Symbolism in Acousmatic Music through an Analysis of La Condition Captive by Christine Groult

Ana Dall’Ara-Majek
Date of publication: 

Symbolism was a literary and artistic movement that arose in the XIXth century, against rationalism and structuralism in which poets and painters were interested in the mystery. The enigma of the symbol, a sign with a secret and metaphysical meaning needs to be decoded/interpreted.

Waldemar Déonna clarifies that symbolism can be correlated with the idea of the Myth that exists since prehistoric times, which explains its association with religion. He defines Symbolism as an evocation.

There is symbolism when an idea, the subject itself, is translated by an appearance, which is not its immediate copy, but a twisted evocation, mostly by analogy or another mental process. (Deonna 1924: 2)

An interesting fact is the idea of duality, or the link implied by the symbol. The Greek etymology is sumbolon: an object broken in two parts as a sign of alliance and identification between two owners or two tribes[1]. The substantive means: “throw together”, that is, “unite in an immediate fusion the exterior or concrete sign, and the subject of its meaning”. (Peyre, 1974: 14)

By extension, literary and artistic movements consider Symbolism as the association of two realities: the physical expression and the ideal (the ultimate perfection the artist wants to achieve). In this sense, the purpose in religious, mythological, literary, or artistic symbolism could be characterized by a certain mysticism and the search for transcendence.

Latent symbolism from the Romantic period is also a form of Platonicism. It expresses the poet’s aspiration towards a superior world;; one of ideas and one of the beauty that fulfills the soul. (Peyre, 1974: 25)

In electroacoustic music - particularly in the anecdotal aesthetic - it is easy to make that same link between the sound and its representation. More specifically, anecdotal sounds have a fatalistic link to an extra-musical reference despite Pierre Schaeffer’s reduced listening. Their meaning could be purely musical or have an asserted extra-musical idea.

In some cases, the sound could be a symbol and the musical work could reflect a symbolist aesthetic. This article will study one example where this affirmation may be validated through the analysis of Christine Groult’s work: La Condition Captive (The Captive Condition).

Born in the fifties, Christine Groult is one of the few female composers of her generation who worked with Pierre Schaeffer. She describes her work as an internal search expressed through images and feelings. The genesis of the music often derives from immersion in philosophical or metaphysical readings.

Through the search for the link between the world and the cosmos, I imagine pictures that carry meaning. Pictures are an analogy with two faces: an experimental reality combined with a latent spiritual world that one must bring to the surface. As if the visible bears witness to the invisible that informs and contains it. From these images, the search for sounds, gestures, expressions, process, and construction of the work is organized. Images provide an organic unity;; they give the idea a substantial structure.[2]

As the quote shows, Groult in her general approach of music is already close to symbolist poets who have the ambition to make the invisible visible. (Peyre, 1974: 18)

This article will determine how this symbolist approach could be interpreted by specific elements in a thematic and a structural analysis of La Condition Captive. Firstly, the article will propose a thematic analysis following one of Pierre Couprie’s models of analysis to determine the scenario of the work. This analysis consists of a literary description of each musical section. (Couprie, 2002) Secondly, the article will focus on an Analysis at the Neutral Level (Analyse de Niveau Neutre (ANN)) and a Functional Analysis based on Stéphane Roy’s Function Matrix (grille fonctionnelle), which will point out typical morphologies as well as some fundamental functions. The elements will be described according to the revised Typology Table (TARTYP) of Pierre Schaeffer[3]. In the last part, the article will look at how metaphors emerge from the two above-mentioned analyses.

1.0 Thematic Analysis

La Condition Captive was a commission of the Caen Festival: for an outdoor concert around the walls of the old castle in Caen (France). According to the program notes, the work was composed in 2003 and deals with the war in Iraq. It strongly expresses the trauma linked to destruction and, more specifically, that of vandalizing a house. It then leads to certain painful observations: that the human being is a prisoner of Manichean ideology, that the Soul is a prisoner of our body, and that our own human condition is held hostage.

