Video: Alla Zagaykevych and Thomas Gorbach talk about acousmatic music

During the International festival «Sounds around me» on electroacoustic and acousmatic music, the Ukrainian Institute and the Acousmatic Project have
organised the programme of international master classes on electroacoustic and acousmatic music on September, 21-28, 2019. This is a short talk of two mentors and acclaimed musicians and composers in the field of electroacoustic and acousmatic music – Alla Zagaykevych (UA) and Thomas Gorbach (AT) who agreed to find 30 minutes to reflect on the electroacoustic and acousmatic music, and the project of master classes. 


AZ: Well, Thomas, how did it actually happen that you came from a classical music background playing oboe to electroacoustic and acousmatic music? What you can say to the young artists with a similar background that you have? For example, what would you say to young composers from Ukraine who just started playing instruments about the perspectives of getting from classical music education to the electroacoustic world? 

TG: Ahaaa, yes [smiles]. What was my motivation to start with electroacoustic music… First thing is that I grew up in the mountains and I had a lot of sounds from nature: birds, water, weather, trees, I was listening to the bells of our church, and it happened so, that at home we had an old synthesiser. So I had these two worlds of electronic sounds and nature sounds, and there was my brother who was playing the accordion which is something «in-between», – and this influenced me very much, honestly. 

Then I started to play instruments, and I have got a recorder and was interested in brass music. I started with clarinet, saxophone, and afterwards, there was a possibility to continue the education at a higher level at music school or conservatory, and there I began playing the oboe. I have graduated with a traditional music degree and started to compose for the instruments. That was the moment I found out that (wow!) composing is a different thing than interpreting. I composed and composed, and at a certain point, apparently, in 1986, I have discovered a sampler and a computer. 

Afterwards, I bought a recorder and I recorded sounds, cut them, and eventually, I got interested in professionals who do that. At a certain point, the oboe got obsolete and I felt myself home in this big variety of electronic sounds. An instrument is always the same (more or less), it is within the same sound colour. The sound colour of the oboe was too one-sided for me. It felt like a one-way street. That is why I have decided to continue with transformations and that was my way to acousmatic music. 

Thomas Gorbach

Nowadays, for example, it is possible to make private sound studios which are not that expensive. Because, for example, in the 1960s it was not possible to install your own sound studio but today it is possible, plus a lot of software is available. Though I didn’t take any academic education in this specific field. I was just visiting studios, talking with musicians, talking to people who make loudspeakers but who are not musicians themselves, and I gathered the information from everywhere because I was used to it in my childhood; in the village, you don’t have this much information so I was gathering knowledge everywhere.  

Today, we are in a society of information so it is easy to get it. Societies and networks are developing, there are groups for loudspeaker builders so I learnt a lot of things by myself and with the information from the internet. 

It is an open world now. One can learn the sound design from the Youtube. We should know that. If one is studying sound design on the Internet they can do good things, and what is crucial here: it is possible today at a very low-price level. It was also one of my goals – not to go on a high-risk financial level. I started very slowly to build my systems at home. I think my home studio costs no more than 2K $. It is possible to compose with this equipment at a very high level. 

AZ: Yes! In my situation with young students in Kyiv at my studio, the young composers who make instrumental compositions ask me constantly, why we should use some systems or, for example, what they need to do, so I feel like there is the inertia of our education, when we have a professor or a teacher whom we always can ask «what we need to do». And even during the master-classes Annet Vande Gorne (Professor of acousmatic composition, founder and manager of Musiques & Recherches and the Métamorphoses d’Orphée studio), when she works with students, she also has a system and keeps saying that something is possible and something is not. 

Moreover, she says that something is acousmatic music and something is not. So it turns out that we still have these systems and even some specific rules from the electroacoustic genre of music.  

Annet Vande Gorne

TG: Do you work with rules? 

AZ: No. 

TG: No! 

[both laughing] 

TG: Exaсtly! 

AZ: In my electroacoustic composition, I don’t. No.  

TG: Well, that is the medium. The medium of digital art is very open. There are schools but I think the majority of composers are not oriented to the schools. If I come to Saint-Petersburg there are very different composers, and if I come to London – it is also a different style. It is individual and individuality is a great thing. Of course, everybody needs to find their style. Not dictated by a school or by the system. It is about finding yourself. Do you agree with me? 

AZ: Yes, absolutely. 

TG: Of course, it is a personality expression. And the task of the composition is to bring this expression to society and communicate it. Schools can help with it but I think that following the rules should not be the main goal. 

AZ: I agree, and today we are having these masterclasses which give us some ideas of how is it possible to be free.  

TG: Having a group of people in one discussion is always good. And GRM [Groupe de Recherches Musicales was the first group of electroacoustic or acousmatic or Musique concrète composers in Paris, founded in 1950] was a group of people who developed these things.   

Alla Zagaykevych

AZ: And I think some aesthetic systems can be of great advice when composing. These different lines of music concrète, acoustic and electroacoustic music they are like different linguistic and semantic sounds that help us to find different aesthetic lines. To my mind, it is not the system of composition but it is the system between a composer and sounds, between a composer and space, between a composer and a public that holds it all together.  

I like very much the composers like Pierre Schaeffer or François Bayle. They were great music researchers who made the research and the analysis of electroacoustic music. They developed a kind of principles and a musical vocabulary and I admire this scientific reflection on music, about art. In a sense, it is manifest of electroacoustic music. This is very interesting.  

TG: I do agree. 

I learnt a lot from these concerts (ed. during masterclasses there was a programme of public concerts) and from the people. Especially, I didn’t know your music, Alla, and now I am happy that I can understand it. You know, I always had problems with combination of instruments and electronic music but in your piece it was great! It was so melting and nice-combined. I liked that very much. That was a high-learning effect for me. Combining the instruments with acousmonium… I have never done it before! We had synthesisers, analog synthesisers with the system of loudspeakers but not classical music instruments. It was so challenging because you have loudspeakers everywhere and you have reverberation. It was really great for me to hear that. 

AZ: Yes!! Some natural integration between the instrument and electroacoustic music. For musicians, it was also challenging, for violinists, flautists… This cognitive perception shifts when you put instruments in a different context. By the way, the work with acousmonium was also a first time experience for me. The result of work with students was interesting because in a short period you can see the progress from the idea to an actual project. Thank you for this opportunity to work together, Thomas! 

TG: Thank you!


Recorded in Vienna, 28 September 2019, by Mariia Zaiets (Ukrainian Institute). 

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