Time Travel (2016)




Compositional Analysis

Time Travel (2016, 18'32, stereo, fixed – media)

Time Travel (18 minutes 32 seconds duration, stereo, fixed media) is an acousmatic composition based on recordings of a priest's voice and a male choir in the Greek Orthodox Church of Hagia Sophia in Athens. Prior to the recording process, the priest of Athens’ Hagia Sophia Orthodox Church granted permission. It is my personal interpretation of the experience of being in an Orthodox Liturgy, as filtered through an internal experience of salvation seeking. Throughout the piece, information about the actual space where the liturgy takes place is also suggested. I consider this work as a ‘journey’ between the actual location and my own internal perception of the psalms and the mystery of the holy liturgy, with the priest's voice serving as a guide. Furthermore, I see this composition as a journey back in time the first place where Byzantine hymns were heard: the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

The work is a religious-oriented piece; it uses religious references as a departure point towards different abstract and non-abstract soundworlds, which are relevant to the specific place, the Church, either literally, through the priest’s voices (e.g., 9:12), or metaphorically, through the presence of beeping sounds (e.g., 7:58), which represent the omnipresence and survival of the Orthodox Church in Greece over time. Every entity takes on a new role: the stone soundworlds that were used to symbolize the construction of the Church were depicted in a ‘dragging’ motion (e.g., 4:49, 4:53, 5:01 and 5:03). The priest’s voice was presented in Time Travel in two distinct ways: (1) emerging from a larger set of soundworlds that follow various types of textural motion (e.g., 6:41), and (2) as a central stable axis around which the different soundworlds follow various orbits of textural motion types (e.g., 6:00 – 6:14 and 12:43). The frequent use of sound 'blocks' (e.g., 1:56) indicates the presence of impediments to the transformed religious sounds (and as a metaphor in life). In other words, the sound ‘blocks’ are moments of sound that attempt to challenge religious orthodoxy. Simultaneously, the use of sound blocks aids in the creation of highly contrasting sections within the work, as the various types of textural motion become less prominent when a sound block is superimposed over them (e.g., 1:56 and 3:15). Throughout the work, the stable harmonic drone soundworlds represent salvation (e.g., 3:23 and 15:20). The final section of the work (15:52 – 18:32) represents the presence of ‘evil,’ and this compositional choice was made to create a contrasting section. In this section only, the ‘scratching textured’ [10] drones represent the ‘evil’ threat rather than salvation (e.g., 16:30 – 16:50). The work concludes with rapid spinning-motion soundworlds (17:05 – 18:32) that gradually fade out, symbolising the ‘extermination’ of evil. The work also addresses a key research question: how can the combination of various textural attributes, which are present in different overlapped textural layers, lead to the perception of new aspects of gestural motion or new ways of identifying specific soundworlds? What effect might this perception have on soundworlds associated with specific aspects of Greek culture?

Chorus: To the Victims of September 11th, 2001 (2002) [11] by Robert Normandeau includes distinctive soundworlds derived from fundamental aspects of the three monotheistic religions: sounds produced by the shofar musical instrument represent Judaism, while bell sounds represent Christianity and the muezzin's call to prayer represents Islam. My work, on the other hand, is solely concerned with Orthodox Christian religion in a way that could be interpreted as a reference to Byzantine music (e.g., 9:12). However, there are some sections where the priest’s voice has been heavily altered and has lost all of its original characteristics (e.g., 15:52). Furthermore, my work is site-specific, as stone soundworlds were used to represent the Church’s construction (e.g., 3:08 – 3:23, rubbing and throwing stones soundworlds with implemented pitched resonance).

In Time Travel, the presence of a sound textural layer containing a harmonious drone beneath the priest’s voice in 9:12 – 10:48 creates the illusion of polyphony in the priest’s voice textural layer, when in fact the spectral space occupancy of the harmonious drone textural layer is wider and denser than that of the priest’s voice textural layer, and the tonality centre of the two layers is the same (C minor). Furthermore, the spectral space occupancy changes that occur in the harmonious drone textural layer (e.g., 10:09 – 10:17) enhance the effectiveness of this polyphony perception. Polyphony gives the priest’s voice a hyper-realistic dimension and a more dominant presence, which has an effect on two levels. In terms of cultural context, it emphasizes the priest’s pivotal role, and in terms of the work itself, it provides this section with polyphonic harmonicity, which is lacking in Byzantine music. This provides an answer to the key research question: how can the combination of various aspects of textural attributes, which are present in different overlapped textural layers, lead to the perception of new aspects of gestural motion or new ways of identifying specific soundworlds? What effect might this perception have on soundworlds associated with specific aspects of Greek culture?

In Time Travel, the presence of sound-blocks functions in two ways: If they are examined externally, they have a static form due to their solid presence and use of high-volume sounds. If the sound blocks are examined internally, they are characterized by fluidity which is attributed to the rapid motion of the microelements that formulate them (e.g., 1:56 – 2:01). In addition, in Time Travel, the sound blocks are always superimposed over already existing soundworlds, but the presence of the already existing soundworlds becomes less obvious when the sound blocks are present, and at the same time this formulates a vertical concept of contrast between the presence of the sound block with its entirely different textural and gestural attributes, and the already existing soundworlds. This exists simultaneously with the concept of contrast which is perceived horizontally and sequentially through time. The vertical contrast concerns the differences in the textural and gestural properties of the sound blocks and the already existing soundworlds. The horizontal contrast concerns the way the appearance of the sound blocks is perceived by the listener through time.

The present and the past are intertwined in three ways in Chorus: To the Victims of September 11th, 2001. First, Normandeau's compositional approach is informed by his use of the traditional instrument shofar (past time) and a wide range of heavy transformations (present time). Second, in creating his work (present time), Normandeau was inspired by Lessing’s Nathan the Wise [12] (past time) and Sophocles’ Antigone [13] (past time) and he was motivated (present time) by the concept of potential acceptance of all religions (Lessing) and destructive rationalization of violence (Sophocles). Third, the composer’s rage in response to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack (past time) and his hope for a unified world free of religious conflicts and encouraged by mutual respect between different religions (present time) both played important roles in the creation of his work. In my work Time Travel, the present and past are intertwined through the use of the priest’s voice in various transformations (present time), but Byzantine cultural elements can still be seen through the priest’s psalms (past time). Furthermore, another interrelationship between present and past is my intention to use the Byzantine hymns (past time) to create a work with a broader religious context (present time). This also addresses the key research question: how can the concept of “cultural identity” be expanded within an acousmatic work?


[10] Soundworlds characterized by harmonicity as well as continuous push and drag textural motion and fluctuations in spectral space occupancy.

[11] R Normandeau, The Art Of The Virtual Rhythmicon, (Saint Paul, Minnesota: Innova Recordings 2006).

[12] K.R.A. Van Hage, A tool of remembrance: the shofar in modern music, literature and art (2014), https://pure.uva.nl/ws/files/2215077/149910_11.pdf [accessed: 23 Jul. 2017].

[13] Sophocles, Antigone, (Indianapolis, United States: Hackett Publishing 2012).