Many mail exchanges with the composer revealed the main inspiration of the work. Indeed, Christine Groult was strongly inspired by reading Jean Varenne’s translations of the Upanishads of Yoga. Upanishads are small verses included in Veda literature. Some of them flow from Yoga philosophy, which was a fundamental school of thought in ancient India. The Upanishads comment and explain the techniques to sever the links that keep the Soul prisoner (Varenne, 1971: 21). Indeed the premise of this philosophy is based on an allegory: the Soul is the passenger of a chariot (human body) pulled by undisciplined horses (senses), which the coachman (mind) cannot control. In this context, Yoga is a method allowing the coachman-mind to discipline the horses-senses in order to stop the chariot. Then, the Soul will be able to come down, that is, to definitively leave the physical world. (Varenne, 1971: 13)

Some of the Yoga techniques could be mentioned: withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), meditation, breath retention (kumbhaka), and the dissolution of the mind (mano-laya). It is very clear that Groult uses this allegory and the verbal actions of Yoga exercises to elaborate the structure of her work, which could be segmented into three main thematic sections (Figure 1):

  1. Alternating Agitation and Calm of the Soul
  2. Dialogue between Hits and Wings
  3. Dreaming Waves of Memories

Figure 1. Waveform Representation of the Work with Thematic Segmentations.

1.1 Alternating Agitation and Calm of the Soul (0 to 6’35'')

The first section alternates between two types of sounds: recordings of agitated horses / quasi silence abstract stream. These form two distinct parts that are characterized by strong contrasts: agitation/calm, violence/peace, density/emptiness, anecdotal sounds/abstract sounds, fortissimo /pianissimo, etc. These two types of sounds may represent two main themes that follow from the Upanishads allegory. Agitated horses clearly refer to the coachman situation and the calm stream could be interpreted as a meditation state. The composer comments about this meditation part: it is “the third space that is born from the encounter of the soul and the body and which is the crucible of internal life."[4]

It should be useful to explain that the Yoga philosophy does not entirely include the Soul as part of the body or even the physical world. It belongs to another dimension and does not communicate with the body except when mastering higher steps of Yoga techniques. (Varenne, 1971: 23)

In this context, the calm meditation part indicates that some exercises have been mastered: the absence of referential sounds could be a sign of detachment from the sensible universe (withdrawal of the senses: pratyahara). The ethereal ambience with long waves could indicate the Yoga technique of breath retention (kumbhaka) in which breathing has to become very slow. But the evasion does not last long. A squeaking door sound brings us back to reality and introduces the second section of the piece.

1.2 Dialogue between Hits and Wings (6’35'' to 9’28'')

Christine Groult herself refers to this second section as a dialogue between "hits and wings." This section is more structured;; elements are closely written in a kind of play-sequence that develops motivic and rhythmic patterns. Sounds are very referential: they alternate between an axe chopping a wooden surface and the flapping of a pigeon’s wings. Here again, those references could have another meaning related to the Upanishads. 

According to the composer, recording birds wrestling in a cage is a deliberate choice to allude to captivity. On the other hand, the bird refers to the image of hamsa, the migratory bird, a recurrent theme in the Upanishads.

The Soul is like a bird that is held prisoner by a cord tied around its leg. The bird is suffering in his captive condition. He wishes the cord to be cut off so he can fly away. (Varenne, 1971: 24)

The axe, and specifically the action of chopping, is a reference to the destruction “of a house”, says the composer, “a consequence of the war”. But this action could also be related to the Yoga technique of “dissolution of the mind” (mano-laya) or the required destruction of the chakras to reach the ultimate release. In this sense, the Upanishads often use a specific terminology: the chakras are broken, torn up, sliced, etc. (Varenne, 1971: 28) Exactly the same verbs can be applied to the axe’s actions. In contrast with the first section characterized by emotive expansions, this second section seems to be a methodical exercise. Maybe it is an allusion to the concentration and the discipline required by Yoga techniques in order to cut the bird’s cord.

In all cases, Yoga techniques implicate a crisis (somewhere a needed destruction) that makes the path one way. No return is possible because each step is accompanied by a transformation of the being. (Varenne, 1971: 28) This second section could contain some of these crises: the crisis of war and a personal one. In both cases there is violence in the process. This section ends with a strange metallic sound that creates a whirling sensation.

1.3 Dreaming Waves of Memories (9’28'' to 12’36'')

The third and last section is composed of long white noises, ‘smoky’ waves, and imprecise and reverberated drones in which we think we hear residues of previous sections (snippets of horse sounds, voices from the first section, excerpts of rhythmic patterns, some air from the first meditation, etc.). This last section seems to make the audience enter a world of blurry dreams where old memories emerge here and there.

