Jacob David Sudol(b. Des Moines, Iowa 1980) writes intimate compositions that explore enigmatic phenomena and the inner nature of how we perceive sound. He recently finished his M.Mus. at McGill University and currently resides in La Jolla, CA where he is working towards a Ph.D. in composition at the University of California at San Diego with Roger Reynolds, Chinary Ung, Philippe Manoury, and Rand Steiger.
Over the last five years some of Jacob's mentors in composition have included John Rea, Denys Bouliane, Philippe Leroux, Sean Ferguson, Dan Asia, and Craig Walsh. He has also participated in master classes with Danish composer Bent Sørensen and German composer Manfred Stahnke.
During 2005-2006, Jacob was the first-ever composer-in-residence for the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble under the direction of Denys Bouliane, in collaboration with the McGill Digital Composition Studio. He has also written music for the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, the Contemporary Keyboard Society, percussionist Fernando Rocha, saxophonist Elizabeth Bunt, and clarinetist Krista Martynes. As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, he composed the music for a collaborative dance project with choreographer Hillary Peterson, and he was the principal composer and pianist for El Proyecto de Santa Barbara, a chamber Latin jazz ensemble.
During the 2005 and 2007 Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques and 2006 MusiMars festivals Jacob was an electronic assistant for performances with Court-Circuit, Matt Haimovitz, Sara Laimon, Martin Matalon, Moritz Eggert, Manfred Stahnke, the Caput Ensemble, and the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble. These concerts were broadcast by the CBC and the European Broadcasting Union in over fifty countries throughout the world. He is currently a studio research assistant for Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Roger Reynolds.
During his free time Jacob takes an active interest in religious phenomenology, cinema, acoustics, literature, poetry, and visual art. As a composer and performer, he always attempts to bring insights from these other fields into his work.
All music posted on this blog is posted out of love and the idea that for the truly great music of our time(s) to be known it must first and foremost be heard. If you like what you hear please support the artist by buying the recordings, scores, and/or encouraging the performances of the music in every way possible.
If you are the composer, performer, performing organization, artist or directly represent the composer, performer, performing organization, or artist of anything posted on this website and would like your material removed please contact me and I will happily oblige.
For soprano, flute, clarinet, cello, and live electronics
Performed by Stephanie Aston (voice), Christine Tavolacci (flutes), Przemyslaw Bosak (clarinets), Ashley Walters (cello), Jacob David Sudol (electronics/mixing), Robert Zellickman (conductor)
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‘Alas, when the Uncertain Experiencing of Reality is dawning upon me here, With every thought of fear or terror or awe for all set aside, May I recognize whatever appear, as the reflections of my own consciousness; May I know them to be the nature of the apparitions in the Bardo: When at this all-important moment of achieving a great end, May I not fear the band of Peaceful and Wrathful, mine own thought-forms.’
–verse for traversing the Chönyid Bardo *
The Space Between was written in 2008. The composition intends to explore the experience of traversing through and inhabiting a great variety of constantly changing yet unified intermediate states. The primary inspiration for this work was the initial state of dying as described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead where one first begins to recognize “the dissolution of earth… into water, water into fire, fire into wind, wind into consciousness.”* These ideas were treated abstractly and combined with a personal vision of dying as a confused state where unusual simplified archetypal characters constantly bleed into and out of each other.
* Texts taken from Chapter 11 of the The Tibetan Book of the Dead: translated by W.Y. Evans-Wentz (Oxford, 1960)
In Rome on the Campo dei Fiori baskets of olives and lemons, cobbles spattered with wine and the wreckage of flowers. Vendors cover the trestles with rose-pink fish; armfuls of dark grapes heaped on peach-down.
On this same square they burned Giordano Bruno. henchmen kindled the pyre close-pressed by the mob. Before the flames had died the taverns were full again, baskets of olives and lemons again on the vendors’ shoulders.
