A text and some poems, in four languages
Duelle rests upon a text, Creuse espérance [‘Deepen hope’], by Geneviève Lloret in which a mother meditates upon the destiny of her autistic son.
A resonance between intensions
This text, read by its author in a neutral and tranquil manner (without pathos in its diction: a voice naked and sweet, speaking peacefully of tumultuous situations), traverses the work in order to give life less to its signifieds than to its intension (intress according to the neologism of the poet G. M. Hopkins): this interior tension that brings about its consistency as sensible thought. The rapport of Duelle to the text that it incorporates is deployed by resonance between heterogeneous orders.
A number of poems in foreign languages are joined to the primary text: poems by Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan, by Anna Akhmatova and Emily Dickinson, composing a bouquet of texts tied by this leitmotiv “we (their) mothers” that announces the poem by Nelly Sachs.
Some spoken voices musically x-rayed
In order to enter into resonance musical and literary intensions, it is necessary that the music captures the inpect of the text (inscape according to another neologism of Hopkins): not its exterior aspect but its internal general profile, the manner in which it globally recovers the interior of itself. This capture here rests upon a filigree (?) that is henceforth possible to extract from a spoken voice and that comes to fertilise the musical discourse with sonic structures: melismas, inflexions, profiles, scansions… This operation makes audible the musicality of a spoken voix: if it is true that “a noise extended to a great length becomes a voice” (V. Hugo), in Duelle the noise of a speech extended to a great length becomes a musical voice.
Four languages sung – spoken…
Inverse to this passage of speech toward music, Duelle integrates the passage of singing into speech: how to sing “as on speaks”? In accordance with the disposition proper to each of the languages of the work, four musical references are invoked: that of Mussorgsky for the Russian language, of Debussy for the French language, of Schoenberg for the German language and jazz for English.
A duel Form
In total, there are two inverse lines of development that cross and then uncross each other: on the one hand a speaking that modulates and sings, on the other a singing that speaks, percussions that phrase, instruments that enunciate, all the way to a violin that sheds the tears of an evaporated speech. Duelle skeletons its Form around a musical intercrossing [entrecroisement] that responds to the literary duality of the text by G. Lloret since the mother set on stage is redoubled in two subjective positions, calling to herself and responding.
The manner of putting into play these different rapports sets in play a singular system of sonic diffusion upon which Duelle interrogates itself, labours and that in truth listens: the Timée.
A new system for sonic projection: the Timée
Why this name?
This sonic source has the form of a cube (in the version of the concert it is a matter of three superposed cubes, each reserved for a particular band of frequencies: lows, mediums, highs). Another source, more experimental, had hat of a dodecahedron. In order to assure the physical compactedness of this source, the researchers explored the variety of regular polyhedrons (five of them exist) that Plato had thematised in his cosmological essay: the Timaeus [Timée in French]. The philosopher, associating each of these polyhedrons to a natural element (the cube figured as the molecule of Earth, the octahedron that of the air, etc.), correlated these volumes to their capacity to “make world.” To name this new electroacoustic source Timée highlights thus its capacity of configuring the world of mixed music. The feminisation of the proper name [in French: la Timée] brings out the matriarchal power of this source.
In which manner can the Timée reconfigure the world of “mixed” music?
1) A reversal.
The Timée reverses the relationship of electroacoustic sonorities to the space by relocalisation of their source.
A single speaker cannot “fill” a hall, for lack of being able to really “excite” it, the habitual practice is to multiply the loudspeakers and to abstract it from the architectural space by “composing” a sonic spatialisation independent of the place. In doing so, the music crosses out its rapport with the architectural space so as to no longer offer anything but a spatial milieu extending itself over three dimensions, without sides and without interior diversity.
By contrast, the Timée localises the source of the electroacoustic sonorities by means of a volume which radiates the sounds and no longer diffuses them. In this way of operating, the source acknowledges the architectural space. It sets in play the hall, reveals its proper acoustic characteristics, without pretending to substitute itself for the specific work of the architects and acousticians of the hall.
In its rapport with the architectural space, the Timée takes the instrument for its model, constituting its musical vocation: in the same way that a musician will shift the position of his instrument by function of the proper acoustic of the hall in which he plays, in the same way that he will adapt his modes of playing and his interpretation to this same acoustic, so proceeds the Timée, playing in an architectural site and with the acoustics of the place.
The Timée exceeds the loudspeaker by polarising the sonic space around the physical body that it constitutes – an isolated loudspeaker is not a physico-instrumental body, not even a skin, but a simple membrane.
Whereas the habitual electroacoustic systems diffuse the sounds, the Timée projects them: the electroacoustic sonorities thus uncover, equally to the instrumental sonorities, the impact of an address, the intensity of a musical proposition.
2) A “putting back on its feet”
The Timée puts back on its feet the dialectic in play in “mixed” musics between instruments and loudspeakers.
The musical stake is: who leads this dialectics, the instruments of the loudspeakers?
With Timée it is a matter of giving back to the musical instrument the leading part, in order to re-establish a genuine dialogue between instruments and speakers.
Traditionally in mixed work, the instruments (and sometimes even the voice!) must be amplified: not being able to rival the electroacoustic power, or their colour making too strong of a contrast, their must progressively align themselves to the sonority of the loud-speakers. Thus this electroacoustic system, from its initially supplementary and extending role, begins to rule the sonic situation, dictating its conditions to the instruments and the voice. Hence a rivalry leading to a permanent escalation in which the musician, his instrument and his voice are lost in advance. In this way of operating the diffusion by loud-speakers has this taken the power and dominates the entire sonic dynamic.
