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Volume 8 Issue 10 - July/August 2003

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om poser ~ Jasodrno to

om poser ~ Jasodrno to build my own tools and mod- ta! to electroacoustic music. ify the tape recorders in order STEENHUISEN: lWiat did you to be able to ~e ~em do the mean when you sakl. you couldn't 1.:==::.;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;===.1 electroacousttc mus~c.I w~t- find the answers to your questions ~- ~use I was livmg m_the working with acoustic music. countryside m the south of~rance, m "'11at were those questions? lWiat Provence, there were practically no were you seeking? professional shops where I could get DHOMONT· 1 1 them fixed, so I also had to learn how . • t was ~ m~g t d that self tune ago, but. .. I was hsterung to 0 0 my · a lot of music, and I had the irn- STEENHUISEN: lWiat were ~our pression that it was always the INTERVIEW WITH FRANCIS DHOMONT JUNE2003 by Paul Steenhuisen* The name Francis Dhomont is sy1Wnymous with excellence in electroacoustic music. Active since the early days of the an fonn, he has forged his o\Wi impressive path, supponed by a wealth of paralfigmatic works, the majority of which are available on CD from the Empreintes Digitales label Those interested in further study of his work will also want to check out French publisher licences' large format bilingual an book Sonopsys, ( cad J licences.htm), and Uli Auinuller'sfilm!DVD My Cinema for the Ears. As for experiencing his work in public, the next opportunity to do so in Toronto is August 9 at one of New Adventures in Sound An 's Sound Travels events ( Among the numerous Centre Island concens will be an octaphonic concen presentation of his recent acousmatic** piece Here and There. STEENHUISEN: lW!en youbegan your first experiments with electronic techlWlogy in 1947, what were your tools, and what were your results? DHOMONT: When I began, the means were extremely limited. All I had were low quality amateur tape recorders. There were many problems with these machines, so I had *(with thanks to Jean-Fran~is Denis) **Originating with Pythagoras' unique oral teaching style (delivered from behind a curtain to prevent his physical presence from distracting his disciples and allowing them to better concentrate exclusively on the content of his message) the term acousmatic is closely associated with Dhomont's work. Applied to sound, "acousmatic" is loosely defined as "a sound that we can hear without knowing its cause". 16 ea:ly goals as a composer working same thing. Not that the music with the tape recorders? was always the same thing, but I DHOMONT: It must be said that I had that impression. The thing encountered recording technology that was completely new and difwell before I started to compose elec- ferent was the sound of electroa~ troacoustic music, well before en- coustic music, and it provided ' countering Pierre Schaeffer and the some answers. The sound was phenomenon of musique concrete. I completely different, and I had enorwas composing instrumental music at mous interest in this. that time, and I came to electroacous- STEENHUISEN: You've made the tic music much later, in the 1960s. change from calling your work acous- My goal at that time, which is al- matic "music"toacousmatic "an"? ways the same goal, was to make Whydoyouleaveouttheword "mumusic. Technology doesn't interest sic"? me - it's what one can do with the electroacoustic technology that interests me. STEENHUISEN: Having had traditional music studies, in counte!point, theory, hannony and composition. .. what injluence did that have on you? DHOMONT: My traditional studies have left a trace. Onfonn - the structure of the composition - and also the polyphony. STEENHUISEN: Today a composer in electroaco~cs has approximately sixty-jive years of inherited precedents, a growing body of work as reference. Doyoufeelthat it's still important for acousmatic artists to have similar traditional studies in music theory, hannony? DHOMONT: In my opinion it's not necessary. It's not necessary to study traditional solfege, but what is needed is to educate the ear. It's absolutely indispensable to learn how to listen, because in acousmatic music, we work with the perception of sound. STEENHUISEN: In 1963, why did you make the decision to work exclusively with recorded media? DHOMONT: I was a bit tired of · instrumental music - my own and that of my contemporaries. With instrumental music, I couldn't find the answers to the questions I had as a composer. I was searching for something else. With the experiments I had done using magnetic tape in the late forties, I felt there was a new mode of composition available with these tools. Encountering the work of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henri reconfirmed