Kajia Saariaho – Noa Noa

This extraordinary piece by Kajia Saariaho (composed in 1992) is a glorious coming-together of traditional and modern performance. Alongside the stated extended flute techniques of trills, multiphonics and pitch bends the composer has included percussive sibilants in the spoken sections to provide punctuation.

There are three primary effects being used to a greater or lesser extent throughout the piece:

  • The played note being modulated by delay and reverb
  • Pre-recorded instrument and vocal lines being added by the performer’s assistant
  • Prepared filters are added to the played or spoken parts by either the performer or the assistant

The delay and reverb allow the elongation of the received note which in turn allows the performer to play a second line, using the first as a rudimentary pedal tone (but without the constraints of traditional tonality such as adherence to a scale or prescribed interval). The Pre-recorded instrument and vocal lines permit the expansion of the performance while remaining with one primary musician and the prepared filters are used to manipulate the source tone in much the same way as an electric guitarist manipulates the output of the instrument via “stomp boxes”.

Part of the specification for the piece in the performance notes is for a stereo pair of speakers either side of the performer to allow the modulated sound to “naturally” mix with the acoustically played sound, maintaining the soundscape and the illusion of continuity between the electronic and acoustic output. The addition of delay, reverb and tone modulation create a large, open sound image which has a certain dream-like quality, enhanced by the punctuation of reality provided by the acoustic flute.

Because of the composer’s requirement for there to be an overlap but no clear delineation between the acoustic and electronic, provided that the output levels are balanced there should be no discernable difference between the two. This comes down to the skill of the performer and sound engineer.

NoaNoa is a piece primarily for flute and accompanied by pre-recorded audio and vocal lines which are either whispered or spoken into the microphone while the mouth is still adjacent to the lip plate of the flute, creating an effect not unlike a vocoder (click here for an excellent demo of this effect). This serves to heighten ethereal quality when combined with the most conspicuous electronic effects:

  • Short reverb
  • Long reverb
  • Delay
  • Compression
  • Feedback
  • Pre-recorded flute
  • Looped input from the live flute
  • Live spoken text from the NoaNoa diary
  • Live spoken text from the NoaNoa diary modulated with delay and looped
  • Stereo effects

As previously mentioned, it’s stipulated in the performance notes that there should be no discernable crossover point between the live and electronically manipulated flute. If the performance is sound (such as with the Jesse Tatum clip) there should be no relation as the listener should consider it to be the same sound source. The added sounds (recorded vocal, etc.) work well in context and serve to heighten the experience, not overpowering the acoustic performance at all.




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