A collection of immersive radio creations

We met the creators of the first three works in the Musiques-Fictions series, a new collection from IRCAM where musical creation is in direct contact with literary fiction. Directors and composers, these artists explain to us how they have collectively conceived this new format at the crossroads of genres and how they have appropriated the latest sound spatialization techniques to create an immersive listening space under IRCAM’s Ambisonique dome.

#1 Naissance d'un pont by Daniele Ghisi & Jacques Vincey, based on a text by Maylis de Kerangal
"Blank Spaces for our Sensibility and Imagination"
Interview with Daniele Ghisi and Jacques Vincey

A book is normally written to be read alone, in one's head: how did you approach the challenge of making it audible? Did you rework it, cut it?

Jacques Vincey: Rather than making a comparison, it is complementarity that interests me: what experience can we offer that is different from reading? How can we enter a novel of over 300 pages with our ears rather than with our eyes? The first step was to adapt the work to make it compatible with listening in four episodes of about twenty minutes each.

Daniele Ghisi: The passage came to life for me through the actors and the voice of Jacques Vincey: my starting point, as a composer, is the text read, not the abstract text on the page. Moreover, I am not completely convinced that books that are read "silently" are actually so silent. Reading "for oneself" (a relatively recent phenomenon compared to reading at all) implies in any case (at least for me) a certain imagination of sounds. There's a lot of noise in that. That's why I need silence to read. I can't read while listening to music, for the same reason that I can't listen to music in a noisy place. Of course, it's not the same as hearing them in real life, but somewhere the sounds are there, mysteriously, on the page.

How can we approach this new format, which is akin to cinema (a fixed medium, which we understand collectively), installation art, and radio play?

Ghisi: I love this format, because I love cinema, installations, and radio plays!

I think one of the possible approaches is similar to the Hörspiel - but the encompassing, the system, and the installation aspect make it far more carnal and sensory. Unlike the Hörspiel, it is music that you "experience", you don't just listen to it. At least that's how I approached the problem. I like the fact that this system can solicit sensations, like images without images, and in a much deeper way than simple sound effects or an audiobook with accompanying music.

In this case, there is no visual support, but there is the Ambisonic system: how do you exploit this immersive technological tool in this scenario?

Vincey: The Ambisonic dome developed by IRCAM pushes the limits of the possible, shifts the thresholds of perception, and opens up virgin spaces to our sensitivity and our imagination. This new medium requires new practices in order to envisage new uses. Our challenge is therefore to explore the paths that will change our habits as readers, spectators and listeners. 360° broadcasting blurs spatial landmarks while accentuating a sensation of reality: we hear "as in life" but we cannot see any image ("as in the cinema"). Listening is collective and yet everyone is sent back to their solitude. Immersion in this new fictional device requires one to abandon oneself to unknown sensations in order to be able to access other mental and emotional representations.

Ghisi: The opportunity given by the immersive medium that is Ambisonics is fundamental: it is not a question, for me, of exploring complex trajectories of sounds in space, but rather of identifying certain archetypal movements that can be repeated, to become the "spatial signature" of each episode. It is about building a physical experience at the same time as a literary journey.

For the first episode of Naissance d’un pont, it is above all, from the very beginning, about the passage of sounds from front to back, as if we were in the middle of a bridge, with cars passing by; towards the end, we also perceive the rotational movement of a cement mixer (which will be repeated in the following episodes). Other movements are set up for the rest of the series: front-to-back rocking, spiraling upwards, falling, etc. It should be noted that most of the sounds I used to compose do not come from concrete music recordings, but are worked from a large sound base using computer-assisted composition techniques. On the other hand, there are times when concrete "windows" appear. All of a sudden, we find ourselves, for ten or twenty seconds, in the middle of a hyperreal environment (a real one under the microscope or enormously amplified). This mixture of abstract and hyper-concrete is another important point of my sound research on this fictional music.

IRCAM's Ambisonic dome© Hervé Veronese

What type of collaboration did you engage in within the team? What is the articulation between spoken text and music?

Vincey: The articulation of music and fiction in this specific system forces us to connect a theoretical reflection to concrete and tangible experimentations. Together, we are looking how to tell this story without locking ourselves into the framework of narrative logic and realistic illustration. We work to produce a common "breath" to exxpand our respective imaginations. The spectrum opened up by technology generates possibilities that must however be mastered: the listener has to have the necessary space to construct his or her own musical fictions; this is at the heart of our proposals.

