This demo presents the research-creation work of Anatole Michaud [student member, UQAM]. Dans le four stellaire is an immersive sound creation, presented on February 25, 2023 at the Agora du Cœur des Sciences as part of the Grande Nuit 2023 organized by the Groupe de Recherche sur la Médiatisation du Son (GRMS) in collaboration with the SMCQ, as well as at the GALA for Hexagram student members on April 27, 2023. This research-creation marks the conclusion of his Master’s degree in Communication, with a concentration in experimental media research-creation, at UQAM, under the supervision of Simon-Pierre Gourd [collaborating member, UQAM] and Éric Létourneau [co-investigating member, UQAM].
Dans le four stellaire is an immersive experimental sound composition for a 32-speaker dome, based on the prose poem “Le pain” from the collection Le parti pris des choses by French author Francis Ponge (1899-1988). From the poem chanted by the poet, emerges a metaphorical sound creation in which words come to life through an aesthetic of sound and music. The result is a poetic tableau in which words and electronic sounds blend with recordings of natural environments, bread and the bakery process. The aim of this project is to reveal Francis Ponge’s unique poetic universe to the public, and to explore the narrative possibilities of the dome as a sound space, both as a broadcasting device and as a score conveying poetic meaning.
Dans le four stellaire
Interested by Pierre Henry’s (1927-2017) work in musique concrète, for example, or by Baudelaire’s notion of the “alchemy of the word” (Eigeldinger, 1966) in poetry, Anatole’s intention was to echo these approaches through sound and contemporary media creation. In short, to capture the beauty of the small things in life, to create a soundtrack to the mundane, a poetic and musical illustration of bread.
The expression “dans le four stellaire” (in the stellar oven), taken from the poem, symbolizes both the sensorial approach, the imaginary and metaphorical character of the piece, and the listening device itself. The word “stellar” refers to the constellation of bread definitions, and conveys the idea of an infinite, mysterious and fascinating world. Bread, like all things in life, all sounds and music, is a vast universe to be explored. The dome represents and materializes this sonic journey with its half-spherical shape, which also resembles the traditional bread oven. The stellar universe is also reflected in the sounds of synthesizers and sound writing processes.
Composition and structure of Dans le four stellaire
With the aim of creating an immersive listening experience using spatialized sound during the Hexagram residency, the project was conceived in several stages. First, Ponge’s text, the starting point for the composition process, was deconstructed and analyzed to instinctively associate musical and sonic intentions with the poet’s words and expressions. In his poem, Francis Ponge describes the contours and features of the different parts of the bread. Following the text, the composition was structured according to these different perceptions, in three main parts:
- First, bread is seen as a landscape, a panorama. The bread is viewed from the outside, the crust being compared to mountains, suggesting height and a wondrous character.
- Then, bread is seen as a manufactured or transformed product. We refocus our eyes and ears on the bread itself, to observe it from the inside, to feel its softness and the sponginess of its crumb, to hear its dough harden as it bakes, its crust crumble and harden as it stalls. Bread becomes concrete, palpable, a moving object.
- Finally, the last part relates to consumption. Bread is eaten, for breakfast in particular. It is also an integral part of our society, as a commodity.
As such, starting from the poetic text, Anatole began his compositional process on Ableton Live software, in order to represent, illustrate and lend sound to the poetic text, ultimately creating these different phases, dynamics and transitions. Whether through harmonic composition, or by adding effects, working on textures, adding natural recordings or degrading the voice, the final version of Dans le four stellaire finally took shape.
Prior to three residencies at Hexagram’s Mezzanine, Anatole carried out several field recording sessions to nourish his project with natural ambiances and textures. In March 2022, a recording session was carried out at the Louise bakery in Montreal to capture the atmosphere of bread production. From the cutting of the dough to the baking of the loaves, Anatole recorded the sounds of machines, tools and the baker’s explanations.
In the spring of 2022, Anatole produced a first prototype in which bread and its textures were recorded using a Zoom H4N recorder. Finger-patted crumb, crumbling crust, knife-sliced baguette all contribute to illustrating Ponge’s poem. Moreover, to resonate with Ponge’s allusions to natural environments, a final field recording session was carried out in October 2022 in the Mont-Catherine forest in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, to capture natural ambiences such as streams or the rustling of autumn branches and leaves. The association of bread with a natural landscape is also influenced by the work Bread and Water (1993) by American artist Alison Knowles.
32-speaker dome layout
After initial iterations of the sono-poem in a home studio in November 2021, then in a studio with 8 and 16 loudspeakers at UQAM in April 2022, a more accomplished version of the project saw the light of day thanks to successive GRMS collective residencies at Hexagram, in the Mezzanine dome of the Coeur des Sciences, starting in summer 2022.
Thanks to the combination and integration of Ableton Live and SPAT Revolution software, the compositional and spatial aspects of the sound were simultaneously considered. The 32-speaker dome thus became an essential tool for the spatialization of sound in support of the narrative.
Like the compositional processes, the spatialization also derived from the interpretation of Francis Ponge’s poem, from a symbolic dimensions of the poem, its words, expressions and images. Ponge’s many descriptions of bread led to the creation of a spatial logic in which the images conveyed by his words would be symbolized by different spaces of sonic diffusion (distance, height, circular movements, opening of the sound source) through the 32-speaker dome.
Through his residencies at Hexagram, Anatole sought to appropriate the dome as a theatrical director might. The vocal and musical elements then became characters and situations that had to be placed and staged in order to serve the text, the narrative and the initial poetic meaning (Deshays and Pellois, 2012). Thus, in addition to being an immersive listening experience for the audience, Dans le four stellaire was conceived with the desire to animate and unveil a famous text from French literature, with the affordances of a contemporary media and sound creation.
Anatole would like to thank his research director Simon-Pierre Gourd [collaborating member, UQAM] and his co-director Éric Létourneau [co-researcher member, UQAM], Gabrielle Couillard, Xavier Tremblay [student members, UQAM], Kasey Pocius [student member, McGill] as well as the Groupe de Recherche sur la Médiatisation du Son (GRMS) and the Hexagram team for their tremendous technical assistance throughout these residencies and his journey.
Eigeldinger, M. (1966). Baudelaire et l’alchimie verbale. In Le langage. Actes du XIIIe Congrès des Sociétés de philosophie de langue française I, Section IV (Langage et art), p. 248-251.
Deshays, D. (1999) De l’écriture sonore, essai, Éditions entre-vues, p. 69-70-71.
Deshays, D. et Pellois, A. (2012) « Le son comme « condition d’existence des espaces » », Agôn [Online], 5.
Anatole Michaud is a graduating student in the master’s program in communications, with a concentration in experimental media at UQAM since fall 2019, a Hexagram student member, as well as the communications officer of Hexagram. He is a music producer and DJ, active in the Montreal music scene, Anatole has always been committed to creating danceable, ethereal music with spatial tones. As part of his research-creation, Anatole set out to bring together the disciplines of French poetry and electro-acoustic music, in order to explore his own creative and musical process through immersion and spatialization for loudspeaker dome.
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