Michael Gatt’s Presque Rien No. 1 C Analysis

Analyst's name: 
Michael Gatt
Year of analysis: 
2011
Composition title: 
Presque Rien No. 1 C

This is my analysis for Luc Ferrai's Presque Rien No. 1 C. I have tired to explain in writing my perception of the piece, which I interpret to have six discernible parts: Intro (Laughing), Singing, Reprise (Laughing), Singing Reprise, Crickets and Silence. It was my intention to communicate my listening experience, specifically which of the three sound sources present in the piece (human utterance, water and crickets) were most prevalent to me. I have also attached a sonogram overview of the piece showing the segmentation and occurrence of the aforementioned sounds.

Segmentation of the Piece

From listening to the piece it was clear to me that there where discrete movements and compositional choices made by the composer in the creation of its discourse. Many of the movements are signalled by certain sonic elements that are either presented in an abrupt manner or through a change in amplitude over a period of time. Below is a discussion of each of the six segments in detail.

Intro (Laughing) 00:00.00 - 00:06.21

A laugh signifies the beginning of the piece. The sound of crickets can be heard creating a spectrally ornate introduction to what is a very slow and invariable piece.

A sense of space is clear from the reverberation of the laugh and the spectral saturation of distant sounds. It is undoubtedly a soundscape piece. One which has been created through different sound recordings to create an anecdotal experience.

From this very small section all three sound sources are clearly audible, that of: human utterance, crickets and water. Throughout the remainder of this composition these three sounds will become a focus of hearing as a result of their interplay and placing within the discourse of the piece.

Perceptually the crickets are heard, but they become almost incidental within the first few seconds because of their repetitive nature, the intrusion of the vocal utterance and the close water droplets. This, however, will change as the piece progresses.

Singing 00:06.22 - 00:45.90

At this point a singer begins to sing which, once again, detracts the focus away from the crickets even though the rhythmic nature of the sound varies considerably throughout this passage. This is also interesting since there is considerably more spectral saturation due to the distance of the singer compared to the sound of the crickets.

Towards the end of this section the water sounds, which have been present throughout this entire section, start to become a focal point aurally as they begin to obstruct the singing. Their presence in this section is increased until the end, which seems to be a compositional choice rather than circumstantial. Regardless, it acts as a clear sectional divide leading towards a reprise.

Reprise (Laughing) 00:45.91 - 01:07.84

A short pause between the singing and the human sounds allows the aural focus to shift towards the crickets again. The reprise happens when the same woman heard laughing at the start of the piece laughs again. A conversation then takes place between a man and a woman. Sonically this is not as engaging as the singing in the previous section, although it is arguable that there is attention nonetheless, which allows the focus to shift back and forth between the crickets, water and human utterance.

If one focuses on the crickets one will notice that the changes in rhythmic vary the most in this section than in the preceding sections slowing down throughout until near the end where the rhythm, which until this point has been steady, begins to loose its stability. This is of course one of the main reasons why focus can shift a lot between the three sounds, but it is also interesting that the variations in rhythm leads up to the next discernible section within the composition.

Just before the beginning of the next section (starting around 01:06.20) there is around a second and a half of sonic material which is completely different to anything heard in the previous sections. The water sounds, which for the duration of this section have been heard intermittently, come to the foreground in what appears to be a synthetic inclusion to the piece, mainly because of the change in amplitude. This sub-section does however provide the platform in which the singing reprise can take place.

Singing Reprise 01:07.85 - 03:12.67

Comparatively there is a big difference in focus between this section to the other section which included singing (00:06.22 - 00:45.90). Both the sounds of the cricket and water are much more prominent in this section because of their amplitude and constant presence. The rhythm of the crickets specifically causes the focus to change significantly and the water sounds are clustered into smaller sub-sections that demand more attention than the single water sounds previously heard.

As the section progresses the singer moves further away from the perspective of the listener shifting the focus entirely to the sound of the crickets. The water, which at the beginning of this section was very active, becomes less noticeable because of the decrease in amplitude and long pauses between iterations.

The crickets, which up until this point might have been incidental to some ears, become the focal point of the piece. The rhythm steadies throughout this section and the amplitude is increase as time passes. This is the first time within this piece where a sectional change has occurred through a slow process of filtering, rather than a sharp change in aural focus. It is also clear that this divide is very subjective. My interpretation is that the next section begins once the singer is no longer audible, but this might be different for other listeners that are focusing on other aspects of the piece.

Crickets 03:12.67 - 04:29.61

Once the singer is no longer audible the aural focus can only be on the crickets. It is interesting that at this point the rhythmic nature of the cricket sound is steady for the most part, varying only slightly throughout this section. As there is no other sounds fighting for attention the slightest changes in the rhythmic nature of the crickets can be heard in its purity.

Silence 04:29.61 - 04:33.00 (actually 04:41.72)

Arguably the transition between this section and the preceding one is the most abrupt. It is interesting that this was the chosen ending for this piece rather than a slow fadeout as one might expect from a soundscape piece. There are clear compositional intents throughout this piece that are masked by the sonic content. This particular passage is the most poignant for unmasking this.

It is interesting to note that the actual ending of this piece is 04:41.72. Almost ten seconds more than the noted runtime of 04:33.00.