relationships: fusion and dialectic

 General Concepts

‘‘…we may explore the multidimensional space of sound itself, which may be moulded like a sculptural medium in any way we wish…sound composition has become a plastic art like sculpture.’’

Wishart (1994), Audible Design

Towards the completion of my PhD in Electroacoustic Composition, I have compiled a portfolio of electroacoustic acousmatic works including pieces that combine studio composition with image and free improvisation. They were realised in Studio 1 at the School of Music, University of Wales Bangor, between September 1999 and April 2003.

In very general terms this work is concerned with the relationships between the control of sonic substance and musical effectiveness. It is the result of research into concepts, materials, form and techniques towards the development of a musical idiom that allows the use of any kind of sonic material for the creation of elegant musical experiences. In a process of discovery I have been identifying musical values to empower the expression of the hidden so it becomes manifest and communicable. I have looked at how tools and practices interact with traditions of composition and performance and I have stretched the boundaries, investigating the aesthetic implications. I will try to give a general view of some particular considerations that have been informing my work…

My Favourite Music Technology

Trevor Wishart writes at the beginning of Audible Design: a) any sound can be the starting material for a musical composition; b) the ways in which this sound may be transformed is limited only by the imagination of the composer; c) musical structure depends on establishing audible relationships amongst sound materials. These three assumptions are largely based on the power offered by technology in the last century and reflect the aesthetic implications of the new tools. A huge creative potential has been unlocked and this freedom has changed our relation to sound and music in a very profound way. At the same time, they express a liberal and wise view of music and music making in general, generalizing on the concerns and fantasies of composers over the centuries. In any case, they meet with my own intuitive approach and define an aesthetic frame of reference throughout my work.

The experience of working with recording equipment and the electroacoustic research studio has significantly influenced my compositional approach. I have been capturing sounds of any type and magnitude, storing them digitally en masse. Having extensive control over the audible relationship each captured trace would appear to have with the physical events from which it emanated, I could impose extra characteristics and musical qualities. In most cases extra characteristics were being imposed on the sounds I was capturing, anyway. I was able to instantly listen to that material from any point and as many times as I liked. At the same time I had very detailed, synchronised visual representations of it in any time scale. Digitisation, storage space, retrieval speeds, very precise reproduction and monitoring, indexing and representation facilities allowed me to have considerable control on sound and offered free access to an infinite pool of material around me. This abundance of resources is reflected in the maximalism of pieces such as The Maze, Chaotic Lucidity or Rites of Passage, as well as in the eclecticism of manipulations in A Beautiful Dream or Suvenires.

Led by aspects of the sound objects themselves or by some other physical or conceptual process, I transformed, integrated and exchanged sonic characteristics in time varying manners, often arriving at something perceptually independent. I synthesised new simple or complex sounds, based on the nature of found sounds or following energy trajectories suggested by each thematic. I could cut and paste all these materials, move them around in multi-track environments and repeat, layer and juxtapose them, structuring and articulating words, phrases, paragraphs and chapters.

The involvement of my work with visual references and language relates directly to a way of working with sound, which is directly suggested by this facility to arrange and direct musical meaning by design. As an important part of my practical research, besides pieces integrating lots of different sounds, the malleability of sonic substance allowed me to compose pieces made from one source sound only, such as Rainwater, Love Raga, or The Door Study.

I have been operating across time scales. I would for example repeat a pulse creating pitch but also compress an hour-long recording to a short gesture. I could edit grains and long sections with the same ease, in the same environment. Moreover, I was able to process the material over and over again without having to compromise on the quality of the result.

All stages of my work have incorporated indeterminate elements, either as expressed by the freedom to explore and improvise, or in an ever-changing dynamic distribution of parameters in making and manipulating sound. Also, the adoption of ‘real world’ sound introduced the chaotic behaviours of natural phenomena into my music, both within the sound objects themselves and in models for sonic articulation. Almost total control of recorded material liberated my approach to the physical generation of sound. As I started to appreciate and adopt the beauty and the creative potential in all sounds around me, I used traditional instruments in unconventional ways and any object or system that could generate audible vibrations for recording or performance.

