December 12, 2012

Notes from Patricia Alessandrini and Juan Pablo Carreño

From the composer

Program Notes for Self-Fictions | ICElab Premieres at BAC: Patricia Alessandrini and Juan Pablo Carreño

Gurre-Klänge is a half-hour performance involving one voice, a singing flutist and twelve other instrumentalists, resonating surfaces, and video projection by Ross Karre. This staged work will be the culmination of my ICELab residency. I had originally proposed another theatrical work, but changed my plans entirely when a new idea arose from discussions with the members of ICE. This happened in our very first meeting in Brooklyn. It began with a discussion of the particular way in which I compose: I choose a work from the existing repertoire, and perform what I consider to be an 'interpretation' of the work, by re-composing it. We talked about some of the repertoire which interests me, and when some of the less-performed works of Arnold Schoenberg came up, Claire, intrepid as ever, said she would love for ICE to play a transcription of his Gurre-Lieder, a turn-of-the-century work for multiple voices and large orchestra (about 400 musicians in all). The notion of taking on this mammoth work as an original composition rather than a transcription, performed by singers and musicians but also by multiple objects taking on a life of their own, immediately appealed to me. I thus decided to compose Gurre-Klänge, a collection of sounds and images from Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder.

Gurre-Lieder has particular resonances, as a late Romantic work which in a sense haunted Schoenberg when he was first experimenting with the freely atonal and twelve-tone systems which would later exercise an enormous influence on 20th Century music; Schoenberg's letters and diaries of this period attest to his ambivalence in regard to this grandiose work, which received a certain critical acclaim at the time, while his atonal works were often greeted with scorn, scandal, and even violent reactions from the public. In response to this context, Gurre-Klänge explores expressivity, chromaticism, dissonance, and traces of tonality in a microtonal context enhanced by the use of amplification and live electronics. Gurre-Klänge also includes a movement for string quartet, which is an interpretation of Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht, which shares stylistic characteristics of  Gurre-Lieder and is contemporaneous with it (although Gurre-Lieder spans a longer time period, as it was orchestrated approximately ten years after its initial composition). The text of Gurre-Klänge consists in part of 'homophonic translations' of J.P. Jacobsen’s Gurre-Sange (of which Schoenberg set a German translation) by poets Tony Alessandrini and Elena Tomorowitz: without reading a translation of the original Danish text, they found sonic equivalents for each word in English, thus constructing a new text out of the sound rather than the meaning of the original. Some of the text by Tony Alessandrini was derived 'homophonically', but by a different process: I took various recordings of Gurre-Lieder and combined and modified them - by time-stretching, transposing, or reversing them, for example - and then asked him to transcribe what he was hearing into English. The combined and modified recordings also provide the musical material for the work as a whole: I also attempt to 'transcribe' these sounds for the instruments and objects which will perform them.

-Patricia Alessandrini


In some of my music I feature an acoustical phenomenon caused by the clash of different planes of sound. It's what I call "disjunctive music". The disjunctive relationship is not exclusive to this clash of acoustical planes; I'm also fascinated by the idea of a performing musician confronting and discovering the hyper-amplified version of oneself.

In Self-Fictions these ideas play out in an acoustic space filled with organ and synthesized sounds: this self-discovery is forced into an environment where silence is not possible. In Self-Fiction I, the chromatic ascension of the clarinet and the obfuscation of the instrumental ensemble behind the electronic sounds are forms of escape that recall childhood musical memories: souvenirs of strange wind ensembles at public celebrations. In Self-Fiction II, the windows open and we hear fragmented verses by Porfirio Barba-Jacob presented as jackhammers that caress the ear: like waking up at a construction site intruding on La Villette in Paris, a bit like the unreal and suspended time of Rome as seen from the Pincio.

-Juan Pablo Carreño