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Music’s colors and shapes

Researcher graphically analyzes the electroacoustic music of Brazilian composers

Garcia's analysis of the piece Introdução à pedra, by Rodolfo Caesar: each sound is represented by shapes and colors

Denise GarciaGarcia’s analysis of the piece Introdução à pedra, by Rodolfo Caesar: each sound is represented by shapes and colorsDenise Garcia

Both the dissemination of electroacoustic music and the documentation of its history and repertory are rare in Brazil. Since completing her doctorate in France, the classical composer, University of Campinas (Unicamp) professor and researcher Denise Garcia has dedicated her time to recovering and analyzing this complex and relatively unknown type of Brazilian music.

After the project, supported by FAPESP, in which she recovered the origins of electroacoustic music, studying pioneers in the state of São Paulo—Grupo Música Nova, Gilberto Mendes, Rogério Duprat, Willy Corrêa de Oliveira—she continued on to the Rio de Janeiro generation, including Tim Rescala, Rodolfo Caesar, Vânia Dantas Leite and Rodrigo Cicchelli. “I collected material from the composers themselves, and I’m still working on it today,” says Garcia, who receives a productivity stipend from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq).

In her opinion, Caesar is one of the most prolific composers in this area, and it was his award-winning 1989 piece entitled Introdução à pedra (Introduction to the stone) that served as the basis for her recently concluded graphical analysis, begun in 2007. “Hours and hours of work resulted in 10 or 20 seconds of music,” she says.

Garcia's analysis of the piece Introdução à pedra, by Rodolfo Caesar: each sound is represented by shapes and colors

Garcia’s analysis of the piece Introdução à pedra, by Rodolfo Caesar: each sound is represented by shapes and colors

For now, the results of her research have been limited to the conferences she attends and her. The graphical analysis of Caesar’s work—a sample of which can be seen on these pages—has not yet been published. In the graphs, each sound, with its variations in volume, rhythm, timbre, speed and intensity, is represented by different colors and shapes. Now that this part of the study is complete, she intends to write a text describing each step undertaken.

Garcia uses software called Acousmograph, developed by INA/GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales, created in 1948 by Pierre Schaeffer), where she interned after completing her doctorate. “The application provides two ways to visualize the audio signal: one is by the amplitude of the signal and the other is by the sonogram,” she explains. The latter, in the form of a graph with time and frequency as axes, indicates all signal frequencies, but does not distinguish between different musical events. “With the program, you can graph what you hear over the sonogram. We analyzed the music by separating the sounds in the graph.”

Garcia’s research is to analyze, interpret and technologically update the original parts. “In Gilberto Mendes’ mixed pieces, there were parts for turntables and the vinyl record albums of the time, which have now disappeared. You cannot reassemble these pieces using the previous technology.” The idea was to again include them in the repertoire, but using new equipment, such as computers. “In the case of Mendes, the recorded parts were reassembled by student Clayton Mamedes.”

Garcia's analysis of the piece Introdução à pedra, by Rodolfo Caesar: each sound is represented by shapes and colors

Denise GarciaGarcia’s analysis of the piece Introdução à pedra, by Rodolfo Caesar: each sound is represented by shapes and colorsDenise Garcia

As pointed out by Fernando Iazzetta, a specialist in new music technologies at the University of São Paulo School of Communication and Arts, “Brazilian musicology, with the exception of composers such as Villa-Lobos, Carlos Gomes and Henrique Oswald, has never focused enough on national compositions.” In his opinion, in addition to the recovery of “the origins of recent, relevant production of Brazilian music,” Garcia’s research has other merits. “The composers are alive, which allows us to understand the dynamics of this evolution from the inside; moreover, Denise herself is part of this history as a composer.”

Self-taught, Garcia was about 30 years old when she stumbled upon electroacoustic music “in a roundabout way.” She made recordings with environmental sounds, “I took everything to the computer, then assembled and disassembled it,” in an almost handmade filtering of sounds.

Her master’s thesis was a mapping of the city of São Luís, in the state of Maranhão, based on the poem Poema sujo (Dirty Poem) by the famous Brazilian poet Ferreira Gullar. With these and other experiences, she ended up deepening her study of research methodology. “It is a type of music with no score, it is all by ear. This is unreliable, because I hear one thing and you hear another. There is much discussion about this. This type of repertoire is little studied by musicologists because of this problem.”

The idea of graphical analysis of electroacoustic music is not new, and before the digital era graphs were drawn by hand. Garcia is convinced that the method is useful not only for electroacoustic music, but also for instrumental works. “I also use this tool to analyze traditional classical music with students. And they leave the course thinking it is cool, because without the sheet music we listen to music differently.”

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