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Francis Dhomont's Phonurgie: A New Case Study from the TaCEM Project

Clarke, Michael, Dufeu, Frédéric and Manning, Peter (2015) Francis Dhomont's Phonurgie: A New Case Study from the TaCEM Project. In: Electroacoustic Music Studies Network Conference (EMS15): The Art of Electroacoustic Music, 23rd - 26th June 2015, Sheffield, UK. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Following our previous presentations on developments in the TaCEM project (Technology and Creativity in Electroacoustic Music) at EMS conferences (in Lisbon and Berlin), this year we present a Case Study based on Francis Dhomont's work Phonurgie (1998). Funded by the United Kingdom's Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for a duration of 30 months (2012-2015), TaCEM is investigating the relationship between technological innovation and musical creativity asking, for example, if and how new technological developments afford new ways of creating and shaping music.

Amongst a set of eight Case Studies from the electroacoustic repertoire, Phonurgie presents specific and important challenges for our project. Whereas in studying works by Barry Truax (Riverrun, 1986/2004) and Trevor Wishart (Imago, 2002) we have focused on music that was created using software the composers had themselves designed, Francis Dhomont operates in a very different way. He does not create his own software nor does he use a single system but adventures through a range of available resources, using hardware and software as best suits his creative purpose. This makes tracing the evolution of the music and the means by which a work was created more complex, and in many cases the process is less well documented. Nonetheless, technology is central to the creation of Dhomont's works: without it his music could not exist in the form it does. It is therefore important that such work is included within TaCEM and reflected in our overall study of the various ways in which technology has led to new musical expression.

There is a further complication in the study of Phonurgie. One of the key resources Dhomont used for making this work was GRM's Syter. Although widely used by important composers of the field, leading to a significant variety of works through the 1980s and 1990s, this system no longer exists in a fully accessible form. Even if some aspects of its functionality can still be found in GRM tools, Syter's distinctive user interface is not available any more and this is a significant part of Dhomont's technical resource for this work, providing a unique way of working with sounds and processes, and of shaping transformations. Users can explore the potential offered by one given sound source and real-time processer (`instrument'), by manipulating one or two-dimensional sliders (`reglettes') associated to some of the parameters of the chosen transformation. They are also able to define a number of presets and then place these as 'balls' (`boules') on a grid on the screen. It is then possible to metamorphose between the presets by moving the cursor between these balls, tracing transformational paths between a number of parameter values on the screen. A key part of our investigation therefore has been to emulate Syter - not only its unique transformational processes but also its graphics-based interface, and in doing so to learn how this may have influenced the composer's musical thinking in Phonurgie. This emulation will be demonstrated and the creative implications of Dhomont's use of this tool discussed.

As in our other Case Studies, our research is also informed by research into the technical context of the work, interviews with the composer and the access the composer has kindly given us to his archives and records. Our presentation will document these resources and present an account of the composer's own reflections on Phonurgie and the process by which it was made, supported by examples of our filmed interviews with him. This approach is especially important with the investigation of a work that has not followed a closely prescribed technical path, but drawn on a variety of technical means, following musical imperatives that do not always correspond to a systematic technical progression. These materials help in the development of an understanding of both the technical and creative process as well as informing our understanding of the underlying poietic intentions. For instance, the composer's archives enabled us to trace recorded sequences in which he explored short fragments (from his own sound experimentations, field recordings, or excerpts from works by Guillaume de Machaut and Pierre Schaeffer) along with specific and documented processes of Syter, leading to sound reservoirs from which he could select some of the materials heard in Phonurgie. A striking aspect of Dhomont's general compositional method is the constitution, by recording or experimenting with technological tools, of large stocks of sound materials that are not exclusively used in the ongoing composition, but can also be reconsidered and further transformed in later works, sometimes over the very long term. This is confirmed by listening to the composer's repertoire, in which many musical materials appear recurrently, with different degrees of variation, constituting milestones over his large corpus. In regards to such a poietic approach and resulting aesthetics, Phonurgie is particularly relevant as the last piece of the Cycle du son, a tribute to musique concrète and its actors, also including Objets retrouves (1996), Novars (1989), and AvatArsSon (1998).

A further element of our research into each Case Study has involved analysis of the finished work, investigating the music itself and how the materials created in the studio are formed into a coherent and engaging composition. Whereas the other strands of our research involve learning about a work by re-creating it, re-building its components from the ground up, in this strand we take the finished composition and interrogate it as a completed musical work. Using our analytical software TIAALS (Tools for Interactive Aural Analysis), we explore the way the creative objectives shaped the sonic components and their interrelation. We will present our interpretation of the structure of the work and how this relates to the palette of source materials used in Phonurgie and range of transformational processes employed.

Finally, we will reflect on the investigative process we have employed in this and the seven other Case Studies in the TaCEM project and the significance of this approach, bringing together technical, poietic and analytical components in the study of electroacoustic music. We will assess the extent to which an approach which foregrounds the aural and the interactive as essential to the investigation of electroacoustic music enhances understanding of the repertoire.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Cherry Edmunds
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2016 09:31
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2016 09:31
URI: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/27153

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