repertoire and who have a thorough
understanding of the electroacoustic process featured in the pieces they perform90 . The recourse
to my electroacoustic knowledge in the design of fXfD ensured the development of an instrument
that was suited to my needs. However, this also implied that I was to play the role of performer
in my music. From that moment, improvisation played a large role in the development of my
90 Berweck (2012) makes a similar observation on the importance of a performer devoted to mixed music in his
Ph.D. thesis entitled It worked yesterday - On (re-)performing electroacoustic music
practice. The knowledge and experience cultivated with fXfD was eventually exported to the studio
in order to integrate a performance aspect into my compositions. With a multitude of tools, the
studio is a polymorphic instrument that infuses a sense of physicality into the created sounds and
stimulates the creative process of musique concrète. through my doctoral projects, I have discovered
approaches and methods to compose music that are both centered around sound and highly physical,
At the heart of my many discoveries, improvisation is the one that has most definitely changed
my musical practice. As evidenced by my portfolio, I have already benefitted from its creative
potential through many of my solo and collaborative projects. But I have a lot to learn and, most
importantly, to practice in order to become the improviser that I aspire to be. So far I have mainly
directed my attention to improvisation in the context of the studio. In the near future, I will
strive to perform with fXfD in a live context. It appears that the current musical environment is
conducive to the development of noisy electroacoustic performance; a look at the performances of
Tim Hecker, Pete Swanson, Ben Frost, Holly Herndon, etc. demonstrates that a vibrant musical
scene is interested in such performances. Of course, I will also continue to produce studio works
that promote an embodied electroacoustic music. Finally, the development of my instruments will
eventually be directed towards computer-assisted performance in order to augment the simultaneous
controls it would offer. In short, I am firmly committed to the research of a performative and vibrant
electroacoustic music.
Appendix A
Package Contents
This appendix explains the structure of the package (UoH DThibault submitted along
with this written document
[2012] Comme si la foudre pouvait durer
In this folder, you will find both the piece and its program note.
[2013] Igaluk – To Scare the Moon with its own Shadow
This folders contains the soundfile and the program note of Igaluk as well as the score and the
technical requirements for the performance of the piece. Il also contains two subfolders:
Igaluk - Concert Max Patch
This folder contains the concert instrument for the performance of Igaluk. When loaded,
the main Max patch (Igaluk ScareTheMoon.maxpat) will utilize all included dependancies.
Please note that Kontakt is required to correctly load the concert instrument.
Igaluk - Performance videos
This folder contains two (2) videos of the performance of Igaluk by Sebastian Berweck. However, please note that both versions are imcomplete for different reasons. Igaluk ZKM 2012 11 23.mp4
presents the first half of the piece as it was created at ZKM, Karlsruhe on November 23rd,
2012. Igaluk Huddersfield 2013 01 presents the complete version of the piece but
technical difficulties with the camera cause intermittent disruptions of the image.
[2014] désert
This folder contains the piece désert divided in its six (6) movements as well as the program note
for the piece.
[2014] fXfD
fXfD v1.0
Folder containing the most recent version of fXfD. In addition to the Ableton Live template,
other dependancies relating to the interfaces have been included.
Folder containing five (5) improvisations realised with fXfD. They are representative of the
genre of piece created with the instrument
Previous Versions
This folder containing three (3) previous versions of fXfD. The incomplete instruments are
titled PedalBored as it was the working title for fXfD. Each version consist of a Max patch
and its many dependancies.
Video Tutorial
This folder contains a two parts video explaining the functioning of fXfD. The first part
explains the design of fXfD in Ableton Live while the second part shows the development of
a feedback system with the instrument.
Sound Examples
Folder containing all Sound Examples presented in the above text. Number in the file name matches
the Sound Example number in this document.
In this folder are productions that have been mentioned in the text but that are not part of the
portfolio submitted.
Dominic Thibault
In this folder are pre-doctoral pieces that are mentioned in this text.
Thibault Akama
The pieces included in this folder were produced in collaboration with Ryoko Akama. They
were improvised on the EMS VCS3 synthesizer and later edited.
Tout Croche
Two releases are included in this document. The album Super Silent consists of studio works
composed by the duo in 2012-2013. zero dBFS is a short album containing two tracks that
were improvised in 2013.
Appendix B
Myth of Igaluk
The following Inuit myth has inspired the development of my piece Igaluk - To Scare the Moon with
its own Shadow. The summary of the myth was taken from the Igaluk entry in Cotterell’s (1986) A
Dictionary of World Mythology
Igaluk (America)
One of the names of the Eskimo moon god. In Alaska Igaluk is the supreme deity: he directs
natural phenomena. Under his authority are all the creatures that elsewhere belong to the sea
goddess Sedna.
The Eskimo people of Greenland say that the sun and moon are brother and sister. Once
in the winter, long ago, during the Arctic night, people began to sport in the igloos, with the
lamps out. Then one by one the men took outside the women they had been with, and lighted
torches to see who they were. Thus it was that the moon man discovered his playmate had been
the sun woman, his own sister. In horror the sun tore off her breasts and threw them down in
front of the moon. Then with a flaming torch in her hand, she rose into the sky. Her brother
chased after her, but the torch he carried went out, so that it only glowed. Now they have a
house in heaven, divided into two rooms; and the moon has not the brilliance of the sun.
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