Zymurgy: 1) The science of fermentation; 2) the title of a great piece of computer music by Robert J. Frank

Years after composing Zymurgy, the composer discovered that he is a direct descendant of Saint Arnulf (c. 582 – 640) the Bishop of Metz, who also is commonly recognized to be the patron saint of brewing following The Legend of the Beer Mug (and that he extolled the virtues of beer over water, which at that time was quite unhealthy). This explains his fascination for both sacred music and brewing some of the finest ales. Below, his assistant Brewcat, CiCi, inspects one of the latest batches of an English Extra-Special-Bitter style batch of "Golden Claw Ale" (original recipe by the composer/brewmeister).


Listen to Zymurgy here: (Please use high quality headphones/speakers to get the 3D aural effect)

ZYMURGY (the chemistry of fermentation, as applied in brewing beer) celebrates the process by which simple grain and water are transformed into one of the world's most popular beverages. My artistic concept was to attempt to choreograph, using only sound, the process of fermentation. Using only the sampled sounds of grain, water, a metal pan, a grinder and bottling equipment, the composition follows the same form as the process of brewing, imagining the elements coming to life and the drama of how they might interact, battle, combine, and react to one another. First, pure water is added to a pan and heated to a boil. Then grain is ground and added. In the boiling water, the grains dance about, slowly dissolving into the water. After the boil has extracted the essence of the grain, it is cooled and yeast is added. Since yeast is a living being, I envisioned them as larger “beasts” that hunt and devour the grains. The yeast digests the mixture, releasing tiny bubbles of gas and transforming the "wort" into beer. When captured in bottles, the bubbles accumulate and the yeast, becoming drunk on their own alcohol, carbonate the beverage in a wild, frantic battle, only released when the bottle is opened, and the final product is consumed. Listen responsibly.

In addition to frequent concert performances, ZYMURGY has been featured as a selected work at Regional and National (USA) Conferences and Festivals of the Society of Composers, Inc., College Music Society, and SEAMUS (Society for Electro Acoustic Music in the United States). It remains the composer's most performed electro-acoustic work, both in concert and via the Internet.

Technical Notes:

Zymurgy was created using digital samples of sounds of beer brewing equipment and ingredients (barley, water, malt, boiling pans, flames/fire, beer, drinking glass). These sounds were processed in SoundHack and Soundedit 16 software, then combined in Protools on an Apple Macintosh. All equipment was in the Electronic Music Studios - Southern Methodist University (EMS-SMU). Extensive aural placement/localization has been processed on the recording, so that a minimal diffusion is required.

Zymurgy employs several techniques including the standard use of binaural filters, spectral extraction, and extensive use of edits, pitch shift/bends, reverb, etc. However, the opening sound (and final bubble crescendo sound) employ a technique of minute, incremental time displacement that I have developed with pleasing results. The opening sounds are copied into left-right pairs, in exactly the same phase. Slowly, over the course of the entire sound, the left and right channels are gradually displaced by means of a pitch shift of .01% or less on one of the channels. The resulting effect is that for displacements of less than 20 msec, only a timbre change is perceived. For displacements of 20-100 msec, a chorus to ambient reverb effect is perceived. Finally, for displacements of greater than 100 msec, a rapid panning effect is perceived. By gradually employing this technique, the sound is transformed between each of these different phases.

Thank you for listening!

Click here to return to Robert Frank's SMU Faculty web page.