Ghisi: For practical reasons, I was not able to work directly with the actors, which I missed a bit. The work with Jacques was very pleasant: his remarks made the musical part and the mixing evolve. We almost always agreed on the weak points. It was mainly a question of finding the fine line that divides understanding the text and creating something beyond it. An experience in which text and music are part of a whole. This is not easy, especially with a system that requires such delicate calibration. On one or two specific points, our visions diverged a little. This is quite normal and the tension created was very positive.

Interview by Jérémie Szpirglas

#2 L'Autre fille by Aurélien Dumont, Daniel Jeanneteau & Augustin Muller, based on a text by Annie Ernaux
"Between the intimacy of reading and the excesses of imagination"
Interview with Aurélien Dumont and Daniel Jeanneteau

A book is normally written to be read alone, in one's head: how did you approach the challenge of making it audible? 

Aurélien Dumont: To evoke, musically, this intimate and internalized mental space found when reading, I worked using a minimalist musical object based on the orchestration of a bass flute and cello harmonics with cast iron plates. The association of the found object—an ordinary, everyday object—with a particular instrumentation builds an easily identifiable and amusing sound reference, which reminds me of the world of childhood, one of the central themes of Annie Ernaux' magnificent words. The other major theme, that of absence, is expressed musically by the decay of this initial object and in its transformation into silence inhabited by the intended corporeity of the performers, Augustin Muller and I wanted to travel through different acoustic spaces. The electronic treatments of the instrumental part evolve mainly within this spatial dimension, between a sharply focused close up and the construction of larger soundscapes.

Did you rework it, cut it?

Daniel Jeanneteau: Annie Ernaux's L'autre fille is a short book, but I preferred to focus on what, in my opinion, was the most revealing of the book’s inner construction, the effort of intelligence and solitude that she talks about in the text. I left out some more documentary evocations about her family or the times, without ever interfering in the movement of a paragraph or a sentence. Then I presented this montage to Annie Ernaux, who accepted it.

Does one direct sound like they direct on stage?

Jeanneteau: The only staging is following the movement of one’s thoughts, in the linearity of the letter. Annie Ernaux crosses many different spaces and times, dimensions in her consciousness. It is a question of following her, without ever commenting on it or seeking to complete it, but by opening the listening to sensations which, in her own words, have nourished the writing.

The case of this music-fiction is peculiar, because the text is read by none other than... the author: how did you direct her in the reading of her own text?

Jeanneteau: It was kind of obvious, perhaps simply because such a text cannot be interpreted, performed with the distance of an interpretation. To make it heard may be, again, the result of the gesture of writing, as long as it is the body of the author herself that passes through it. Time has passed since this text was written, which relates events that are themselves, already ancient. Ambisonics and the presence of Annie Ernaux bring a new and particularly poignant element to the retelling of L’Autre fille, ten years after she wrote it. Annie Ernaux is also an excellent reader, keeping her emotions at a distance, letting them filter through without affects weighing on the expression. It is a bit as if she herself was a witness of her writing, of her need to question through writing the presence within her of this never known sister.

Dumont: It's a challenge in and of itself. The approach was to allow the original compositional gesture to stand alone from her voice. In other words, it was a matter of drawing the necessary substrate from my own reading of the text for the sound and the process for the elaboration of the score, in ongoing discussions with Daniel. Later, the use of musical sketches with the recording of Annie Ernaux' voice redefined the formal contours of the work in order to find the place of each element in relation to the other, a balance, the proper tension. To cite François Jullien's concept of de-coincidence, the idea is more to provoke an encounter than to attempt to match two expressions in a possibly inorganic relationship.

In this new format, which is akin to cinema (a fixed medium, which is viewed collectively), installations, and radio plays, there is no visual medium, but there is the Ambisonic system. How can we exploit this immersive technological tool in this setting?

Jeanneteau: It's precisely the uniqueness of the Ambisonic system that prompts me to conceive sound work that doesn't correspond to any of the genres you mention. I don't want to be close to film at all, nor do I want to approach the idea of a radio play. The possibilities of spatialization under the dome make it possible to invent new scores. The computer music design, carried out by Augustin Muller in the company of Sylvain Cadars, is essentially about acoustics. I want to use one of the astonishing faculties of Ambisonics, which is to reproduce the acoustics of places whose imprint has been taken. And by the passage from one specific acoustic space to another, influencing Annie Ernaux' speech with a discreet movement, does not detract from the listening but accompanies it, in the idea of approaching this form of memory which retains, without words, the sensation of a space or a moment. Augustin did wonders during the quarantine to reproduce the acoustics we were looking for while working from his apartment

Dumont: In the development of an Ambisonic fiction, the incarnation is not carried out through the physical presence of the performers but by a construction of space that makes them exist differently. This particular approach has implications for musical writing, as the system allows one to travel easily from within the sound to one's own environmental projections. I think that the displacement of perception is also tangible in this work, with its own issues of sound, meaning and gaps.

