Re: Granular Synthesis (the duo)

Subject: Re: Granular Synthesis (the duo)
From: Ned Bouhalassa (
Date: Tue Nov 16 1999 - 19:20:16 EST

Hi John and all. I went to the Granular Synthesis show as well, last Saturday
night. Having experienced one of their previous works before (Model 5), I knew
what to expect and did not pass on the free ear-plugs. I must commend ACREQ for
offering ear-plugs and I wish this was common practice at other events where the
sound levels are very high (techno parties/raves, the odd ea concert ;-). It was
very, very loud, but I did enjoy it, particularly the sensation of being moved by
sound (of course, I've been moved many times before, but rarely in such a
physical way...). I've had my ears ring days after a rock or techno event, but my
ears were fine the day after GS. The compositions are basically textural, not
unlike other granular synthesis work done by composers such as Barry Truax. There
is attention paid to detail, but some of that is lost to those of us wearing the
protective gear (I did take my plugs off a few times). Most of the focus is on
the lower frequencies. I don't think I've ever heard so many variations on a low
frequency drone (and I mean that as a compliment). At the end of the work, there
was a mistake, and the level climbed higher than was meant (I spoke with the
composers after the show). This was a short peak, which made for a perfect
ending. It was really like being inside the waveform. I guess that ultimately
that's the point of this kind of intense work. I like to think of it as a sonic


BTW, the images were not at all as interesting (do we have to see a cut-off,
naked female torso again?) as the sound, though some of the white noise
variations where pleasantly disorienting.

John Oliver wrote:

> I was at that event too, Chris. I remember it differently. Paul did not
> spark off the debate after his presentation: members of the audience
> hurled insults at him, stormed out, etc. Paul responded to some of the
> insults and accusations rather forcefully if I recall. He met fire with
> fire. I remember a loud concert. However, I also remember being rather
> impressed at how Paul achieved high density of sound and high volume
> without risking hearing overload. There were no dangerous spikes or
> drastic changes in levels to cause sudden changes in the ear's movement
> and I remember a balanced representation of all frequencies and enough
> change of texture to maintain a flow that I did not find damaging to the
> ears. It was very loud however and physically moving, certainly not an
> experience for those unprepared to have their torso moved by sound. I
> also remember the hall was not particularly suitable for a controlled ea
> presentation, with some very bad seats indeed!
> While in Montreal this past week, I attended an event at Usine C that
> became a very interesting event for me: GRANULAR SYNTHESIS, a group of
> people from Austria (if memory serves me) who ran a show of about an
> hour's duration from computers into a VERY BIG sound system and VERY BIG
> screens. The ushers were actively informing every single ticket holder
> that ear plugs were available in a bin just in front of them and that
> they would probably need them. I took my earplugs and had them ready to
> put in when the decibels got above a certain level. That level did
> arrive for me about 5 minutes into the show when the throbbing bass was
> in full tilt and the filtered white noise kicked in. The sound and
> visual materials were very uniform and limited, the range of
> transformations were similarly limited. I got bored after about 10
> minutes and gave up after about 30 minutes.
> Then I went upstairs to see the remainder of the photo exhibit I had
> been looking at before the show. Upstairs there were about a dozen
> photos hanging from mounting string on the very wall behind which the
> video screens and loudspeakers were mounted. The frames were undulating
> as the beats hit. I was able to see the images within the frames moving
> before my eyes, these detailed ghosts of photo montage, these people
> with histories, hysteresis, stories... dreaming... evocative... much
> more so than the images I had seen in the loud room with over 300 people
> in attendence. Then suddenly there was a women there on my left, looking
> at the photos too. We both smiled at our common purpose. I pointed out
> the moving stills and remarked on the loudness of the sound. Then she
> pulled out a decibel metre and explained that she suffered from tinnitus
> and was a student in journalism studying loudness and society's
> willingness to subject itself to deafening sounds. She showed how she
> had set her metre to measure the sound levels in the loud room. The
> highest setting was 120 with a VU range up to +6. She said the reading
> had pinned on 126 decibels. (I hasten to add that I didn't ask anything
> about her methodology and so I have no idea what she did to get that
> reading. She did say she was studying at Concordia so perhaps she is in
> the class Kevin Austin has mentioned. If that's the case, perhaps Kevin
> might have answers to the methodology question.)
> Given a choice between loudness for loudness sake, which seems to me the
> main point of GRANULAR SYNTHESIS, and loudness for the sake of bringing
> as much textural clarity to the audience as possible, which is my view
> of Paul's early tendency to play it really loud, I'll take the latter
> any time.
> (Since 1989 and throughout the 1990s, Paul experimented with presenting
> his music in live situations with lower diffusion levels, perhaps in
> response to some of the criticism, but I personally found that the
> balance of his textures - in terms of both density and range of loudness
> - suffered from the lower diffusion levels. It's a delicate balance to
> find, what with differing diffusion systems, concert hall sizes,
> rehearsal times, etc.)
> (Another disclaimer: this was the third show by GRANLULAR SYNTHESIS in
> Montreal and I was told that the previous two shows were more interesting.)
> I'd be really curious to see some talk about this recent show. I really
> wanted to ask this group from Austria one question: Warum? (Why?)
> John Oliver
> Chris Meloche wrote:
> >
> > All of this talk of high-volume concert levels brings back memories of the
> > CEC >convergence< festival at the Banff Centre back in 1989. At that time,
> > Paul Dolden sparked off a similar line of debate after the presentation of
> > his work "Below the Walls of Jericho". Anybody else remember that?
> >
> > Since I was aware of what to expect, I positioned myself out in the theatre
> > lobby just before this work began. I do remember others out there, as well.
> > >From the lobby, it just seemed like an earthquake rolling through the area.
> >
> > Funny, I have listened to Paul Dolden's music (designed with a similar
> > high-volume intent, I am sure) at *very* low volumes and found it much more
> > interesting that way! I find that it reveals much more of the hidden
> > textures which get lost in a seemingly heavy-handed LOUD presentation.
> >
> > Well, "different strokes..." as they say...
> >
> > Cheers,
> > Chris
> >



N e d B o u h a l a s s a


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