This section contrasts with the previous one;; what was neat and sharp is now undefined and drowned in some kind of aerial atmosphere. Many interpretations are possible at this point. Is it the final step of the Soul, the “independence state”? (Varenne, 1971: 27) Does it mean the Soul is freely flying in the Other World? Why do we still hear elements from the physical world? Is it just a dream? Then, a brutal unexpected impact like a sudden crash closes the piece. Even the final sound maintains the mystery. Is it the last cut of the cord? Is it the Release? Freedom? Death? Awakening?

1.4 Thematic Analysis Synthesis

In a musical work essentially constructed with anecdotal sounds and considering that the composer’s source of inspiration is a literature full of allegories and symbols, a thematic analysis is appropriate. The thematic analysis explains the reasons for the presence of a sound, its possible meanings, and its function inside a narrative progression. The relationship between La Condition Captive’s sounds and actions and the Upanishads images is obvious. In this context, the close exchanges with the composer were fundamental.

This analysis also enlightens the tripartite structure of the piece: exposition (the suffering Soul), practice and exercises (methodical cutting), and recapitulation (waves and memories). With a little optimism, the last section could be called “the Release”. Inside each section, there exists a strong duality of elements: agitation versus calm (first section), hits versus wings (second section), anecdotal memories versus abstract drones (third section). All those dualities could emphasize the symbolist link between two realities.

But even if the composer suggests the invisible part of the visible, even if an analysis tries to explain all the images, their meaning is still one’s interpretation and the mystery of the symbol will never be totally resolved. That is, in my opinion, what makes art so fascinating, or as Henri Peyre says about artistic symbolism: “If the public wants to fathom the mystery and penetrate the silence, let him make at least half of the path to go and meet the creator.” (Peyre, 1974: 17)

2.0 Neutral Level Analysis and Functional Classes

Aside from the metaphorical content of the work, the article will now consider an analysis that enlightens structural elements and tries to determine how the piece works in a strictly musical sense.

The Neutral Level Analysis (Analyse de Niveau Neutre (ANN)) consists of making a segmentation of the work according to perceptual and Gestalt laws. The analyst judges what sounds can be grouped in a “family” (that constitutes a unit) by comparing similarities and contrasts from general to local events. An acousmography[5] has helped to discriminate different sounds and to view the progression of the work.

Then, functions can be determined according to Roy’s Function Matrix (grille fonctionnelle). The article will mention some key functions that enlighten the composer’s ideas. Functions will be notated in underlined italic.

2.1 Acousmography

The acousmography represents a morphological segmentation of sounds. A Typo-morphology vocabulary from the revised Typology Table (TARTYP) was used. (Normandeau, 2010: 11) 

Colours indicate a type of mass[6]:

Yellow, orange, brown, red

Tonic mass

Purple, pink

Channeled mass

Blue, Green, Gray, Dark Brown, Black

Complex mass

Shapes are elaborated according to the sound’s dynamic and/or mass profile:


Impulse X’, N’


Formed Sustainment X, N, Y


Formed Iterations X’’


Cell K


Large Note W


Eccentric Objects Ex, Ey



Iterative Redundant Sounds Zx


Drones Tn, Tx




2.2 Segmentation from ANN

The result of the ANN is a segmentation of the work into four main units:

Unit 1 (0’ to 4’24''): referential sounds, Large Notes, restlessness. Sub-units alternate roughly. Many interruptions.

Unit 2 (4’24'' to 6’35''): long and thin Drones, quietness, distant events, fades in and out. Strata structure.

Unit 3 (6’35'' to 9’28''): articulated section, referential sounds, short Sound Objects, motivic patterns, pasting/editing, close- up events. Contrapuntal structure.

Unit 4 (9’28'' to 12’36''): long and massive Drones, loudness, distant events. Strata structure.

Figure 2. Waveform Representation of the Work with Two Level Segmentations from ANN.

Compared to the three sections of the thematic analysis, here an additional section is present. The first thematic section ("alternating agitation/calm of the soul”) is split into two distinct units in the Neutral Level Analysis because the morphological and timbral identity of sounds (between Units 1 and 2) is too different to be part of the same segmentation.

