Modulations (1976-77)

Gérard Grisey

thirty three musicians

Commission: Ensemble intercontemporain

To Olivier Messiaen on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

“In Modulations (fourth piece of the Les espaces Acoutiques cycle), the material no longer exists in itself: it is sublimated in a pure sound evolution constantly in mutation and elusive the next instant. Everything is in motion. The only markers in this drift, slow and dynamic at the same time, are a spectrum of harmonics on E (41.2 Hz) and the periodic lengths. These indicators, essential to our perception, enable us to evaluate the distance covered, gauge the degree of inharmonicity of an interval or complex of sounds, and measure the degree of aperiodicity of the lenghts.

The form of this piece is the very story of the sounds that compose it. The parameters of the sound are oriented and directed so as to create several processes of modulation, processes that broadly resort to the discoveries of acoustics: spectra of harmonics, spectra of partials, transients, formants, additional sounds, differential tones, white noise, filterings, etc. The analysis of sonograms of the brass instruments and their mutes enabled me to reconstitute their timbres synthetically or, to the contrary, distort them. The brass therefore play a very important role in the development of Modulations.

Due to the care constantly brought to bear, not on the material itself but on the void, on the distance seperating the perceived instant from the following instant (degree of change or evolution), I think that I have somewhat approached the essential time, no longer chronometric time but psychological time and its relative value.”

(Gérard Grisey, in an interview with Guy Lelong, Les espaces acoustiques, CD-DDD LC 00280)