Category / Instrument
Orchestra / / 3perc / hp / pno /
Commissioned by
La Ville de Darmstadt
Festival de Darmstadt
Cracow Orchestra
Antony Witt (conductor)



The title has two meanings. It is an ancient Indian legend about a vast, sunken continent, as well as the name geologists have given to one of the two giant landmasses which once comprised the earth's entire dry land and whose break-up has gradually formed the contours of the various continents on the earth today. The music mirrors this process in its perpetual drifting and transformation: certain elements of a texture are gradually exaggerated or deformed to create a new texture. For example, the haze of trills for full orchestra, which occurs about three minutes into the piece, is progressively extended into scales and, eventually, wide spanning arpeggios - the series of regular clicks on the wood-block, a few minutes later, are gradually pulled out of phase to generate several different pulses and layers. At certain moments, the music is violently accelerated or decelerated, compressing the transformation processes to such an extent that they can seem almost like a complete break. A pervading use of regular, periodic rhythms and sequential passages allows the listener to measure the progress of the music and the rate at which it is being transformed.
Gondwana continues Murail's innovative use of electronic techniques as generators of instrumental music. In this case, the harmony is generated by frequency modulation, a method of tone-production often used in digital synthesizers (Yamaha's DX instruments, for example). This gives rise to complex, untempered chorals which have a bell-like sonority. Another important element in the piece is the fluctuation between moments of "noise" (in the acoustic sense of "white noise"), represented by scratching or col legno on the strings, toneless breathing on woodwind or brass and by percussion instruments (maracas, sizzle cymbal and snare drum) and moments of "sound" represented by clean, pure instrumental colours and consonant harmony close to the natural harmonic series. These two opposing and autonomous elements can interpenetrate or "influence" each other.
The music abounds in wave-like patterns of rise and fall, such as crescendo-decrescendo, acceleration-deceleration and tension-relaxation. If these waves of sound recall the legendary, sunken Gondwana, the geological Gondwana's turbulent history is vividly evoked in the music's more dramatic moments, especially in the volcanic "eruption" near the end of the work.

from texts by Julian Anderson


1 CD Montaigne/Naïve, MN782175
Désintégrations - Gondwana - Time and again
Ensemble L'Itinéraire, Orchestre National de France, Yves Prin (conductor) - Orchestre Beethoven Halle de Bonn, Karl Anton Rickenbacher (conductor)