Expansion (2021, 15 min) is a piece for amplified ice blocks and sound spatialization, commissioned and performed by Architek percussion. The title of the work refers to the volume expansion that occurs during the state transition of water from liquid to solid state. With this piece, I wanted to evoke the bonds and behaviour of molecules in different states of matter, imagining a comparison with the bonds and behaviour that can characterize human relationships and the relationships between humans and nature. With Expansion, I continue the exploration of the theme concerning the tension between human beings’ desire for control and the uncontrollability of natural events. To do this, I use ice, a sound source with unpredictable sonic behaviour. Previously, I had begun to explore this material with the work Inner Out.

Ice blocks are amplified through hydrophones frozen inside them. Each of the performers plays one block, using either percussive instruments, such as drumsticks or a guiro, or other devices such as a saw or sandpaper. I chose instruments/tools characterized by particular physical textures, which, when rubbed on the blocks, can create different sound textures. For example, think of the sound that a guiro (or saw) can create when rubbed on the side of a block, e.g. of wood. Different physical textures result in different sound textures. The differences depend on the physical characteristics of the devices used (e.g., the spacing of a saw’s teeth, type of metal, thickness etc.). Variations in sound also depend on the type of gestures performed: striking, rubbing, and pressing. In addition, it is possible to modulate a sound according to the pressure, speed and direction of these gestures. Pressure can vary the sound intensity. Speed can change the pitch and timbre in the case of rubbing. For example, if the teeth of a saw are rubbed quickly on the block the sonic result will be a high-pitched texture perceivable as a single rhythmic unit, if, on the other hand, the teeth are rubbed more slowly the result will be a more low-pitched iterative texture, somewhat as happens in the case of the rhythmic figure of rebound. Direction can change timbre, given that the components that form the physical texture of an instrument are often not identical and therefore the order in which they sound played changes the sound. For example, think of the different sounds of a saw according to the direction of cutting. Also, the point the actions are performed on the block determines the kind of sound, with respect to proximity to the hydrophone and whether they are performed on the flat surface or on an edge. These are the parameters I used to compose the piece and to develop the score partition notation system. The performers are provided with a video score, which indicates the actions to be performed on the blocks, their position, pressure, speed and direction. This score is based on the model used by the Oscillator Ensemble founded by Nicolas Bernier at the University of Montréal.

Blocks are created through identical containers so as to obtain four identical parallelepipeds at the beginning of the performance. This is to highlight the physical transformations caused by the performers’ actions during the performance, including the final melting. At the conclusion of the piece, the performers pour boiling water over the blocks, creating unpredictable sound textures and shapes. Inside the ice blocks are waterproof LED lights.

The created sound materials are spread over a loudspeaker configuration spanning three dimensions. Sounds created by performing on ice can be easily located because of their rich spectrum and because of their often iterative, rugged and unpredictable sonic character due to the playing techniques used. With this piece, I wanted to investigate the relationship between sound spatialization and the spatial arrangement of the performers. The musicians are positioned in a line one next to each other, and the sounds generated are spatialized in the portion of the sound space in front of each performer. The intention was to create a mapping between the performers’ position and the spatialization of the sounds they create. To do that a correspondence is created between the direction and speed of certain gestures on the blocks and the direction and speed of the trajectories of the sounds created by these gestures. For example, a back-and-forth rubbing of a guiro corresponds to a back-and-forth trajectory of the same sound. The intention was to create a kind of spatial extension of the sound and performative gestures and to immerse, in a sense, the audience within these processes. During the conclusion of the piece, the four sound materials created by the melting process have a similar timbre, characterized by a rich spectrum and, at the same time, by unpredictable spectral variations. I decided to spatialize these materials through slow rotations that occupy the entire sound space. This is the only section in which there is a circular type of trajectory. The idea was to immerse the audience in this particular sound content, a kind of unpredictable sonic storm.

The work was composed in the multichannel music studios at the Faculty of Music at the University of Montréal.

Premiered on December 2, 2021 by Architek Percussion at the “Project Object II” concert as part of the Live@CIRMMT series at the Multi-Media Room (MMR), McGill University, Montreal (Canada).

Architek Percussion :

Noam Bierstone
Ben Duinker
Alexander Haupt
Alessandro Valiante

CIRMMT team / Équipe du CIRMMT

Directeur / Director
Fabrice Marandola

Directeur associé, recherche artistique / Associate Director, Artistic Research
Philippe-Aubert Gauthier

Directeur associé, recherche scientifique et technologique / Associate Director, Scientific & Technological Research
Rachel Bouserhal

Responsable technique et systèmes / Systems and Technical Manager
Julien Boissinot

Technicien électronique / Electronics Coordinator
Yves Méthot

Responsable de Production / Production Manager
Sylvain Pohu

Administratrice du centre de recherche / Research Centre Administrator
Jacqueline Bednar

Coordinateur des conférences et des événements spéciaux / Conferences & Special Events Coordinator
Darko Dimitrijevic

I wish to thank Architek Percussion, CIRMMT, FRQSC et and the Faculté de musique de l’Université de Montréal.