The premature death of French composer Gérard Grisey (1946–98) cut short one of the most productive and creative musical careers of the twentieth century. Starting in the 1970s, Grisey and other musicians associated with the ensemble l’Itinéraire developed a radically new musical approach that took the physical characteristics of sounds (their acoustical spectra) as a source of inspiration. This new aesthetic, later dubbed “spectral music,” grew from the intersection of science and art, combining the enhanced understanding of sound made possible by technological advances with an aesthetic exploration of the phenomenological experience of musical time and sound colour. Through immersion in the scientific disciplines of acoustics and psychoacoustics, spectralist composers learned to create chords that melted into timbres, illusory combination tones and interference effects, and complex orchestral hybrids blurring the boundary between acoustic and electronic sounds. As the late composer Jonathan Harvey remarked, “spectralism is a moment of fundamental shift after which thinking about music can never be quite the same again.”

This event features an international colloquium and three concerts dedicated to exploring the contemporary legacy of Grisey’s music and compositional thought. The colloquium will take place over three days (19–21 October 2014), with presentations at both the Schulich School of Music of McGill University and the Faculté de Musique of the Université de Montréal. Invited speakers include scholars from the fields of composition (Jean-Luc Hervé, Philippe Leroux), musicology (François-Xavier Féron, Jonathan Goldman, Robert Hasegawa), performance (Marilyn Nonken), and music psychology (Stephen McAdams).

The concerts, featuring three prominent Montreal new music ensembles—the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (Lorraine Vaillancourt, dir.), Sixtrum, and the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble (Guillaume Bourgogne, dir.)—will explore Grisey’s creative legacy through live performance. In addition to major works by Grisey (Vortex temporum, Le temps et l’écume and Tempus ex machina) the concerts will feature works by composers associated with the legacy of spectral music including Jean-Luc Hervé, Philippe Leroux, and Kaija Saariaho.