The first occurrence of the “meditation” part (see thematic segmentations) is included in Unit 1 as an insertion in the musical phrase;; it is considered as the sub-unit 1.2 (Figure 2). It acts as a parenthesis announcing Unit 2. In this way, when the meditative drones appear in Unit 2, they will act as a reminder.

2.3 Key Functions: Global and Local Reminders

Shedding light on the detail in the segmentation points out the impact of the reminder function in this work. Indeed, there are many references between the units, either locally (call-answer functions between sub-units) or more generally (reminder functions between main units). The figures below show some examples of those functions in the work’s acousmography:

Figure 3. Acousmography of a Musical Excerpt from 1’20'' to 2’05''.

Figure 3 shows a group of sounds (in the first box) which identically reappears 25 seconds later (in the second box). The first group could act as an Announcement (>A>). Consequently, its reappearance will be a Reminder (<R<). 

Figure 4. Acousmography of a Musical Excerpt from 6’55'' to 7’25''.

Figure 4 shows a pair of objects that are constantly repeating through a sequence of Calls (?A>) and Answers (>R!). In this excerpt, the sequence’s first occurrence is part of sub-unit 3.11b. Repetitions of this original theme are sub-units 3.11c, 3.11d, and 3.11e. There are other elements that make an ornament or a perturbation of the original sequence (see pink striped and green objects in Figure 4). Those new elements could be defined as a variation (< <<<) so this section could musically be considered as a “theme and variations”.

Figure 5. Acousmography of a Musical Excerpt from 9’30'' to 10’15''.

Another example of this antecedent/consequent game is the transition moment between main Units 3 and 4, in which elements from Unit 3 (green doodles in Figure 5) alternate with new elements from Unit 4 (pink diamond shapes in Figure 5). Elements have various functions simultaneously as shown in Figure 5. Here, an element could be at the same time a Reminder (<R< in orange brackets) and part of a local Call/Answer sequence (Answer <R! in blue brackets).

2.4. Key Functions: Repetitions and Extensions

Repetitions or recurrences are also typical events in La Condition Captive. The most noticeable example is found at the beginning of Unit 1. The introduction is composed of the immediate replication of “Deep Sub Sounds”. According to Roy’s definition, they are imitations of each other (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Detail of the Acousmography: “Deep Sub Sounds” - Musical Excerpt from 0’ to 0’15''.

Figure 7. Detail of the Acousmography: Large Notes - Musical Excerpt from 0’18'' to 0’55''.

Imitations continue with the Large Notes appearing at 0’18. The acousmography shows that the Large Notes work in pairs (Figure 7). There is a similarity in the repetitive pattern and in the pulsation between those Large Notes and the previous “Deep Sub Sounds”. It seems that the “Sub Sounds” are an entity in the state of a shadow. The Large Notes suddenly reveal this entity’s complete timbral identity. Therefore, the Large Notes could be interpreted as the affirmation of the “Deep Sub Sounds”.

Later at 2’51, the acousmography reveals that the Large Notes were actually fragments of a bigger Eccentric Object (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Detail of the Acousmography: Eccentric Complex Object - Musical Excerpt from 2’51'' to approx. 4’10''.

The evolution of what appears to be a single entity, progressively revealing its timbral identity and its total duration, could be correlated with notions of revelation and extension.

Finally in Unit 4, a new occurrence of this entity can be suspected. From 10’25 to 11’20, long waves recur tenaciously with a slow pulsation. Their timbral identity includes some elements from the Large Notes, which leads us to think there may be a relationship with Unit 1. As it happens, this could suggest a morphological reminder function. These waves could act as echoing the Large Notes since they present the same reiteration property (see Figure 9) and some timbral similarities. 

Figure 9. Detail of the Acousmography: Unit 4 Long Waves and Unit 1 Large Notes are presenting the same repetition pattern.

As a final example of the reminder function, there is a brief Sound Object (a Formed Iteration with Complex Pitch, Figure10), or a sort of "sudden crash", that seems to have an important articulation function since it appears at crucial moments which makes it very recognizable. This small Sound Object makes the separation between main Units 2 and 3 (at 6’24'');; it introduces the play-sequence movement (at 6'52'') and is the final sound of the whole work (at 12’20''). It has the function of conclusion (of Units 2 and 4) or trigger (of Unit 3).

