Event Qutub Shahi Tombs came alive to the sound-light-graphic extravaganza organised as part of the Bonjour India. SUMANASPATI REDDY

Listen to the images and watch the music, they said. Don’t we all do it on the comp-screen when the visualisations Windows Media Player springs on us unasked?

Mesmerising to the core

What the duo of Serge de Laubier and Christophe Hiriart unleashed at the intricately designed southern façade of the grand tomb of Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah last Sunday evening, however, was a mesmeric churning. Serge played on his Meta-Instrument — which has a gauche sci-fi look about it but does wondrous stuff — and Christophe sung from the pits of his soul and also conducted a rank-amateurish orchestra of 12 willing volunteers thumbing on joy-sticks for music instruments!

The music flowed left and right with torrential power through a set of eight speakers widely spread in front of a 1500 strong audience on the lawns, while images spiked and rolled with lofty grandeur grazing upto the base of the great dome above in front of them. Sound and light swirled up and ebbed down bringing alive un-decipherably elemental, magnificent visions, which jelled with the ambience of the place like a tee.

A heavy downpour on the previous day almost killed the programme.

Thankfully the skies cleared beautifully on Sunday, and Serge had time just enough to conduct a quick rehearsal.

It had taken him about a week to design appropriate graphics from the photographs of the tomb sent to him from Hyderabad processing them on architecture software and then create properly scaled flowing patterns and sync them with ten selected pieces of music : three short pieces of the 18th century German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, five compositions of his own (which he calls them, for lack of a better term, just Computer Music) and two songs, including one by the Basque poet, Aresti.

Serge is from the north of France while Christophe comes from the southern province of Pays Basque and their association on PUCE MUSE (meaning “cheap computer music” !) shows is ten years old. Serge is a trained music composer and sound technologist. From a young age he has been a key member of the Espace Musical project working on the simulation of moving sound in a three dimensional space. Serge struggles to find the right English words to describe something achieved over years of hard analysis and exploration. The first achievement was the design and implementation of an Octophonic Spatial Processor, which computed the distribution of sound over eight or 16 loudspeakers. Serge wrote many musical compositions specially for this sound system. However, the team soon realised that “there is no point in moving sound in space if its movement isn't linked to its spectral movement.”

The main block was that traditional instruments are not designed for moving sound in space. And so they embarked on devising a system capable of simultaneously moving sounds in space and making them evolve spectrally. The result was the Meta-Instrument which can simulate a multi-instrumental orchestra doing musique concrète. , i.e music in a live concert situation, as different from music for recording.

The Meta-Instrument uses specially devised software, which in association with a given music composition and chosen graphic patterns can create an integrated sound-light-graphic concert ecology, by reacting to physical gestures. The specifics of the place where the concert is being held are therefore very important and so each concert is unique, and a unique achievement and memory for Serge himself.

The images Serge uses are not facile embellishments but are aimed at a better appreciation of the music.

Like for the three Bach pieces from the Goldenberg Variations, a small architectural graphic pattern evolved from the central arch on the lower level of the façade, spread horizontally across to the rest of the arches on both sides, and then moved up expanding all over the monument in numerous rills and coloured spikes of light, but in the end gathered itself back to the central arch.

This happened every 16 measures, mimicking the music.

But for the rest of the compositions, the visual patterns brought to fore and emphasised, in a very dramatic manner, the passions and longings, the interlacing struggles and resolutions which the music signified. The blast-like bangs which punctuated the Aresti song (“ People say what we are playing is not poetry, for us poetry is a hammer…because it’s energy” ) performed with gut-wrenching energy and pathos by Christophe, had an army of coloured light-streams in red, yellow, ochre and violet splattering themselves with great violence onto the length and breadth of the multi-level façade.

But when the singer went into a lilting soft mood at the end, the light patterns became aqueous and lovingly glided back over the monument’s surface to from where they had begun.

Final composition

The last piece, a composition by Serge himself, with its majestic trumpet themes, guitar riffs in a sawaal-jawaab like mode overlaid with a fiery beat of explosive and implosive bangs, lashed out at the audience through the giant speakers with something akin to cosmic, shatteringly titanic ambition.

As the show came to an end with rills of enchanting whirling chimes and lilting tongues of light gathering back to a consummation as they disappeared from sight and sound, it was as if the tomb now stood, like the centre of the universe, transfixed, watching and relishing the great drama played out.