Douglas Geers
Atomic Tango:
Brief Composition Notes

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Title Atomic Tango
Genre: Electroacoustic
Duration: 6 minutes
Score: N/A
Audio: MP3 available HERE
Video: Available upon request.

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Atomic Tango:
This brief work was written for the 31st Festival Synthese Bourges Open Work Project, under the theme "Creation of the world." The concept of the work is to represent sonic activity that metaphorically refers to the earliest epoch of life on the Earth, when molecular structures formed which later evolved into the first micro-organisms. What if one could train a microscope on a drop of water from this time and see the evolution happening there in seconds rather than centuries? A host of (comparatively) simple structures would be visible, and these would form, possibly join each other and/or replicate themselves, and eventually collapse back into their original constituent particles. This piece imagines these events as if they were sound: Atomic musical elements appear, reproduce, drift to the surface, and sink. As the work progresses, these atoms begin to join into larger forms. However, as in the history of biological evolution, most of these combinations fail, either dying by slowly withering away or through cataclysmic tragedy. Progress is not linear; and in reality, unlike this piece, there is no end.

This work was composed completely in the digital domain, after initial sampling. First I made recordings of two people speaking, each one saying a quite different phrase. Next I transferred these recordings from DAT to a Macintosh, using a digital connection. Then I processed each of the original samples in quite distinct ways, I using several pieces of software, as will explain below. Thus I followed different trajectories for the sound manipulation of each sample, creating two distinct sonic 'branches,' in the sense of the branching processes of life forms as they evolve. I continued processing the resultant samples from each of the primary sound branches, creating 'families' of sounds that were related to each other, descended from each other. In the process of composition, I utilized these materials to create several simultaneous layers of activity. Each layer followed a process or life cycle: an initial state and a scheme for its continuation and alteration. In addition, the process within each layer was allowed to effect the activities in the other layers, causing distortions in the original trajectory.

Technically, I employed several pieces of software to complete this work. For compositional structuring, I used IRCAM's Patchwork and some short C programs written by myself. For sound mixing, I used Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer 2.1. For simple editing, I used Bias Peak 1.6. For granularization I used the shareware environment RTcmix (Linux) with scripts written by myself. For other signal processing, including filtering, time stretching, reverberation, and other digital delays and effects I employed IRCAM's Audiosculpt, Metasynth, Digital Performer, Digidesign's Turbosynth, and the shareware application Ceres (Linux). I used no MIDI synthesizers or controllers in the composition of this work.

Composed while in residence at the NoTAM studios, Oslo, Norway, April 2001.

This piece is now available on the second album of the Electric Music Collective, Defiant. Please see for more information.

Innova Recordings has selected Atomic Tango for their CD, Sonic Circuits IX. The CD is available on the Innova website.