With the Timée, the instruments no longer need to be amplified and it is they who set the rules of occupation of the architectural space.
3) A new “harmonic” power
The Timée authorises a new way of bringing together electroacoustic sonorities without them being neutralised or recovered.
Neither a single loudspeaker, nor different loudspeakers redivided between four corners of a hall can deploy a real polyphony: the simple loudspeaker squashes the voices upon each other where several dispersed loudspeakers do not establish any shared origin. The first arrangement stifles the diversity of the voices where the second disperses them. The Timée, installs a common region from which the different voices are address to the place, establish a way of being together that is without precedent. If for a musician, “being together” means “harmony,” the Timée offers thus a new harmonic potential.
In doing so the Timée rehabilitates the listening of electroacoustic discourses, if when understands by listening not a comfortable audition, the blissful immersion in a sonic milieu enveloping you and lulling you but an acceptance of a convocation. If one adequately auditions a band of loudspeakers by sinking into their armchair, one must listen to the Timée by staying “on guard,” in a face-to-face, being played to the speaker from the man (the sounds no longer come from the hangers over the auditors). In other words, in truth one hears loud-speakers but one listens to the Timée.
A radical proposition
Duelle adopts a point of view radical: diffuse only instrumental sonorities recorded but not transformed. Thus no electroacoustic operations (filtering, reverb, harmonisation, synthesis, etc) in Duelle (with two exceptions), but percussions, flutes, a harpsichord, violins, a grand organ, a piano, and spoken voices of which the sonic realities are reproduced as such. Their passage by the Timée only then reveals better the musical genius proper to the system.
Various possible orientations
On could, it is true, take part in the Timée according to different orientations: that of musique concrete and acousmatic, that of sonic design… The project of Duelle is restricted to the interrogation: how to make music by integrating the Timée into a small instrumental formation?
The arrangement adopted upon stage – the Timée sits in the middle of the musicians – does justice to this proposition; one must identify that all the sonorities that one hears during the work come from the single system, the other loud-speakers installed in the hall of the concert being here out of use (indeed, the live instruments are here not amplified).
A stopping point
To musically inquire into a new system of diffusion (as one can do more traditionally on a new instrument), this is also to encounter unexpected obstacles. The radical proposition of Duelle was in no way my starting hypothesis: I intended, quite on the contrary, to incorporate into this work the type of electroacoustic sonorities (obtained by granular synthesis) that I have used in my previous mixed work Dans la distance (1993). But it emerged that these sonorities, through the Timée, were no longer musically satisfying and that the musical validity of a sound was tightly correlated to its mode of projection: radiation for the instruments, diffusion for the loudspeakers, projection for the Timée. It is thus the very materiality of the system-Timée that opposed upon me this radicality.
A concerto grosso
On could object: for what reason then project flutes, percussion, voices… when one could arrange their model on the stage, in a formation surrounding the soloists? It is true that Duelle can be seen as a concerto grosso where the Timée takes sometimes the role of the ripieno, sometimes that of the concertino. But what is gained then in projecting such a concerto grosso from the Timée rather than having it unfold entirely live?
The response, it is of course Duelee which delivers it, is that of installing completely different rapports between the sonic sources than would be done in a traditional concertante formation. It suffices for that to compare what one hears in Duelle to what would have been given, in addition to the live performers, by four flutes, two violins, a piano, 10 percussionists, a harpsichord, a grand organ, without forgetting four speakers. The arrangement here intelligible as 3 (musicians) + 1 (Timée) would be completely differently divided, being pulverised in a proliferation of performers, not subsumable according to a single home. In truth the “being together” would have been musically completely different.
Duelle is duel, is dual
In sum, Duelle crosses a dramatic madrigal (I prefer this generic expression to that of melodrama, too attached to its romantic connotations) by a concerto grosso. Making duel, Duelle conforms thus to the Kiergergaardian prescription of the reduplication (or the enunciation wedding the enunciated) since “form” and “content” are here combined and in accord.
I would add that the “harmonic” genius of the Timée seems to me to demand bearing a very particular attention to the harmonic material (this time in the traditional sense: the enchainment of vertical aggregates…). There also, it would be of a genuine accord with the initial hypothesis (to render compossible heterogeneous voices) and of a submission to a properly musical logic. For a composer, this submission is in no way a renouncement but on the contrary a moment of grace where the work announces its proper glory: in fact, what is there more exalting, in the work of composition, than the moment when one reaches a musically logical deposit that sets in play the singularity of the work?
The plan of the work
After a brief introduction, a vast rondo alternates between four “refrains” (seeing their polyphonic density consistently grow at the same time as their durations decrease) and three “couplets” each pivoting around the coupling of an instrument and a foreign language (successively the harpsichord and English, the flute and Russian, the violin and German). The climax of the work is given in a “crux” where the knotting-deknotting [play on words with dé-nouement] of the singing and speaking, instruments and Timée is achieved. This part opens upon the transfiguration of the spoken voice followed by a vast “cadence” where the Timée comes to take again, according to its proper talent, the instrumental material with which it is supported. The work is completed in a lyrical garland of the four languages, mounted up the live instrumental duo and swept by a whirlwind of percussion.
François Nicolas (June 2001)