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Fugue Noir For Piano & a Running Man - Gonçalo Abrantes
The Sirens - Gonçalo Abrantes
Project 2 On Paper - Gonçalo Abrantes

Fugue Noir For Piano And A Running Man

For this project, my first idea was to explore a grand piano and its sound possibilities. As I had made this decision, it took me a while to come up with a well defined concept.
It came up after I had a dream where I was running from something and everything seemed pulled out from a film noir, or the 20's. A cliché, I know. But from that morning I knew I wanted to somehow try to recreate that dark ambience, and play with the name fugue, since there would be a piano and, of course, a running man.

Bearing this in mind, I positioned two microphones inside the piano to have a stereophonic image and then recorded different sounds, from knocking to scratching the strings, or playing actual melodies and chords. My main goal was to try and capture a great variety of sounds, to somehow make the piano be the source for almost everything, resembling doors, bells, coins, footsteps, passing cars (chords with doppler effect) or even chattering.

I wanted the piano to be like an “undercover” element on this project, making the listener believe that the sounds that appear throughout the piece are actual doors, bells, and all those “real world sounds”. In other words, to sometimes create a causal listening with something that's not its cause, making the listener wander between causal and reduced listening. The only real samples I had to use in the end, were the ones of the footsteps (although there are moments I used some piano sounds), a few construction sounds, breathing, a church bell, rain and the street atmosphere, all of them with transformations through time, sometimes blending with the piano through harmonic or rhythmic interaction.

As for this spacial design, I opted to have two overlapping “main” spaces: one that appears at the beginning and at the end (a waking up in which the sounds used before appear as dissolved), that represents the dream and unconsciousness, and another very straight forward and natural, within the personal and proximate space, that represents the whole action and encompasses the different natural reverbs of the places he's running through. For the first one, I used just the resonance of the piano chords, using it almost as a score for the action inside the piece itself. For the second one, I have to say I had a lot of fun bringing it to life, specially the entrance of what I'll call “the piano bar”, where I could use the piano itself for a little film noir kind of music and where, I think, you can almost imagine the people inside, the chattering and the movement.

This way, I ended up exploring some key elements of my previous projects, but in a more subtle and relaxed way, such as the shift in the listening mode, in different spaces and the harmonic and rhythmic interaction, most used in the transformation between knocking in the piano and the construction sounds and, although it's not very noticeable, a rhythmic game with pitched knocking sounds, in a way a theme in a fugue would build up.

The sirens

To start this project, I walked around London, listening to the sounds the city offers and trying to choose a specific one. Every time I would hear a siren I would just think how annoying, loud and distractive they can be. What is behind a siren sound? What kind of emergency? Is it police, fireman, death or birth? This sound encompasses so many things and stressful sensations, that I thought maybe I should not only focus on its sound characteristics but in all of what it can make us feel. I had my sound chosen. After deciding this and on the same day, I heard two different siren sounds juxtaposed and dissonant, and that is where I got my main idea from: “Why not? Why not composing something with the less pleasing sound and try to make it enjoyable in a way? Transform it into something that can have an harmonic function.”


I started by creating a set of eight chords, each one of them including the pitch-shifted notes of the sirens, making the chords move almost only through the bass note (done by a synthesizer), giving the listener a feeling of harmonic fluency, and in a subconscious way softening the harsh sound of the sirens.


To bring this into a concept, something with structure and meaning, I thought of a possible movie scene where my idea could work, for example “musically illustrating” a state of paranoia after a crime. Not exactly to make it show through the music, but for it to make sense during its creative process and to have at least a kind of an abstract narrative, as if allowing freedom of imagination inside a restrict sound space. After I was done with the first bars of the piece I realized it was working, understanding that the sirens were now in a comfortable harmonic place, but their sound would never lose its feeling of stress and emergency.


To add in and explore the space between a “real world sound” and music, I thought wind instruments (mainly brass instruments), could work as a plausible and effective transition between them. I used a flute and an electric piano as well for different types of siren sounds. To achieve this, I started working on their equalization, trying to bring them together as much as possible. The merge of the sounds was done with precise and slow fade and frequency automations. This way, what is simply an harmonically organised group of real world sounds, starts to transform and morph into a playable ensemble of wind instruments, electric piano and one synthesizer.


In terms of structure, it begins with a slow transformation from the siren sounds to the instruments and, in the middle of the piece, there is one little harmonic transition, purely musical, with only the sound of the “real” instruments, working as a bridge to a mirror effect, making the piece fold back to where it began: the sirens.

Project 2 On Paper

This piece started out to be about not being able to achieve what I wanted. Being lost about the concept and about what I should do next, I decided to record myself working on it, since I was planning it on paper. After an hour of recordings I listened to them and chose some of the sounds I'd made. This was the point when I finally got it. The concept for this piece was actually in it.


Bearing this in mind, I started to create a voyage through a writer's frustration - kind of what I had felt before. What you'll hear is a first introduction with clear sounds within the “intimate space” leading to a first “frustration stop”. Then it unfolds through chapters, as a book, with a turning page sound making the transitions.


As for the spacial design of the piece, each “chapter” has its own environment, to create the sense of growing unfamiliarity, disconnection, confusion, and the sense of work without achievement. As the project is “made” out of paper, I thought it would be beautiful to give it a physical shape to which we can relate, such as a book. So, the turning pages always brings us back from the “reduced” to the “causal” listening mode, instead of a linear transformation.


On each chapter a new sound element is presented (some of them recorded a posteriori) with a continuous transformation until the end of the piece where, for a really brief moment, the sound becomes intimate and clear again with the tear of a piece of paper. 

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