The immersion specific to the Ambisonic system makes it possible for a musical composition that is close to introspection. This is the aesthetic direction that Annie Ernaux' text seems to call for, the one on which our common desires with Daniel Jeanneteau are based. It is therefore not a question here of reinforcing dramatic action with a high sound density but rather of proposing subtle variations of materials and acoustic spaces. We wish to use this technology to elaborate a work that expresses itself between the intimacy of reading and the excesses of imagination.

What type of teamwork did you set up in the team? What is the articulation between spoken text and music?

Jeanneteau: It was clear to us that the musical work could not consist of a simple accompaniment, a garnish that would be there to embellish the text. I suggested to Aurélien Dumont that he create music that would have the same importance as speech, that would be a kind of non-verbal equivalent of speech. And that it be a part of the movements of thoughts as one of its parts, without, of course, trying to translate into music what Annie Ernaux says. It is in fact a question of allowing for another mode of interiority coexist with the writing, a breathing that does not interrupt the effort of formulation, but rather alleviates it by moving it.

Dumont: This collaboration reminds me of a building game with several players, where each one produces their own material that we interlock together, step by step. It was really exciting for me to work with Daniel and Augustin, to hear and to aestheticize the very touching voice of Annie Ernaux. It is the listening that becomes the binding element of this project, and which allows the resonant meaning that Jean-Luc Nancy speaks to us about to become a possible articulation of the text and the music.

Interview by Jérémie Szpirglas

#3 Bacchantes by Olivier Pasquet and Thierry Bédard, Based on a Text by Céline Minard
“Attack Sensitivities
Interview with Olivier Pasquet and Thierry Bédard

A book is normally written to be read alone, in one's head: how did you approach the challenge of making it audible?

Olivier Pasquet: I have been composing purely electronic music for years now. I am very interested in pieces that are not performed by a musician and that are delivered to the listener as directly as possible. There are unfathomable questions of causality in the chain of transmission of information: what to do with a generative piece without beginning or end, with an infinity of possible or parallel versions? Should we do something with it? Should it be played in museums in the afternoon, in concert halls at night, in nightclubs at night, or on headphones to hear alone?

Anything that involves a linear chronological reading is therefore part of my explorations; especially if it can be done internally. There is nothing more captivating than deciphering shapes through various scales. The type of active concentration for this music can also take the form of narration. It is through this taking of form that the sensible is created by transforming formalization into affect. This is where the music, the actors' acting and the text collide.

Did you rework it, cut it?

Thierry Bédard:This is a delicate "exercise" that I have been practicing for many years - as a director, I have only worked on literary texts, perhaps on texts dealing with philosophy or anthropology. I have therefore "adapted" dozens of works, sometimes without great difficulty, sometimes with difficulty. It's all about hearing the author’s “beating heart", a rhythm that you can't break, which means working only with clean cuts, without touching the syntax. Surprisingly, the most complex works are the easiest to put into voice: reading in one's head - what a strange expression! -Michel Leiris is a difficult adventure, but taking it out loud is a delight, it "sounds" so good...

The difficulty of the work carried out on Céline Minard's text was achieving a subtle balance between the possible voice of a narrator—or a narrator—and the distinct voices of the characters, some quite whimsical, some increasingly drunk, in this short fiction— Bacchantes —that lasts just a few hours.

Going from a hundred pages to three twenty-minute episodes requires a lot of hard work, but I hope I have kept the author's harmless, albeit a bit crazy and scathing, madness: besides, I think I have been affected by this story as were my accomplices...

Does one direct sound like they direct on stage?

Bédard: Not at all! You must remain calm in a recording situation even when the story calls for you to show the female characters rolling around on the floor, totally drunk, and suggests the characters that represent the law shoot everyone. Even, when the text suggests, in the case of the "owner of the wine cellar", to commit suicide live. Death in the theater is an improbable thing to deal with, in a recording situation, I lack experience. But there were no weapons and no explosives, and especially no alcohol in the studios. And my friend Goeffrey Carey never agrees to kill himself at IRCAM, even though the place would be perfect for a true crime mystery.

How did you direct the actors?

Bédard: I don't think there was a lot of “directing”. Everyone got into their character and enjoyed it. I have the feeling that the only "direction" was linked to the choice of the narrator, Bénédicte Wenders, who had to remain precise and "neutral", whereas the story told is full of irony and easily leads us to uncontrollable fits of laughter... We recorded the narrator alone beforehand, in order to protetct her from the delirious mood in the studio...

