|Vol. 34 Issue 2 Reviews||Reviews > Publications >|
Robert Reigle and Paul Whitehead (Editors). Spectral World Musics: Proceedings of the Istanbul Spectral Music Conference
Softcover, two CD-Audio discs, 2008, ISBN 978-9944-396-27-1, 457 pages; Pan Yay?nc?l?k, Barbaros Bulvar?, 18/4 Be?ikta? 3435 ?stanbul, Turkey; telephone (+90) 212-2275675; fax (+90) 212-2275674; electronic mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Web pankitap.com/.
Reviewed by Ian Whalley
This collection is an outcome of the Spectral Musics Conference held at Istanbul Technical University, 18-23 November 2003, organized by Michael Ellison, Robert Reigle, and Pieter Snapper. In welcoming delegates to the University, the co-directors of the Dr. Erol Üçer Center for Advanced Research inMusic, Professor Kamran Ince and Cihat A?k?n noted that hosting the first international conference on spectral music was a long-term goal of the faculty (p. xi).
The proceedings open with track listings for the two audio discs included, followed by written notes of uneven length and quality about each track. The 17 tracks on CD One relate to the paper presentations, and are primarily extracts rather than full works. The second disc, with eight tracks, has complete works from conference concerts.
Paper abstracts in Turkish are provided at the beginning of the text without an English translation, and no abstracts are given at the beginning of each paper. Papers are divided into sections: Introductory Talk; Interdisciplinary Panel Discussion; Spectral Ideas; Ethnomusicological Perspectives; Composers Discuss their Music; Spectral Compositions; Performance Perspectives; and Improvisation with Spectra. Transcriptions of questions and answers sometimes follow each paper presentation.
With no index apart from page references to track listings on CD One, no signposting in the body of the text as to section divisions, and no English abstracts, the collection becomes something of a detective novel to navigate for the uninitiated.
Computer Music Journal readers will probably be aware of spectral synthesis techniques, or the process of manipulating spectral data with physical modelling synthesis packages. More generally, for those unfamiliar with the field of spectral music, two issues of Contemporary Music Review (19/2 and 19/3, 2000), edited by Joshua Fineberg, are worthwhile reading as a primer. In addition, William A. Sethares’ Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale (MIT Press, 2004) provides an interesting technical perspective.
For the benefit of lay people, spectral music is a compositional approach through which decisions are made based on the analysis of sound spectra. While acknowledging that definitions in the field seem to be partly problematic, spectral music is more an attitude to sound, rather than an aesthetic. One approach to spectral compositional originated in France in the early 1970s at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) and the Ensemble l'Itinéraire, particularly through the work of Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail. In contrast to this structural approach, the Romanian spectral tradition is more concerned with looking at sound in performance, so includes the transitory aspects of timbre and non-harmonic components—focusing on the subjective sense of sound as dynamic experience rather than grounding work in the scientific study of sound. To put the focus of the two perspectives crudely, the French approach uses spectra to make the structure of the work, extending the sound, as it were; and the Romanian approach arrives at structure through transformations of spectra.
Of course, the danger in this type of situation is that juxtaposition leads to little else, leaving readers to make sense out of it all in terms of commonalities. Some of the more interesting papers presented are then those that attempt to combine differing perspectives, regardless of how successful the outcomes might be.
Robert Reigle’s concise introductory talk gives the intent of the inclusive nature taken by the conference organizers, placing the work not only in specialist domains but in the wider field of music making, and noting the importance of timbre as a common concern in music-making. Also noted is how the spectral schools from France and Romania as major aesthetic movements are allowed to lead dialogue, by acting as a conduit for dialogue across disciplines.