Figure 10. Representation of the “Sudden Crash” - a Formed Iteration with Complex Pitch.

Listening to this sound carefully, one can note the systematic presence of an ambient air, a quasi silence, which is a musical element on its own. It delicately induces a new atmosphere. Something has just changed in the air...

This ambient air could act as a hidden extension, perhaps Hope? It is as if past torments are cleared, the door has been closed inwards, leaving them behind, and then has been reopened outwards, allowing things to start up again...

2.5. ANN and Functional Analysis Synthesis

The Neutral Level Analysis (ANN) reveals a difference in comparison to the thematic analysis. It separates units because of their typo-morphological differences although they refer to the same theme. The ANN also considers insertions inside units as first signs of future developments in other units.

The Functional Analysis brings to the fore the numerous interconnections between Sound Objects and sub-units. All the above-mentioned functions are linked to the memory of the listener. They reveal an aesthetic of pasting (loops, cloning of sections, repetitions), so carefully crafted that the listener does not detect them upon first hearing.

Reminders recur at key moments to emphasize the dramatic dimension of the work (best example is the “sudden crash” sound). As for the imitations, they set up an underlying drive that the composer can break to get instability. For Groult, it is all about "caring to suspend time by implementing repetitions in language, duplications that allow the music to move on while giving the illusion of a stand-still." Suspended time, motion in stasis, cyclical elements are impressions the composer wants to suggest in La Condition Captive. Is it an allusion to the “cosmic cycle”?[7] Is it a wish for cohesion? As Mallarmé says about Wagner’s Leitmotivs: “a quest for the underlying unity behind the phenomena”? (quoted by Peyre, 1974: 193)

3.0 Metaphors

3.1. Morphological Metaphors

The Neutral Level Analysis reveals the presence of a dominant morphological profile in each main Unit. Unit 1 is characterized by the progressive extension of the original Large Note towards a very long Eccentric Sound Object (purple shapes in Figure 11). This extension is often interrupted by breaks, outlining the dichotomy of the soul: agitation / calm.

Figure 11. Acousmography of Unit 1 (0’ to 4’24'') : Progressive Extension of the Large Note.

Unit 2 offers the listener a rest, and is characterized by Drones and an outstanding reduction of information. (Figure 12: just three long and continuous elements) According to the composer, the quietness in this section reflects a meditation “where speech is born from silence...” 

Figure 12. Acousmography of Unit 2 (4’24'' to 6’35'') : Minimalist and Slow Drones.

Unit 3 highlights the Impulse dominant morphology (Figure 13). The rather long Sound Objects we have heard until now are hacked up, cut into slivers, then, organized in a more pointillist writing. Thanks to the game of variations, Impulses make room for new Sound Objects progressively increasing their duration (the pink-striped and green doodles in Figure 13). Unit 3 ends in a smooth whirling phrase beginning at 9’03'' (Figure 13: the last green doodle) with a longer duration than all the previous elements.

Figure 13. Acousmography of Unit 3 (6’35'' to 9’28'') : Full of Impulses.

This stretching tendency is now becoming typical (already seen in Unit 1 with the incremental extension of the Large Note) and discloses a vector tending towards length. From short to long, extension could be a symbol of something pointing to a higher aim, perhaps to the absolute. But the road builds gradually (reiterations), like an initiatory journey full of obstacles, thus requiring several attempts.

The Upanishads of Yoga obviously come to mind, specifically the image of the migratory bird hamsa. Varenne explains that releasing the Soul is so complicated it is unlikely to succeed the first time. The process needs numerous existences! In consequence, the bird (Soul) flies from body to body like a migratory bird, and everything starts again with a new reincarnation (Varenne, 1971: 24).

This image could be the metaphor of La Condition Captive’s cyclical temporality. All the repetitions, reiterations, and progressive extensions could represent each attempt to reach the goal. Finally, Unit 4 is composed of dense Drones and is characterized by the recurrence (from 10’20'' to 11’20'': see the dotted pink shapes in Figure 14). The general impression of Unit 4 is that of a large cloud which takes up the whole space. Contrary to the Unit 2 Drones, which were very low and had a “thin mass”[8], Unit 4 Drones are very loud: they propagate more slowly and, as quasi white noises, they occupy almost all the frequency spectrum. It seems those Drones want to expand vertically (spectral frequencies) and horizontally (time). Do they tend to reach infinity?

