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Compositional interests

In my composition, I like to use material charged with semantic and multi-shaped referential values that I breathe into my material. I like to bring into play typical structures, “characters in sound”, which carry “meaning” and are evocative of certain icons and idiosyncrasies of musical history. Then, through their playful handling, I use these evocations and their perceptual ambiguities to re-interpret certain historical codes by perverting and dismantling stylistic allusions—all the time with an awareness of and a sensibility to our time. Using a parodic treatment fuelled by intensification, distanciation, and hidden meanings (second-degree contextualization), I divert the semantic charge of historical codes and icons by engaging in extended games of hide-and-seek which lead the listener through layers of ambiguities and misleading references.

So I want to address, within the medium of music, what several theoreticians of literature call intertextuality: creating a connection—whether it be symbolic, cultural, esthetical or technical, between a given material and other earlier materials—in order to create a vast referential network that enriches, by way of multiplication, the listener’s perceptual experience.

In my works, the collision, the friction, the crossbreeding and the process of contextualization invigorate the musical discourse, as much as the traditional manipulations of purely musical parameters. Here it is a question of composing not only with sounds, but also with “meanings”. I strive for an art of metaphor using over-coding, artifice, generalized ambiguity and complex dialogue with the history of music to create a music about music.

Memory is at the core of my artistic research. In my works, I try to create a fertile exchange between the present-timeness of the work and the remoteness of previous art.

A playful relationship with the history of music takes place on a number of simultaneous levels; movements involving recollection and forgetfulness, and moments that manipulate memory by reconstructing the past. Here the aim is to expose, through the unfolding of the work, the process by which memory assembles, dismantles and constructs its own past, through a constant re-evaluation of history’s shifting grounds and their relentless projection into our visions of the future. This, because memory is not objective, it is intrinsically biased and charged with meaning.

This approach does not originate from a feeling of nostalgia. There is no desire here to regain music’s paradise lost. But rather I try to substantiate the utopian idea of a bringing together of all times into the fleeting moment. Have all eras: past and future, connect through a present-day intuition of musical time.

In this I have been influenced by the writings and musical works of composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann and his concept of pluralistic composition have also influenced my way of thinking about the relationship to time. One can find in Zimmermann the idea of an “unicity” of time as a synthesis of the present, the past and the future. Through the medium of music, Zimmermann expresses, in his own way, the idea of a present-time consciousness which that I believe he developed from the philosophies of Bergson and Husserl. In opposition to the rationalist and mechanistic concept of time (conception of time as an externally measurable successiveness), we have indeed been finding since Bergson the representation of an internal, real time, a time of pure movement, of perpetual motion. For Bergson, physical time is the release of a momentum and mental time is the unfolding of a memory. Husserl, for his part, develops the idea of an internal perceptive consciousness, different from the cosmic, measurable time, as a unifying framework for all experiences.

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The great historian of Religions, Mircea Eliade, also suggests an engaging way for envisioning time, when he speaks of Profane Duration and Sacred Time which has inspired me. He explains that Sacred Time is, by its very nature, reversible, meaning it is a primordial mythical time, made present. Every religious celebration, every liturgical time, consists in the re-actualization of a sacred event, which took place in a mythical past. To take part in a religious celebration implies withdrawing from “ordinary” temporal duration in order to re-integrate a mythical time, re-actualized by the celebration itself.

Sacred time is then indefinitely recoverable, indefinitely repeatable. In a way, we could say it does not flow and doesn’t constitute an irreversible duration. It is the utmost ontological time: always identical to itself, it neither changes nor does it run itself out.

Sacred time manifests itself under the paradoxical semblance of a circular time, reversible and recoverable, a sort of mythical Eternal present, which we reintegrate periodically by way of rituals. The very notion that the musical work, for instance, can be apprehended as a ritual space-time continuum constitutes for me a boundless source of inspiration.

