Javier Alejandro Garavaglia

Arte Poética (I) for quadrophonic tape (1995).

Genre: Acousmatic Music

Duration: 8: 09


By the beginning of the 1990s, I became more and more interested in the writings by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges. I composed some instrumental pieces based on and/or using some of his poems. These compositions are: Laberinto (..”palabras, poemas”..) from the years 1990/1 and Poème du temps qui ne passe pas (.."del otro lado del muro"..), a chamber opera from 1993/4.


What fascinates me most about Borges’ work is his non-Christian philosophical approach to life and beyond, where (no matter if by his poems or by his short stories, as the boundaries among those genres seem to disappear in his oeuvre), the recurrent theme is the fine line between dream, death and life, where sometimes life seems to be dreamed and dreams seem to be lived.


His so called “systems of symbols” is what attracted me most about his work. It describes in general an atemporal or timeless dimension, which in many cases is represented by images like the moon, mirrors or antique Greek philosophers and myths, just to mention the most recurrent.


By 1994, I dedicated my full attention to his poem Arte Poética, written in 7 Stanzas of 4 verses each, these all containing 11 syllables. What fascinated me the most and actually triggered my interest to compose a piece or a number of pieces about the poem was, that Borges resumes in this poem his entire artistic and philosophical conceptions in such a concise and precise way. To understand better what I mean, I added a free translation end of this page.


Brief description of the piece


The electroacoustic piece Arte Poética (I) is based only on the first stanza of the poem.


The aim of the piece is merely to musically and sonically recreate the meaning emanating from the first four verses of the poem. In these four verses there are two words related to water ("río"/river and "agua"/water), two related to time ("tiempo"/time and "recordar"/remember) and one implying contemplation  ("mirar"/to look or contemplate) all of which are both present and suggested throughout the work. From these, only the first two are a “tangible” substance, the other ones are immaterial. The challenge was to recreate the latter sonically.


To commence with, the main basic material for the entire composition was the human voice, my own. Being the words extremely important, it was my aesthetical conviction and decision, that they should be present as such so that the audience could understand the meaning of the poem.


The piece is formally divided in two sections, each of them of around 4 minutes long, whereas the first one relates to the element Water whilst the second part to relates toTime.


After the recording of the stanza and the entire poem, a process of isolation of the words mentioned above took place, so that they could be present through the piece, having each one a different channel fixed allocated. These words are repeated throughout the work at programmed intervals.


The rest of the recorded poem was used in many ways to create, modify or trigger different synthesis processes on Csound. After the introduction with the words alone wandering in the space, the first water-like sounds appear. These were treated with the process known as Sample and hold, using the transposition (4 octaves down) of each of the verses of the stanza as “train pulse” for the process. Added to these are some other sounds based on Amplitude Modulation of both Frequency Modulation (Simple Chowning FM) processes and the recorded verses, plus some extreme filtering processes on the recorded voice. These sounds cross the room through the quadraphony, like “rivers of sound”, trying to recreate the image of water and rivers. The Csound files for this part can be seen on the score, pages 12 to 33 (“Water Files”).


When this part approaches its end, around minute 4, the second part makes a crossfade to the former one. Being this new one dedicated to describe sonically the concept of Time, the sounds involved here were produced only synthetically. The main process is again Simple Chowning FM. This time however, my experimentation with Csound gave me the opportunity to develop a quite original algorithm, where the ratio between carrier and modulator was given by a random generator working on a continuous table of values (the “ktabelle”). The randomness of the function made the values to literally “jump”, generating very fast glissandi (due to the continuous “k” values); the result was a very original sound. As there were many files compiled with the same procedure, they were mixed giving the impression of being involved in a surreal movement of sounds, giving the feeling (at least in my view) of atemporality. These algorithms can be found on the score, pages 33 to 41 (“Time Files”).


Another important aspect of the work, as usual in acousmatic compositions, is the diffusion of sound in space. The quadrophony of the piece is based on the musical concept of 4x voice counterpoint. Electroacoustic music has however the advantage -compared to traditional instrumental music-, that the sounds can wander free from speaker to speaker, bringing to the audience the perception of the space’s dimension through the music itself. The entire quadrophonic surround movement of words, “water-like” and “time-like” sounds was programmed using CommonMusic (Lisp). The algorithms are shown on the score, pages 42 to 55.


The piece has been edited in the public domain commercially twice on CD, as shown below:




Piece: Arte Poética (I) for quadrophonic Tape on the CD:’EX MACHINA – tangent ’, edited 1996 by Cybele (Germany) and the Folkwang Hochschule Essen (Germany). CD n°: 960.102 – 1996 / LC 3738, DDD.




Piece: Arte Poética (I), on the CD ‘Florida Electroacoustic Music Festival – VOLUME 1’, edited by the EMF Media, Electronic Music Foundation ltd. New York USA and the Florida Electroacoustic Music Studios, University of Florida. EMF CD N° 031. CD Production by Healey Disc Manufacturing – 2002. DDD. Code: 6 53727 81192 5.



Free translation of the first stanza of the poem Arte Poética by Jorge Luis Borges.


To look at the river made of time and water

remembering that the time is another river,

Knowing that we loose ourselves like the river

and that the faces flow like the water.


Quadrophonic distribution (according to the typical German clockwise distribution)