Preview: Sounds Like Music, City Halls, Glasgow

It's music, Jon, but not as we know it
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The Independent Culture

Ircam in Glasgow? Sounds like a threat: the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique was in many people's view the weapon by which Pierre Boulez imposed a cripplingly exclusive orthodoxy on the world of classical music. So step forward Jonathan Harvey, doyen of electro-acoustic composers and originator of this week of seminars and concerts, to make the case for it.

"That's easy," he replies. "Ircam doesn't impose an orthodoxy. Composers simply acquire new tools... and develop them in new ways." As he has done. Speakings, the work he's just finished for this year's Proms, would have been inconceivable, he says, without expert help from Ircam's computer specialists. "It has speech imposed on the orchestra, but only in its acoustic structure, sound without words. My idea is that the orchestra tries to learn to speak as a child does, and doesn't entirely succeed."

What does he want to achieve with this first British Ircam "academy"? "I want to share this knowledge. I want composers and listeners to see what exciting possibilities there are for transforming sound... from its acoustic structure. By taking the innards of, say, a note on the violin – and changing it."

What's the difference between a sound and its innards? "You can either look at it with your ordinary eyes, or through a microscope." But when I hear a sound, I hear many frequencies, so what's the difference? "Yes, you've described the innards, but this way you focus on the ones you want. You can put it on a screen, and single out the 33rd harmonic by itself, and play it with the 17th. You can do whatever you want."

Does this not require a certain kind of listener? "Yes and no. It's all a matter of familiarity. In pop and in film music, it's absorbed without any question. Nobody says at a pop concert: 'Oh, that's a pretentiously intellectual effect'. The classical-music world has been very conservative. This approach is not just for initiates – it could be for everybody." OK, let's see.

7 to 12 April (