Chromatocosmos (2015) and ElectroSantouri (2017) – Sound Object, Reduced Listening, Source Bonding and Cultural Sound Objects


A sound object (objet sonore) is a concept founded by Pierre Schaeffer (1910 – 1995). A sound object is “the coming together of an acoustic action and a listening intention4” A broader approach was taken by Curtis Roads, who defined the sound object as “any sound within stipulated temporal limits5”.

A concept emerging from the sound object is reduced listening “which concentrates on the sound for its own sake, as sound object, independently of its causes or its meaning6.

Source bonding is the natural tendency to relate sounds to supposed sources and causes […]7.”. The intrinsic characteristics of a sound object examine its function within the piece. The extrinsic features are related to a range of concepts surrounding the work, i.e. cultural references. The intrinsic and extrinsic features are linked via source bonding.

When recorded sounds are directly related to musical or environmental sources that depict a specific cultural aspect of a country, this leads to the creation of Cultural Sound Objects.8


Chromatocosmos (2015) and ElectroSantouri (2017) – Analysis

Chromatocosmos (17 minutes 37 seconds duration, stereo fixed media) is an electroacoustic piece which is based on original baghlamas recordings. Baghlamas is a traditional Greek Instrument which has its roots in an ancient Greek instrument called pandoura. Thanks to its touchette (angular shape), it provided great potential to the instrumentalist to perform phonetic and organic passages which accompanied single pitches, which led to the creation of plural melismata9, and in spite of the fact that it only consisted of three strings, a greater number of pitches could be produced by the pandoura, in comparison to other Greek chordophones with more strings, such as the lyre.10 In my work I made an attempt to explore the characteristics of the instrument and its relation to history and Hellenic culture via acousmatic music. The work has references to melodic lines widely used by baghlamas performers but is mainly an attempt to recreate a new sonic world. I also aimed to use the instrument in innovative ways, from the recording process (using sounds emerging from the chording of the instrument) to the development process (applying a wide range of transformations which would push the sound in new directions). The addition of background sounds emerging from the baghlamas through various transformations creates a constant dialogue with the foreground sounds. The various sonic colours observed as the piece evolves justify its title.


ElectroSantouri (14 minutes 12 seconds duration, stereo fixed media) is an acousmatic work including transformed soundworlds emerging from a traditional Greek instrument called santouri. The santouri sound samples and melodic phrases that I recorded were generated by professional Greek santouri performer Panayiotis Vergos in his studio in Athens, Greece. Proper permission has been given by the performer in order for me to utilize any of the recorded materials for the composition of my work. The santouri is mainly used for traditional ceremonies such as weddings or Hellenic island feasts. I decided to make use of this instrument in a totally different way, by exploring its pitch and gestural possibilities and by using its idiomatic sound as a basis for transformed soundworlds. Greek composer Orestis Karamanlis created a live electronics work in 2008 called Χάος!11 (Chaos!) where he utilized the santouri through live performance as well as soundworlds emerging from stones and other materialistic sounds he produced and recorded in a cave, transformed in real time using SuperCollider. In Χάοςthe santouri was used as a live instrument and heavy sound transformations also occurred in real time. Original santouri sounds were also present. In opposition to Karamanlis’ work, ElectroSantouri is a work for fixed-media which only features fully transformed sound textures emerging from the santouri instrument. Νo other original sound sources were used, as opposed to Χάος!.


In his work Concerto para Computador e Orquestra12 (2000) the Brazilian composer Rodolfo Nogueira Coelho de Souza made use of traditional local instruments and created, through the use of modern technologies, a wide range of transformations emerging from these instruments. In addition, he made reference to aspects of Brazilian culture, including religion and martial arts, and he transferred specific melodic schemes and traditional rhythmic patterns from traditional Brazilian instruments to other orchestral instruments. In my works Chromatocosmos and ElectroSantouri I attempted to create links to the ways the baghlamas and santouri are related to aspects of Greek culture. The transformations themselves create melodic contours which have a direct reference to the way these instruments are performed, but with totally different timbral and gestural attributes (e.g. Chromatocosmos: 3:45 – 4:20, example 1 and ElectroSantouri: 9:35 – 9:42, example 2). In addition, I also made an attempt to re-identify original baghlamas and santouri soundworlds with other identifiable or abstract soundworlds which led to the creation of soundworlds which are totally detached from the original concepts of tradition, either in terms of melody (e.g. Chromatocosmos: 5:05 – 5:40, resonant melody in C minor, example 3; and ElectroSantouri: 7:44 – 7:57, resonant melody in F♯ major, example 4), or in terms of innovative textural and gestural soundworlds, such as the bubbling water sound textures in ElectroSantouri (e.g. 3:45 – 4:20, example 5), or the dinging textures in rapid motion in ElectroSantouri (e.g. 1:09 – 1:20, example 6), or the harmonic dinging resonant textures in C minor in Chromatocosmos (e.g. 6:00 – 6:30, example 7) and the harmonic resonant pinches13 in Chromatocosmos (e.g. 12:37 – 12:57, example 8). The significance of the expansion of the “cultural identity” concept, as far as the works Chromatocosmos and ElectroSantouri were concerned, was the fact that traditional concepts concerning the performance of the santouri and the baghlamas got interpreted in inventive ways, such as examples 1 and 2, but at the same time, a link to the Greek tradition was maintained through this reinterpretation, as described above. In addition, the expansion of the “cultural identity” concept took the works Chromatocosmos and ElectroSantouri to new boundaries by producing new soundworlds, such as examples 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, which were totally detached from any sort of link to Greek tradition. This could be considered as part of an altered “cultural identity” where re-identified real-world and abstract sounds emerged as a result of the heavy transformational procedures.