I thought of Campo dei Fiori in Warsaw by the sky-carousel one clear spring evening to the strains of a carnival tune. The bright melody drowned the salvos from the ghetto wall, and couples were flying high in the cloudless sky.
At times wind from the burning would drift dark kites along and riders on the carousel caught petals in midair. That same hot wind blew open the skirts of the girls and the crowds were laughing on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.
Someone will read as moral that the people of Rome or Warsaw haddle, laugh, make love hs they pass by matyrs’ pyres. Someone else will read of the passing of things human, of the oblivion born before the flames have died.
But that day I thought only of the loneliness of the dying, of how, when Giordano climbed to his burning he could not find in any human tongue words for mankind, mankind who live on.
Already they were back at their wine or peddled their white starfish, baskets of olives and lemons they had shouldered to the fair, and he already distanced as if centuries had passed while they paused just a moment for his flying in the fire.
Those dying here, the lonely forgotten by the world, our tongue becomes for them the language of an ancient planet. until, when all is legend and many years have passed, on a new Campo dei Fiori rage will kindle at a poet’s word.
In my last post I failed to mention that in late Summer I moved from Montréal to San Diego where I just started studies towards a Ph.D. in composition at the University of California at San Diego. Unfortunately this move, and the subsequent challenges of getting my feet on the ground again, kept me from updating this blog with my previous regularity. That said, now that I have a little more free time I wanted to share some of my recent experiences.
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As part of my stipend at UCSD I was assigned to be one of Roger Reynolds’s two studio Research Assistants. This quarter this meant that I got to help work on Roger Reynold’s most recent large work Sanctuary, for percussion ensemble and live electronics. My main tasks included consulting with Roger and Ian Saxton (Roger’s other Research Assistant) on the PD patch Ian programmed to run the live electronics in Sanctuary, helping with the technological set-up, as well as triggering the piece’s 180+ electronic cues during rehearsals and performance.
In mid and late October Steve Schick, red fish blue fish, Roger Reynolds, Ian Saxton and myself spent a little a more than two weeks at UCSD working in the Multipurpose Space at CalIt 2. We spent this time experimenting with and refining technology for the world premiere of Sanctuary that occurred on November 18th.
Below are two photos taken while we worked in the Multipurpose Space
Left to Right: Greg Stuart and Roger Reynolds
Left to Right: Ian Saxton (at computer), Greg Stuart, Justin DeHart, Roger Reynolds, Fabio Olivera, Ross Karre
For a week in mid-November, Steve Schick, red fish blue fish, Roger Reynolds, Ian Saxton, Josef Kucera, and me headed to Washington D.C. to prepare for and give the world premiere of Sanctuary in the atrium of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Every night before the performance we had to set up everything for Sanctuary after the gallery closed, rehearse, and then breakdown everything by 11 P.M. This was particularly stressful because not only did the the set-up include five percussion stations, two remote almglocken stations, but one to three microphones for every station, twelve speakers distributed across three levels of the gallery, recording equipment, and multiple computers and audio mixers. That said it was remarkable to rehearse in the National Gallery after it closed every night and the performance went off with virtually no technical problems.
Below are some photos I took while we worked at the National Gallery of Art. (There are also photos of the premiere available here.)
Steve Schick rehearsing Chatter/Clatter during a dinner break
Fabio Olivera watching Steve Schick rehearse
Roger Reynolds, Lina Bahn, and members of red fish blue fish relaxing before rehearsal
Ian Saxton frenetically programming behind the empty chair where I sat with the score and triggered cues
Kaija Saariaho is arguably one of the most prolific and successful Post-Spectral composers. Like many of the other composers in this generation her music broadens the initial experiments into harmony/timbre the 1970’s by spectral composers like Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail with various structural and more traditional melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic techniques.
