1 2>

Ned Bouhalassa's music is unusual for an electroacoustic composer - for someone working in an area that one would normally think of as being limited to the world of academia. His work combines the scientific discipline of acousmatics, in which he was grounded, with raw field recordings and MIDI-sequenced fragments in a variety of techno-derived styles, with striking originality and transitions so natural that one hardly blinks an eyelid. He is one of a new group of electroacoustic composers coming out of Canada who are drawing on the rich developments in electronic technique that have evolved over the last 10-15 years through the dance music scene, combining sound sources in a truly postmodern sense, where all sounds are a resource to draw upon freely, without prejudice for style; where all things around us can be, and indeed are, music.

Ned Bouhalassa has been actively involved in the composition and promotion of electroacoustic music since 1987, working with the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, and teaching at Concordia University from 1991 - 96. His works have been diffused in concert and radio internationally, and he has received awards for his work in Canada and internationally. These days composition occupies him full-time, as he works on commissions for a variety of media, from tape alone to film and dance works.

I began by asking him about his studies in acousmatic music in Montreal, and how his early explorations in electroacoustic techniques still bring a great influence to bear upon his work today.

My first contact with acousmatic music was in 1986, at Concordia University, when Kevin Austin came into the Introduction to Music History class (at the end of the semester) to give a brief presentation of electroacoustics (ea). He played a short tape piece he had composed with another Montrealer, Daniel Feist (also a well-known radio personality). The clip was entitled, "Auxferd night burr'd, November 2.A.M". It had no text, but an engaging narrative was played out using musique concrete techniques on a Rastafarian-like voice. What struck me most was that the sounds were bringing all kinds of images to my mind - some abstract, others more recognisable. Upon hearing "Auxferd", I saw that it was possible to tell a story using sounds alone. I bought a 4-track that summer, and starting experimenting with layering and pitch transposition. I began studying ea that Fall, and soon after, I got involved in the ea community by helping to put on many concerts, working for the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), hosting an ea music radio show, etc.

I also listened to a _lot_ of ea. I've always been very good at taking apart music or sound art by ear. I still remember the night I had an epiphany about multiple layers of processing. I was listening to a radio broadcast of a piece by Francis Dhomont (it may have been "Point de fuite"), where I could hear the sound of a pencil or some other like-object rolling towards and then away from me. I tried to analyse in my head the techniques used to make that kind of movement, and realised that it involved changing not only the timbre (filtering), but also the amplitude (volume), and stereo position (panning). This may seem obvious when it's explained like that, but for me, being able to figure it out by listening alone had more impact than any professor's lecture or text.
I didn't take my composing seriously though until I won two Canadian young composers' prizes in the same year (1990). Of course, I knew enough not to expect to make a living from it, but it made me feel stronger, more confident. I was quite insecure about my composing abilities, and getting recognition from my peers helped me a lot. By getting involved with the ea community, I also became friends with people whose work I had greatly admired: Christian Calon, Francis Dhomont, Gilles Gobeil, Robert Normandeau, and others. For me, this was also a fantastic way to learn the craft: to sit around and talk shop with these gifted artists.

Around the same time, I became interested in Hip-Hop, particularly Public Enemy. I liked what they were doing with
samplers, adding street ambience to the Funky Drummer, using all kinds of musique concrete techniques. In 1993, I bought my first portable DAT and binaural microphones, and I began making a lot of indoor and outdoor recordings. Listening with headphones while recording really increased my perception of the sounds that I took for granted and hardly ever noticed (cars, general city noise, my refridgerator, a clock ticking, etc). 8 years later, I still go back to these DATs for source material.

I think the period where I fell in love with ea was a particularly
exciting one, at least here in Montreal. The composers I listed above and many others were doing their first mature works (except for Francis, bien sur), and there was a regular flow of strong pieces, concerts. I think things starting leveling off in the mid-90s, or maybe it was my interest that diminished. This was also the period when I started to regularly listen to Techno music in (almost) all its forms.

A work which uses samples from various sources interspersed with [original] fragments of drum'n'bass.

"A piece which takes the listener on a voyage through virtual spaces that are not _clearly_ comfortable or disturbing: the many doors, echoing hallways and buzzing rooms are like the recesses of our imagination."

(Quotation taken from Ned Bouhalassa's website www.nedfx.com)

In many of Bouhalassa's works he seems fascinated by exploring the nature of sounds, and at time seems to almost get inside of them. The physics of sound is always something that is conveyed very immediately to me by his pieces - perhaps augmented by binaural field recording techniques. In works such as "Jets" (1996-98), where there seems to be a focus on movement, spatiality and kinetics, I wondered if this was at all reminiscent of early Xenakis, the orchestral pieces based on atomic particle movements.

I can't say I'm very much influenced by Xenakis. Of course, I've listened to some of his pieces, and I always think of him when I create cloud-like stochastic textures (using software like Cloud, MacPod or SuperCollider). I do like to really get into my sounds with a microscope, but in my case, it's really the EQ and compression. Reverb is something I'm learning to use less. Kevin Austin really helped me understand how to manage digital reverb. I prefer to dig into the unprocessed material first: the acoustic world is so much richer than any digitally-created or processed source.

The focus on movement that you mention is really a compositional technique. I treat space as an equal aspect of sound, which means that I pay the same attention I do to pitch, amplitude, rhythm, etc.The sounds have dynamic trajectories because I program/automate movements across the stereo field (or sound stage). Regarding my fascination with movement, I should mention my acousmatic confreres as influences. I'm also still exploring granular synthesis in all its forms (slow and sparse, or fast and dense). In Move 1, I actually used that process to generate much of the gestures.

More electroacoustic works by Ned Bouhalassa:

The Age of Speed: part II and part IV

The acousmatic school seems to have quite an influence upon your
teachers work, and upon Canadian ea/cm. Do you use any of the principles
of acousmatics, i.e. abstraction and hiding or disguising the original
sound source?

I'm very intuitive, so I tend to steer away from what can be perceived by some as 'rules' or principles. Sometimes a sound that I've heard many times before, like an outdoor swing or a car zooming by, will take on a different characteristic when I take it out of its original context and edit it in the studio. If its screaming, "I'm a car!", and it works for me in the context of writing a piece, then I might not disguise it at all. It'll be a car for most people, and that's already so full of meaning... On the other hand, if when looped, filtered, reversed, etc, it takes on a new, abstract, musical character, then it's no longer a car, and that's fine as well. In my acousmatic work, I combine both abstract and recognisable, anecdotal sounds. I like to think that when I'm successful, I tell a story that can be interpreted many different ways: you can tell that there's some kind of underlying narrative, but the relation between the sounds/gestures is open to as many interpretations as there are listeners. continued>

Back to top


post to Delicious Digg Reddit Facebook StumbleUpon

Recent on Mstation: music: Vivian Girls, America's Cup, music: Too Young to Fall..., music: Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Berlin Lakes, music: Atarah Valentine, Travel - Copenhagen, House in the Desert

front page / music / software / games / hardware /wetware / guides / books / art / search / travel /rss / podcasts / contact us