Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sound in Space: François Bayle

Recently in the Frederick Loewe Theatre in NYC Greenwich Village, the eminent composer and pioneer of electroacoustic music, François Bayle, brought his sounds all the way from Paris and from the distant and recent past to open our ears to the full spatial dimension of the soundscape. All too often we experience music in a concert hall from a full frontal exposure, the music coming at us from a stage with a kind of left/center/right orientation. Now with the iPods we are strangely inside the music in multidimensional space, and with DVDs and movie theatres using surround sound, music in space has become a standard that may eventually alter the concert hall and music CDs.

We owe our greater awareness of musical space to the pioneers like Bayle who became almost obsessed with the possibilities of music, of sound moving through space as a component of music as important as the more conventional features such as harmony, texture, rhythm and melody. The spatial component was always essential for composers of music concrète founded by Pierre Schaefer, a mentor of Bayle. Music concrète has blossomed into acousmatic, electroacoustic, and the more popular, ambient, genres. All use environemntal and sampled sounds as the substance for sculpting the soundscore.

In the late 60s, Bayle experiented with sound in space and came up with many configurations over the years, including an 80 speaker orchestra of loudspeakers he named "The Acousmonium." The speakers were of varying sizes and were placed across the stage at different heights and distances. Bayle offers "It puts you inside the sound. It's like the interior of a sound universe."

His concert at Loewe Theatre was a celebration of Sound in Space. Using nine speakers, he enveloped the audience of that intimate space in a canopy of sound that was sensitively shaped through space. Although one might surmicse that the best place to hear the music is in the center of the audience, I moved to several different seats and each location proved to serve up a different relationship to the sound, but equally satisfying.

The range of expression was astonishing. For me it was a new romanticism for a new age in which technology serves to enhance human emotions, feelings and perspectives such as surprise, anticipation, humor, curiosity, pandemonium, serenity, and calmness---to name a few. One could also argue that these are merely sounds organized for our amusement or entertainment, but there was a sensitivity and intelligence behind every gesture of sound, every spatial journey, that suggested a deeper purpose.

Even the selection of works presented seemed very carefully planned as though to shape an evening of pleasurable and challenging immersion into the purity of sound in space.

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