Icarus (2014)


Compositional Analysis

[Figure 2] Representation of the different ways that original airplane sounds/airplane-type soundworlds were treated in Icarus and Toupie Dans Le Ciel.

Icarus (2014, 7'52, stereo, fixed – media)

Icarus (7 minutes 52 seconds duration, stereo, fixed media) is an electroacoustic acousmatic composition mainly based primarily on airplane sound recordings. The goal was to create an acousmatic work inspired by the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. It is unclear who is credited with the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, but the name Daedalus was most likely attributed to one hero through the accomplishments of many different people over the years, until it was first noted by Homer (750 BC – 650 BC) and the ancient Greek tragedian Euripides (480 BC – 406 BC).  Later, a Greek scholar, grammarian, and historian named Apollodorus of Athens (180 BC – 120 BC), a Greek historian named Diodorus of Sicily (1st century BC), two Roman poets named Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) and Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD), and a Greek traveller named Pausanias (2nd century AD) all made references to Daedalus. According to the myth, Daedalus was a brilliant inventor who worked for King Minos of Crete at Knossos Palace. He was the architect of the Palace’s labyrinth, which housed the Minotaur, and he was the only one who knew how to escape. He infuriated King Minos. Eager to leave the island, Daedalus used wax to make wings for himself and his son Icarus, who, disobeying his father, flies too close to the sun, causing his wings to melt and him to fall into the sea and die.

I attempted to focus on this myth in a symbolic way in my work, using airplane sounds as a metaphor for Icarus. Throughout the work, the stone sounds provided information about the stone-built labyrinth, the location prior to the escape. The escape was depicted by the gradual transformation of stone sounds to sped-up airplane sounds (2:35 – 4:40). The section on breathing textures (5:15 – 6:42) was inspired by Icarus’ reaction to falling into the sea. At the same time, I wanted to keep some of the original soundworlds from the airplane recordings in order to give the work a more realistic feel. Aside from using the binaural microphone to record the airplane sounds, I also wanted to experiment with it as a tool for recording piano sounds. The stone sounds were recorded later in the studio with a pair of condenser microphones. The work also addresses an important research question: how can variations in real-world source sound materials be transformed into new identities?

Binaural Microphones were used to record airplane sounds at Manchester International Airport in three different locations: at the airport’s runway visitor park (L1) and at two different locations behind runway 23R: in Ringway Road (just behind the runway) (L2) and in Shadowmoss Road (near the car park) (L3). The composer was able to capture a variety of sounds thanks to the three different locations. Taxiing and distant take-off/landing sounds were recorded in (L1). I was standing just behind the runway in (L2) to capture take-off sounds from the back of the airplanes. Landing sounds were clearly captured in (L3) as the composer stood closer to the runway, near the car park, under the planes approaching the runway. [Figure 1]

Furthermore, the same microphones were used to record additional sound material for the piece, such as piano (1:07 – 1:12) and stones sounds (2:15 – 2:21). This work was distinguished by transitions from the real to the abstract and vice versa. Materials with and without pitches were used. The airplane sounds were altered in three ways: i. they provided a true-to-life airplane soundscape (0:50 – 0:57); ii. they were transformed (pitch transformations) and used as background sonic elements in conjunction with transformed piano sounds (1:06 – 1:20); iii. in specific sections (0:20 – 0:49), harmonic elements were added to airplane sounds by applying pitched reverberation to non-pitched airplane soundworlds. Simultaneously, the stone sounds were also used as both real-world soundscapes and abstract structures. The relationship between the real airplane sounds and the real stone sounds was gradually built through smooth transitions with stone sounds gradually changing into sped-up airplane sounds (2:35 – 4:40), but also through sudden terminations of airplane sound events (0:56 – 1:06) [2] The stone sounds were chosen to create contrasting textures that contrast with the constantly flowing [3] airplane sounds. Moreover, transformed harmonic piano soundworlds with intervallic pitch relationships were superimposed over abstract background transformed airplane sounds (0:15 – 0:20). Transformed harmonic piano soundworlds with intervallic pitch relationships were also superimposed over abstract background transformed airplane sounds (0:15 – 0:20). The creation of human breathing effects was accomplished through GRM Filters [4] in Avid Pro Tools [5], which resulted in the creation of ‘human breathing’ effects (5:33 – 5:45) through proper sound manipulation.


[2] D Smalley, “Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes”, Organised sound, 2.2 (1997), 107–126.

[3] ibid.

[4] INA. GRM Tools. https://inagrm.com/en/store [accessed 4/1/2017].

[5] Avid Technology. Pro Tools. http://www.avid.com/pro-tools [accessed 4/1/2017].


[Figure 1] Manchester Airport recording locations.


François Bayle's Toupie Dans Le Ciel [6] (1979) is an important source of inspiration for my work. Bayle used recorded sounds of a spinning top as well as electronic fluxes (created through tape manipulation) to create micromelodies with intervallic pitch relationships, as well as drone landscapes (dronescapes). Despite the fact that Bayle did not use recordings of real airplane sounds [7]for this work, as I did for my work Icarus, Bayle’s sound manipulation techniques resulted in the creation of airplane-type ascending or descending contour [8] spectromorphologies.