The three pieces in Kaija Saariaho’s “Jardin Secret” cycle are unified by an interest in combining harmony with timbre primarily by means of a unified technique of expansion and contraction. The esthetic approach in “Jardin Secret I” harkens back her earlier pivotal first work for computer “Vers le blanc” where she “sought to create the illusion of bodiless, eternal, and ‘unbreathing’ voice whose timbre changes continuosly…” In “Jardin Secret I” this approach is accomplished with sounds that are only created digitally.
In “Jardin Secret II” this approach is expanded with the concréte sounds of a harpsichord and her own breath. The focus then becomes the interaction that leads to a new hybrid instrumental harmony/timbre between the live harpsichord and the prerecorded tape.
“Nymphéa (Jardin Secret III)” is the last work in this cycle and you may also notice that it is yet another string quartet that I am posting. In this work the harmonic/timbral materials are mostly taken from a spectral analysis of a cello transitioning between “pitch” and “noise.” Formally Kaija Saariaho organizes this material following her model of a “timbral axis” that moves from purely deterministic pitch (such as in a sine wave) to the completely indeterministic white noise. This cohesive and well-thought out approach helps this work become arguably the most fully developed and sophisticated work in this fine trilogy.
(Note that all files are in m4a format, download the files first before playing them)
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For the last of this my five-part string quartet series (and my 100th blog post) I’ve decided to post more string quartets at once than I ever have before.
Following the work’s epigram “written In tempore belli” (in time of war) “Black Angels” is one of George Crumb’s most mystical and emotionally affecting works. To evoke the subtitle ““Thirteen Images from the Dark Land” the work requires a plethora of other-wordly extra-instrumental techniques and that the performers of the quartet also sing and each perform a number of percussion instruments including a glass harmonic (the sound of which it has been rumored to cause insanity). In our current era of extended and seemingly endless bloody conflicts this is still a very necessary work that still resonates strong.
Roger Reynold’s “Ariadne’s Thread” refers to the Greek legend of Ariadne and a method of problem solving called Ariadne’s Thread. In this work the string quartet weaves darkly with electronic sounds to create an environment and narrative that is both eerie and haunting.
“Tetras” represents a culmination of many Xenakis’s compositional techniques and successful virtuosic writing for string quartet. For many years I admittedly had a lot of trouble dealing with and understanding Xenakis’s music. The first piece that I began to actually appreciate was “Jalons” particularly because of one moment with a kaleidoscopic view on a synthetic scale. A few years later I heard “Tetras” and it became the first Xenakis piece that I really enjoyed.
With moments of strong tonality and an aching third movement that sounds as though it were lifted from a long lost late-Beethoven string quartet, George Rochberg’s third string quartet caused a large amount of controversy after its premiere. Early in his career George Rochberg was one of the strongest and finest proponents of serial music in the U.S.A. until his son died in 1963 and after an esthetic crisis he found that tonality was the only way that he could write that accurately expressed his grief. In my opinion, this quartet (along with the other three in the series of Concord Quartet) stands as the culmination of this emotional development in this later phase of George Rochberg’s music.
Since the two performances of “Inner Music” I have been discovering a lot of new music and, although I now have a much larger collection of music that I want to post, I almost feel at a loss of words to accompany them.
That aside, one of the more exciting composers that I’ve recently discovered is the Italian composer Fausto Romitelli. I haven’t been able to find too much about him (besides the link I've included over his name) but mostly the music speaks for itself. Most of Romitelli's works are infused with a high level of energy and an almost psychedelic absorption in sound that at times resembles some of the more visceral moments in Grisey’s compositions. Although I’m not as fond of some of his explorations with literally infusing elements of electronic popular music in pieces like “Professor Bad Trip” and his video opera “An Index of Metals” I do think that in most of his compositions he captures a visceral timbral energy usually only found in popular music, but in a way which is very original and personal. It is really a shame that he recently died in 2004 at the very young age of 41. Hopefully we’ll soon see many more recordings and releases from his remarkable oeuvre.
