Clément Canonne

Compositional processes, improvisatory explorations and instrument-making in the creation of Spat’ Sonore

The collective « Spat’ Sonore » was founded by horn player Nicolas Chedmail in the early 2000s. Consisting first of just two horn players, it greatly expanded over the years and currently gathers eight musicians who play hand-made transformed versions of their original instruments (horns, tuba, clarinet, saxophone, guitar, violin and percussions). Each spat’ instrument is build around a sprawling system of pipes, valves and bells: by pressing different valves, the spat’ players can, first, alter the sound of their instrument by having it passing through different pipes and/or objects (bird calls, reversed mouthpieces, various reeds, latex balloons, water-filled pipes, etc.) and, second, spatialize the sound by directing it towards one of the four bells that comprise each instrument. As such, the spat’ allows for the creation of complex and spatialized sonic textures using purely instrumental means (i.e., without relying on signal processing or electroacoustic amplification).

Since the early days of Spat’ Sonore, Nicolas Chedmail had been concerned with finding ways to ensure the perennial use of his invention, beyond the ad hoc improvisatory performances that were the natural output of the collective in their beginnings. In that perspective, he commissioned in 2012 and 2016 several French composers (Elsa Biston, Mathieu Bonilla, Karl Naëgelen, Frédéric Pattar and Gérard Pesson) to write music for the Spat’ Sonore collective. This small body of compositions raises a number of interesting questions. Relying on in-depth interviews with the five composers who have written for the Spat’ as well as with members of the collective, this paper investigates the different ways these composers had to approach their work with the spat’ collective:

Through which familiarization processes did the composers come to domesticate the sonic and spatial possibilities of such non-traditional instruments?

To which extent did the specificities of the Spat’ – the sheer instability of certain sounds, the complex ergonomics of the valve systems, the modularity of the instruments, the interactions between the individual musicians and the collective in the control of the spatialization or the production of certain sound textures, etc. – constrained the compositional processes?

What was the impact of the visual appearance and material aspects of the Spat’ on the composers?

How did the composers relate to the collective sonic vocabulary already developed by the spat’ players during their improvisations?

Beyond discussing the strategies used by each composer to write music for such an unusual instrument, I will also explore the role played by these compositions in the development and the stabilization of the spat’ instruments. Ultimately, I will show how compositional processes, improvisatory explorations and instrument-making interacted in the development of the spat’ instrumentarium, thus contributing to a better understanding of the creative processes that underlie the making of new instruments (Boverman et al. 2017).


Till Bovermann, Alberto de Campo, Hauke Egermann, Sarah-Indriyati Hardjowirogo, Stefan Weinzierl (eds), Musical Instruments in the 21st Century. Identities, Configurations, Practices, Singapore, Springer, 2017.


STMS — CNRS, IRCAM, Sorbonne University, France

Is a Researcher in the team “Analysis of Musical Practices” at IRCAM. His work is mainly focused on the contemporary forms of collective improvisation, using concepts and methods from a large array of disciplines.