 

THE BAROQUE REVISITED

Prior to officially becoming a composer, I was for several years an eager musician, playing the harpsichord, the organ and the clavichord. It would be accurate to say that I discovered music through the keyboard repertoire of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is the extensive and systematic exploration of the harpsichord and organ Baroque repertoire that literally shaped my musical consciousness and oriented my perception of musical sound. This could only have had a deep influence on the way I apprehend the notion of musical discourse in my works.

An important part of my work has addressed a kind of critical revaluation of Baroque features in which I wish to bring out a possible relationship between the spirit of the Baroque and my way of thinking music. Baroque art is based on movement, drama and illusion effects:

—In architecture: bright colours, concealed sources of light, luxurious materials,

contrasting textures and unrestrained use of ornamentation.

—In painting, overabundant vitality, intensity of the expressive movements, dramatic effects created by shadows and light, spectacular subject matters, transitions from unity to multiplicity.

My musical poetics metamorphically suggest a link between this sensibility and the pluralism and eclecticism of our era–with its overabundance of information absorbed at high-speeds and the emergence of multidimensional and nonlinear hypertextual structures in our everyday lives—always with the aim of expressing the greatest possible diversity, a profusion of striking contrasts, non-linear discourse and formal freedom.

The new stilo fantastico

For example, I have been trying to actualize some aesthetical and rhetorical elements of Baroque art as well as some of its characteristic compositional and performance practices in many compositions. For instance, I transposed into my own language the distinctive discourse one can find in Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Toccatas or Ditrich Buxtehude’s Preludes; a musical style referred to as stilo fantastico : a swift flow of antagonistic ideas, a conception of form as a mosaic, abrupt variations of atmospheres and movements, relentlessly ruptured development, diversified harmonic and rhythmic manipulations, in other words, an explicit predilection for artifice and theatrical emphasis.

In my works, I try to push to its extreme limit the concept of stilo fantastico and put forward a structural organization originating from the clash of heterogeneous material: aesthetics of discontinuity, art of pervasive unsteadiness. The work’s internal movement springs from the dialectics of contrary forces.

This approach is quite different from the classical way of thinking out musical matter. It doesn’t proceed anymore from an elementary data, a generating component to be multiplied until exhaustion of its intrinsic possibilities, thereby insuring, de facto, the work’s organic coherence. On the contrary, it’s a way of thinking that consists in working with multiple and often heterogeneous materials. The challenge here is to structure their dynamic relationships, their musical potentials, their inner forces, and to have them coexist in a coherent whole.

 

RE-COMPOSITION, DECONSTRUCTION AND COMPOSED INTERPRETATION

Another of my compositional interests is characterized by the reinterpretation of pre-existing works in accordance with my compositional needs and interests.

Paradoxically the idea of elaborating a composition—not from a quotation or a reference to style, but rather by quoting a complete and well-known work from the repertoire, then revisiting it and bringing out unsuspected potential— comes from my keen interest in the art of Glenn Gould.

Indeed, Gould considered his unorthodox and controversial performances of Bach and Mozart’s masterworks, for example, as re-compositions of these works. His view was that if one is going to pursue performance at a time when the greatest performances of the past have been made permanent in the recording catalogue to every one’s to hear, where hundreds of versions of a same work are readily available, one must indeed recompose them. Gould thought that since all the basic statements have been made for posterity now, what performers must do is trying to find a way around these things, try to find a raison d’être that is somehow different and still somehow right, that it makes sense.

I have found it stimulating to transpose his take on that matter to the point of view of a composer whose task would be to “re-interpret” and refresh famous and overheard pieces of the repertoire. My score becomes a theatre of musical analysis where I playfully comment upon various iconic works in line with the classical practice of (re-)arranging traditional folk material and the jazz tradition of reinterpreting standards.

Listeners can understand these projects as a compositional strategy where compositions of the past reveal themselves as multifaceted and allow multiple “readings”. This attitude, inspired by theories of literature from, among others, Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes, promote a new understanding of the artworks; it suggests that a text can be read and understood from numerous viewpoints. The meaning of a text is never closed, never definitive.

My role as a composer/interpreter is to reveal hidden possibilities which lay unnoticed in these perhaps “too familiar” compositions. Defamiliarization is one of the concepts put forward in these particular compositions which goal is to make the audience experience usual things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to intensify the perception of the familiar.