I apologize for my recent break in regular posts. For the last two weeks I have been providing computer-related support for four concerts in the 2007 Montréal/New Music. So, in between programming, organizing and preparing technical setups for rehearsals, and meeting with guest composers I’ve had little time to work on my own music yet alone update this blog. However, since I successfully finished my last obligation on Tuesday I now have time to catch up some with my writing and posting.
I’ve decided to return by posting a few really great pieces by a couple of fellow Montréal composers and friends Sean Ferguson (who is director of the McGill Digital Composition Studios) and Michel Gonneville. Both of these incredibly difficult pieces were also recorded by my friend Marc Couroux, who recently started a position teaching New Media at York University and – like another renounced piano virtuoso, David Tudor – doesn’t perform piano much anymore.
This last week the Conservetoire de Montreal has held a festival on the music of Luigi Nono titled: Le Maître du Son et du Silence. Although I’ve been far too busy completing “Inner Music” to attend many events I have seen a concert of his chamber music and another concert of his music for large ensembles.
I’m always approach a loss of words when I attempt to describe Luigi Nono’s music. The first time I posted Nono it was in the guise of a post on the esthetics found in Andrei Tarkovsky’s cinema and in my second post of Nono I just wrote some jumbled phrases that resembled nonsense. The most that I can get from Nono’s music (particularly the later works which I prefer) is his acute awareness of sonic and psychological phenomenology.
I suppose it is because of my difficulty that I’m fascinated by how many people have written about Luigi Nono’s music. Although I’m sure that his early serial procedures, frequent use of text, and far leftist position provide a large body examinable material I think there is something more integral to his esthetic that demands attention, examination, and scrutiny. The two concerts I’ve seen this week demonstrate in more ways that I could have imagined that Nono’s music that is a music best heard live and, possibly more importantly, amongst others engaged in the same active auditory attention, examination, and even some scrutiny.
To me, both of these works seem to come at the ears from some sort of distant unknown enigmatic viscous bubbling world and draw you near with some unmistakable magnetic pull.
After hearing and reading a lot of Roger Reynold’s more recent works I first came to “Ping” expecting something similar to the post-dodecaphonic shattered hyper-structuralist esthetic that I had come to know in compositions like “Whispers Out of Time,” “Personae,” “Variations,” and “The Angel of Death.” However, the nearly perfectly prolonged bowed gongs in the beginning of “Ping” immediately signaled a different approach. Not to give away the surprises of what I’ve read to be improvised instrumental playing, but I think that the long approach to “Ping’s” horrifying and dramatic climax is one of my favourite stretches of time in Roger Reynold’s music. It’s kind of a shame that the work meanders for so long afterwards although I'm sure that piece loses a lot when missing its visual component.
Embarrassingly, it took me about four listens to realize that this Dumitrescu piece is for solo contrabass. Without reading the information beforehand I initially presumed that it was for an ensemble of at least two percussionists who bow gongs and two contrabasses. Now that I know this work is only for contrabass, I find it far more impressive. Also, since I’ve worked with a number of contrabass players and come to know how difficult it can be to write for this typically heavy and lugubrious instrument, I find the fact this work is alternatively so dramatic and contemplative to be quite a feat.
Although Italian composer Mauro Lanza is one of the better living computer music wizards he writes very imaginative, natural, and – fitting to his personality – quirky music. For example, he has written two compositions (“Barocco” and “Mare”) which use toy instruments and his composition “Burger Time” for tuba (?!) and live electronics mostly uses sounds from the old arcade game ”Burger Time” (click on the link to play the game).
Mauro Lanza has worked and performed research at IRCAM ever since he participated in the 1999 Cursus programme. While there he has worked extensively on developing the acoustic modeling (a technique to create the sounds of imaginary instruments) programme Modalys – which he used to completely generate all stunning the electronic sounds in “Erba nera che cresci segno nero tu vivi.” In other compositions, such as “Aschenblume” (literally translated from German as “Ash Flower”) he also uses the generated spectra from these imaginary instruments to generate his own harmonic worlds.
