Candy Bits : The Integration Challenge

Candy Bits : The Integration Challenge is a project of composition of several littles pieces using acoustic instruments and electroacoustic means. The main goal is to integrate, through highly experimental work, two ostensibly opposing musical approaches: that of sound research and that of tonal polyphony. On one hand, this experience relies on the academic achievements of western music, particularly in terms of counterpoint; on the other hand, on the digital sound techniques widening the musical syntax towards micro-time.

Integrate pitch in the timbre

Whereas the main problem of 17th-century music was the “integration of timbre” (Dufourt 1991) , today, according to the composer Horacio Vaggione, it is the opposite which serves as an aesthetic pursuit:

« It is as though, nowadays, we were in another historically pivotal situation, where arises an opposite problem, that of integration of pitch in the timbre, from macroscopic note to articulable qualities of the microscopic – as the physics of frequency (of periodicities) gradually loses its status of absolute, confronted with the Irreversible Time Physics theory.“(Vaggione 1998)

What Schoenberg proposed at the end of his Treatise on Harmony with his famous “Melody of Timbres” (Klangfarbenmelodie) (Schoenberg 1911), by trying to integrate the instrumental pitch with the newly discovered spectral dimension, could only remain a futuristic fantasy since the tools were not yet at disposal.


It is of common knowledge that it was not until appeared sound digitization techniques (Mathews 1969) and more specifically, researches made at Bell Laboratories (Risset 1969), that we could finally understand that below a note played by an instrument, there is not only a spectrum but more specifically a dynamic spectrum. Thus, the recognition of a timbre does not only depend on a number of frequencies and amplitudes but on their deployment over time as well. In other words, below the note played by an instrument, there is a form or more precisely a “micro-form”, bringing a musical meaning. It is from this major discovery, that interest in temporal form, specific to the musical composition, became possible to extend to the microstructure.

Integration would not be a challenge, of course, if it was a question of “filling” the notes and continuing to write them as if nothing had happened. Indeed, the new forms that can be composed at the microtemporal level go far beyond the modeling of instrumental sounds.

In return, these new forms are influencing the temporal levels of the instrumental writing. Thus, when notes and micro-temporal writing meet a conflict seems to arise. What is the problem?

Although it would be more accurate, today, to talk about integration of pitch to sound or more exactly, to the musical operatives categories relating to the micro-temporal level of sound, the challenge is nevertheless as substantial to achieve. For the simple reason that a note is not reducible to a symbol, nor to a spectrum, nor to a dynamic spectrum and even less to a frequency. Indeed, associating the note as a neutral element, or associating it with a set of frequencies and amplitude in time, we forget that, like in any language, its elements acquire their meaning within a grammar, within a practice (Wittgenstein 1956). In other words, like the Knight in the game of chess, the “macroscopic note” is intricately part of instrumental music.

Two different musical grammars meet

Actually, we face two ways of perceiving sound, of making music, each having its own terms, its own concepts (these being non competitive between themselves), its own grammar. And it is precisely the grammar of the notes (and the aesthetic perplexities which it conveys) that we must integrate in sound.

If we want the “conquest of new sound territories” to go beyond the stage of a simple quarrel between camps, we must comprehend in depth this grammar. This supposes, among other things, revisiting a certain knowledge such as consonance and dissonance, reference to a tonal center, or possibly appropriating certain gestures that twentieth-century music has banished from its practice.

One experiment: a multi-reference approach

My composition work is based on a multi-scale approach, that is to say a large number of figures of different sizes (from micro to macro-time) independent and in-terdependent. Like individual stories which meet and separate at different points of times, they create a complex universe. Like a network in which there are nodes and paths. In what way, does the reference to a tonal center, for example, endangers the individuality of each figure? That’s what I would like to experiment.

There are good reasons to think that if we take into account the perception of the multiple temporal levels involved in a composition, a multi-reference approach could give us some satisfactory answers to the challenge of integration.

While keeping the requirements of clarity and objectivity, the project Candy Bits aims to go, through this experiment, beyond the forms of the past in a positive way

See also the French version