Deo Gratias Triginta Sex

by Lieven Martens

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Johannes Ockeghem (1410–1497), born in Saint Gislain, Hainaut, Belgium, wrote one of our nation’s greatest hits. Deo Gratias is a canon for 36 singers and apparently he wrote this particular song as kind of a joke or game; quickly “between the soup and the potatoes” as we would say in Dutch. Some say Ockeghem had in mind that a much larger number of people should perform this piece, but it was considered too complicated to find enough experienced singers, to make the piece correct measure-wise, et al.

Let’s open Logic X Pro and try and see if we could help Ockeghem to make this vision a (simulated…) reality.

Since this is a creation for deep and/or extended listening I selected a sligtly longer version of the song rendered by Paul Van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble, and layered and sequenced this 36 times in row. Every new sequence starts more or less according to Ockeghem’s original transcript. Small detail… in the version of the Huelgas Ensemble no more than 18 voices are singing contemporarily. As soon as the first voice of the fourth (bass) chorus reaches its final note every voice "freezes" at its current line in the melody.

The layering of these sounds in the computer let the overtones shine and the human breathing and whistling create pretty rhythmic parents. The project shows that Ockeghems original idea is kind of genius—however you layer this music, the final result, be it a bit dense and somewhat congested drone, is still very harmonic. Inspiring.

At first I started cutting, trimming and pitch correcting parts, making the piece a more correct rendition of the original four canon idea. But then I realised that the best manner to execute this version is to keep it simple and short, between the forementioned “soup and potatoes”. So here goes with all the gentle flaws…

At certain points you hear the same part overlaid eleven times. Thus 11 × 18 singers = 198 singers! Here’s to making Ockeghem’s grand vision come to (simulated) life.


released April 17, 2019


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