Categories: Elettroacustica
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Published on: 15 January 2015

Barry Truax – Androgyny (1978) – a spatial environment with four computer-synthesized soundtracks

Author’s notes:

Androgyny explores the theme of its title in the abstract world of pure sound. The piece, however, is not programmatic; instead, the dramatic form of the piece has been derived from the nature of the sound material itself. In this case, the sound construction is based on ideas about an acoustic polarity, namely “harmonic” and “inharmonic,” or alternatively, “consonance” and “dissonance.” These concepts are not opposed, but instead, are related in ways that show that a continuum exists between them, such as in the middle of the piece when harmonic timbres slowly “pull apart” and become increasingly dissonant at the peak intensity of the work. At that point a deep harmonic 60 Hz drone enters, similar to the opening section, but now reinforced an octave lower, and leads the piece through to a peaceful conclusion. High above the drone are heard inharmonic bell-like timbres which are tuned to the same fundamental pitch as the harmonic drone, a technique used throughout the work with deeper bells.

The work is designed to sound different spatially when heard on headphones. Through the use of small binaural time delays, instead of intensity differences, the sounds are localized outside the head when heard through headphones. Various spatial movements can also be detected, such as the circular movement of the drones in the last section of the piece.

Although not intended to be programmatic, the work still has environmental images associated with it, namely those suggested by the I Ching hexagram number 62, Preponderance of the Small, with a changing line to number 31, Wooing. The reading describes a mountain, a masculine image, hollowed out at the top to enclose a lake, a feminine image. The two exist as a unity. Thunder is heard close by, clouds race past without giving rain, and a bird soars high but returns to earth.

Androgyny is available on the Melbourne album Androgyne and the Cambridge Street Records CD, SFU 40.

Production Note:

The work was realized with the composer’s POD6 and POD7 programs for computer sound synthesis and composition at Simon Fraser University. All the component sounds are examples of frequency modulation (FM) synthesis, generated in binaural stereo, with time differences between channels. However, considerable analog mixing in the Sonic Research Studio at Simon Fraser University produced the resulting complex work.

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