yves daoust-toccata

20 July 2007 - muzikologi

mémoire de 3ième cycle sous la direction du Dr. ian stonehouse – analyse de Tocatta Suite Baroque du compositeur canadien yves daoust – a obtenu un First – (en anglais)

Yves Daoust, Suite Baroque: Toccata (Track 1)[1]. My approach is to use Molino and Nattiez’s Tri-partite method, on which I am presently writing as part of my free topic dissertation. For the Neutral Level, see the timed graph analysis in Figures.


Born in 1946, Daoust is one of the pioneers of electro acoustic music in Quebec, Canada. He is considered as the senior exponent of the anecdotal (concrete/collage) approach to composition. He has been strongly influenced by cinema in his creative output (having worked with animator Norman Mc Laren), and uses material from film, stage, multimedia events, radio and concert works in his music. He describes himself as “figurative,” preferring natural sounds, sound archives and musical quotations to aid his visual approach to composition. He draws extensively on sound materials from everyday life (such as children’s voices, street scenes) in his works, but is also concerned with the integration of acoustic instruments with tape. His influence is such that he created the electro acoustic composition program at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec in Montréal, and is currently an administrator for the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada[2].

Suite Baroque is a four movement piece, composed in studio in 1989 for a specific performance, Ni terrible , ni simple, by harpsichordist Catherine Perrin, and premiered in Québec city in the same year. The four movements were meant to be played as transitions between the harpsichord solo pieces, so as to articulate a different dramatic climate, reflecting the various moods of the performer. Each of those movements is constructed on a specific aspect of the baroque style[3]. The CD edition reflects this original intention, with other unrelated pieces by Daoust being interspaced in between each of the movements of the Suite. Daoust has a fondness for using elements of the past in his works, perhaps as an act of “nostalgia for a dying tradition which, in our current mass media society, gradually loses its meaning, deteriorates, becomes banal and anecdotal.”[4] He also seems fascinated by what he considers to be the solitude of the performer, who “dedicates [his] life to the search of higher levels of refinement, to master [his] art which is becoming more difficult to communicate, less readable.”[5]

His thematic seems to be, therefore, the opposition between the specialization needed to carry on a particular performance tradition of Western classical music, and the demands of modern life in which the individual is never alone, and is required to have a multi-disciplinarian approach to his endeavors.



My Neutral Level analysis consists in mapping out along time the different events heard in Toccata (see appendix for the figures). While the resulting graph is not to scale, it is hoped that it gives a good impression of when and roughly for how long (in relations to the other events) each event occurs. The three colour pages of which it is made should be placed horizontally side by side. The parameters for each event indicate the type of sound, the volume, the pan and the effects (if any) used. Their vertical order is not significant.

Five different strands seem to make up the entire piece, which has a duration of 5’39. I have labeled them: Pizzi Strings Motive, Noise 1, Noise 2, Harpsichord Motive, and Italian Voice. The latter is a male voice reading in Italian excerpts from the preface of the Premier livre des toccatas by Frescobaldi[6]. In the main, they are not continuous and occur in a discrete (in the mathematical sense) manner (sometimes slightly overlapping), although there are no silent gaps. The manipulation techniques used by Daoust apply to:

-Volume: normal, low, very low (e.g. second occurrence of Harpsichord Motive at 00:36), gradual fade out from low (e.g. first occurrence of Noise 2 at 00:02)

-Pan: center, hard left or hard right, moving gradually or alternating from one side to the other (e.g. second occurrence of Noise 1 at 00:20).

-Effects: reverberation, delay, frequency filtering (mainly on the human voices, as in the second occurrence of Noise 1 at 00:20, or the first occurrence of Italian Voice at 00:55). Some effects could not be identified, such as the one used on the occurrence of Pizzi Strings Motive at 01:07.

-Looping: exclusively used on Italian Voice.

The use of these manipulations is not exclusive, as combinations of several of them in one single event are also found, as in the first occurrence of Italian Voice at 00:55, which combines a strong reverb, a gradual panning from center to left, with the high frequencies taken out.

The type of sound events can be classified as follow:

-Instrumental: pizzi strings, harpsichord.

– Human voice: male, female.

-Noise: car traffic, telephone ringing, radio, knocking, thunder, sea.

There are altogether 22 sound events, and within each strand, events happen a minimum of three times (Noise 1) and a maximum of six times (Italian Voice).

Altogether, Daoust seems to have used a pointillist technique, although at times the points can have a large duration, such as the last occurrence of Noise 2, which starts at 03:26 and continues until the end of the piece. This indicates a sense of frugality in the use of sound events, while relying on the manipulation of the psycho acoustic parameters in order to sculpt the piece, as can be expected of a studio composition. There is no continuous “ground bass” or “aural bed” on which the ear can lock.



The lack of such a “bed” has forced me to constantly readjust (consciously or unconsciously) my listening attention. Perhaps such was Daoust’s intention. Of note is the fact among the six noise events, four of them are human made (car traffic, telephone ringing, radio, knocking), perhaps reflecting Daous’ts preoccupation with the modern world as intrusive: Dasein might be “in-der-welt” but he does not have to be happy about it. The low volume (in the main) of the harpsichord motive, and towards the end its extreme low volume, points to the solitude of the performer, a theme much cherished by Daoust. Yet, this solitude seems to also apply to other human beings: the radio plays but it is not sure that there is someone to listen to it; the female voice answering the phone seems to indicate that she is not heard by her caller, as she repeatedly says “Allo, Allo”. At the same time, the performer is not on her own, she is accompanied by Frescobaldi (or its spirit), through his commentary on Toccata playing, as provided by Italian Voice. Tradition is actualized, therefore offering guidance and support. The performer is literally “touched” by the past across time, since in Italian, Toccata is derived from the verb Toccare, which means to touch.

Towards the end, we are left with only Italian Voice, Harpsichord Motive and natural noises (a short occurrence of thunder, and sea). At that point, Italian Voice is looped and markedly placed at the back of the mix, as if struggling to be heard, therefore having to repeat itself, while Harpsichord Motive has a very low volume, also struggling to be heard. Yet, the continuous noise of sea has a reassuring and soothing effect. This may well indicate that if the Tradition of Western classical music and its performance may be displaced in the modern multi-cultural society, eternity, in the guise of the waves constant come and go can always be evoked.





[1] Anecdotes, Empreintes Digitales, IMED-9106-CD.

[2] From ‘Daoust Yves’, the Canadian Encyclopedia, electronic version, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com, accessed Feb 2007.

[3] CD notes from Anecdotes, Empreintes Digitales, IMED-9106-CD.

[4] Author’s commentary in CD notes from Anecdotes, Empreintes Digitales, IMED-9106-CD.

[5] Author’s commentary in CD notes from Anecdotes, Empreintes Digitales, IMED-9106-CD.

[6] Author’s commentary in CD notes from Anecdotes, Empreintes Digitales, IMED-9106-CD.


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