Adam West- Sounding Images 2017: An Acousmatic work for René Magritte’s ‘The Flavour of Tears’

Research Image
Picture of ‘The Flavour of Tears’ taken when the Barber institute of Fine Arts acquired it in 1983.

Programme Notes:

Magritte’s ‘The Flavour of Tears’ is a surrealist work which deals with conflict, decay and destruction. I wished to mirror this discourse of jagged superimposition, metamorphosis, harmony and discord. I wanted to create an aural collage, ever-changing, evolving and transforming from place to place, time to time. The world is shifting, restless to begin, but soon the contemplative bird is heard amongst the clamour. The listener is moved from the turbulent world of war-time politics as the waves of oratory become ocean. I wanted to create an unnerving and confusing world; a world that Magritte would have known whilst creating this work.


Compositional Approach:

For this work I decided to focus not on the tangible qualities of the painting, but instead delve into its contextual backdrop. I chose to explore the growth of confusion and violence in war-time Europe using Magritte’s own language, that of transformation and superimposition. In my work I have created an aural collage of famous war time speeches from Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war with Germany, to Adolf Hitler’s address to the Nazi party on its 6th Party Day celebrations. I take these speeches and attempt to generate a shifting sense of space and time where the overall sense of the speech is felt rather than heard. The raw emotive messages are left behind as speech intelligibility is lost. My aim here is to show how easily we can be moved by great speech. The voices move between intelligibility and unintelligibility picking out phrases but never enough to truly understand exactly what is going on. In this way the voices transform from textural to informative within the work, helping at one moment to create a general mood, and another speaking directly to the listener.

After reading about Magritte’s own reactions to the war, and seeing a few more of his famous leaf-bird paintings, I discovered that these images were a manifestation of his own confusion at that time (find out more about Magritte’s life and works Here). I attempted to translate his surrealist superimposition of disjunct images into an aural context. The voices, sounds and harmony are unrelated, yet each somehow finds its anchor in the painting. The ocean sounds are used to help glue the two sections of the work together, offering a concrete reference to the mise-en-scène of the work. The main focus of the painting, however, is still the leaf-bird. In my piece I have endeavoured to create a world that is decaying and falling into chaos. It is Out of this world that Magritte’s token of peace rises, somehow still imposing, majestic and strong despite being undermined on all sides.

This work was largely generated using SuperCollider (find out more about SuperCollider here). I used this program to craft the opening sequence of the work. This was achieved through the use of a ‘routine’ in which buffered and SuperCollider generated materials are triggered in sequence on a timer. I could control multiple parameters for each sound, and re-configure these parameters for each occurrence of the same sound file. In this way I crafted the dynamics, spaces, locations and movement of the sequence. The harmonic content is also generated from SuperCollider. The final mix was assembled in Reaper (see details for Reaper here) where much of the fine crafting of the work occurred. This involved volume envelope crafting, adding further filtering such as equalization and distortion to sounds for greater depth, or presence, and pacing sounds in relation to one another to create the desired discourse to arise.


Here are a couple tracks which I feel really inspired the language and construction of my work:

Public Service Broadcasting:- Inform-Educate-Entertain:

Francis Dhomont:- Cycle Du Son (Movt. 3):

Ryoji Ikeda:- Data.Anatomy[Civic]:

My Final Piece:

And finally here is the finished work! Enjoy 🙂


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