The Spectral Ideas section includes six papers, beginning from a keynote address by Joshua Fineberg. “What’s in a name” is a solid introduction to some of the history, perspectives, and practices that the term now includes, and it is here that he reiterates the notion of spectral music being primarily an attitude, and also notes how a spectral element in music is something universal that all people instinctively respond to (p. 41). Bert Van Nerck follows with “Spectralism: From Historical Embedment to New Perspectives,” a short paper on Western music concerns; and Mine Do?antan-Dack delivers “Timbre as an Expressive Dimension in Music,” an insightful offering, particularly her comments on electroacoustic music (p. 68) and musical character (p. 70). John Dack’s “Spectral Music and Schaefferian Methodology” will be useful for those looking for a method of analysis and composition; and the final two papers by David Gerard Matthew (“Spectral Music and High School Students”), and Tildy Bayar (“Music Inside Out: Spectral Music’s Chords of Nature”) are useful examples of the application of spectral techniques in Western music.
Ethnomusicolgical Perpective, the title of the second collection of papers, is a fitting contrast in context, starting with an engrossing keynote address by Cornelia Fales titled “The Implicitness of Timbre: Attitudes Towards Timbre in Barundian and Western Art Musics.” Other papers are Nilgün Dogrusöz’ short but fine-grained study “The Architecture of Turkish Vocal Music: Münir Nurettin Selçuk;” Eve McPherson’s “Vocal Timbre in Islamic Calls to Prayer Across Cultures;” Robert Reigles’ “The Timbre of Ancestral Spirits in a New Guinean Village,” which seems to beg for extension; and finally Kathryn Woodward’s “Evoking Traditional Sounds through Timbral Innovations,” an exploratory work well illustrated by musical examples on tracks four and five of CD One. While of differing lengths, the papers are well written and detailed, and the insertion of questions/answers at the end of papers captures the sense of audience engagement.
The next section collects views on practitioners’ work, and fits well in terms of the sequence of proceedings. This analytical grouping includes five papers: Rozalie Hirs’ “Compositional Techniques in the Music of Tristan Murail;” Tolga Tüzünwith “An Analysis of Tristain Murail’s Winter Fragments;”“The Music of Sound: An Analysis of Partiels by Gérard Grisey” written by Chris Arrell; “The Music of Phill Niblock” by Michele Rusconi; and “North American Spectralism: The Music of James Tenney” by Robert A. Wannamaker. Overall, the papers are carefully considered and well written, again with a good spread of material that will engage readers.
Of the CDs, as noted, the examples on the first disc relate mainly to the illustrative talks given in the papers. While interesting in terms of the range of genres involved, and with some standout moments, the quality of composition is not always consistent here. The second disc, compiled from concerts at the conference, has complete works that are as stylistically diverse as the paper offerings. This includes Pieter Snapper’s Wrong, Uzak by Ihsan Özgen, Eray Alt?nbüken’s Kumdaki Kan, Onur Türken’s Kar??lama, Dimitrie Cantemir’s Sipihr Pe?revi, Improvisation by Kani Karaca and Kinan Azmeh, Michael Ellison’s Elif, and Robert Reigle’s [Sphere]. It is difficult to single out works here for particular mention, given the range of aesthetic and cultural approaches taken. The joy is one of appreciating both the diversity and points of commonality in the material.
On the downside, for the uninitiated, the lack of standard ways to navigate the proceedings might hinder finding a wider audience for the work. In addition, writing quality throughout is uneven, and some of the “Facebook”-type dialogues lack focus. The labyrinth of formal offerings and captured conversation may give the impression of entering a combination of a bric-a-brac shop and a general store, or a type of nonlinear story with plots and subplots that are both intentional and reveal themselves by happening to be in the same space. Without the benefit of some sort of background in the field then, the proceedings seem more suited to specialists at first blush, but will also be able to engage musically intelligent lay readers who have time to explore and dwell on the material presented.
For the initiated, the collection is a treasure chest that juxtaposes the old and new, the superfluous and essential, structured and spontaneous, East and West, popular and academic, exotic and familiar, sacred and profane, refined and crude, casual and formal, usual and extraordinary, theoretical and pragmatic. Given the range of aesthetic and academic interests, and the similarities and differences, lines of enquiry are then best left to readers to decide. For those who persevere, there are many delights to be had in the sheer diversity and quality of material that is presented, and the collection is well worth tracking down.
The conference organizers and hosts are to be commended on this courageous venture, providing a platform for further exploration of the broad approach taken. And it was very fitting to hold the event in a city that stands at the gateway of East and West.