David Hirst's analysis of Smalley's Base Metals

Analyst's name: 
David Hirst
Year of analysis: 
Composition title: 
Base Metals

In a recent article for Organised Sound, I compared the analysis of Smalley's Wind Chimes with his more recent composition, Base Metals (Hirst, 2011). In the article I analyse Base Metals according to Smalley's ideas on space elucidated in his article called 'Space-form and the acousmatic image' (Smalley, 2007). Here is a summary of the method I used for Base Metals:

I attempted three different approaches to listening where each explores some small part of the concept map, which I develop in the article, associated with Smalley's ideas on 'space-form'. In my first listening to Base Metals, I attempted a free-form listening where the method consisted of sketching shapes on paper and writing comments in real-time as the piece was playing. The horizontal dimension of the page became a time scale, and I quickly filled up pages with symbols and comments.

The second listening attempted the contemplative approach to musical analysis using the 'Orbieu soundscape' method from Smalley's article. The idea is to attempt to collapse the whole work into a single, finite time frame, or memory. So I listened to the whole work first, then I wrote down some notes after the work ended. This was my attempt at a top down perception of the work - a 'holistic' rendering.

The third listening was really just the first part of Smalley's third process of listening to spaces, examining multiple spaces and more detail. In this case I examined 'Spectral Space' (including pitch space) in detail for the entire work.

I include an extract of the conclusions regarding Base Metals here, but the reader is referred to the full article for the details of the analysis, including relevant diagrams. Extract of conclusions:

... in the analysis of Base Metals, it was very difficult to disentangle one sound object from another - the work frustrates segmentation and makes predominant use of continuation. In fact the notion of sound object has become almost redundant in Base Metals. In this work partials from the sound sources are woven in between each other within the spectral space. The concepts developed by Smalley in his Space-form and the acousmatic image (Smalley, 2007) and the elements discovered in the analysis of Base Metals were easily mapped from the writings to the work itself. By the time of Base Metals (2000), Smalley has moved away from a note-based, instrumental and vocal music paradigm. He has created a new basis for electroacoustic music based on manipulations of different types of spaces, and he has finally severed his conceptual tie between instrumental music and acousmatic music. 



HIRST, D. (2011) From Sound Shapes to Space Form: investigating the relationships between Smalley’s writings and works Organised Sound 16(1): 42-53. Cambridge University Press.

SMALLEY, D. (2000) Base Metals. Sources/scènes. IMED 0054. emprintes DIGITALes, Audio CD.

SMALLEY, D. (2007) Space-form and the acousmatic image. Organised Sound 12(1): 35–58. Cambridge University Press.