Musical creation around Outer Space

Premiere by the composer Javier Elipe Gimeno

A European Project

A project on a European scale was the starting point for Javier Elipe Gimeno’s presence in IRCAM’s studios this year. Initiated by the Impuls Academy in Graz as a part of ULYSSES, a European network comprised of various institutions, festivals, and ensembles dedicated to the dissemination of contemporary music (including IRCAM), this project gathers together 8 young composers around the work of the Austrian experimental filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky. Objective: compose music for one of two of his most famous films: Outer Space (1999) and Dreamwork (2001), the second and third installments of the CinemaScope trilogy produced using images from Bloodletting (1981), a Hollywood horror film. The compositions will be performed by the Ensemble Nikel during a concert film.

Outer Space trailer, by Peter Tscherkassky

Suring a workshop-symposium held in February 2017, the 8 composers were able to meet Tscherkassky and talk to him about his universe and methods. They were also able to talk with a range of specialists in the subject (including the composer Wolfgang Mitterrer), before embarking on their personal projects. Javier Elipe Gimeno and Ariadna Alsina were selected by IRCAM to participate in the project and Javier set his sights on Outer Space (1999), an extremely violent film from beginning to end… 

A concerto for film, ensemble and electronics

For Javier Elipe Gimeno, the exercise of composing music for a film is not new, on the contrary. Even for an experimental film. This is not only his 8th endeavor, but he also defended a doctoral thesis on writing contemporary music for silent films. He led a seminar called “Composing with Experimental Film” at the University Paris 8 and still teaches courses on the subject at several different universities! A true lover of Peter Tscherkassky’s work, this project seems made to order for Javier Elipe Gimeno.  

Having experience has good and bad sides. “One thing is for sure,” he says, “I don’t want to do something I have already done. Each project lets me explore a new direction, test it, find out what works or not, and reajust my approach for the next one. Each score redirects the following one. And for each one, I ask myself the same question: what should music for a film be? What is it for? What is the articulation between music and image? I mix different perspectives each time: formal, narrative, functional (the sound energy infuses the visual energy and vice versa), complementary… In fact, I don’t so much compose music for a film as I compose the relationship of music with the film.”

“I wanted a very textural music that didn’t disturb the vision of the images when I composed music for a silent film with a murky narrative at IRCAM in 2013. So it was ‘black and white’ music, like the film, which clarifies its form and, ultimately, helps us understand it. Afterwards, I found that the result was too vertical, and not really very interesting. For me, the music has to be listenable without the images. For the next project, I produced a more horizontal and narrative discourse. And again, I learned lessons for the future.”

Outer Space, Peter Tscherkassky

Outer Space is a very energetic film with movements all the time, punctuated by two climaxes. Music that evolves in parallel to the image wouldn’t work: it would be too redundant. On the other hand, if we don’t emphasize the two climaxes, the feeling could be very destabilizing. I therefore focused on analyzing the movements in the film on graph paper, as well as the other parameters (such as the light, the intelligibility of the images) using computer tools with the computer music designer who accompanied by: Carlo Laurenzi. This let me establish a complex relationship with moments of pure synchronization and others with a relative parallelism (that is to say, a non-synchronous parallelism punctuated by phenomena of anticipation or association, by narrative counterpoint and reminders).”

“My idea is to try to create ‘audiovisual orchestration’. For example, the beginning of the film is cut into several strobe effects. From a musician’s point of view, these effects are like a rhythmic ostinato—a tremolo or a trill—but I don’t need to highlight it musically since it is so present in the image. On the contrary, this ostinato can be doubled by different playing styles: pizzicato or a succession of chords, for example…. And, when the strobe effect stops, the music can take over like a sort of reply. In the same way, the film’s second climax is very aggressive: the images are quite agitated, everything seems to be flying on the screen. Musically, I prepare this through a rise in the energy’s tension which is then communicated on the screen, and then the music is suddenly calm. This instant is very delicate because I also want to preserve the feelings of emptiness provoked by the film. We can not constantly used saturation or multiphonics, we can not burden the music. Uncomfortable silences are sometimes more powerful than big sound: it must be cleaned, the void preserved, the gap. The film is very physical, the film itself is naked, and that communicates a brute force I want to preserve. This is also ‘audiovisual orchestration’.”

Technological issues

During the Cursus program at IRCAM, the majority of the work carried out by Javier Elipe Gimeno for Frequencies of metal for tuba and electronics was on Modalys, a synthesis engine via physical models that makes it possible, for example, to pluck a virtual string with characteristics difficult to create in reality without having to physically create it. The idea was to form, behind the solo tuba player, a virtual ‘orchestra of tubas’ capable of unique vibratos obtained by varying, in real-time, the length of the tubas’ tubes!

Frequencies of metal, Javier Elipe Gimeno

“It was very funny, but very complex,” recalls the composer. “The textures obtained were quite strange—both real and unreal. I like to play with this ambiguity and it is a little bit what I wanted to do here, echoing the feeling of reality/unreality in Tscherkassky’s film. Carlo Laurenzi and I also worked with concatenative syntheses tools to create complex instrumental gestures which will be imitated in the score by the instruments of the Nikel Ensemble.”

Past projects with Ircam

2013Frequencies of metal for tuba and electronics (piece realized during the Cursus program at IRCAM)  
2013Plus tard, music for a film by Éric Oriot, produced during the In Vivo Vidéo workshop, ManiFeste academy, led by Andrea Cera.
2015 - Diable, Écoute, music for a film by Clio Simon, produced by le Fresnoy, and collaboration with IRCAM.
2017 - Is it a true story telling ?, music for a film by Clio Simon, coproduced by IRCAM, Hors Pistes-Centre Pompidou and le Fresnoy-Studio national des arts contemporains.



Javier Elipe Gimeno

Compositeur, chercheur et docteur en musicologie, Javier Elipe Gimeno (né en 1980) se forme à la composition et à la musicologie à Valencia (Espagne), Paris, Genève (Suisse) et Tallinn (Estonie). Compositeur instrumen...