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Pierre Boulez: Répons / Dialogue de l'Ombre Double (20/21 series)

1 rating: 5.0
An album by Alain Damiens, Daniel Ciampolini, Ensemble InterContemporain, Florent Boffard, Frederique Cambreling, Michel Cerutti, Pierre Boulez, and Vincent Bauer

Written in the mid-1980s,Réponsrepresents Pierre Boulez's first major work after his controversial tenure conducting the New York Philharmonic. It's also a demonstration of how live instruments could be used in conjunction with computer-generated … see full wiki

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1 review about Pierre Boulez: Répons / Dialogue de l'Ombre...

notes across time and space.

  • Mar 26, 2006
As with many post-serialist Boulez works, _Repons_ is a self-contained universe of musical rules. Serialism, while in some ways structurally liberating, does have essentially concrete, mathematical forms that one can fundamentally grasp, if only vaguely. _Repons_ is quite a different sort of work: it is alien, oblique, and pervasively structured with only the most counter-intuitive relations of harmony. I guess, depending on one's perspective, it could be completely dissonant or completely consonant.

Pierre Boulez likens _Repons_ to a spiral. But what supports the spiral? I liken it more to a big serpent with its tail in its mouth, where each musical idea is mutually reinforces each other idea. So fluid and aurally tight is the sound that it seems that if you could take any individual pitch at any given moment and trace it through all of its spatio-compositional relations you could see the entire piece. It would all be there. This is unrealistic, of course, but the whole is so vital in this work that to understand each individual moment in the music you will have no choice but to know how each is related to each. This is not uncommon in understanding art, or in understanding the nature of things. Hegel offered an argument that in order for a thing to be at all, it must be this rather than that, and the properties encompassed in "rather than that" were as essential to its being as the "this." "Something is in this relation to Other from its own nature and because otherness is posited in it as its own movement: its Being-in-Self comprehends negation, through which alone it now has its affirmative existence . . . it is just as this cancellation of its Other that it is Something." A rather obtuse way of making a very simple argument, but it applies so importantly here because _Repons_, as a musical experience, lacks much in the way of `emotional' connection (as in the feelings people typically associate with the term "emotional") and appeals to a rather different impulse. The emotion it satisfies, if there is any, is like the satisfaction when a mathematician completes an elaborate proof. It _is_ different, but it does satisfy in its own way.

All of this is, on consideration, a rather unhelpful way to discuss music. Most people would never want to listen to anything like this. But the reason that it might be helpful in this case is that some adventurous types might still want to check it out, and most musical experience does not deal with anything so abstract. Traditional Western harmony coheres to its relations in the major and minor scales; serialism coheres to its relations in mathematical forms. The rationale of _Repons_ is not so familiar. It operates at what must appear to the listener as a bewildering system. But with a goal towards seeing the whole, _repons_ becomes more intelligible and then VERY rewarding.

Let me try to give you an idea what the music is actually like. As a technical feat, the piece is daunting: it is scored for six percussive soloists (two piano, harp, vibraphone, xylophone/glockenspiel, and cimbalom) modified by live electronics and a live 24-piece orchestra. The electronic processors serve to reposition sounds - in live performance, spatial relations for performers and listeners alike. The audience surrounds the orchestra, and is surrounded in turn by six soloists with loudspeakers arranged to transform sounds.

Boulez says that he was interested in the ways past and present interact. The acoustic instruments produce raw material which is transformed and relocated so as to interact spatially and harmonically with its own reproductions and the sounds of the orchestra and soloists. This illustrates what I mean by the serpent analogy: the conclusion of the piece reveals that everything was included in it all along. The essence of each musical idea is drawn across myriad links, its essence changing as its relationship to other ideas is understood and seen as different but always identified with the original. Like a labyrinth of mirrors, its sonic images are reflected and distorted in so many ways it could induce vertigo. Its pervasive dissonance can be interpreted as an almost coherent harmony once every last piece is in place and the system is laid out completely. (I add the "almost" as a qualifier since this is one of Boulez's "works in progress" - this is the third and longest version of the composition and so perhaps the most complete.)

The complexity of its internal system makes _Repons_ is one of the most difficult pieces of music I have ever listened to. The musical argument is truly arduous to follow, and it places great responsibility on the listener to pay attention. It is not something I can listen to often and enjoy. This review is crap, seriously, and I don't recommend this album to ANYONE! But you should listen to it if you think you might find it rewarding.

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