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<<  -- 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 ...'

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Copyright © 2 February 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK


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