Maia Francisco was educated as a classical pianist, as which she had to follow a rigid regime regarding the piano literature she had to practice, the harmonic and melodic framework she exercised, and the physical posture she had to train, whereby she had to focus mainly on the position of her hands in relation to the piano keys. The piano repertoire she became most familiar with includes Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, Chopin, Debussy, Webern and Schönberg. Improvisation was not part of her training, at all. But the urge to create something unique and new in music brought her to explore improvisation. While improvisation typically is not part of a classical instrumental training, it can be a powerful tool to free oneself from any musical dogmas. As an improviser she started a process of deconstructing the deeply embedded classical repertoire within herself, and came to add electronics in a very personal way.


Over the years, Maia has become more interested in the phenomenon of sound. Fascinated by the intrinsic characteristic of the sine wave that intensifies the phenomenon of sound, she has chosen pure sound as the main tool to develop her sound works.

Research on the use of sine waves in the context of music has been already performed in the past by composers such as Maryanne Amacher (1938-2009),  Alvin Lucier (1931-2021) or La Monte Young (1935) among many others.

Maryanne Amacher was a composer interested in psychoacoustic phenomena such as beating tones that are perceived along with given acoustic tones which she considered part of the musical experience. The possibility to use a computer to make sine tones is historically important, as explained by Maryanne Amacher:

'ordinary instruments have very complicated spectral energy distributions' [...] sine tones are 'capable of concentrating energy at certain specific frequencies' (Amacher, Maryanne. 1977. Psychoacoustic phenomena in musical composition; Some Features of a "Perceptual Geography")

Amacher explains how the evolution of technology allows us new possibilities in music composition, and compares the piano – a tool to select intervals used by the composer - with the computer/sine generator – a tool to select frequencies to achieve precise tuning. Both of these instruments are tools/sources that help to select precise frequencies, but arise from different moments in history.

Alvin Lucier was making use of sine waves to cause the phenomenon of beating patterns to emerge, while La Monte Young puts his focus on the space, which he considers as itself an instrument and a part of the composition, and sine waves are the most suitable tool for him to tune that space. 

The aural phenomenon where two sine tones, close to each other in frequency, cause a sensation of beating or pulsations in the ear of the listener is generally called “beating patterns”. The pulsation rate is equal to the difference of the two frequencies.

Maia has developed several pieces influenced by the works of Alvin Lucier that combine acoustic instruments and sine waves to bring about emergent beating patterns. In the context of her piece entitled A Piece for Piano, Tenor Recorder and Sine Waves (2017), the beating patterns emerge from the combination of sine waves with the sound of the piano and tenor recorder. Specifically, the sine waves and the notes of the tenor recorder result in beating patterns with fluctuating beat frequencies. This irregularity is considered as a feature explored throughout the composition. This piece also explores audible beating along with spectral analysis of the frequencies and intensities of the harmonics present in the piano and tenor recorder sounds.

Sine waves can only be generated by a sine wave oscillator. Once the sound is lunched in space by the loudspeaker, additional spectra is added and the sine wave is not pure anymore. Pure sound is only real in the digital domain, inside the computer. White, a book by Kenya Hara, is a very inspiring source that has helped Maia to understand Japanese philosophy. In this essay, Maia finds an analogy between the ‘purity of color white’ and the ‘purity of a sine wave’ through the following paragraph:

‘Life comes into this world wearing white, but it begins to acquire color the instant it assumes concrete form and touches the earth, like a yellow chick emerging from a white egg. White can never be made manifest in the real world. We may feel that we have come into contact with white, but that is just an illusion. In the real world, white is always contaminated and impure. It is no more than a vestige, a sign pointing towards its origins. White is delicate and fragile. From the moment of its birth it is no longer perfectly white, and when we touch it we pollute it further, though we may not realise it. Yet, all the more because of this, it stands out clearly in our consciousness.’ (Hara, Kenya. 2010. White (p. 11). essay, Lars Müller Publishers)

Pure sound is constantly present in Maia’s research work which focuses on ‘the exploration of the use of pure sound (i.e. sine wave) as a main material in music composition’.

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