Toupie Dans Le Ciel includes three types of airplane-type soundworlds:

A1. Nearly realistic airplane-type sound textures (second order surrogacy). (e.g., 22:50 – 23:41)

A2. Less realistic airplane soundworlds than A1 (third order surrogacy). (e.g., 0:16 – 0:23 and 0:35 – 0:42 and 0:50 – 0:53)

A3. More abstract airplane-type soundworlds than in A1 and A2 (remote surrogacy). (e.g., 12:33 – 13:22 and 21:25 – 21:46)


Unlike Toupie Dans Le Ciel, I used my real airplane sounds in a different way. The piece begins with completely abstract airplane sounds used as background elements (0:00 – 0:20) (remote surrogacy). Using IRCAM’s AudioSculpt, certain frequencies were isolated from the frequency spectrum of the original airplane sounds. I then used original airplane sounds (0:19 – 0:57) (second order surrogacy), followed by less realistic airplane sounds during the ‘imitation’ of the ‘falling’ plane sound texture (0:57 – 1:02) (third order surrogacy). Original airplane sounds are then superimposed (1:20 – 1:39) (second order surrogacy). The downward motion of the transformation (1:40) was created using a GRM Tools filter (remote surrogacy). An original airplane sound can be heard in the background from 1:44 – 1:56 (second order surrogacy). When played backwards, the airplane sounds become notably abstract, gradually replacing the pointillistic [9] stone sounds. This can be seen starting from 3:48, though the precise point at which these soundworlds emerge is unknown. This was done on purpose to create a smooth transition between the pointillistic stones soundworlds and the abstract airplane sounds in fast forward motion (3:48 – 4:43) (remote surrogacy). As the ‘breathing sound textures’ are omnipresent (4:58 – 6:41) (remote surrogacy), an original airplane sound (4:45 – 4:58) (second order surrogacy) connects the fast-forward motion airplane sounds with the next section, which is the most abstract section including airplane sounds within the entire work. Finally, a sixth original airplane sound in slight fast-forward motion can be heard (6:41 – 6:49) (second order surrogacy), leading to the final section of the work which includes superimposed slightly less realistic airplane sounds in fast-forward motion (6:52 – 7:50) (third order surrogacy), but not as rapidly as in (3:48 – 4:43).


In Toupie Dans Le Ciel, Bayle used spinning-top sounds to create more realistic and more abstract airplane-type soundworlds. In my work Icarus, I took the opposite approach. Starting with realistic airplane soundworlds (real–world soundworlds) (e.g., 0:50 – 0:57), I progressed to less-realistic airplane soundworlds which retain the spectromorphological properties of airplane sounds but have been transformed through processes such as filtering or the implementation of pitched reverberation to non-pitched airplane soundworlds (e.g., 0:20 – 0:49). Finally, I used a taxiing airplane recording in conjunction with the GRM Bandpass filter to create ‘human – breathing’ soundworlds, which is the most abstract section of the work (e.g., 5:33 – 5:45). The ‘human – breathing’ soundworld section symbolizes Icarus’ reaction to falling in the sea, and this is a typical example of how the work is related to the Myth of Daedalus and Icarus. The preceding information refers to sections of Icarus and Toupie Dans Le Ciel which concern treatments of original airplane sounds/airplane-type soundworlds, as well as to compositional approaches that correspond to these specific sections.


There is a similarity in spectral density and occupancy between the sections of Bayle’s work that include the electronic flux micromelodies and the sections of my work that include the stone soundworlds (e.g., 2:15 – 2:21). The transformed background piano soundworlds of Icarus (e.g., 1:06 – 1:20), on the other hand, have more dynamic and flexible contour energy of motion through spectral space than Bayle’s dronescapes. Furthermore, I superimposed stone sounds over abstract background piano soundworlds (e.g., 1:06 – 1:19), with the exception that the stone soundworlds’ spectromorphologies gradually contract (e.g., 1:10 – 1:19).


The re-identification of airplane sounds as ‘human-breathing’ soundworlds answers the key research question: how can real-world source sound materials be transformed into new identities?


The 'human-breathing' soundworld section represents Icarus' reaction to falling in the sea, and it is a typical example of how the work is related to the myth of Daedalus and Icarus.


[6] F Bayle, Toupie Dans Le Ciel, (Paris: Magison, 2002).

[7] In the booklet (livret) of the Compact Disc: François Bayle ‎– 50 Ans D' Acousmatique (2012), Paris: INA – GRM, Renouard Larivière and Thomas Baumgartner, the booklet's authors, present the original sound sources used by Bayle in the creation of his work Toupie Dans Le Ciel. There is no mention of original airplane sound recordings. The following is the French text provided by Larivière and Baumgartner, as well as the English translation provided by Valérie Vivancos and David Vaughn: "La substance de cette musique extraordinaire a été élaborée à partir d'un réel son de toupie, d'un pattern mélodicorythmique simple et de flux électroniques. […]" (Larivière and Baumgartner, 2012). "The substance of this extraordinary piece of music was developed from the actual sound of a spinning top, a melodic-rhythmic pattern, and simple electronic fluxes. […]" (Vivancos and Vaughn, 2012).

[8] The opposite to ascending contour (downward motion).

[9] "In pointillism, the line disintegrates into a sequence of pitches separated by large skips [...]. This allows each tone to emerge with a unique, pristine character. " (Pearsall, 2012).

Toupie Dans Le Ciel


Real-world soundworlds:

spinning top sound textures

Real-world soundworlds:

airplane sound textures




Transformed soundworlds emerging from completely different original sound sources (spinning top), yet resembling real-world soundworlds: "airplane-type" sound textures.

Less realistic soundworlds ("airplane-type" sound textures), which still retain the spectromorphological properties of the originally recorded sounds (airplanes), but have gone through transformation processes.

Transformed soundworlds emerging from completely different original sound sources (airplanes), yet resembling real-world soundworlds: "human-breathing" sound textures.