How did you approach this new format, which is akin to cinema (a fixed medium, which is viewed collectively), installations, or radio plays?

Pasquet: This piece could be "an augmented radio play" with the music, the Ambisonics system,  and the social context in which it is presented. It is also "augmented cinema" as it would have been if we had all been blind. But it is above all an object, an almost sculptural materialization of a text, of a narrated story. It differs from a physical object in that it is easily reproducible.

Bédard: It is precisely this collective listening process, which I hope will be fascinating, that will reveal the interest of this new form, if we manage to master all the sound elements. But it is obviously above all the composer's musical work that enhances the overall piece.

In this case, there is no visual support, but there is the Ambisonic system. How can we exploit this immersive technological tool in this setting?

Pasquet: Ambisonics can be used to recreate sound spaces artificially. It lets me approach the text through a fictional universe; an artificial world in which the scenes take place. Everything that happens in this receptacle, this immersive apparatus, is only representation and simulation.

Without visual support what the voices represent is paramount. Their forces are multiplied when they belong to a realistically rendered space. The dramaturgy becomes concrete when this space is taken into account; when it comes into play. A synthetic, possibly unreal space is therefore no longer just a container but an integral part of the content.

Ambisonics therefore makes it possible to fabricate scientifically incoherent spaces, and to compose them with sound, time and the multitude of other dimensions that create the object of the work. As with sound, I fabricate sound spaces, the intangible traces of the action, by accumulating a multitude of infinitesimal and primitive elements; voxels, three-dimensional pixels.

This is how I transport the listener into a kind of cartoon whose contours underline the ubuesque and burlesque situation of the text. The piece might have a hint of cyberpunk.

Bédard: Beyond the exceptional spatialization, I'm going to answer a little more strongly: I hope, with the system, to be able to brutalize the listeners... It seems possible to bring sound into people' heads, into their brains, and to attack their sensitivities, so I wonder how sound can also enter in their...

What type of teamwork did you set up in the team? What is the articulation between spoken text and music?

Bédard: Olivier and I had a few early conversations about the work, and then he was very present and attentive during the voice recordings.

Pasquet: Thierry chose and directed the actors. He also helped me to appreciate the underlying aspects of the work beyond the simple narrative. The actors' performances determine the way in which one penetrates the burlesque aspect of the story. It obviously has a direct impact on the tone and therefore the aesthetics of the piece. Unlike theater, the actors' bodies do not exist for this format of recorded work. Only their voices are tangible. The actors were therefore simply seated in a circle waiting for their lines. This creates a situation of alternating acting which then becomes even more unreal. The actors, both present and absent, find themselves between the real, their reality and the fictional. They have the impression of projecting themselves into an abstract and unknown form. As with the musical part, the actors find themselves intertwined with everything else; in the middle of a beautiful mess.

Interview by Jérémie Szpirglas


Biographies of the composers and stage directors for the Musiques-Fiction n°1, n°2 & n°3


Daniele Ghisi

Daniele Ghisi studied composition at the G Donizetti conservatory in Bergmao under S. Gervasoni – and in 2007 received his diploma with honors. From 2008 to 2011 he participated in IRCAM’s Cursus program in composition and computer music, and in 2015 b...

Jacques Vincey

Stage director and actor, Jacques Vincey runs the Théâtre Olympia – Centre dramatique national de Tours since January 2014. As an actor, he has worked with Patrice Chéreau, Bernard Sobel, Robert Cantarella, Luc Bondy, Nicole Garcia, Peter Kassowitz, Al...

Daniel Jeanneteau

French theater director, born in 1963, Daniel Jeanneteau studied at aux Arts Décoratifs and at the école du Théâtre National de Strasbourg where he met the director Claude Régy with whom he has collaborated for nearly ...

Aurélien Dumont

Aurélien Dumont was a resident of the Villa Medici in 2017-2018. He holds a Doctorate in musical composition from the SACRe programme at the ENS de Paris and the Paris Conservatory and studied at IRCAM. His works have been performed worldwide by renown...

Olivier Pasquet

Olivier Pasquet is a sound, visual artist and music producer. His generative pieces are contextualized within a rationalist theory-fiction. He has been working with a variety of artists at Ircam and other places.

Thierry Bédard

Stage director Thierry Bédard works primarily on contemporary authors. He presents with Notoire, various shows, for general public and younger audience: Pathologies verbales, about the origins of languages, Minima Moralia, about societal violence, Argu...