Musical creation around Dream Work

Premiere by the composer Ariadna Alsina Tarrés

A European project

A pan-European project is at the origin of Ariadna Alsina’s presence in the IRCAM studios this year: initiated by the Impuls Academy in Graz in the framework of ULYSSES, the European network that unites a range of diverse institutions, festivals, and ensembles dedicated to the diffusion of contemporary music (including IRCAM). This project brings together 8 young composers on the work of the Austrian experimental filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky. The objective: compose music for one of his two most famous films: Outer Space (1999) and Dreamwork (2001), the second and third chapters of the triptych Cinemascope, produced based on images from The Entity (1981), a Hollywood horror film. These chapters will be performed during a cinema-concert by the Ensemble Nikel.

During a workshop-conference held in Feburary 2017, the 8 composers met Tscherkassky and spoke with him about his universe and work methods. They were also able to talk with different specialists on the subject (including composer Wolfgang Mitterrer), before getting down to work. Selected with Javier Elipe Gimeno by IRCAM to be a part of the project,  Ariadna Alsina focused on Dreamwork (2001). 

Dream Work trailer

“In the beginning, it was this dream/nightmare universe that attracted me,” said Alsina, “and the combination between dream and reality in which the film loses us. Added to that is the filmmaker who shows himself manipulating and cutting the film with a pair of scissors, as if he manipulated the main character’s dreams. His work is a masterpiece of overlapping different “spaces” within the image. I used the Freudian theory of dream interpretation, mentioned by Tscherkassky in Graz, in my initial analysis of the film before beginning the composition itself: notably for the questions concerning condensing the layers of film and other elements that could cover several latent thoughts, like our experiences in the elaboration of our dreams. The Freudian concepts of condensation and displacement inspired a part of the treatment used on the sound material.” 

An artistic project

“My first musical ideas were inspired by the density of the events, the piling up of layers, and the textures in Dreamwork… Peter also introduced external elements into the original film in homage to Man Ray: tacks, needles, salt—thrown on the film, manipulated—these objects produced all sorts of abstract images. The material attracted me and I first thought of creating correspondences between these textures and my sound work by associating the forms and materials of certain objects to spectro-morphological characteristics of sound. For example, tacks would have a metallic, pointy sound; salt would have granular sounds, and so on.”

Dream Work by Peter Tscherkassky

“Very quickly however, my initial approach broadened and the work on textures and materials evolved towards work on the form, notably through an analysis of the film and its principle tropisms like the dualities dream/reality, desire/violence with a categorization of reoccurring universes, ambiances, and gestures on the screen. And so, the window in front of which we hang a curtain, the faces and objects and hand gestures we see on the screen gave me ideas for instrumental gestures, to imitate them either immediately or later: a hand caressing a leg, a hand that attacks and rapes, and even the hand of the director cutting the film… I also used excerpts from the soundtrack produced by Peter’s manipulations of the film. In traditional films the sound is embedded directly in the film, on the side of the image (In Dreamwork we sometimes see the waveform on the screen!): by cutting and editing the film, a new soundtrack takes form, a very noisy soundtrack.”

“All of this enabled me to create a form, depending on the direction in which Peter Tscherkassky guides the audience’s attention until the film’s climax. Afterwards, while the film continues to be dense and nervous, the music follows another path.”

Technological issues

Or, How to Reproduce the Spirit without a Guide. While one of the obvious technical issues is that of a film-concert—the synchronization of image and sound is carried out with a simple click-track (the musicians have an earphone in which they hear different time signals indicating the place in the film), the technological tools (digital) used by Ariadna Alsina are lightyears away from Peter Tscherkassky’s manual work on the film…

Dream Work by Peter Tscherkassky

Beginning with certain processes of analyzing the image, “It was the computer music designer I work with,  Carlo Laurenzi, who suggested this analysis of the light/dark contrasts in the film. I don’t use this analysis to “stick” the sound to the image, but to generate sound material that maintains a strong relationship with the film’s discourse. Using a noise generator, I obtain raw materials that I can then work with to achieve textures that can announce, echo, or evoke the film scene analyzed. I can also use these analysis data to generate sequences of concatenative synthesis beginning with small, pre-composed sound objects.”

“Generally,” concludes the composer, “I try to imprint the technical and gestural quality of the images on the sound objects I compose. Furthermore, to suggest the numerous passages from concrete to abstract, I use several treatments and distortions applied to instrumental sounds—the idea being to combine different treatments on a single sound source or to mix instrumental sounds with processed sounds to create hybrid sonorities.” 

Previous projects at Ircam

2016 – L’Air cassé de la carapace for accordion and electronics (work created during the Cursus program, academic advisor: Lorenzo Pagliei)
2017Le son au bout des doigtsmusical creation with  Emmanuelle Lizère for interactive sonic and visual installations for children.



Ariadna Alsina Tarrés

Ariadna Alsina Tarrés (Spain, 1980) has studied under Luis Naón, José Manuel López López, Horacio Vaggione, Christine Groult, and Martin Matalon in addition to following several master classes in Barcelona, Helsinki, and Paris with Hèctor Parra, Kaija ...