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"Preludes for a Well-Tempered Nature"

Title Preludes for a Well-Tempered Nature
ComposerF.G.J. Absil
Instrum.Electro-Acoustic Soundscapes
StyleVarious styles (natural sounds, synthesizer and sampled instruments)


A musical score excerpt
  • Apple computer with Logic Pro 8 sequencer and audio processing software. Logic synthesizers and musical instrument sample libraries. Native Instruments (Kontakt and Battery) sample libraries.

    Various sources of natural electro-magnetic, seismic, infra- and ultrasound and acoustic signals were used as the basis for a set of short musical textures. This set was prepared for the Semaine du Son, Brussels, January 2011.


The set of miniature electro-acoustic soundscapes, entitled Preludes for a Well-Tempered Nature contains the following titles (with short descriptions):

  1. Shock and Awe, Volcano Sounds (1'11). Recordings of the volcanos Hekla (Iceland) and Kelauea (Hawaii) are combined with slow crescendo atonal brass chords, timpani and bass drum rolls.
  2. Knock on Wood, Wooden percussion (1'08). Afro-Cuban 6/8 montuno in Bb, demonstrating wooden percussion with both definite (xylophone, marimba, bass marimba) and indefinite pitch (claves, woodblocks, maracas. gourds, cajon)
  3. In Aeolian Mode, Aeolian Harp (0'56). The fundamental pitch F of the natural free-standing sail harp and its harmonics are illustrated by strings and harp, synthesizer pad and choir, and metallic percusssion.
  4. Whaling and Wailing, Whale Sounds (1'07). Feeding sounds and echolocation clicks of killer and beluga whales are accompanied by a twelve-tone serial theme, played by synthesizer bass, vibraphone, harp and celesta.
  5. Giant Leaps for Grasshoppers, Grasshopper and Cricket Sounds (1'02). Animal sounds recorded in Berlin, Crete and Malaysia reveal rhythmic patterns at 361 BPM, used for an up-tempo hard-bop background synthesizer, electric piano and bass guitar, with reference to the jazz standard Giant Steps.
  6. Prelude in 1/f, Sea Waves in the Wind (1'05). Thie texture illustrates the self-scaling property of natural noise phenomena, called 1/f noise. Examples are sea surface waves and wind noise, as are synthesized sawtooth waveforms.
  7. Beat the Bats, Bat Echolocation Sounds (1'01). Bat ultrasound recordings, made in Germany (Nyctalus noctula) and Bulgaria (Rhinolophus mehelyi) reveal both short and longer chirps. The former show rhythmic regularity at 123 BPM. Transposed and time-stretched versions play quarter-tone motive, supported by African percussion.
  8. Small Waves at the Seaside, Coastal Surface Waves (1'07). A highly-synthetic texture (ring modulation, harmonic distortion, time-reversal), illustrating several natural wave durations (with common tempo of 119 BPM), washing on the shore.
  9. Black Gravity, Gravitational Waves (1'05). Electro-magnetic recordings of the gravitational waves emitted by two spiralling black holed yield a very wide-band chirp signal. This is supported by a chorused string group, playing twelve-tone chords.
  10. Polar Oscillations, Earth Magnetic Field (1'40). VLF electro-magnetic recordings illustrate the effects of the solar wind on the Earth magnetic field. The solar wind contains a amplitude-modulated drone around 97 BPM, cracks, clicks and chirps. A pizzicato string ensemble supports the rhythmic regularity.
  11. Rock in Space, Electro-magnetic signals in space (2'18). Voyager recordings near the Sun and Cassini spacecraft recordings near Jupiter and Saturn are the basis of this 122 BPM medium rock piece with a lead syntheziser over a strong bass and forceful rhythm (drums congas and gated natural sounds).
  12. Fischmaul, Feeding Shrimp and Talking Fish (1'13). High frequency sputtering noise, emitted by feeding shrimp and an isolated fish, producing audible 'burbs', are commented upon with irony in this 127 BPM march in 12/8 meter. The bass drum stresses series of regular gnawing spikes, while pizzicato and banjo support the noisy feeding habits.
  13. Desert Storm, Sand in the Wind (2'20). A recording of sand, blowing in the wind, reveals wideband noise, granular transients and gusting amplitude modulations. Tonal components are highlighted by narrowband-pass filtering. High strings play quarter-tone clusters, suggesting the blistering desert sun, supported by a synthesizer pad and rolling crash cymbal.
  14. Switched on Bubbles, Flowing water with bubbles (1'15). From this natural sound bubble clouds and individual bubbles were isolated, to create rhythmic and melodic motives. The musical background is a 126 BPM Tarantella, with pizzicato strings and a quasi-Baroque 3-part counterpoint for synthesizers.
  15. Body Soundcheck, Biomedical Ultrasound (1'29). The original recording reveals low-frequency rumbling noise, frequency sweeps and beating patterns (triplets, quarter note beats and a 'gallop'). A vibraphone plays a retrograde-inverse symmetrical 12-tone series, that contains all-interval tetrachords. These are played as chords with time delays that reflect the rhythm of the ultrasound beating patterns.
  16. Island Nightmare, Earthquake and Tsunami (1'10). Three noise bursts on a recording near the island of Sumatra contain earthquake and tsunami signals. Audio-processing, applied to these bursts depict the arrival of compression and shear waves and the flooding by the tsunami. Low sustained strings and percussion suggest a dramatic mood.
  17. Trapped, Mouse and Rat Distress Calls (1'11). A mouse and a rat in distress emit calls and wailing sounds. An eerie atmosphere is created by adding a piccolo, two flutes (playing repated chords and motives, based on whole-tone and bitonal harmonies) and a triangle. Careful delay line layout and ample reverb support the mood.
  18. Savannah Shuffle, Elephant Infrasound Communication (1'16). Low frequency elephant roars, grunts and rumble are supported by an African percussion ensemble with drums, shakers, bells and rattles, playing in 6/8 metre. A kalimba and marimba play motives and chords in fourths, using a non-standard tuning.
  19. Copaca-rana, Frog Calls (1'37). Frog machismo and mating calls are used to create a bossa nova rhythm. Beat sequences and chattering calls at 134 BPM imitate claves and guiro patterns for a bossa nova. An acoustic guitar, jazz organ, synthesizer bass, Latin percussion and high strings provide a relaxed mood.