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<<  -- 3 --  Rex Harley    ILLUMINATIONS OF THE BEYOND


Not for several minutes do we hear from the percussive forces gathered around us; not until the voice informs us : 'Vast lighthouses of the sky, the two pulsars will be guiding our musical voyage. Listen closely to the ticking of these cosmic clocks. We have a rendezvous with the keepers of eternal time. Open the window and wait.'

There are, in fact, four designated 'windows' in the piece, which intersperse the recorded emanations of the pulsars and the interventions of the percussionists. Their contribution begins in a soft, seemingly random and disjointed way, with two of the players sharing a kind of aleatoric antiphon. Gradually, the others join in. Instruments are scraped, bowed (in the case of the cymbals), and hit -- sometimes with a force bordering on violence: during the second 'window', for example, one section is headed 'Interruption brutale par les percussionistes'. There are moments when the audience is caught in a cosmic storm of noise which sweeps round them like an aural equivalent of the Mexican wave!

Then there are moments of calm; and out of the silence comes the hypnotic rhythm of the pulsars. The first is the Vela pulsar, the residue of a supernova that primitive man probably saw in broad daylight some 12,000 years ago. The second is known as 0329+54. The supernova that generated it exploded five million years ago and its radio pulsations take 7,500 years to reach the Earth. The sounds they make, heard within the context of the piece, and in a virtually dark space, inspire genuine awe. They are, in the words of another French composer: 'Éclairs sur l'Au-Dela' -- Illuminations of the Beyond.

For myself, I wonder if that sense of awe comes from our consciousness of difference and distance, in space and time; or rather from a deeply buried awareness of connection. As the Quaker metaphysician John R Yungblut has it : 'There is a direct line of continuity from subatomic particles and stardust to our present sophisticated selves ... Matter, the original matter, is still present in our structure. We have endured many transformations. For this reason we are as old as the universe. There is that in us which can claim immortality till now.'

'Hot White Light' concert flyer
'Hot White Light' concert flyer

Hot White Light was not merely a concert, but an event; an experience which fused the cerebral, the emotional and the spiritual in one unforgettable evening. It was my good fortune to be there, and I can only hope that, despite its formidable challenges, to performers and organisers alike, Gérard Grisey's chef d'oeuvre will, in time, be heard by others the world over.

Copyright © 2 February 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK





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