• Benedict Mason
  • third music for a european concert hall (espro; eic: i love my life) (1994)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by IRCAM

  • 2.2.2+bcl.122213perc2kbdstr(
  • 18 min

Programme Note


This is the third of a trilogy of pieces where I have attempted to treat the material of the hall and the hall itself as an instrument, and in so doing to make something specific for a specific hall, working with the hall's indigenous sounds and space. (the other halls were the Hessische Rundfunk Sendesaal and the Mozartsaal in Frankfurt). The Espro. Being so intriguing and purpose built as all experimental acoustical space, would seem an ideal 'instrument' to work with.

Space being a way to articulate theatre musically, this piece works on the perception. Consciousness and awareness (and these terms' theatrical connotations) of a concert hall audience - indeed there would be no point in doing this in a theatre - it has to be done in a concert hall. One inspiration for such a piece was observing an audience during a performance: watching them silently watching thinking and hearing.

The piece is performed as an ongoing installation, with the musicians playing to video without any direct physical contact with the conductor like a self governing machine. Are they acting or playing music? Don't they act when they play? Where is the dividing line? One tries to find an abstract music that is still telling: adding spatial qualities and distance to a sound (real illusory and imaginary) can lend perhaps an emotional or surreal quality to the result. (Ernst and de Chirico).

Into this space I have introduced all sorts of other spaces from the very resonant acoustic of Notre Dame, to factories and railway stations, as well as the offstage espro space and spaces within the Ircam building itself, this strange Bluebeard's castle full of intriguing spaces and levels.

There are many other processes :-
- recording in the space and re recording the sound of that space being played in the space, and in so doing, discovering the low Bb resonance of the espro
- recording outside the hall sounds that are going on inside the hall.
- simulating different recording spaces by compressing the resonance and giving the feel of 78rpm quality…
…and so forth.

For tins piece there was considerable research into the Doppler effect (real or illusory) and into the movement of sound, deliberately trying to force sound to change direction. And indeed the movement of the musicians (Who are meant to perform on swing chairs) is part of this endeavour.

WaWa was another such effect (again emphasised by the movement of the musicians) as well as the use of the actual eponymous mute in performance (the horns play with WaWas first used in the first piece in this trilogy, and a unique tuba WaWa mute has been specially designed and built for this piece so that all the brass can now play with this type of mute). I see a correlation between distance and offstage space, and the closed sound of such a mule or a plunger mute. It is similarly possible to correlate the opening and closing of a WaWa mute with the dynamic shape of the nearness and distance of a Doppler effect.

A fascination with sounds that are too quiet for us to hear properly; the sounds of bugs (Ircam bugs) and airconditioning; sound! With their own momentum as they come to rest; doorsteps. Paving grills loose paving stones; traffic, industry, buildings - The Ircam building itself - another kind of 'Ircam sound': not the well known electronic sounds, but the sound of the space(s), the building itself, its language and the sounds of its re-building.

Mostly I tried deliberately not to combine the live instrumental sound with the non-acoustic sound. Further one needs a certain naïve emptiness, to hear all these resonances and echos and distances properly.

It was also my intention not to treat this non-instrumental sound if I could help it. but to let it speak for itself. Occasionally resonance. distance, echo (real, illusory and imaginary) were treated with various Ircam transformation tools.

In the end it is the sound itself that counts and not the theories and claims surrounding their invention and raison d'etre. The computers have to be used to make effective sounds which means a lot of possibilities have to be explored (such a rich eclectic variety is crucial) even if one works towards the menu rather than the final meal. Computers don't make our lives quicker or easier.

I tried to work with the material quality of sound, sometimes even the sound normally judged to be of 'poor' quality, also tape noise; windnoise; offcuts; the"unacceptable" quality of out takes etc. Natural distortion is much more beautiful than modern programmed digital distortion.

Also the sound of the keys, the reeds, the breath, bows and strings of the instruments, not as an avant garde music effect, but simply as its own material. with all the pitch extracted, just using the poetic quality of what is left, what is there, what exists. Likewise, in an approach to a material quality of the instrumental music itself: with this bevy of treble instruments, trying to find a material that is 'not-music', 'not-tonality'. 'not-harmony' - an un-music with un-tonality or un-harmony, that by necessity can't exist as harmony because it is unison; (or exist as melody because it has no semantic significance, if for instance, it is always made up of the same note.

A music eschewing context, consequence and development or artifice: a meta music. cut and pasted to remove 'musicality' (as we have now come to know the term) from the material. I find myself rubbing out notes because they create too much melodic connotation. Not musicky music with all its idiosyncratic parameters, but the sound that musical instruments make, and what happens when they activate/energise an acoustical space. I'm not talking klangfarben and texture either; not Varèse, not Cage (nor Scelsi - this is not about penetrating the very essence/heart of sound). There is nothing humorous about this piece - everything is done with deeply serious intent.