Fernando Munizaga in studio
“I am from Chili,” begins Fernando Munizaga, as if it were obvious. “For Chileans, earthquakes are not a far-off and abstract concept, they are a reality experienced every day. Chili is situated in one of the most active zones of earthquakes and volcanoes in the world, at the meeting point of two major tectonic plates. Almost every day, the earth trembles (sometimes just lightly) and it is in Chili that the most severe earthquakes have been recorded. We live with the expectation of these great cataclysms like those they we have experienced in the past and will certainly experience in the future. It is estimated that there is an earthquake that measures more than 7 (and just over 9) on the Richter scale every 10 years. Under 6, we pretend that nothing has happened, or almost. Of course, we feel the aftershocks, we even try to figure out how strong the quake was, like when you guess the temperature in the morning. Seismologists are interviewed on the TV and radio like meteorologists. Each one offers a kind of forecast that is more or less accurate. This makes it possible to understand the threat and rationalize it. Today, technical progress in construction has come so far that minor quakes damage almost nothing. This doesn’t stop a silent effect: is this aftershocks from the last cataclysm? Or the preface for the next one?
Depending on the time of day, the feelings are different. It is particularly impressive at night. During the last major earthquake in 2010—which was the first one I experienced over 7 on the Richter scale—it was in the middle of the night and I was surprised to hear, even before the quake, very low sounds, like a threatening growl. I had never felt that before: the sound moved faster through the ground than the air, we could “hear” the earthquake before it happened!
After a cataclysm, the damage isn’t only human or material: there is also psychological damage. It is a common traumatism, a shared post-traumatic stress. We can talk about this with strangers, years later. It’s not unusual to ask somebody what they were doing, where they were during an important earthquake. And everyone remembers, of course. Human temporality collides with thousand-year old, geological temporality.
This phenomenon has created all sorts of mysticisms: Pre-Columbian civilizations interpreted these repeated tragedies (earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanos) with diverse legends, founding myths, and other apocalypses. Christianism also: it appropriated this cataclysmic tradition via its habitual syncretism. In 1647, when Chili was still a Spanish colony, an earthquake destroyed the entire city of Santiago. A quarter of the city’s population was killed ¬— they were found in the rubble or died in the epidemics that followed. The injured were uncountable. In this field of rubble, only one wall resisted: that of the Saint Augustin church on which hung Christ on the cross, his crown of thorns had fallen around his neck, like a necklace. Legend tells us that every time we tried to take the crown off to put it back on Christ’s head, the Earth trembled (certainly aftershocks). As a result, they left the crown. Still today, this crucifix is celebrated with an annual procession. So, the catastrophes favor diverse prophets who, to better manipulate their flock, set the tragedy in the setting of a mythical tale in order to give it meaning and give them hope.”
The Technological Issues with Carlo Laurenzi, Computer Music Designer
An Immersive System of Sound Diffusion
To give even just the feeling of a musical “replica” of a seismic phenomenon, an immersive system is compulsory. Here, it is obtained using two systems of sound diffusion simultaneously with the new version (version 5) of Spat, piloted via the Panoramix interface. These two systems were perfected by the IRCAM-STMS Cognitive and Acoustics Spaces research team. A group of standard loudspeakers and a percussion ensemble, spread out throughout the concert hall and each equipped with resonators, act like a network of 21 tracks capable of disseminating locally or globally the phenomena of vibration and can send the sounds around the public, coming in closer, pulling further away. The seismic replies are translated this way, either more musically—with a form of stylization of the phenomena—or in a more environmental manner.
A soprano, an Actor, and Electronics
Réplicas is the opportunity for Fernando Munizaga to continue the work he began on the voice via the analysis of intonation, phonetics, and the structure of the language. The text was first a subject of a project by Irène Gayraud, a member of Outranspo (ouvroir de translation potencial, called this in reference to Oulipo) who explored different types of translation (phonetic, literal, etc.). Captured by laryngophones, the voices of the singer and the actor were analyzed and dissected (isolating, for example, mouth sounds, or throat sounds), then broken up in the space via a sound diffusion system.
An offstage voice was also synthesized: artificial and dematerialized, it is the voice of the electronics. But this voice can also “replicate” the vocal characteristics of the actor and singer. It is sometimes an exact imitation. During other passages, it just gives a “musical impression” interacting with the instruments. This impression is obtained using the technique of musaïking: it’s another way to “replicate” the two protagonists on stage…
by Jérémie Szpirglas, journalist and author