Composed in March 2017, Étude Spectrale I is the first in a series of works inspired by the spectral aesthetic of composers Gérard Grisey, Tristan Murail, and Kaija Saariaho. Spectral composers think of sound according to its scientific and mathematical properties and translate these into terms we have grown accustomed to in Western music: in other words, they think in terms of frequency, time, and intensity in addition to pitch, meter, and dynamics. This way of thinking allows spectralists to get away from, say, an octave divided into twelve equal pitches or an even more limited conception of rhythmic elements. Timbre becomes the most important element in spectral music as this way of thinking allows the entire sound, and not just its parameters, to be considered.
My composition Étude Spectrale I applies spectral thought processes in new and original ways. This is music constructed exclusively from sine waves which are generated by the computer. Sine waves are placed into twelve tracks each of whose frequencies (measured in Hertz) correspond to a member of the overtone series. One of the main ideas behind this piece is the avoidance of absolute, identifiable pitch. Not only do certain sine waves correspond to frequencies in-between the twelve pitches of the octave, but often sine waves spend little time resting on one frequency as they slide gradually into the next member of the overtone series. Accordingly, my pitch material is drawn from the frequency continuum. Mathematical calculations outline which frequencies appear in my palette as well as the intervals of time between the end of one sound and the introduction of the next. The transitions between sounds are also incredibly smooth, so much so that we might hear the piece as one sound gradually transformed over its total duration.
Because spectral music was predominately a French movement in its early years, the title of my composition is also in French: it simply means "Spectral Study." Metaphorically, I envision clouds when listening to this piece: sometimes the different tracks intersect beautifully and other times their interactions clash and leave us with only thunderous noise. The sounds of this piece also give the impression of everyday environmental and urban noises: the rhythms are much like those we hear in the rustling of wind or bustle of street traffic. Étude Spectrale I, therefore, encourages a deeper listening to the noises we hear around us on a daily basis.
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Jun. 2, 2017. New Music on the Bayou, Northminster Church, Monroe, Louisiana.
Étude Spectrale I was premiered at
New Music on the Bayou in Monroe, Louisiana on June 2, 2017.