Studie I for solo piano & electronics (2014)

This piano composition is based on four different concepts which use several basic points of the producer/composer in how the composition is inherently connected to the electronics. The first concept was using overtones on a single note to form a scale. When I wrote this piece, I had just started reading on spectralism and I therefore set off to try it out. Unlike Grisey and Murail, I did not analyze acoustic phenomena. I looked at the overtones of an A440, made a scale derived from them and then I note possible non-harmonic notes to use. The composition also progresses in that over time I’ve added more notes that do not exactly fit in the overtone series of A440.

The second concept in the piece is the use of other musical parameters to organize the structure of the piece instead of just harmony and especially functional harmony. Boulez, Jodblowski and Saariaho have written extensively about this. There is no functional harmony because of the use of the overtones which forced me to use other means of tension and release to structure the piece. This varies from using notes that don’t completely fit in the overtones to having quicker or slower changes in what is done in the electronics.

The third concept is the idea of perceptual feedback. I wanted the musician to react to what the electronics are doing, at the same time as the electronics would react to what the musician is played. The musician is going to play the score reacting to the electronics coming out (of the previous section in the piece). The electronics in many ways provide the background for the pianist, weaving a harmonic tapestry that he/she plays over. Everything that the pianist plays will then be a part of the electronics.

The fourth and final concept is having macro and micro structures in the piece which is heavily inspired by the writings of Curtis Roads. The macro structure is the actual composition while the micro are the recorded buffers which are played back at a much slower speed. What was interesting about these recordings is also how different an instrument like the piano sounds when it is slowed down over ten times times with a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. A vibrating piano string can start almost sounding like a violin playing a very slow glissando. The textures that come out of it are incredibly interesting and they give another dimension to the solo instrument. The idea was to make the listener more aware of all the different components of a piano’s sound, instead of thinking of it as “the sound from a piano”.

In many ways, “Studie I” proves that a very simple signal chain and concept can form an interesting and multifaceted work that is both pleasing to listeners, the composer and the musicians that have played it. Time stretching a single instrument as main spectromorphological gesture is an interesting technique as well as something that can easily be exploited in different contexts. It’s a piece that could not be written by anyone else than a producer/composer even though the programming is very simple. Because of the piece’s centrifugal elements, synchronizing the acoustic instrument with the electronics is also not an issue.

MaxMSP schematics

Recorded in concert in 2015 by Øystein Hansen Marker & in 2016 by Maren Barlien, both times at NTNU. Recorded, edited, mixed and mastered by Mathieu Lacroix.




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