I have spent the last two years intermittingly trying to understand the music and esthetic(s) of Luigi Nono. Two nights ago, after struggling some with my own piece Inner Music” and thinking about Andrei Tarkovsky’s subjective unplanned intuitive formal constructions I spent three hours listening to Luigi Nono and, I think, I finally begin to get it.
This is not a music I think I can explain and, furthermore, is not a music I care to explain, it is simply a music that requires a concentration on the temporal and dramatic flux or flow. Let the semantic sink back into the semiotic and just enjoy!
Ah, the joy of chromatic chords being subsumed by harmonic spectra through the addition of virtual fundamentals to the former. Ah, the joy of overlapped ostinati and other rhythmic processes that, after twenty-some hearings, I still can’t discern. Ah, the joy of an electronic part that uses samples of detuned piano strings being clipped off. Ah, the joy I take in the irony that I post this piece after my confessional letter to the piano.
I’m an unabashed fan of the Magnus Lindberg works written through “Joy” that I know. Although he studied in Paris with Gérard Grisey in the late 70’s, Magnus Lindberg’s music has a cacophonous harsh relentless energy not typically found in works by the other Post-Spectral composers of his generation like Philippe Hurel, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Kaija Saariaho.
Compared to some of Magnus Lindberg’s earlier works like “Ur” and “Kraft,” “Joy” was Lindberg’s most ‘tonal’ work to date – so much so that after composing it he joked that this was as far as he would go in towards tonality for if his music became any more tonal he might as well be writing for Hollywood. Strangely enough, from what I’ve heard of Lindberg’s largely expanding orchestral oeuvre since “Joy” (e.g. “Aura,” “Engines,” the Cello Concerto, “Fresco,” “Cantigas,” “Parada,” “Feria,” and “Arena”), besides making a lot of money, he seems to have done exactly what he says he wouldn’t do. With exception of “Corrente,” I can’t say I particularly like the directions Lindberg has been taking with large ensemble writing.
All that aside, what a raucous joy it is to hear “Joy” and all its glorious digitally modified string clippings/tw-aannnng-g-g--gg--g-----g--g---g-ggs.
Denys Bouliane is another one of the better living Canadian composers. Although his music is not widely known in the U.S.A. he is highly regarded in Canada and, even more so, in Germany (where he spends some of his time in Cologne). Denys currently teaches composition and directs the Contemporary Music Ensemble (C.M.E.) at McGill. A wonderfully gracious man, his sponsored C.M.E. after-concert parties are almost legendary amongst McGill contemporary music performers and composers.
Since coming to McGill, I’ve had the pleasure of performing electronics and sound diffusion with Denys in concerts with the C.M.E., the Caput Ensemble, and Court-Circuit. He also magnificently conducted the world premiere of my extraordinarily difficult work for 11 players and live electronics – ”Time Fixtures”.
Denys writes incredibly imaginative music that has been dubbed a sort “musical magical realism.” In the early 80’s, he studied with the infamously difficult György Ligeti who later described Denys, along with Benedict Mason, as one of his two favorite students. It was during this time in Cologne that Denys developed a voice that depends upon a personalized collections of modes that, to use his description, “alludes but never quotes.” Interestingly enough, a number of Ligeti’s works from that same period (particularly the piano etude “Fanfares” and parts of the Horn Trio) sound remarkably similar in style to Denys.
“Comme un Silène Entr-ouvert” (“Like Silenus Opening”) is, in my opinion, one of Denys’ strangest and most imaginative works. The composition is based upon the Greek myth of the satyr Silenus and follows a path from the extraverted to the introverted. Compositionally the ensemble is mostly broken into two trios – one high (piccolo, oboe, and harp) and one low (bass clarinet, trombone, and contrabass) while, in contrast, the tape – which is made of pitch-shift recordings from the ensemble – and the piano represent the bridge between these different trios and worlds.
