Sonic Imprints: Instrumental Resynthesis in Contemporary Music - Archive ouverte HAL Access content directly
Book Sections Year : 2015

Sonic Imprints: Instrumental Resynthesis in Contemporary Music

Nicolas Donin
  • Function : Author
  • PersonId : 974509


Recent research on remediation has focused on the aesthetic and epistemic transformations that affect a work of art when transferred from a medium (or support) to another. But remediation can also be observed at micro levels: in the workshop of most contemporary composers, various musical elements are commonly funneled through the worlds of analogic reproducibility, digital reproducibility, and notational reproducibility. A famous example since the rise of spectralism is the idea of zooming in into a (recorded) sound through its (instrumental) transcription. "Instrumental synthesis", as Grisey coined it, has become widely familiar to musicians and audiences even before computer-assisted composition devices made it possible to automate most of the tasks involved. Although spectralist composers were probably the first to turn acoustic analysis into a compositional toolbox, ‘resynthesis’ emerged as a standard procedure in composition only in the 1990s –a time marked by younger composers’ increasing ability to process sound in various ways thank to dedicated softwares. As a compositional concept, then, ‘resynthesis’ is not so new; what is really new is that such a complex, technical procedure has became part of today’s ‘common practice’, as it were. In this chapter I try to delineate the underlying aesthetics of resynthesis by focusing on a selection of significant works from the turn of 21th century: Joshua Fineberg’s work for ensemble "Paradigms" (1994); visual artist Pierre Huygue's "Silent Score" (1997); Aaron Einbond’s "What the blind see" (2010); as well as pieces by Peter Ablinger, François-Bernard Mâche and Jonathan Harvey. Resynthesis can be aimed either at identity (i.e. the reliable simulation of an original, targeted sound), or at "difference within family resemblance". In some cases we could guess what the original sound is —we hear a ghostly sound, or a ghost within sound— whereas in other cases we don’t know that there is an prealable sound ‘under the surface’ –a sound from which the composer took a structural or textural imprint. Resynthesis, then, could well be a musical counterpart of moulage –a disruptive technique in art history inasmuch as it substitutes ‘imitation’ with ‘imprint’, as Georges Didi-Huberman demonstrated in his "La ressemblance par contact" (2008). Contrary to its lasting presence in the arts from prehistory to Duchamp, such technique is a recent byproduct of 20th-century’s technologies of musical reproducibility.
Not file

Dates and versions

hal-01253353 , version 1 (09-01-2016)


  • HAL Id : hal-01253353 , version 1


Nicolas Donin. Sonic Imprints: Instrumental Resynthesis in Contemporary Music. Gianmario Borio. Musical Listening in the Age of Technological Reproduction, Ashgate, pp.323-341, 2015. ⟨hal-01253353⟩
253 View
0 Download


Gmail Facebook Twitter LinkedIn More