NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1936 __ « New Instruments and New Music »
Edgard (Edgar) (1883-1965)
French comment : Varèse conçoit la musique "comme étant spatiale, comme de mouvants corps sonores dans l'espace" ou de "belles paraboles et hyperboles sonores" comparables à celles que l'on trouve dans le monde visuel. Le côté architectural du volume et le phénomène de la projection du son composite, constitué le plus souvent des timbres superposés des instruments acoustiques habituels, définissent une stratégie formelle spécifique: à la place de l'écriture verticale avec ses fonctions harmoniques ébranlées par le chromatisme ou à la place du contrepoint linéaire structurant un tissu mélodique à trois dimensions Varèse propose le mouvement composé "des masses et des déplacements des plans", "la projection mouvante d'une figure et d'un plan qui bougent dans l'espace, selon leur propre loi et à des vitesses variées de translation et de rotation. "Quand les masses sonores se heurteront, des phénomènes de pénétration et de répulsion sembleront se manifester. Certaines transmutations prendront place sur un plan et sembleront projetées sur d'autres plans. Ils se déplaceront à des vitesses différentes, selon des angles variés. L'ancienne conception de la mélodie ou de la polyphonie n'existera plus. L'œuvre tout entière sera une totalité mélodique. Elle coulera comme coule une rivière." (Edgar Varèse). Cette œuvre spatialisée qui résulte nécessairement d'une composition simultanée de l'action et de la musique ne sera plus conforme au traditionnel rite du concert ou opéra frontal : "Le décor n'a plus de rôle à tenir aujourd'hui. Nous avons la lumière et les projections. Elles seules donnent la troisième dimension. Il ne faut deviner ni machines ni coulisses, mais donner au spectateur le sens de l'espace où se meuvent les acteurs. C'est une chant qui s'élève dans un coin du plateau qui donne l'intimité vraie." Mais, "Que voulez-vous obtenir si vous n'avez pas un studio acoustique ou électronique à votre disposition ?". (Ivanka Stoianova)
Original excerpt 1 : « When new instruments will allow me to write music as I conceive it, taking the place of the linear counterpoint, the movement of sound-masses, of shifting planes, will be clearly perceived. When these sound-masses collide the phenomena of penetration or repulsion will seem to occur. Certain transmutations taking place on certain planes will seem to be projected onto other planes, moving at different speeds and at different angles. There will no longer be the old conception of melody or interplay of melodies. The entire work will be a melodic totality. The entire work will flow as a river flows. Today with the technical means that exist and are easily adaptable, the differentiation of the various masses and different planes as these beams of sound, could be made discernible to the listener by means of certain acoustical arrangements. Moreover, such an acoustical arrangement would permit the delimitation of what I call Zones of Intensities. These zones would be differentiated by various timbres or colors and different loudnesses. Through such a physical process these zones would appear of different colors and of different magnitude in different perspectives for our perception. The role of color or timbre would be completely changed from being incidental, anecdotal, sensual or picturesque, it would become an agent of delineation like the different colors on a map separating different areas, and an integral part of form. These zones would be felt as isolated, and the hitherto unobtainable non-blending (or at least the sensation of non-blending) would become possible. In the moving masses you would be conscious of their transmutations when they pass over different layers, when they penetrate certain opacities, or are dilated in certain rarefactions. Moreover, the new musical apparatus I envisage, able to emit sounds of any number of frequencies, will extend the limits of the lowest and highest registers, hence new organizations of the vertical resultants: chords, their arrangements, their spacings, that is, their oxygenation. Not only will the harmonic possibilities of the overtones be revealed in all their splendor but the use of certain interferences created by the partials will represent an appreciable contribution. The never before thought of use of the inferior resultants and of the differential and additional sounds may also be expected. An entirely new magic of sound! I am sure that the time will come when the composer, after he has graphically realized his score, will see this score automatically put on a machine which will faithfully transmit the musical content to the listener. As frequencies and new rhythms will have to be indicated on the score, our actual notation will be inadequate. The new notation will probably be seismographic. And here it is curious to note that at the beginning of two eras, the Mediaeval primitive and our own primitive era (for we are at a new primitive stage in music today) we are faced with an identical problem: the problem of finding graphic symbols for the transposition of the composer's thought into sound. At a distance of more than a thousand years we have this analogy: our still primitive electrical instruments find it necessary to abandon staff notation and to use a kind of seismographic writing much like the early ideographic writing originally used for the voice before the development of staff notation. Formerly the curves of the musical line indicated the melodic fluctuations of