Chromatocosmos and ElectroSantouri do not include sections consisting of original instrumental sounds. Structurally, the works feature repetitive leit motifs forming melodies or rapid motion micromelodies: (e.g. Chromatocosmos: 0:36 – 0:47, 3:04 – 3:19 and 3:24 – 3:33; and ElectroSantouri: 9:16 – 9:22 and 9:35 – 9:42). Furthermore, Chromatocosmos explores the textural and gestural characteristics of the baghlamas instrument (e.g. 1:16 – 1:20, resonant pitch-bend). For this work I followed a bottom-up compositional approach, that allowed me “to engage in improvisation and experimentation with the machine and store promising musical materials. Then at a later stage, these materials are developed into larger passages, musical structures and so forth. This is the bottom-up approach because these smaller sections, created by or with the Computer, function as the foundation for building larger musical sections. Higher level musical sections are composed (with or without the aid of the Computer) by extending these smaller segments to form the entire piece.”14 See Figure 2.

Figure 2: Top-down and bottom-up strategies15

In addition to that, a melodic line appears in Chromatocosmos (e.g. 3:45 – 4:20). I used this line as a direct reference to the traditional way in which the instrument is performed  extensive use of the augmented 2nd sequence is characteristic in traditional Greek instrument performance  but although the sound texture itself emerges from the instrument, its timbral and pitch characteristics are totally transformed.

The mambo elements in Rajmil Fischman's electroacoustic piece Alma Latina16 (1996) function as references to Latin American dance forms. The uses of these interpositions led to the formation of a strong cultural identity within the work.17 In contrast, Argentinian composer Mario Verandi used sounds from Brazilian traditional percussion instruments for his work Evil Fruit18 (2000). He utilized these instruments merely for their spectral components as he was not familiar with the Brazilian cultural background. In his words, these sounds were used as “a point of departure to develop something different”19. Similarly, in Chromatocosmos, I used the baghlamas as a point of departure to develop something different, either by creating rapid-motion gestural transformations by retaining the timbral characteristics of the instrument (e.g. 0:33 – 0:37), or by creating a melodic line based on traditional performances but with a heavily transported sound texture (e.g. 3:45 – 4:20). In ElectroSantouri I used the santouri as a point of departure to develop something different20 by creating the bubbling textures (e.g. 3:45 – 4:20), by creating the rapid-motion ‘flocking’ soundworlds (e.g. 1:00 – 1:20) or by creating the ‘violin-style’ textures (e.g. 0:33 – 0:41).


To sum up, Chromatocosmos and ElectroSantouri led to the creation of heavily transformed soundworlds that maintain the Greek cultural identity through their attributes such as the creation of the transformed baghlamas melodic contour with the characteristic use of the augmented 2nd movement (e.g. Chromatocosmos 3:45 – 4:20) and the creation of melodic lines that are linked to the original traditional way of performance of the instrument but with totally different timbral and gestural attributes (e.g. ElectroSantouri 9:35 – 9:42). At the same time, the real-world source materials re-identify with another sound which can either be very abstract (e.g. Chromatocosmos: 5:05 – 5:40) or have a high resemblance with a real-world object such as water (e.g. ElectroSantouri 3:45 – 4:20) or violin (e.g. ElectroSantouri 0:33 – 0:41). The above answer the key research question: In which ways can the concept of “cultural identity” be expanded within an acousmatic work?