Vivier’s last work “Crois-tu en l’immortalité de l’âme?” (“Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?”) aside, I consider “Wo Bist Du Licht!” (“Light, Where Are You!”) to be Vivier’s most disturbing work.
A few months ago a friend of mine made a good argument against this piece by saying that, unlike some of Claude Vivier’s other masterpieces like “Lonely Child,” “Wo Bist Du Licht!” lacks the clear personal expression that makes Vivier’s music so profound. I considered this argument valid, until a few days ago when I listened to “Wo Bist Du Licht!” again. It sent chills up my arms, back, neck, and head and frankly left me in a stupor for quite a while. As a result, I now think that what makes “Wo Bist Du Licht!” so achingly beautiful is that it’s not directly personal.
When contemplating aesthetics I often return to the dialogue in James Joyce’s “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” where Stephen Dedalus argues that beauty in art requires pity ‘which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the human sufferer’ and terror ‘which arrest the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant...and unites it with the secret cause.’ Although, I often think that beauty also requires direct personal expression, the seemingly objective perspective in which Claude Vivier places confused fragmented nonsense against the found text in “Wo Bist Du Licht!” invokes an almost universal personal sense of terror and pity that imbues the work with a frighteningly beautiful current that I think one rarely finds in music.
The following commentary on the textual and poetic focus of “Wo Bist Du Licht!” is taken from one by my friend, the Montréal composer, Michel Gonneville and uses large extracts of a quote by Claude Vivier.
“Hölderlin’s text “Der blinde Sänger” is superimposed on three types of texts:
1. ‘An emotional one that is extremely significant for America: Martin Luther King’s last speech and a recording in situ of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.’…
2. ‘Abstract text, with no signification’ (invented language)…
3. ‘Finally, a descriptive text about torture. This text has an enormous emotional power due, in part, to the almost neutral tone [of the two radio speakers]. Hölderlin’s text, “Der blinde Sänger,” holds the key to understanding my composition. An old blind man remembers his past, beautiful picturesque scenery; greenery, clouds, etc. The present is evoked by harsh sound images: thunder, earthquakes. He longs for light, freedom, death perhaps…’”
Recent online discussions and the unfortunate passing of one of my favorite composers, György Ligeti, have compelled me to post two works from one of my other favorite composers who has passed on – Gérard Grisey. Rather than write an entry entirely filled with my own thoughts and reflections, I’m going progressively let Grisey’s translated works speak for himself and save my own writing to few situating remarks and personal reflections. If you don’t know any music by Grisey, or any spectral music for that matter, I highly recommend you buy one of the two newly available recordings of Grisey’s monumental 90 minute cycle “Les Espaces Acoustiques”.
The first work I chose, “Partiels”, holds a special place in my heart. I first heard this scratchy recording on the listening list for my college introductory composition course. I was immediately struck by the clearly perceptible visceral thrust and sumptuous yet otherworldly timbres. Although I had no idea of the exact techniques being used, I soon became obsessed with understanding sound. As I later found out, this demonstrative work is one of the two central works (“Modulation” is the other) from Grisey’s six-part spectral ‘treatise’ “Les Espace Acoustiques.”
Today, “Les Espace Acoustiques” seem to me like a great laboratory in which the spectral techniques are applied to various situations (from solo to full orchestra). Certain pieces even have a demonstrative, almost didactic, aspect as if, in the euphoria of discovery, I had taken pains to make the characteristics of the language that I was gradually inventing be grasped as fully as possible.
