Voices - John Chowning

October 03, 2016

Time: 20:30
Location: Sala Accademica
Category: Acousmatic and Live Electronics
Duration: 37’
Sound Direction: Pasquale Citera - Giuseppe Silvi
John Chowining Phoné • 12’00
John Chowining Stria • 15’46
John Chowining Voices • 18’00
  for Soprano and Interactive Computer v.3 [2011]
John Chowining Turenas • 10’00
Jean Claude Risset Oscura • 13’00
  per soprano ed elettronica [2005]
sopran Maureen Chowining

Program Notes

Phoné [1981] The sounds in Phoné (from the Greek, meaning sound or voice) were produced using a special configuration of the frequency modulation (FM) synthesis technique that allows the composer to simulate a wide range of timbres including the singing voice and other strongly resonant sounds. The synthesis programs are designed to permit exploration of and control over the ambiguities that can arise in the perception and identification of sound sources. The interpolation between timbres and extension of real vocal timbres into registers that could not exist in the real world — such as a basso profundissimo — and the micro-structural control of sound that determines the perceptual fusion and segregation of spectral components are important points in this composition. The composer developed this technique of FM synthesis of the singing voice at IRCAM, Paris in 1979 using a DEC PDP-10 and realized the piece at CCRMA in 1980 – 81, using the Samson Box, a real-time digital synthesizer designed by Peter Samson. The work was premiered at IRCAM in Paris in February 1981.

Stria [1977] Chowning received one of IRCAM’s first commissions from Luciano Berio to compose stria for the institute’s first major concert series presented by Pierre Boulez, Perspectives of the 20th Century, given in Paris in 1977. It was realized during the summer-autumn of 1977 on a DEC PDP-10 at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and premiered October 13, 1977. The work is based on the unique possibilities in computer synthesis of precise control over the spectral components or partials of a sound. Most of the music we hear is composed of sounds whose partials are harmonic or in the harmonic series. In stria, a non-standard division of the frequency space (ca. 13 notes per octave) is based on a ratio which is also used to determine the relationships between the inharmonic spectral components. The ratio is that of the Golden Section (or Golden Ratio) from antiquity, 1.618, which in this unusual application yields a certain transparency and order in what would normally be considered clangorous sounds. The composition of the work was dependent upon computer program procedures, specially structured to realize the complementary relationship between pitch space and spectral space (timbre). In addition, these procedures are at times recursive allowing musical events that they describe to include themselves in miniature form as in the fractal geometries of Mandelbrot. In 2007 Kevin Dahan and Olivier Baudouin each rewrote the original SAIL language code in modern languages in order to reconstruct the piece according to current audio standards. The version presented is by Kevin Dahan and was computed April 12, 2011.

Voices [2011] Voices is a play of imagination evoking the Pythia of Delphi and the mystifying effects of her oracular utterances in reverberant spaces. For nearly a thousand years, the oracle held a place of prominence in the history and culture of ancient Greece — a women whose roots are found in a succession of goddesses beginning with the cult of Gaia, the Earth Mother, followed by Themis, Phoebe and finally supplanted by the God Apollo, whose priestess was the Pythia. Her utterances were believed to be his voice in answer to questions that were posed to the Pythia by supplicants from all over the ancient world—questions that ranged from the mundane to the portentous. A single soprano engages a computer-simulated cavern with her voice. The computer allows us to project sounds at distances beyond the walls of the actual space in which we listen – to create an illusory space. Her utterances launch synthesized sounds within this cavern-like space, sounds that conjure up bronze cauldrons, caves, and their animate inhabitants, sounds of the world of the Pythia modulated by our technology and fantasy but rooted in a past even more distant than her own - the Pythia’s voice is the voice of Apollo. Selected pitches of the soprano’s voice line are tracked by the computer running a program written by the composer in MaxMSP, a powerful synthesis/processing programming language developed by Cycling ‘74. The soprano’s voice is transmitted from a small head microphone to the computer where it is spatialized, mixed with synthesized sounds and then sent to the sound system in the auditorium. Voices was commissioned by the Groupe de Recherche Musicale of the French radio and first performed in March 2005 in the Salle Messiaen. Version 2. was performed in March 2006 as part of the Berkeley Symphony series, Kent Nagano, conductor, followed by performances in a number of cities around the world.

Turenas [1972] Leland Smith’s program, Score, was used to create the input data for the composer’s spatial and synthesis algorithms that were used to compute the samples on a DEC PDP-10 computer. In 1978, the Turenas data was adapted to make use of the Samson Box. In 2009, Bill Schottstaedt (CCRMA) created a program that emulates the Samson Box, permitting Turenas (and many other pieces) to be recomputed to meet current audio standards. Ivan Tcherepnine, who was present at the premiere, along with Martin Bresnick, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Leland Smith, in Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University, May 1972, wrote the following notes in 1973 for a concert at Harvard University. This computer generated tape composition makes extensive use of two major developments in computer music pioneered and developed by John Chowning, working at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. The first involves the synthesis of moving sound sources in a 360-degree sound space, which takes into account the effects of the Doppler shift. The second was a breakthrough in the synthesis of natural (as well as almost supernatural) timbres in a simple but elegant way, using accurately controlled frequency modulation. This is the technical background, but the piece is not about that background. The title Turenas is an anagram of Natures, evoking the way sounds tour through the space, transparent and pure, produced by the most technologically sophisticated means yet tending to sound perfectly natural, as if a dream could come true. - Ivan Tcherepnine (1943-1998)

Oscura [2005] Oscura est une commande du CDMC (Centro di Musica Contemporanea) à l’initiative d’Adolfo Nunez (LIEM, Madrid). L’œuvre est dédiée à la soprano Pilar Jurado. Oscura est inspirée par Noche Oscura - Canciones del Alma de Saint Jean de la Croix, un magnifique poème d’amour divin. J’ai tenté de préserver l’intelligibilité du texte: je me suis appuyé sur des enregistrements réalisés au LIEM par Pilar Jurado. Les strophes du poème ont été chantées, mais aussi parlées normalement, lentement et en voix chuchotée. Le matériau sonore numérique a été réalisé en partie par synthèse, mais aussi par traitement de sons enregistrés, notamment la voix de Pilar Jurado. Des sons d’origines diverses sont tissés ensemble sur des trames harmoniques – une logique de hauteurs sonores fondées sur des pôles bien précis, mais débordant l’échelle tempérée. La soprano dialogue soit avec une bande, soit avec un système interactif muni du logiciel MaxMSP. Dans ce dernier cas, sa voix est accompagnée à la fois par une harmonization algorithmique effectuée en temps réel et par des fichiers sonores pré-établis déclenchés par l’interprète. Les fichiers sonores ont été réalisés à l’aide des logiciels suivants: MusicV, MaxMSP, Sound Hack, Peak, Pro Tools. Jean Claude Risset.