MATA 2012 is happening right now for the first time at Roulette, and we wanted to take the time to talk to one of the composers featured on the April 20th concert SIGNS AND SIGNALS: David Coll. David has studied at the University of Illinois, IRCAM in Paris (Cursus and Cursus 2), and at the University of California-Berkeley, receiving his PhD in December 2010. He now lives and works in Belgium.
Position, Influence (2010), for soprano and electronics will be performed by Mellissa Hughes this coming Friday and we were really curious about that piece…
How did you discover the de Gaulle speeches that you used as a textual source for Position, Influence?
It was part of the journey of gathering material for the piece. I remember spending a lot of time with Pasolini actually, but his poetry was underwhelming compared to his highly charged films. I looked at Isidore Isou as well, but nothing came together. Finally, getting more into the Enrages and the Situationists, I realized I needed to look at some historical documents. I subscribed to INA (Ed. French for National Audiovisual Institute) and all of a sudden I see de Gaulle (Ed. Charles de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969). What an incredible look and figure, I thought.
In fact the pieces opening line (Je ne me retirerai pas / I will not step down! (from office)) is the only fragment that is De Gaulle. And it is his first statement after returning from abroad and having the Mai 68 events already in full force. After that, the piece moves in many directions, and the text is mine actually.
I used to be able to count the number of profound, live musical experiences I’ve had on one hand. It began with the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin performing an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, op. 70. The second movement was perfection, and the violin/cello duet therein left me with an indelible memory of the event. The next such performance was hearing Krystian Zimerman perform Chopin’s Ballade no. 4 in F minor, op. 52. I had heard recordings of this piece, live performances, and had even played it myself, but this was a revelation. The lessons I learned about pacing, rubato, and control from a single note in ms. 56 I’ve not forgotten.
More recently, the most stunning experiences I’ve had have been of new music: Charlemagne Palestine performing Schlingen-Blängen, hearing MAX!MAL BL!NDMAN give a concert in Belgium, and spending far too little time in La Monte Young’s Dream House. Now I’m going to have to add the JACK Quartet’s “In the Dark” concert to this rather exclusive list. I will not soon forget their performance; this program is not to be missed.
Yesterday, somebody Googled Pelleas et Melisande Pronunciation and landed on I Care if You Listen. I felt so bad that the audio file was not yet available that I immediately prepared this post, the second exception to the French Composers’s Names series…
The MP3 below features the only pronunciation of the title of Debussy’s opera I’ve ever heard—and always used—although after a brief search on the interwebs, it seems that people sometimes pronounce Melisande with a Z sound instead of an S.
Stéphane Degout (Pelléas) et Elena Tsallagova (Mélisande) – Photo by Charles Duprat
Funny anecdote about Debussy and Pelleas, recalled by Jean Cocteau in 1921 and quoted in Robert Orledge’s Satie the Composer:
One evening Debussy and Satie found themselves seated at the same table. They found each other pleasant. Satie asked Debussy what he was preparing. Debussy, like everyone, was composing a Wagnerie, with Catulle Mendes. Satie made a grimace. ‘Believe me’, he murmured, ‘we have enough of Wagner. Quite beautiful; but not of our stock. We should … (Here I ask the greatest attention. I have cited a phrase of Satie which was told to me by Debussy, and which decided the aesthetic of Pelleas) … We should see to it’, he said, ‘that the orchestra does not grimace when characters enter on the scene. Look here: do the trees of the scenery grimace? We should make a musical scenery, create a musical climate where the personages move and speak – not in couplets, not in leit-motifs: but by the use of a certain atmosphere of Puvis de Chavannes.’
Think of the time [of] which I am speaking. Puvis de Chavannes was one of the audacious mocked by the Right.
‘And you Satie’, asked Debussy. ‘What are you preparing?’
‘I’, said Satie, ‘I am thinking of the Princesse Maleine; but I do not know how to obtain the authorization of Maeterlinck.’
Some days afterwards, Debussy, having obtained the authorization of Maeterlinck, commenced Pelleas et Melisande.
Many musicians have tried to bring the avant-garde to the masses, and despite their best efforts, something fails to catch with a larger audience. Sometimes there’s a band like Radiohead or Meshuggah, who become popular by speaking in the language of rock music but whose music is just as influenced by Schoenberg or Stockhausen as it is by the Beatles or Metallica. But I’m talking about an artist getting a bunch of twenty-something rock fans who’ve never listened to Albert Ayler or John Cage to come see some truly strange music. It’s tough for those of us that love it all, tonal/atonal, beautiful/ugly, orderly/chaotic… we see the greatness in strange, difficult music, and wish others could as well, yet we get odd looks when trying to get friends to appreciate Webern or late Coltrane. We think, why can’t something harsh and challenging, yet thoughtful, appeal to a wider audience? Why not expand the scope of popular music? But there has always been this wall. And more frustratingly, there is a double-standard of sorts: experimentally-minded rock musicians can travel into the avant-garde (Sonic Youth, Mike Patton, etc.) but musicians from the other side never seem to break out, even into the rock underground. Well, for the most part. There is, of course, Colin Stetson.
Sunday April first (no joke!) was the fifth annual Switchboard Music Festival. One of several new music festivals/marathon concerts in San Francisco, Switchboard features eight hours of mostly modern music. I had been really looking forward to hearing the first set with Danny Holt (piano and percussion at the same time), but due to the ever-present “my muni bus didn’t show up when nextbus said it would” problem in San Francisco, I did not arrive at the Brava Theater until his set was nearly over. This year is the second year in a row Switchboard has been held at the Brava Theater, which is located in the middle of the Mission District. It’s a wonderful place to hold a marathon concert, because between sets the audience can literally walk half a block out the door and find several options for good Mexican food. If by chance you didn’t like Mexican food, the festival had hired a food truck, which was parked nearby selling Indian food (the samosas were amazing!).
Chinese composers, writing in the second half of the twentieth century, faced a problem: how to write new music in a foreign style (European art music) that is still characteristic of the composer’s culture? That exact same issue was faced by American composers in the first half. To make matters worse, the classical tradition is a conservative and seemingly inflexible one, which certainly proved difficult for American composers to work with, but must have seemed impossibly daunting for that first generation of Chinese musicians, who were really some of the first artists from a completely non-Western society to take a crack at writing European-style concert music. But however daunting it may have been, the last sixty years has seen some incredible music from several generations of Chinese and Chinese-American composers. Now, more than a decade into the twenty-first century, we all face a different question: what next? I recently attended a concert in which five composers, all either Chinese or of Chinese descent (and one American with a deep understanding of traditional Chinese music) attempted to answer that question, as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Hall.
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