-Gérard Grisey (from an interview with Guy Lelong trans. John Tyler Tuttle)
The spectral technique most often cited for pedagogical purposes is “instrumental additive synthesis.” This technique is inspired by the principal of additive synthesis – that any sound can broken down into a collection of sinusoidal waves which can then be combined to recreate the original sound. The beginning of “Partiels” directly transfers this concept to instruments. The work starts with a low trombone E followed the rest of the ensemble recreating the trombone’s timbre as sinusoidal waves would in additive synthesis.
It is debatable if this technique is effective in recreating the trombone’s timbre in “Partiels”; however, in his program notes to the work, Grisey makes it clear that a simple timbral reproduction is not his intent:
Numerous sequences of “Partiels” announce a new technique, that of instrumental synthesis. Analogous to the auditory synthesis used in the programmes of digital electronic music, this writing style uses the instruments (micro-synthesis) to express different elements of the sound and elaborate an overall sound form (macro-synthesis). The result of this treatment is that our perception, the different instrumental sources disappear to the advantage of a completely invented synthetic timbre. These different mergings allow for articulating and organizing a whole range of timbres going from the spectrum of harmonics to white noise, by the way of the different spectra of inharmonic partials.
-Gérard Grisey (trans. John Tyler Tuttle)
Another interesting feature of “Partiels,” which does not come across in the recording, are the visual theatrics at the work’s end.
The end of “Partiels” progressively moves towards silence, but perfect silence does not exist – there is always a spectator who coughs, musicians who drop their mutes or begin to put their things away! Therefore, I staged this impossibility of silence; in fact, two procedures alternate: the first goes from sound towards silence, and the second from silence towards a group of noises taken from the daily life of the instrumentalists (turning pages, horn players who drain the water from their instrument, string players putting away their bows…); but at the end, it is truly silence, for even the public is held breathless: the percussion who slowly separates his cymbals, while the other musicians quote a fragment of “Partiels.”
-Gérard Grisey (from an interview with Guy Lelong, trans. John Tyler Tuttle)
After completing “Les Espace Acoustiques” in 1985, beginning with the composition “Talea,” Grisey became less focused on constructing a new language. The compositional focus shifted more clearly towards the interaction between musical objects (or sound) and perceptible time or ‘musical time.’
By including not only the sound but, moreover, the differences perceived between sounds, the real material of the composer becomes the degree of predictability, or better, the degree of ‘preaudibility.’ So, to influence the degree of preaudibility we come back to composing musical time directly – that is to say perceptible time, as opposed to chronometric time [time determined by a clock or other conventional measurements].
…I believe that the compose who wants to give time a musical value must focus on this point. It is no longer the single sound whose density will embody time, but rather the difference or lack of difference between one sound and its neighbor; in other words, the transition from the know to the unknown and the amount of information that each sound event introduces.
…This brings us back to ‘composing around space,’ rather like sculptors (cf. Henry Moore) whose hollows are not holes bored into the material, but forms in negative around which the volumes are articulated.
-Gérard Grisey (“Tempus ex machina A composer's reflections on musical time,” Contemporary Music Review 2 (1987) 242-3, trans. by S. Welbourn)
It is in this more phenemological context that “Le noir de L’Étoile” was composed.
When I met the astronomer and cosmologist Joe Silk at Berkeley in 1985, he introduced me to the sounds of pulsars. I was seduced by those of the Vela Pulsar and immediately wondered, like Picasso picking up an old bicycle saddle, ‘What in world could I do with this?’
…When music succeeds in conjuring up time, it finds itself vested with a veritable shamanic power, that of connecting us to the forces that surround us.
…Of course, we know – or think we know – that with or without us, 0359-54 and the Vela Pulsar will continue their interminable rounds and sweep the intersidereal spaces indifferently with their beams of electromagnetic waves. But is it not by trapping them in a radio telescope, then integrating them into a sophisticated cultural event – the concert – that they will then send back to us more than their songs?
Indeed, the moment of a pulsar’s passage in the sky limits us to a precise date, and by pinning the concert on this faraway clock, it becomes an event in situ or, more exactly, in tempore, thereby linked to cosmic rhythms. Thus, the pulsars will determine not only the different tempi or beats of “Le Noir de L’Étoile,” but also the date and precise time of its performance.