that interest, and inspired me to change from instrumen- DHOMONT: That's an important question. One of the reasons is that in the past 25 years the public, the people who listen to our art, don't believe that what we do is music. They ask, "Why don't you make real music?" It's because of this that I asked myself the question, and I think it's better to say that we make an. It's more "sound art" than it is "music". People perceive it this way also, because it involves noise and other sounds, not articulating a musical language. Therefore, removing the word "music" and replacing it with "an" made the statement much clearer. Art can be something new. I consider that what I do is music, but I find it boring to always answer the question of why we don't do real music. In the people's mind, music has a lot of tradition and historical background, a lot of dimension, such as people on stage, a manuscript, melody, harmony, a beat, and instruments. None of those things are present in electroacoustic music. The word an can always be redefined, and is much more broad - it leaves the door open. (Laughing) Many of my colleagues don't agree with me on this, maybe because they think that the word "music" is more noble, and also because there might be performing rights concerns. The performing rights societies might not decide to represent that art form. STEENHUISEN: At the same time, you haven't really left acoustic music behind. You make substantial reference to other music as source material in your pieces. lWiat is the function of these materials? DHOMONT: Yes. That'sacomplex question, but very interesting. Effectively, I am always close to the universe of music, and music that is instrumental and/or vocal. I've always been very involved with it. I don't wantto cut off from traditional music, but electroacoustic music has. other dimensions of interest. One of the biggest changes in the evolution of music is that in acousmatic art there is no longer the articulation of the 1Wte, but the articulation of the sound, of the mo!phology of the souIXI. So there is a break there, but it is within the continuity of evolution of music. That is why we can hear references to instrumental music in my pieces. In musique concrete and its successor, acousmatic music, nothing is forbidden. Instruments may be used in musique concrete or acousmatic art, but not in the cbnventional fashion. We take the sowlds, record them, and treat them, processing and changillg them. STEENHUISEN: By extension, with your sound materials you make reference to so much else - literature, the natural world, images, scenes and places. Are all sowuis equal? Are they treated as found objects? DHOMONT: There is an old saying in musique concrete that anything that makes a sound is good, and thus may be used. All sowlds are treated equally, be they figurative or abstract. There is no hierarchical system, but it depends on the work. Some pieces may use elements that refer to reality, or are narrative, and referential to things that we know and experience. Therefore, there is a hierarchy of material in those pieces. For example, in a piece that would be very abstract, ifl include in that abstract piece the· sound of a word, or the sound of a singing bird, then those are very strong images that create a link with reality, a special climate. There is a change in perception between the July 1 - September 7 2003

abstract world and these things that pop in as reference to the realities that they derive meaning from. This is not something that occurs by accident, but rather, it is voluntary on my part. Be it painting or music or literature, I think that one of the aspects that is very important in art in general is the poetic climate or atmosphere. A feeling of poetry is needed in a· work of art. STEENHUISEN: You've mentioned your interes~ in the spectral morphdogy of sound. Could you de- .· fine this and give some examples of how it. 's applied in your work? DHOMONT: The term Spectral morphology was invented by Dennis Smalley, who has written pages and pages about this phenomenon. But in a few words, it establishes the difference between instrumental music, which is the articulation of conventions of codes - notes, harmony, rhythm, and spectral morphology, which in music is more the articulation of colour and timbre. Spectral morphology is the study of everything that happens within the sound as it resonates. Pierre Schaeffer's terminology for describing the same phenomenon is matter, which (in very broad terms) is the spectrum of sound, and its form, which is the amplitude of sound, and how it evolves in time. Schaeffer creates a link between matter and form, just as in spectral morphology. STEENHUISEN: Could you also talk a little bit about soi.ind as metaphor? DHOMONT: Yes, but sound is not only metaphorical, it's