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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Side-Scrolling Composition

A visual score performed by Ensemble d’oscillateurs

A small collection of dots, connected by fragile lines, triggers a bleep-bloop akin to the handshake signals of satellite communication. Near-parallel white lines, some distance apart across a vast black field, create a centerless drone, the mechanical nature of which is subdued by slight wavering, its sound altering along with the moving image.

One of those lines grows thick, exposing an internal lattice, clusters of supporting frames — a honeycomb by way of an early arcade game, the fractals of Flatland. These images, and many more, make up SYN-Phon, a visual score by composer Candas Sisman, performed by Ensemble d’oscillateurs on their album 4 compositions (Line Imprint). It’s a protagonist-free side-scrolling adventure into the sonic avant-garde.

Ensemble d’oscillateurs, led by Nicolas Bernier, performs entirely on a set of beautiful old oscillators:

As a viewer-listener, you have the benefit in Sisman’s SYN-Phon of seeing in advance what you will soon hear. A thick vertical white line on the horizon, with dense activity coming online after a long expanse of near silence, announces itself as it scrolls in from the right. (The vertical red line, in contrast, signals where you are in the score at any given moment. It’s positioned partially into the frame, so you can also see what has recently occurred.)

Later, as a silence approaches, signaled by a vast black blankness, your ear knows to prepare for the shift, and awaits the ability to focus on the smaller sonic images about to unfold. You also have the option of downloading (as a PDF) the entire score as an extravagantly narrow band of abstract images, a TripTik of where the Ensemble will be traveling.

This image, from the composer’s Flickr page, give a sense of the scale of the score:

All four of the compositions on the 4 compositions album are based on graphic scores. The other composers, in addition to Candas Sisman, are Xavier Ménard, Francisco Meirino, and Kevin Gironnay. In the liner notes to the album, Gironnay describes what is happening in SYN-Phon:

A collective work has been accomplished around the interpretation (literally) of the graphic notation: assigning a line to an oscillator, while some others are shaping the sound of a circle or quickly stepping in to give a sonic life to an array of connected dots.

This video initially appeared at the Vimeo channel of Lines Imprint: vimeo.com. Get the full album at lineimprint.bandcamp.com. More from Ensemble d’oscillateurs at son-matiere.org. For comparison, there is on Sisman’s Vimeo channel another interpretation of the same scrolling graphic score, performed instead on trumpet, cello, and “electronics and objects” rather than a collection of oscillators. The “electronics and objects” are performed by Sisman himself. More details at Sisman’s own website, csismn.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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