<< -- 2 -- Rex Harley ILLUMINATIONS OF THE BEYOND
What can only be understood by experiencing the piece is how this dry,
almost mathematical configuration translates, in performance, into something
which also engages the spirit. In a live performance, especially
one of such skill and artistry as we were privileged to hear in Vancouver,
the rapport between the players, and the delight each one takes in the precision
of the others, approaches the kind of interaction one sees in a concert
by classical Indian musicians, or jazz artists, where there is a strong
element of improvisation. The only reason I can think of is that Reich has
somehow managed to create music which unfolds as organically as if it were
happening spontaneously. What the players are responding to is the 'rightness'
of what they hear.
One of the sharpest contrasts between this and the piece which followed
-- Gérard Grisey's Le Noir de l'Étoile -- is
that none of the six percussionists can hear what the others are
playing. The reason lies in the complexities of the piece, which requires
each musician to wear a head set, through which they hear a voice cueing
them in to the next fragment of music on the score in front of them. There
are over sixty different click-tracks, covering a vast range of time signatures
and tempi. Thus, the only people who experience the piece in toto
are the audience. And boy, do they experience it!
Where for Six Marimbas the audience was outside the tight circle
of instruments, now they find themselves inside. The percussionists
are ranged round the auditorium, the seats within being arranged to face
several different ways. Thus, no two members of the audience receive the
same auditory experience. It depends entirely where you're sitting
in relation to the surrounding phalanx of percussion; and it should be noted
that never before has a piece of music required the range of percussive
instrumentation demanded by Grisey. In order to perform this concert, the
musicians had to draw on all the resources they knew: university departments,
personal collections -- some instruments were flown in specially from Toronto
-- and even the ingenious appropriation of a large metal disc, more accustomed
to industrial use.
Yet Le Noir de l'Étoile begins with none of these.
As the instrumentalists wait quietly at their stations, a taped voice, accompanied
only by occasional background echoes and distortion, relates the story of
pulsars and how they were discovered:
- 'In 1967 a young astronomer detected in the sky a rapidly varying radio
signal in the form of periodic impulses coming every 1.3 seconds. The discovery
caused a sensation ...'
Copyright © 2 February 2003
Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK