Strings in the air with feet over the floor (an exhibition to listen to)

Premiere by the composer Benjamin Dupé

The Guitarist and Their Clones

One of the first things that excited the composer Benjamin Dupé when he imagined this commission for Open Source Guitars, was the six guitars of this atypical ensemble. Of course the six guitarists know how to play all sorts of guitars—any size or shape, electric or acoustic—but their baseline is always the same: six identical instruments, therefore not exactly complementary, neither in terms of  tessitura nor timbre, and they are all already polyphonic…

“We almost have the feeling that it is the same musician six times over” says Benjamin Dupé, “like a cartoon where we can replicate a character as many times as we like.” This amusing vision of the ensemble for which he wrote can be found as much in the poetry developed by the composer from this ensemble of guitarists as in the audacity, the adventurous spirit, the curiosity for theater that immediately seduced him.

“From the very first tests carried out together at IRCAM, the guitarists were excited like little kids when they discovered what we could do with the sounds they made. I wanted to maintain that freshness of exploration up through the performance, that pleasure of playing with the live sound and being surprised by the electronics. This comes, perhaps, from the fact that I am a guitarist myself and I really love to play with my instrument like a child plays with a toy.”

The electronic transformations produce a sort of astonishment for the musician, disposed to inserting sound production in this pleasure that is a bit primary.

While it isn’t less written, Strings in the air with feet over the floor (an exhibition to listen to) doesn’t appear to be “interpreted” to the eyes and ears of the public. It is presented more like a small theatrical work, like a little window open to a rehearsal of Open Group Guitars, where we discover its six guitarists “testing” the electronics and playing with it, even “dressing up” with it, each one becoming a sonic transformer: which brings us back to the idea of one and multiples already mentioned. A piece for six guitarists and electronics, in short, that features its six performers inventing their music in the present.

The Technological Issues

Writing for an instrument you have played your whole life can sometimes be problematic for a composer. Of course, this supposes an intimate understanding its acoustic behavior and its diverse techniques but this also supposes a certain lack of distance.

One of the advantages of Benjamin Dupé’s experience as a guitarist is certainly his ability to create rich textures without having to use electronics. “I remember that Sébastien Naves, the computer music designer I work with, sometimes had the impression that certain samples we recorded were already full of effects, but they weren’t. With six guitars, without electronics, we can already use additive synthesis by combining different instrumental gestures with decalibrations or successive emergences, or even scordaturas (the lower strings of the guitars are un-tuned, each one a tone below the other).”

The principle research focused on the real-time treatments that made it possible to obtain a “guitaresque” sound—meaning sounds identified as being produced by a guitar but that a guitar can not produce. Two emblematic examples: sustained sounds (or sounds that grow) although the guitar is following a percussion/resonance model normally, with a swift and energetic attack followed by a rapidly fading inflection and non chromatic glissandi even though the guitar is an instrument with frets, making any sort of glissando impossible, at least without using a continual process. For this, the guitar’s sound is captured just after the attack and using diverse techniques (through infinite reverberation, or by spectral analysis followed by sound synthesis), and exploited immediately by the electronics. “These real-time processes let me explore other acoustic worlds. But other processes, sometimes far more prosaic, are sometimes sufficient for this: like bringing a tuning fork (that many guitarists keep in their cases to tune their guitars) up and down in front of a microphone, or moving the strings with different objects… Or even singing in the microphone!”

Previous project with IRCAM

Il se trouve que les oreilles n’ont pas de paupières, musical theatre based on La Haine de la musique by Pascal Quignard (2015)



Benjamin Dupé

Composer (b. 1976)
Composer, guitarist, and director trained at the Conservatoire de Paris, Benjamin Dupé is dedicated to musical creation: writing for instruments, voice, and electroacoustic; improvisation; technological systems…. His wor...