Music with pulsar obbligato!
However, it should not be deduced that I am a follower of the Music of the Spheres! There is no Music of the Spheres other than Inner Music.
That alone beats even more violently than our pulsars and, from time to time, obliges a composer to remain listening.
-Gérard Grisey (program notes to “Le Noir de L’Étoile” trans. John Tyler Tuttle)
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Digression: The art of music is a violent art par excellence. It gives us to be perceived what Proust called ‘a little time in pure state,’ this time which supposes both the existence and annihilation of all forms of life
Music, impregnated by time, is invested with this violence of the sacred which G. Bataille (1986) speaks; a violence silent and without language, that only sound and its becoming can possibly, and only for an instant, evoke and exorcise.
…’The last work,’ Varèse said, ‘is imagination!’
To this I would add emotion which, ultimately, creates musical form as it is perceived
‘Music is number and drama,’ said Pythagoras.
Real musical time is only a place of exchange and coincidence between and infinite number of times.
-Gérard Grisey (“Tempus ex machina A composer's reflections on musical time,” Contemporary Music Review 2 (1987) 242-3, trans. by S. Welbourn)
During the last school year I had the wonderful opportunity to take a seminar and private lessons with Philippe Leroux. . Although not well known in the U.S.A (apparently amazon.com does not even carry his music), Philippe Leroux is one of the most significant contemporary French composers. Unlike many his other colleagues from the post-spectral generation who often use almost predictable structural and formal techniques, Philippe’s music always defies expectations while exuding his wry and clever sense of humour.
Within only a few years, Voi(Rex) has already become one of the formidable masterpieces in its genre. When composing the work at IRCAM, Philippe Leroux participated in a study documenting his compositional process. For this process he used custom patches in OpenMusic, kept a compositional diary, and was psychoanalyzed (sic) about the composition development. Some of the results of this study, in French, can be found online (here's a partial formal description and an analytical description) and in a new DVD-Rom.
In the past year and a half I have seen Philippe Leroux give a few talks on Voi(Rex)’s compositional process and have even had a chance to discuss some of the confusing issues with him personally. The most significant concept for Voi(Rex) is the idea of a model. To compose the work Philippe Leroux first modeled the sound of the soprano singing alone and into a tam-tam with spectral analysis and selected the work’s 26 chords. Some other models included his previous compositions, the poem itself, various electro-acoustic techniques (e.g. frequency shifting, delay, time stretching, doppler), and the shape of the alphabet’s 26 letters. The latter technique, although used throughout the work, is used most transparently in the second movement where the poem’s letters spell out the music in gesture and orchestration.
I’m not fond of musical play-by-play descriptions, so I’ll just give a few heads up for listening. In the introduction, I’m particularly fond of how the voice seamlessly moves between the acoustic to electronic environments. The second movement is hilarious, particularly when you can see the letters, periods, commas, and even breath marks being spelled out. The third movement contains a glorious phantom ensemble and a beautifully subtle ocean wave at the end. As for the final movement, all I can say is to be prepared for the unexpectable as well as it is a shame to miss out on the surround sound movement and on watching the singing spell out the spatialization with a pencil.
Philippe Leroux biggest composition to date, Apocolypsis for four voices, 15 instruments, and electronics premieres today in Paris alongside Voi(Rex) as part of the IRCAM Agora. Apocolypsis is based upon same concept as Voi(Rex), except the model is the composing of Voi(Rex). In his seminar in January he showed some sketches, tools, and the current state of Apocolypsis. He claims that this work searches too far into in his method and simply far too much effort. In the future he will keep his compositions much simpler. The concert by Bit20 Ensemble, which features both works, will be broadcast in the future on Radio France. When I find the date and time I’ll post it so the curious can listen.