Analysis of concept

summer 2008, Kessel-Lo

This work has a long history. Some years ago, Kurt Bikkembergs promised me the Capella di Voce would commission a choir work by me. All sort of ideas came and went during these years, the project was postponed several times, the context in which it would be performed changed as well. I've had several ideas to write a rather large choral work, only to abandon them again afterwards. In the end (I think in march 2008) we settled for a composition for choir and live electronics. It would be performed in December on a concert about 'light'. A few months later, Kurt told me I could also use a brass quartet if I wanted to. I did want to.

What I did not realize was that Kurt thought of 'light' in a religious context. (Performance on the 18th of December should have been a give-away... but hey, I don't even celebrate Christmas if I'm not forced to.) So I started free-wheeling about light. Light, light, light.... It seemed that the strongest image I could conjure in my head was that of shattering glass. So that had to be the main focus of my composition.

When looking for a suitable text, I realised that every text I tried to imagine drew the focus away from the original idea I had. The texts started writing their own music, and not what I imagined before. I had a problem with this in previous works, but I never felt so strongly about it. A rather drastic decision was to use no text at all. Which I did. It gave me the freedom to do anything I wanted at any given moment.

While most vocal music has a theme, a story or a statement this rather phonetic music I was thinking of did not have any of those. Surely there was this starting point, the breaking of glass. But that was rather a concept to start with, the music should not be about the breaking of glass at all. What would I have to say about the breaking of glass? Is music 'about' the text, like we often hear? What about us? Do we need to be able to convince ourselves we understand what we hear? Not very original questions after all these years of modernism. And yet, 99 percent of the vocal music is still about words, just because we coincidently use the same muscles to sing and communicate.

Ah, let this be my 'anti-meaning work'. Not meaningless, but on the contrary suggesting and denying intentions at every level.

Maybe it is important to know that the basis of this work is a recording of 1.28 seconds with shattering glasses, stretched out to eight minutes by using a fast Fourier transformation. That scales are all reduced to a fourth instead of an octave just because I can. It could be about the physical movements of the singers, the impossibility to hear a work exactly like written, live electronics that are to be improvised to ensure that every performance is different.

And of course the actual work has nothing to do with the sounds I imagined in the beginning. Only when the work was nearly finished, I realised the possibilities of the voice are much wider now, without a text to bind us. Too late to start again though. Writing for voices could become the most subtle orchestration effort ever. I do not think I will use text in my music again anywhere soon.There is much more to explore.

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