As in I’ve been cooped up at home the last three days alternately sweating and shivering with alarming rapidity. That’s all I got. What’s happening with youse guys?
“Later that year Zuckermann abandoned his harpsichord business and America in disgust at the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War.”
It’s a good story about how a search to find Olivier Messiaen’s birthplace in Avignon leads to a conversation with the man who used to provide harpsichords for John Cage, but that sentence belongs in an old Woody Allen story.
Once upon a time, Banksy
visited Melbourne and left a piece of street art. Culture-conscious locals preserved the ephemera with a sheet of perspex. Unknown vandal/artist restores the natural order of things by tipping paint down the back of the perspex. The obliterated artwork is tagged “Banksy Woz Ere”.
Two centenaries on successive days: Olivier Messiaen (d. 1992) on Wednesday, Elliott Carter
(still alive and composing) on Thursday. On each night, Pierre Boulez conducted the Ensemble Intercontemporain in a commemorative concert in London.
I went to only the first gig. There have been Messiaen concerts going on in London all year, and I’ve missed all of them up until now. My main motivation for going was that Boulez is one of the few remaining survivors of the 1920s generation, so I thought I’d better take this chance to see him in action, particularly as he was conducting his former teacher, and his own music as well. I’d been to some concerts of Carter’s music
before, and had heard most of the pieces on the Thursday programme before, so I gave that a miss.
The two Messiaen works were from the early 1960s, both premiered by Boulez: Couleurs de la cité céleste
and Sept haïkaï
. Both works put Messiaen’s taste for the hieratic and the ritualised to the forefront. The former is a static processional for winds, brass, piano and percussion, creating sounds suitably imposing, rather than seductive. The latter’s short movements show the influence of Messiaen’s visit to Japan; less, thankfully, in musical exoticism and more in an affinity with the sense of eternal time expressed in traditional gagaku
court music. It’s a suprising piece for Messiaen, particularly in the dense passaages of unusually thorny textures.
After the interval (where we witnessed at the bar a distinguished lady of advanced years scull a large rioja, either to recuperate from the first half or to fortify herself for the second) Boulez conducted his own work from the late 90s, Sur incises
. The piece is an expansion of his piano piece Incises
into a work for a hyper-instrument consisting of three identical groups of piano, harp, and percussion. It’s all very nice, but it’s a little too typical of much of Boulez’s later music, and its obsession with the doubling (or tripling) and shadowing of instruments, from Répons
onwards. Long, agile phrases of melody contrast with sustained moments of stillness, impeccably put together but always feeling a little to mellow. The intellectual and emotional punches of his earlier music are all being pulled here.
On stage Boulez, combover intact
, was a model of self-effacement, even taking a detour round the back of the piano each time he walked to his podium. My lovely companion F, who has suffered under conductors of varying degrees of waywardness, admired the undemonstrative directness and lucidity of his conducting.
(This post is dedicated to the Slavic readers who can’t get enough of the two censored anime pictures on this page.)
was made using Coagula Light
, a shareware “colour-organ” that interprets digital images as sound spectra (height=frequency, width=time). The image source for this piece was a pornographic Japanese manga comic: each digitally scanned frame of the comic was interpreted with five different, variable time-frames and pitch ranges. The five sequences of frames are played simultaneously, each subjected to different filtering and panning processes. In effect, the piece is a type of timbral canon, with the same series of tone structures transposed into different frequencies and durations – this can be heard most clearly at the end of the piece.
The left half of the picture above shows selected frames from the original comic. On the right is a spectrographic analysis of right channel of Hentai-Oto-Ma (0’28″ to 0’39″) showing the images transformed across time and frequency.
Got a tune stuck in your head and you just have to get rid of it? The Girl From Ipanema
. It wipes the music part of your brain and then fades away. Works every time.
I recommend track 21 on that linked page.
(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla.)
indices have been updated to 15 November.
I haven’t been getting out as much as I’d like to lately, but I did make it to the Philharmonia Orchestra’s (free!) performance of Gérard Grisey’s Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil
on Sunday evening. Frankly, it’s mind-boggling that we didn’t have to pay to hear something as extraordinary as this music.
The cycle of songs was Grisey’s last completed work, before his sudden death in 1998. Over ten years after the completion of his remarkable Les espaces acoustiques
, his abilities in creating and balancing new sounds had deepened in skill and sensitivity. My reservations about his reliance on dramatic gestures in his earlier work did not apply: this meditation on death hovered like a final breath, both frail and terrible, suspending time and revealing the profound emotional depths of which music is capable.
Nothing felt forced, everything felt natural yet utterly strange; every development in the music was unexpected yet inevitable.