the voice, today the machine-instrument requires precise design indications. [...] Our new liberating medium - the electronic - is not meant to replace the old musical instruments which composers, including myself, will continue to use. Electronics is an additive, not a destructive factor in the art and science of music. It is because new instruments have been constantly added to the old ones that Western music has such a rich and varied patrimony. Grateful as we must be for the new medium, we should not expect miracles from machines. The machine can give out only what we put into it. The musical principles remain the same whether a composer writes for orchestra or tape. Rhythm and Form are still his most important problems and the two elements in much most generally misunderstood. [...] Until quite recently I used hear is so often in regard to my own works, that, as far back as the twenties, I decided to my music "organized sound" and myself, not a musician, but "a worker in rhythms, frequencies, and intensities." Indeed, to stubbornly conditioned ears, anything new in music has always been called noise. But after all what is music but organized noises? And a composer, like all artists, is an organizer of disparate elements. Subjectively, noise is any sound one doesn't like. Our new medium has brought to composers almost endless possibilities of expression, and opened up for them the whole mysterious world of sound. For instance, I have always felt the need of a kind of continuous flowing curve that instruments could not give me. That is why I used sirens in several of my works. Today such effects are easily obtainable by electronic means. In this connection it is curious to note that it is this lack of flow that seems to disturb Eastern musicians in our Western music. To their ears it does not glide, sounds jerky, composed of edges of intervals and holes and, as an Indian pupil of mine expressed it, "jumping like a bird from branch to branch." To them apparently our Western music seems to sound much as it sounds to us when a record is played backward. But playing a Hindu record of a melodic vocalization backward, I found that it had the same smooth flow as when played normally, scarcely altered at all. We should also remember that no machine is a wizard, as we are beginning to think, and we must not expect our electronic devices to compose for us. Good music and bad music will be composed by electronic means, just as good and bad music have been composed for instruments. The computing machine is a marvelous invention and seems almost superhuman. But, in reality, it is as limited as the mind of the individual who feeds it material. Like the computer, the machines we use for making music can only give back what we put into them. But, considering the fact that our electronic devices were never meant for making music, but for the sole purpose of measuring and analyzing sound, it is remarkable that what has already been achieved as musically valid. They are still somewhat unwieldy and time-consuming and not entirely satisfactory as an art-medium. But this new art is still in its infancy, and I hope and firmly believe, now that composers and physicists are at least working together, and music is again linked with science, as it was in the Middle Ages, that new and more musically efficient devices will be invented. »
French translated excerpt 2 : « Personnellement, à chaque instant, je suis arrêté par la pauvreté des moyens d'expression dont je dispose : tenez, impossible, par exemple, de donner un son continu. L'exécutant, le virtuose ne devraient plus exister : une machine les remplacera avec avantage. On trouvera des intensités nouvelles, car le domaine du son est encore imparfaitement exploré. Ces idées choquent encore beaucoup de gens : vous verrez qu'elles s'imposeront dans un avenir plus ou moins lointain ». « Je rêve d'instruments obéissant à la pensée - et qui avec l'apport d'une floraison de timbres insoupçonnés se prêteraient aux combinaisons qu'il me plaira de leur imposer et se plieraient à l'exigence de mon rythme intérieur. [...] Avec les progrès de l'électronique, mon rêve devient peu à peu une réalité.» « Je me tourne vers les machines pour découvrir des sons que parce que les instruments musicaux actuels ne sont pas adaptés à mes besoins. Sur une bande magnétique, je peux faire ce que je veux." "La difficulté dans l'art de composer aujourd'hui est de voir à ce que les notes de nos accords soient proprement distribuées dans l'espace. [...] Cette impression que le son nous quitte avec l'idée qu'il ne reviendra pas, une impression qui ressemble à ce qui émerge de rayons lumineux émis par un puissant projecteur; un sentiment de projection, de voyage dans l'espace, pour l'oreille comme pour l'œil. » (Edgard Varèse, "Écrits")
Source : Varèse, Edgard (1936), “The Liberation of Sound. Perspectives on New Instruments and New Music”, Elliott Schwartz & Barney Childs (eds.), 1936.
Source : Stoianova, Ivanka (2006), "Varèse et la musique contemporaine", in "Edgard Varèse du son organisé aux arts audio", edited by Timothée Horodyski, Colloque. "Journées Varèse", Paris 8 - Saint-Denis, les 8, 30 et 31 mars 2006, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007.
Source : Varèse, Edgard (?), "Écrits", textes réunis et présentés par Louise Hirbour, Paris, Christian Bourgois, 1983.
Urls : http://www.zakros.com/mica/soundart/s04/varese_text.html (last visited ) http://helios.hampshire.edu/~hacu123/papers/varese.html (last visited )

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