Performance of electroacoustic music alludes to the history of the Universe
October 19, 2016
By José Tadeu Arantes | Agência FAPESP – “Truth pops suddenly out of a sea of errors; the unique emerges from a ground of monotony; temptation surges from a haze of indifference; the affirmative comes to us backgrounded by negations”: this passage from The Dialectic of Duration by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) provided a poetic compass for the 21-minute piece Fond d’erreurs by composer Flo Menezes, previewed on September 15 at Studio PANaroma in the Arts Institute of São Paulo State University (IA-UNESP), São Paulo, Brazil.
Florivaldo Menezes Filho is a full professor at IA-UNESP and the creator, founder and director of Studio PANaroma. The facility, which boasts state-of-the-art equipment acquired over a 20-year period with support from FAPESP, is considered a global benchmark in electroacoustic musical research and composition.
Fond d’erreurs was first performed in public at the 11th São Paulo International Electroacoustic Music Biennial, held on October 2016 at UNESP’s Teatro Maria de Lourdes Sekeff. The event was supported by FAPESP.
The piece is a composition for 16 audio channels conveyed through 52 independent loudspeakers by a sophisticated computer system. Far from being descriptive in the conventional sense of the word, Fond d’erreurs nevertheless alludes to the history of the Universe as it might be poetically imagined in accordance with the standard Big Bang cosmological model.
Coincidentally, the work was being composed just as the first direct detection of gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein a century ago, was announced on February 11, 2016 (read more at agencia.fapesp.br/22799).
“The piece begins and ends with an amorphous bass sound, almost undefined, suggesting the undifferentiated background referred to by Bachelard. All of sudden, while this is going on, we hear well-defined structures and even two chords from a string quartet,” Menezes told Agência FAPESP. “It’s as if at a given moment in the great narrative arc of the history of the Universe culture emerges, and in the midst of culture music emerges.”
The preview was held to build a bridge between Studio PANaroma and UNESP’s Theoretical Physics Institute (IFT). The performance was attended by physicist Rogério Rosenfeld, director of IFT, as well as other members of staff such as physicist Nathan Jacob Berkovits.
The model that inspired this exchange was Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), opened in 1977 in Paris by French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (1925-2016). “IRCAM is the mecca of world electroacoustic music. Its research team includes 67 physicists and mathematicians who collaborate with composers. French industry also benefits from its acoustics research,” Menezes said.
“Fond d’erreurs is the first piece produced in our studio using software I’ve been developing since 2009 with support from FAPESP. The program is called MPSP, short for MusicPanSPace, and it’s a tool for composing sound-space trajectories. The piece was composed for 16 channels in a 3D environment, with an octophonic sound system at the level of the listener’s ears and another octophonic arc on the ceiling. All the sounds circulate in the space based on precise calculations performed by the program. In the performance for the public, we adapted the piece for an electroacoustic broadcast via 52 loudspeakers instead of 16.”
Before the preview, Menezes gave those present a tour of the studio and demonstrated how the MPSP program works. Displayed on a large monitor, the software lets the user select any musical element from a large database, set parameters such as duration, pitch, intensity and spatial distribution, and mix multiple elements to compose a piece.
“The spatial position parameter was practically discarded in western music during the Renaissance, when ensembles and then orchestras began playing in a fixed position in front of the audience,” Menezes said. “The new technological resources allow us to retrieve this possibility, creating a spatial dimension in which the listeners are totally immersed.”
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