Figure 14. Acousmography of Unit 4 (9’28'' to 12’36'') : Massive Repetitive Drones.

This morphological analysis defines the main gestures in the piece: from extended to crumpled morphologies, from a new extension to very long Sound Objects. This evolution could be a symbol of what direction the Soul is taking. Maybe the Soul is trying to push, to extend, or to detach itself from something.

The last Unit may reveal the final step of the journey. From a thin mass (Unit 2 Drones) to a massive occupation of the frequency spectrum (Unit 4 Drones), the metaphor could be that of the Soul occupying all space and becoming omnipresent. Maybe the Soul has reached its final purpose, as The Upanishads explain: the individual Soul (jiva-atman) reunites with the Universal Soul (sarva-atman) (Varenne, 1971: 25).

3.2. Sign Functions Towards Metaphor

La Condition Captive, like most of Christine Groult’s work, uses sounds captured by microphone whose origin is identifiable. Through numerous transformations, the composer transfigures them into a much more abstract universe. However, some sounds remain voluntarily recognizable in order to bring to the fore the symbol that they represent and their dramatic aspect. When these elements call on an extra-musical referent, Roy defines them as signs in his functional classification. This is a case where the thematic analysis concurs with the functional analysis because main sign functions are very similar to thematic elements. The signs present in the work are: the horses, the axe sounds, the squeaking door, chopping the wood and naturally, the birds.

The squeaking door (Figure 15) is an amusing sign with a double meaning. The sound begins far and softly and then approaches the listener, “the big cupboards of the attic,” says the composer. This sound inevitably refers to Pierre Henry’s Variations pour une porte et un soupir even if it was not Groult’s intention. On the other hand, the sound of the door implies the idea of opening or closing something. The composer actually uses this sign to literally close the meditative space of Unit 2 in order to open a new space (Unit 3).

Two aspects of wood material are presented in the work: continuity (the squeaking noise that can be very long) and discontinuity (wood chopped by the axe). These two aspects match with each unit’s dominant morphology (Drones versus Impulses) and thematic idea (breath retention versus dissolution of mind, for example).

Figure 15. Detail of Acousmography of Unit 2 (5’10'' to 6’30'') : the Squeaking Door (green lines).

The ‘Scream’ is another fundamental sign (Figure 16).

Figure 16. Representation of the ‘Scream’ Sign.

This element always appears briskly, like the lash of a whip, and obviously has a strong impact on the listener (occurrences at 0’32'', 0’39'', 0’54'', 1’05'', 1’07'', 1’31, 2’08'', and 2’51''). It must be a symbol of violence, trauma, and above all, humanity. This scream sounds like rebellion and pain. Generally speaking, the presence of a scream in music is never accidental. For Groult, it is the desperate cry in the face of the horrors of war and of a sad human condition.

This is the point of La Condition Captive. Besides the Soul’s metaphoric journey, the work is about suffering. The captive condition is indeed a suffering state that the music expresses as a catharsis.

4.0 Conclusion

La Condition Captive is an intense work that can be read at different levels. The thematic analysis allows us to understand the reason behind the choice of referential sounds. It clarifies the composer’s connection with the Upanishads. Thus we can understand the occulted meaning of referential sounds as well as the idea behind the metaphor.

The Neutral Level Analysis brings the underlying morphological gestures in the work to the fore. Thus, the notion of stretching (extension, revelation) could be a metaphor in the search for transcendence. Impulses are associated with the metaphoric action of cutting the thread that ties us;; Drones could represent the empty space for personal meditation as well as the filled space containing the Universe.

The Functional analysis enlightens the cyclical aspect of the work. The numerous repetitions work as factors of memorization and unity. The reiterations (attempts) remind us of the difficulties encountered along the path. Antecedent/consequent games imply the notion of duality. Indeed, the work operates mainly in dualities (agitated horses/calm soul, axe slashes/birds, neat cuts/crossfading drones, wood/smoke), which all bring antagonisms to mind (war/peace, captivity/liberation, earth/air). Those antagonisms might represent the symbolist link between the concrete and the abstract.