I composed sound onto a fixed medium to be reproduced with abundant dynamic range across the spectrum. In electroacoustic concerts like those by Electroacoustic Wales or BEAST, I have been using many loudspeakers to fill the space with sound and to articulate the dimensions, position and perspective of the projected sonic image in real time. Multi-speaker sound diffusion has been informing my music as an intuitive and magically captivating performance practice, projecting the sound into the room and making it flourish.


The variety of stimuli and information on offer in today’s world is immense. Ideas are being generated at high speed and circulate dynamically. We experience intense conflicts, contradictions and paradoxes. Expression of the individual is greatly facilitated and encouraged, while at the same time we unite via networking, centralisation of power and the collective subconscious that these processes create. While we observe magnificent technological developments stretching the planet’s tolerances, barriers disappear and civilisations, traditions and styles amalgamate…

The general theme of my portfolio is relationships: between the partial and the whole, between behaviours and environments, among human beings and forms of art. The pieces and performances have been a study on unity and transformation, as well as on fusion and dialectic.

We can see beauty as a fully potent organic unit, like nature. In aesthetic terms the totality retains the primacy over the individual components and differences are eroded into complementarities. This idea can be expressed as an all-embracing concept of counterpoint.

“…an artistic economy bringing free, autonomous shapes together into one single thing through the very power of artistic organisation”

Adorno (1978), The Function of Counterpoint in New Music

I have been incorporating the multiplicity of elements, with which I was concerned, as independent streams interacting with each other and with the whole they constitute. All sonic parameters take part in this game, as well as the significations they carry in their development.

As we hear a sound we tend to automatically make judgements about its source, cause, movement, position and surroundings, introducing it into sonic pictures or landscapes, mental structures that include real or imagined parallels with other senses and related knowledge. By controlling sonic characteristics I created abstract musical relationships with or within sounds based on those projected associations. I composed signified meaning in ‘melodies’ of sonic landscapes within the musical discourse and in counterpoint with everything else. The sounds might work as linked symbols within aural metaphors. When the sonic images become too dense to follow or do not have clear connections we get a sequence of tension related meta-images. The listeners are expected to surrender and let the experience of the sound meander through the mind. They are welcome to play with free associations, translating the perceived patterns into internal ones.

During this process, concert-seating arrangement becomes a crucial factor. Audiences that are allowed to comfortably adjust and drift in the sonic world, not being distracted by the world of the body, will be able to resonate easier with the music and the uncompromised spirit of these works. I feel that less formal set-ups, which use perhaps mattresses or comfortable chairs and non-shoebox seating options, encourage the process of active listening and are more conducive to a deep appreciation of such complex and demanding sonic art.

The style of the work is inventive, humorous and argumentative, with intense peaks and troughs of tension oscillating between the real and the imaginary. The pieces are almost like colourful sonic fairytales or adventures, with natural energy trajectories, evolutionary properties, rhythms of language and elements of culture. The aim is to generate pleasure from the collision between ambiguous entities and the multithread vectors that weave through them. The ideas behind each piece were intuitively developed through personal observation and analysis or were imposed by a particular situation. In most cases they were a combination of interests in an abstract concept, types of sound, an environment or a set of techniques. The whole process can be seen as an effort to develop a personal system of sonic architecture that would subsequently apply to any kind of music, across genres and techniques. In this sense, this body of work is investigative by nature, the means and at the same time the product of research through a broad set of compositional and sonic concerns.

About the pieces

The original portfolio included audio CDs with the acousmatic pieces, a DVD with the video pieces and CDs with other supporting and reference material. Most of this material can be found on this blog, at as well as other music hosting sites.

to be continued………….

Wishart (1994), Audible Design
Wishart (1996), On Sonic Art
Jonty Harrison (1999); Diffusion: theories and practices
Friedrich Schiller (1795); Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen
Vasilis Rafilides (1992), Elementary Aesthetics
Theodor Adorno (1978), The Function of Counterpoint in New Music, in Sound Figures

About stelios giannoulakis

composition, sound design, engineering, improvisation
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