World Timbres Mixture

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A new sound for the chamber and orchestral music in XXI century

Ivanka Stoïanova – PhD in Musicology and Doctor Honoris Cause

José Luis Campana initiates a new phase in his work as a composer and responds to the need for radical renewal in sound matter.
To put an end to the historically charged sounds and compositional techniques for acoustical orchestral instruments. To put an end to the particular tones and techniques of folk music that inevitably introduce an exotic effect in the context of western music.

To put an end to recent techniques and technologies rapidly turned academic and repetitive – like the 60s pieces for flute which all became ‘Gazzelloni pieces’, bearing the name of the exceptional flautist who had premiered them, often accompanied by real-time sound treatment, all of the same fabric since they were generated using the same software.

José luis Campana reflects the desire to invent a new sound universe – uncharted, unprecedented, fresh – while drawing on the wealth of popular traditions (the instruments with their distinctive timbres) as well as the classical tradition. Not one timbre has been modified or tampered with by the computer sound transformation programs.

The extension higher and lower of the tessitura of certain popular instruments, as well as the halos of rich timbral resonance, contribute to creating the impression of distant spaces, dreamlike dimensions, and infinitude. The composer’s intention is not in contrasting alterities, as it has always been in the past, nor the appreciation of individual timbres, but in their interaction and fusion creating something different. Schoenberg had shown the way with his piece Farben [Colours] from Six Pieces for Orchestra (opus 16 – 1908), which became the very definition of his Klangfarbenmelodie, melody of timbres.

But it is often forgotten that the concept of Klangfarbenmelodie integrates not only instrumental timbre, but also pitch and dynamics, as well as fundamental principles of western composition: harmony and polyphony. The new sound matter invented by Campana is also, like all artistic discovery, a strong synthesis: the characteristics of timbre of folk and classical instruments absorbing the compositional techniques of recent music to the benefit of a new musical universe, liberated from the shackles of technical and technological traditions, stereotypes, and automatisms, and open to today’s compositional imagination.
It seemed there was no longer any place for continued research into the field of folklore.

The experience of Campana masterfully proves the opposite. Bolstered by the advances of spectral music and recent technology, he discovers in the timbres of folk instruments a new unexplored realm for the invention of infinite sound material, constantly reinvented.
Klangfarbenmelodie, the term was too limited with respect to Schoenberg’s compositional discovery in Farben. The forceful ambition of the composer J L Campana is to create a unique mix of not only folk and classical instrumental timbres, but to also execute a convincing mix of these timbres with compositional techniques and the formal thinking of this early 21st century.

Marc Battier – on “ Mixing up” by José Luis Campana

The works composed by José Luis Campana are part of a movement, nourished by instruments from diverse cultures, often permeating music in this new century. Numerous examples can be found among Eastern Asian creators. In China, Japan, and Korea, the blending of contemporary Western forms – instrumental as well as electroacoustic – with traditional instruments takes place more and more frequently. It is often a question of composers seeking out their roots in their own traditions, so different from those imported from the West. But here, this is not the case. The quest for exploration of timbre, an approach that has accompanied music since the beginning of the twentieth century, leads over a still little-travelled path. As a guiding light, it draws on the concept of timbre maps, such as those in research explored in the 1970s by John Grey in the United States, and pursued by David Wessel at IRCAM. That work is further illuminated by new categories allowing a better understanding of the dimensions of timbre, providing composers a vocabulary and new concepts, as researcher and composer Jean-Claude Risset has so clearly demonstrated. Navigating with a map of timbres is creating a palette of sounds that enrich instruments played live – it can lead to halos, masses, and textures, or all sorts of oftendense alloys that shift perception to unknown soundscapes. It is also a triumph for late twentieth century researchers that today’s composers are extending that research by way of new musical creation.

Marc Battier, Chercher à l’IRCAM et Professeur Emérite à la Sorbonne-Paris

José Luis Campana

“MIXING UP” (2017)

For Live Classical Wind Sextet
Digitalised Ensemble of 29 Instruments from Folk Traditions

Commissioned by the French Ministery of Culture 
 INA/ GRM/ Radio France   (2017)

Computer Processing:  Studios INA/GRM/Radio France

This work is the first I’ve composed in a new aesthetic orientation. It is part of what we call “World Timbres Mixture”. Namely, instruments from the classical orchestra intersecting the timbres of instruments belonging to different continents, cultures and countries.

After research into the specific sound characteristics of instruments from folk traditions (such as the aulos, Azteca whistle, pungi, didgeridoo, French bagpipes, dizi, diple, duduk, erke, quena, conch, launeddas, shakuhachi, orlo, jubus, n’goni, oud, vînâ, etc.), I created a “sound palette” that lets me “colour” the timbre of classical instruments with the timbre of instruments from the oral tradition, and vice-versa, creating “chords” and multiple polyphonies, from “solos” to ample “tuttis”.

My starting point was the creation of an orchestra sound or chamber music sound, with instruments sometimes slightly familiar but for the most part foreign to the timbres of my previous music.

As I slowly advanced on this path, completely new for me, I often faced both good and bad surprises. Concerning the “mix” of timbres, I discovered an “unusual, unprecedented and unlimited” world of new sounds, quite seductive, but difficult select among to bring together the best combinations.

Not a single chosen timbre was modified by computer sound processing programs. My plan was to remain as faithful to the natural sounds of these folk instruments which – while sometimes resembling one another – remain quite distinct.

Thanks to computer sound processing, I was able to occasionally enlarge the tessitura of certain instruments, higher or lower, always attentive to remaining very close to their natural technical capacities and sound. In the same way, I created “halos” (sorts of very distant resonances) in order to also “colour” the absolute silence, allowing listeners to experience different “sound planes”.

In this work I was fortunate to benefit from the collaboration of the composer Isabel Urrutia for the difficult selection of timbres.


[English translation David Vaughn]