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Vagues / Fenêtres for String Trio and Electronic Sounds



Vagues / Fenêtres for String Trio and Electronic Sounds


Evelyn Jacqueline Ficarra

Doctor of Philosophy in Music

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Edmund Campion, Chair

This research begins with close listening: `close' being an attitude of intense focus, directed both outwards to sounds in the real world and inwards to the imagination. `Close' also being an apt description of technologically assisted listening, through `close miking' techniques in the recording process; `close' listening being the opportunity, thanks to recording, of being able to listen repeatedly to the same sound; `close' being the property of analysis to which sounds can be subjected by digital means.

The initial listening phase results in the gathering of material, both recorded sounds and imagined sounds (these latter are sketched out in graphic or traditional musical notation.) The material then develops through the application of opposing forces, a set of dualities which form an interlocking network of structuring forces and possible cross mappings: movement/stasis, line/mass, live/fixed, instability/stability, acoustic/electronic, linear development/fragmentation, expansion/compression, macro/micro, material/metaphor.

The `live/fixed' duality has its most obvious working out in the relationship between the acoustic parts and the sound files, but that is not its sole expression. The score is also a `fixed' object which must be interpreted by the performers, and some of the graphic notation allows for more freedom and spontaneity than is traditional. Similarly the sound files, though pre-recorded and pre-mixed, are brought to life by a sound engineer in a given space on equipment which may vary from venue to venue, each time in a new acoustic; so, they may be `fixed' in one sense, but they are mutable.

All the sound files have their origin in recordings made with a violin, viola and cello, which have been reworked in the studio using a variety of processes: editing, filtering, multi-tracking, stretching, delay, reverberation, et cetera. The recorded aspects of the piece behave at times like distorted or transformed memories of past events, at other times like an alter ego or `other' to the live players. In certain passages the sound worlds are so closely linked that it may be hard to tell what is `live' and what is `electronic' or `fixed.' This raises questions for the listener: what are we hearing? Where is it coming from? During the first long acoustic section, there is a point where the players become so quiet that they are, eventually, just miming: the first instance of a disconnect between action and sound. This in turn links up to later sections where they are actually playing but you may not hear or be able to distinguish what sounds are being made. Certain sounds from the electronic part are clearly sourced from identifiable string playing gestures, now eerily disembodied. The amplification of the strings, providing a bridge between acoustic and electronic sound sources, is another interpretive variable that `livens' the scene. In addition, as there is no click track, the relationship between `live' acoustic sounds and `fixed' electronic sounds will never be identical but will shift subtly from performance to performance, allowing the performers and the sound engineer to listen and `play' within a given framework. Thus the lines between `fixed' and `live' are continually blurred.

Of the dualities listed above, the `material/metaphor' pair is the strongest structuring force. The initial `sound idea' (in this case, the movement of water, the `waves' of the title) generates material which, in working through certain dualities, distorts the metaphor or produces new ones (for example, `windows'). That particular shift was prompted by a consideration of `movement/stasis', `linear development/fragmentation' and `macro/micro'. If the motion of water is captured in a still image, how can that be expressed in sound? I began isolating moments from a long linear passage in earlier sketches, framing them in boxes, which I called `windows.' A window might contain an extreme compression of longer material, or an extension of a tiny moment. A window can be open or shut, it is both a barrier and a connection; a window can reflect; it can also be broken. The exploration of a metaphor forces a reassessment of material, and vice versa, in a recursive process that generates a shifting whole, whose shifting is fixed into objects (score, sound files) and ultimately brought back to life - and to listening - through performance.

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