A biotope is a small ecological area supporting its own distinctive community of plants and animals, the different species dependent on each other, the soil, the weather conditions and so on in a finely balanced network. A "phonotope" would then be a musical "area", with sounds taking the place of living creatures, dependent on each other and interacting after certain rules.
This piece has no score in the traditional meaning of the word. The part material for the musicians consists mainly of 5 musical "games", with small fragments of musical material serving as "playing cards", and with a set of rules for each game. This allows the musicians a freedom of choice within clearly defined limits.
In addition to this game between the musicians, there is a game between the quartet and a computer, running a program made by IRCAM specifically for this piece, partly transforming the sounds from the musicians in real time, partly playing pre-composed sound files based on recorded sounds from the quartet.
The main formal idea is the interaction between 5 very distinct musical materials, sonic descriptions of the five elements in traditional Chinese thinking: Wood, Metal, Water, Fire, and Earth. The piece consists of 5 large parts. Each of them is dominated by its middle section, the "game", which focuses on one of the elements. Each part starts with a short computer sound introduction and ends with a relaxation. The element in focus in these sections is determined according to the Chinese system of thought on how the elements consume each other or transform into one another.
'Phonotope 1' was commissioned by IRCAM, Paris, and the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival, Oslo. It was written for and in collaboration with the Arditti Quartet.
© Rolf Wallin