Gondwana (Murail)

Gondwana (1980) is a defining musical composition of spectral music[1] for large orchestra composed by Tristan Murail using simulated synthesis to create a harmonic interpolation between an orchestrally synthesized chord derived from a simulated bell sound (inharmonic) and a chord derived from a trombone sound (harmonic).[2] This process is meant to evoke the shifting of continents and thus the piece is named after the former supercontinent Gondwana.[3]

The piece uses interpolation to make a smooth transformation on all musical parameters including spectral profile, envelope, and instrumental attacks.[4] The bell sounds were created through a Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis with a single modulator affecting five carriers to create five different harmonies, these being connected by interpolated chords.[5] The components of the trombone's frequency spectrum was derived through a Fourier transform.[2]

The piece's long quiet or silent moments are shaped in "long, seamlessly evolving paragraphs" evoking the geological processes which created the continent. The first opening slowly transforms a chord before turning to trills.[6] The opening chord is compared to Messiaen.[1][7] The piece, "incorporates a substantial passage directly modelled upon," Sibelius's Lemminkäinen in Tuonela from the Four Lemminkäinen Legends op.22 (1896).[8]


  1. 1 2 Staines, Joes (2010). The Rough Guide to Classical Music, p.372. ISBN 978-1-4053-8321-9. "The locus classicus of early spectral music".
  2. 1 2 Fineberg, Joshua (2000). Spectral Music: History and Techniques, p.69. (Overseas Publishers Association, published by license under the Harwood Academic Publishers imprint, ©2000) OCLC: 48862556. ISBN 978-90-5755-131-4.
  3. Sanderson, Blaire. Tristan Murail: Gondwana; Désintégrations; Time and Again at AllMusic. Retrieved 15:05, 16 April 2007.
  4. Fineberg (2000), p.108
  5. Fineberg (2000), p.128-129.
  6. "Murail Gondwana & Désintégrations", CompositionToday.com.
  7. Griffiths, Paul (2011). Modern Music and After, p.344. ISBN 978-0-19-974050-5.
  8. Grimley, Daniel M., ed. (2004). The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius, p.200. ISBN 978-0-521-89460-9.
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