spectre solaire and spectre lunaire are two collections of pieces composed and recorded by myself, using the Eurorack emulator miRack (a VCV Rack spin-off adapted for tablets) on an iPad Pro. I toyed with the idea of matching their running lengths and then claiming that they were intended to be “performed” simultaneously, but I’m not sure that doing so would really add all that much. Ideally I’d have both looped, in two adjacent rooms, with the listener able to walk back and forth between them, and the difference in running time producing a phased effect with different simultaneities occurring on each run-through.
Each “piece” is essentially a single modular apparatus, allowed to run for a certain amount of time, with occasional manual tweaking to introduce unprogrammed variation or events. They are sonic spaces that I built, inhabited for a time (listening, sometimes for long periods, on headphones…drifting off…letting them run in the background while I went about day-to-day tasks…), and then committed to a recorded version. There isn’t a lot of compositional thought that went into them — I usually started out with an idea for a particular musical device I wanted to explore, but mostly the process was one of listening and adjusting while something took shape.
A combination of slowness and quickness: I didn’t work on optimising anything for very long, preferring to make the cut whenever I felt I had something distinctive, but each piece emerged through sustained concentration on its qualities, tweaking until I had something I liked being around. Perhaps it is all ultimately nothing but self-indulgence: I should have reflected for longer on what a given piece needed, how it ought to be developed or constrained; done the extra work to make something memorable. But I don’t know how much difference that kind of effort could have made. The modular set-up itself pushes you towards continuous aimless tinkering; I tended to call it a day whenever the impulse arose in me to start afresh.
As I worked on these pieces, I found myself craving the stillness they induced: the activity appealed to my monotropism, and it turns out there’s something quite hypnotic about a glacially modulating oscillator tone, radiant with gently pulsing overtones. More than once, when working on something while tired, I found that it sent me to sleep for a while. The other side of this was a tendency to push the apparatus towards noise and feedback. Sometimes the apparatus hums quietly to itself; sometimes it shrieks, hisses, whoops and snarls.
A few particular techniques emerged as I went on. Each piece has a different balance of regular modulation (usually a set of phased LFOs moving things up and down at different rates), timed random input from clock-triggered sample-and-hold modules, untimed random input from a “random walk” module, and human intervention in the form of knob-twiddling during the recorded performance. A proper mid-C20th electronic composer would have written out extensive charts of what was to change when; I left most of it to machines, and improvised whatever wasn’t automated. I don’t know if a more purposeful approach would have brought about more engaging results. Listening to these pieces, you are often listening for moments of serendipity within an artificial flux of sound; either that, or just absorbing yourself in the flux. It’s up to you.