L’Esprit des Dunes

Categories: Elettroacustica
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Published on: 2 December 2008

Mr. Murail’s L’esprit des dunes (1993-94), for amplified ensemble and electronics (sampled sounds triggered by a MIDI keyboard), starts with a characteristic ascending figure that is passed back and forth between the oboe and the sampled sounds, mediated by the flute.

Over the course of the piece the origin of this motif is progressively revealed by the gradual accumulation of partial-strata that occasionally fill in the whole spectrum at sonorous anchor points. In the composer’s words:

There is melody within a single pitch; the melody is created through the pitch’s harmonics. It’s both a sound and a melody. And while the opening notes of the oboe constitute a phrase, it is also a sound.

The origin of the motif is in fact a snippet from an overtone “melody” found in Mongolian chant, a tradition that can be described as the art of creating (overtone-) melodies out of a single (sung) pitch. The vocal paradigm is felt in various forms throughout the piece: strands of kinetic energy that produce a pattern of tension and release; the alternation of compact and diffuse ensemble writing with the occasional appearance of re-synthesized Tibetan chant; the overall dynamic curve of the form make the piece breathe in a curiously organic way.

[excerpt from Oliver Schneller review]

Robert J. Ambrose conducts Bent Frequency Contemporary Music Ensemble, parts 1 & 2

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