physical. IM it is true that in some or many of my pieces, sounds I use have a metaphoric value, and where that metamorphosis is important. In Espace!Escape, which is a piece about voyage, escape, displacement, and notions of space, there are many sounds that make allusions. Some sounds are realistic in terms that they evoke notions of speed, displacement, or travel, and are also figurative in terms of the sound qualities they evoke. They can be either literal (for example, a train passing by), or abstract in terms of a sound that has a lot of internal movement. Just like an abstract sound that moves from left to right - the movement is there, but it doesn't make reference to a train or a plane, or anything. But the feeling of movement is evoked by its morphology. STEENHUISEN: In addition to the technical and sonic richness, your work also has vast psychological breadth, exploring the complexities of the subconscious: Is this territory July 1 - September 7 2003 something that has always attracted you to electroacoustics? DHOMONT: My interest in psy- . chology has always been present, but electroacoustic music has allowed me to better understand psychology and the subconscious. When I was writing instrumental music, I had so many rules to obey and follow at the conservatoire or in music school that I couldn't attain the liberty that electroacoustic music offered in terms of exploring the subconscious. Electroacoustic music offers a lot of freedom, total liberty of expression, but at the same time it creates the danger that one can just do anything, without care. With electroacoustic music, I learned how to become more free than I felt with instrumental music, but I also had to find or invent my own rules, in order not to create an insignificant sound, or meaningless noise. STEENHUISEN: The freedom is a curse and a pleasure. DHOMONT: Exactly. STEENHUISEN: While the materials of acousmatic art may be fixed on tape, in peifonnance they are by no means static or fixed in space. How is the live concert experience of acousmatics importanJ to the true experience of it? DHOMONT: Listening to the music on CD at home can be a good rep- , resentation, and a good image of the work. In the concert hall, where there are multiple speakers and the person is centred - that spatializes the sound - a new dimension is added to the music, an amplification. However, all music fixed on tape isn't necessarily stereo, because there are also multi~track pieces, conceived for presentation in the concert hall, even though it's fixed on tape or hard disk. Both listening modes are valid - privately, or in the concert hall. It's a big subject- we could talk for hours about this. STEENHUISEN: If we define acousmatic art as the hiding of the sound source and its dissociation from the listener, isn't almost everything we hear acousmatic? The radio, CDs, television? lWult separates these from acousmatjc ai1? DHOMONT: We cannot say that because when Mozart composed a symphony, he didn't conceive it this way, without the musicians onstage playing their instruments live. When we listen to music on the radio, what we listen to is a recorded art. We may say the listening experience is acousmatic when you listen to a piece of instrumental music on the radio, television, the telephone, etc., but the music itself - the art form - is not acousmatic in its form, just in its reproduction. We have to make a distinction between the acousmatic listening mode and the acousmatic composition mode, which is a different way of thinking about the art. For example, I can compose a piece for piano, it isn't an acousmatic piece, though it could be listened to in an acousmatic mode on the radio. The acousmatic is a specific, original way of thinking. STEENHUISEN: You once wrote, "the road least accessible is always the one to choose. " "Why? DHOMONT: I belil'!ve we can obtain sornething of interest with work, with effort and research. If we don't do that, then we repeat what we've already done. I believe that we always have to search, to try harder to give ourselves difficulties in order to reinvent all the time. for example, when one buys a synthesizer or some software·, these things come with "presets". We saw. very much with the DX-7 that many composers just used the machine as it was delivered by the manufacturer. But there are.composers who go farther. What was interesting were the people who went into the machine or the software and explored and tried to get new things out of it. That is the hardest path, but it's also the most interesting. But I'm not quite content with this formula. I want to add something that's contradictory, because the truth lies in the contradiction and the dialectic. Sometimes we have a musical idea that comes very easily by itself and it

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