It is noticeable that the analyses do not appear to be in contradiction. On the contrary, each one seems to validate the others. ANN similarities between Sound Objects and sub-units are confirmed by all of the repetition functions in the functional analysis. Sign functions are consistent with the thematic analysis. The ANN and the thematic analysis have mostly similar segmentations. Not only do the analyses clearly illustrate the relationship between anecdotal sounds and extra-musical reference, they emphasize the presence of symbols and metaphors in the structure of each sound (mass and morphology), in the gestures, and in the organization of the musical flow. The structure of the work itself could be interpreted as a metaphor of a kind of philosophical journey implying specific actions.

In conclusion, in a musical work with strong metaphoric content, a more structural analysis is not incompatible and can reveal the symbolism inside elements of the composition. La Condition Captive is a work rich in contrasts. Presence of anecdotal material without any electronic sounds could place the work on a concrete music continuity that would have to deal with inevitable references and images. Thanks to the composer’s aesthetic choice, literary choice, and the musical organization, La Condition Captive can be considered a music belonging to Symbolism. What does the work say? Did we unravel the mystery? Can the Soul be freed from the body? Each person will find his own answer. As far as I am concerned, I feel that we have come full circle;; the same thing starts again somewhere else. The Soul therefore goes on in reincarnation and continues its journey in all other and future works.

5.0 Acknowledgements 

Thanks to Christine Groult for the commentaries and guidance. Thanks to Maggy Henrotte for translation. Thanks to Terri Hron and Allison Bale for help in the revision of the text.

6.0 Glossary of Functions

This appendix proposes an explanation of Roy’s functions used in this study according to translations by Tim Reed and David Berezan.

Affirmation: “The function of affirmation is one of the resources of musical eloquence. It is usually the final step in a process of repetition.” (REED, 2008: 48) “Affirmation occurs to signify that the last point in a process of repetition has been reached. After a series of iterations of the same sound, the sound is dramatically re-articulated to reinforce the apex of the repetition.” (Berezan, 2000: 15)

Announcement and Reminder (Annonce et Rappel): “Announcement and Reminder are similar to the idea of Leitmotiv. They occur when a predominant theme, behavior, or character of a section is first announced, and later restated and developed in the section. As with Leitmotiv, the material stated by the announcers and reminders defines the character and dramatic context of a section. (Berezan, 2000: 15-16)

Call and Answer (Appel et Réponse): “This couple is based on a local rhetorical relationship (within the limits of the musical phrase), and is articulated through the repetition of an expressive antecedent/consequent pair.” (Reed, 2008: 48)

Conclusion: This function resolves the end of a main unity or the whole work. It could be presented as a decrescendo or a sudden attack.

Extension: This function is always attached to an antecedent. It extends the duration of a previous unit with a new timbral identity.

Imitation: This function involves an immediate replication of elements that could be identical or slightly varying. Elements are contiguous and often in a partial simultaneity relationship.

Parenthesis (Parenthèse): “This function is represented by an incrustation, that is to say by a sound unit or a group of sound units that temporarily break into a musical progression without having any causal motive.” (Reed, 2008: 48)

Reiteration: “A function that intensifies the expressive character of an event by repeating it frequently within the limits of a phrase.” (Reed, 2008: 48)

Sign (Indice): “a sound unit that plays the role of a sign, channeling the listening process toward an extra-musical referent.” (REED, 2008: 47)

Trigger (Déclenchement): In every instant, this function abruptly introduces another unity. A trigger could be an impulse or a formed attack.

[1] Dictionary Le Petit Robert, 2011.
[2] Mails exchanged with Christine Groult, winter 2010.
[3] We used the new revision of TARTYP from Normandeau (2010).
[4] Christine Groult, personal communication, winter 2010 – this applies to other direct quotations from the composer throughout this text.
[5] Typo-Morphological representation of sounds made with Version 3.6 of the Acousmographe by INA/GRM. Available on the INA/GRM Website:
[6] According to Schaeffer’s Traité des Objets Musicaux, the mass is a way of occupying the pitch field (or frequency spectrum). The notion could include sounds whose pitch is not precisely locatable by the ear.
[7] Varenne, 1971, p. 168 : according to Brahman tradition, every universe has a cosmic cycle : to be born, to develop, to degrade and to dissolve, and all this indefinitely.
[8] A thin mass would be the occupation of the pitch field (or spectrum) by a small frequency waveband. 


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