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Irony and playfulness have also become central concepts in my work. I understand from Milan Kundera, that if irony irritates it is not that it mocks or scolds, but because it deprives us of certainties, by revealing the world as ambiguity.

Octavio Paz wrote that irony – as can be found in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, for instance- is the great invention of the modern spirit. Irony, distanciation, and hidden meaning have been more important in literature than in music. Because the lingering romantic notion of intimate confession, of tormented subjectivity, of revelation-of-the-deep-self, however concealed it may be, remains central in the artistic endeavours of the great musical innovators of this century.

Igor Stravinsky may have been the first one to step beyond this image introducing the notion of distanciation in his work. In doing so, he turned his back on romanticism and made way for a radically different exploration of music in relationship to subjectivity.

The obsessive attempt to keep renewing material and the burden of subjectivity are supplanted by a playful and analytical exploration of musical history’s various codes.

The path Stravinsky opened—that of a dialogue with the history of music-—still remains today one of the most fruitful and inspiring ones of musical creation. And for me the path has also been fuelled by non musical sources: certain paintings from Picasso’s last period, where he appropriates himself and reinterprets – in a fascinating, if not delirious, manner- certain key representations from the history of painting: Las Meninas by Velazquez, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet, L’enlèvement des Sabines by David, Les femmes d’Alger by Delacroix, Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine by Courbet, etc.

These are works and aesthetic approaches that had a deep influence on my imaginary and which had important repercussions in my own works.

 

MUSICAL SURREALISM, GENETIC MANIPULATIONS, MUSICAL CHIMERA AND CUTUPS

The concept of cutups (a term coined by William S. Burroughs to describe a writing techniques that involved « cutting up » different texts and rearranging the pieces to create a new piece) has also been a source of inspiration in works like Dischordia (1989) for piano solo and La chaotique (1994) for harpsichord solo.

I wrote these two pieces with the idea of exploring discontinuity and fragmentation. I wanted to question the concept of structural unity as the most fundamental meta-narrative of Western Music. As Jonathan D. Kramer will discuss a few years later in his article Beyond Unity: Toward an Understanding of Postmodernism in Music and Music Theory, we should differentiate between the alleged unity of a composition (studied in score) and that of music as heard, understood and remembered. Kramer calls the former textual unity and the latter perceptual unity. Therefore, scores like Dischordia and La chaotique which shows a high rate of changes at a fast speed may seem disunified from the textual point of view, but as studies in psychology show us, perception itself is an ordering process and I am betting that this music will somehow make sense in the mind of the listener since all music that is perceived (i.e., that is not ignored or rejected) is unified to some degree, in some way. La chaotique is an over-fragmented discourse that is nevertheless determined by a pre-established linear development; a progressive rarefaction process of the material.

Also fertile is the example of certain visual arts practices, in painting notably, which incited me to attempt a transposition of the narrative framework of dreams into the world of sound.

A few painters come to mind: Rauschenberg, Magritte, Ernst, De Chirico, Dali. They all share the same will to extend the boundaries of the imagination through a confrontation of elements from everyday life. These elements, taken individually, remain one-dimensional, but gain unsuspected evocative powers, when brought together into an ingenious juxtaposition: importance of contextualization.

 

CONCLUSION

Musicological and ethno-musicological research, along with the development of recording and the proliferation of communications tools, have made it possible to come in contact with music from all cultures and eras. The musicians of my generation have evolved with the peculiar and ever exhilarating persuasion of being gifted with an entire world musical heritage.

From this, my musical intuition has blossomed amidst a bombardment of information, stimulus and disparate sensations that could only have had a deep influence on my musical consciousness and the way I compose.

My approach to music is both integrationist and inclusive, wavering between modernism and postmodernism. To me, oppositions such as lyricism and objectivism, intuition and rigor, simplicity and complexity, tradition and novelty, far from excluding each other, are generative of movement and proceed from a single artistic endeavour: that of the free and audacious exploration of the possibilities of musical sound.