1Brian Kane, Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice (Oxford – United Kingdom: Oxford University Press Inc., 2014), p. 48

2Richard D. McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates (Second Edition) An Introduction with Texts and Commentary (Indianapolis, Indiana – United States: Hackett Publishing Co, Inc., 2011), pp. (79 – 111).

3Trevor Wishart and Simon Emmerson, On Sonic Art (Contemporary Music Studies) (London – United Kingdom: Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group, 1996), p. 130.

4Pierre Schaeffer, Treatise on Musical Objects: An Essay across Disciplines (Berkeley, California – United States: University of California Press, 2017), p. 213. Schaeffer gave this definition to the sound object in 1966, in his book: Traité des Objets Musicaux: Essai Interdisciplines. In 2017, the book was published in English for the very first time, under the title: Treatise on Musical Objects: An Essay across Disciplines.

5Curtis Roads, Microsound (Cambridge, Massachusetts – United States: The MIT Press, 2001), p. 17.

6Simon Emmerson, Living Electronic Music (Farnham – United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2007), p. 5. Michel Chion originally gave this definition in 1983, in his book: Guide des objets sonores: Pierre Schaeffer et la recherche musicale. (p. 18). The English translation of Chion’s definition on reduced listening used in my commentary, has been made by Emmerson in 2007, in his book: Living Electronic Music. In 2009, Chion’s book was translated in English for the first time by John Dack and Christine North, under the title: Guide to sound objects. This downloadable version is available online:

https://monoskop.org/images/0/01/Chion_Michel_Guide_To_Sound_Objects_Pierre_Schaeffer_and_Musical_Research.pdf [Accessed: 24 Mar. 2015].

7Denis Smalley, “Space-form and the acousmatic image.”, Organised Sound, vol. 12, no. 1, (2007), pp. 35 – 58; here, p. 37.

8Blackburn, M. (2010). Electroacoustic Music Incorporating Latin American Influences: A consideration of implications, reception and borrowing. [online]. Available from: https://econtact.ca/12_4/blackburn_influences.html [Accessed: 22 May 2017].

9Ornamental phrases of several notes.

10Thomas J. Mathiesen, Apollo's Lyre: Greek Music and Music Theory in Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Lincoln, Nebraska – United States: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), pp. (284 – 285).

11Karamanlis, O. (2013). Orestis Karamanlis’ stream on BandCamp. [online]. Available from: https://orestiskaramanlis.bandcamp.com/track/- [Accessed: 12 Dec. 2015].

12Coelho de Souza, R.N. (2000). Concerto para Computador e Orquestra. Provided by Rodolfo Nogueira Coelho de Souza: rcoelho@usp.br on: [4 Feb. 2018].

13Tweaks; similar to the gestural movements of a pizzicato.

14Eduardo Reck Miranda, Composing Music with Computers (Music Technology) (Waltham, Massachusetts – United States: Focal Press – Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group, 2001), pp. (9 – 10).

15Curtis Roads, Composing Electronic Music. A New Aesthetic. (Oxford – United Kingdom: Oxford University Press Inc., 2015), p. 291.

16Fischman, R. (1996). Alma Latina. London: Lorelt Lontano Records Ltd.

17Blackburn, M. (2010). Electroacoustic Music Incorporating Latin American Influences: A consideration of implications, reception and borrowing. [online]. Available from: https://econtact.ca/12_4/blackburn_influences.html [Accessed: 22 May 2017].

18Verandi, M. (2001). Orillas Distantes / Distant Shores. New York: Electronic Music Foundation

19Blackburn, M. (2010). Electroacoustic Music Incorporating Latin American Influences: A consideration of implications, reception and borrowing. [online]. Available from: https://econtact.ca/12_4/blackburn_influences.html [Accessed: 22 May 2017].



Chromatocosmos (2015) and ElectroSantouri (2017) – Acousmatics


Acousmatics1 (Acousmatikoi – Ακουσματικοί) were the disciples of Pythagoras of Samos2 (580 B.C. – 496 B.C.), who required them to listen to his teachings while he was hidden behind a curtain, without being seen. Only his voice was audible. Thus, emphasis was given on the contents of his words and not on his physical presence. This is where the term ‘acousmatic music’ actually comes from. The term acousmatic “refers to the apprehension of a sound without relation to its source3”.


Create sound material that fills in the higher - level structures.


Macroform emerges as the result of lower - level processes.


Substructures emerge as the result of low - level sonic processes.


Generate sound materials


Design Macro - Form


Design Substructures


Top - Down Strategy


Bottom - Up Strategy