Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
“Everyone knows the first movement of Beethoven’s so-called “Moonlight Sonata,” but fewer are aware that Beethoven wanted the sustain pedal held down for the entire first movement. This is very difficult to do convincingly on a modern piano, but on an instrument of Beethoven’s time, which doesn’t sustain as long, it is quite an extraordinary effect. These two piano compositions, performed by their composer Melaine Dalibert, also use the pedal throughout the vast majority of the music, creating a world of magic and mystical beauty.
Of course, the French composer’s achievements go far beyond simple employment of the sustain pedal. Much, if not all, of the slowly unfolding music is comprised of single notes that melt together to form ghost sonorities of extraordinary beauty and a surprising clarity of harmonic intent. The relatively brief opening piece, “En abyme,” is almost conventionally orderly when its framework of repetitions and resolutions become clear. Yet, all of this is achieved one pitch at a time, any sense of preconceived order and familiar drama shattered by each semisoft pitch as it joins the others already fading beyond easy recognition. Beethoven’s moonlight principle has been simultaneously simplified and enhanced, creating a nearly audible world of orchestrally morphing harmony that never quite materializes. There are thirds, fifths and sixths among other intervals in play, like some of the early contrapuntal devices Webern would use to unify his pieces, but all reference to the standard canon stops there. Maybe only the Wandelweiser composers would constitute a useful point of comparison in terms of dynamics and maximal use of minimal material, but even that would be highly debatable.
“Ressac,” taking the better part of an hour, ups the ante. Again, the vast majority of it is woven of single tones, and I only qualify the statement because I can’t remember any dyads or clusters. Yet, the music’s glacial pace is amplified, and the harmonic language resulting from pedal and sustain is even more adventurous. Chromatics are gradually introduced and what could cheekily be called a “melody” wends its slinky tortoise-y way along its path of disjunction and recurrence. If there are formulaic repetitions, as in the opening piece, they are difficult to spot on the first few listens.
Like a virus, the music is infectious. It produces an initial sense of fascination, scales the heights of something bordering incomprehension and even disconcertion, and then, it becomes an environment in which to explore sonic subtleties. A tone thought to have disappeared fades softly back into focus; microcosmic relations between two tones and a ghosted third are foregrounded. In other words, what is listener-invested pays huge dividends with patience. Dalibert creates a gloriously quasi-accessible universe of relationships which, for those travelers so inclined, is well worth inhabiting.”
Marc Medwin, Dusted
“La musica contemporanea mi ha trasmesso l'ossessione del tempo: quello perduto e ritrovato della nostalgia, quello che ci manca (o come direbbe Enrico Ghezzi, quello a cui manchiamo), quello che sentiamo la necessità di mettere a frutto, di rendere “compiuto”. Sono sempre più attratto da una musica – in molti non la chiamerebbero nemmeno tale – che faccia un utilizzo del tempo spropositato, fuori dal comune e forse addirittura fuor di ragione, perché vi riconosco l’utopica volontà di sostituirlo, duplicarlo, abbracciarne l'immateriale estensione.
Il pianista bretone Melaine Dalibert è un discepolo spirituale del minimalista Tom Johnson, compositore americano emigrato in Francia, a sua volta allievo di Morton Feldman. La linea di un tempo sospeso, non più percepito distintamente, si intreccia con le simmetrie della matematica, materia di studio astratta per eccellenza, dando forma a partiture modulari i cui processi generativi potrebbero proseguire all’infinito, come nel riflesso assoluto raggiunto dall’ambient music di Brian Eno.
Procede al ritmo di una sola nota per volta, in una catena fragile ma continua, la lunga meditazione di “Ressac”: letteralmente la “risacca”, il frangersi del gesto musicale su una superficie sconfinata che non conosce passato né futuro – un piano, per l’appunto, oggettivato al pari delle monumentali composizioni di Feldman.
Ma la straordinaria rivelazione sta proprio nel fatto che è il tempo, unicamente quello, a trasmettere un vago sentimento languido alle note, toni puri che appena si sfiorano tra loro, senza seguire progressioni collaudate tali da caratterizzare la composizione come apertamente malinconica.
Lo stesso avviene, a ritmo più regolare e lievemente sostenuto, nel brano d’apertura “En Abyme”, espressione anch'essa riferita alla cosciente ripetizione di una cellula di significato fondamentale, quella entro cui può risolversi un’intera narrazione complessa. Un gioco di specchi ove ritorna, peraltro, l’incedere dello “Spiegel im Spiegel” di Arvo Pärt, geometria perfetta di un canto dell’anima pienamente pacificata.
Nell’opera del poeta sudamericano Derek Walcott (1930-2017) lo sciacquio del mare e il frangersi delle onde sulla riva sono l’unica costante dello scenario in continuo mutamento che è la storia dell’uomo, dall’epica di Omero alle stragi di migranti dei giorni nostri. Il tempo esiste soltanto in funzione nostra, poiché tutto è sempre (e da sempre) presente.”
Ondarock, July 2017
Interview with Melaine Dalibert
How did you first come to experimental music, and was it first as a performer or a composer?
I received a strong background training as a classical pianist at Rennes (where I'm teaching now) and at Paris conservatories. I studied a large contemporary repertoire at this time, especially pieces used in teaching contexts. But the aesthetic there is all about demonstrating technical skills, and a lot of teachers see contemporary music only through this expectation.
I got really involved in experimental music as a young adult, when I tried to avoid the subjective side of musical discourse and development, and I found a way to do this through mathematical concepts such as fractal series. Then I wanted to play other experimental musics by composers that I felt close to.
What is the balance in your work now between composing and performing?
That's a hard question. Both are entangled. I think I spend more time working on music by other composers than on my own compositions. I only compose when a strong idea or a musical 'problem' comes to me, and that's pretty rare!
Your CD contains two works for solo piano – ‘En Abyme’ and ‘Ressac’ – which I understand are both modular pieces. Could you explain how they work?
I would define them as algorithmic pieces. ‘En Abyme’, for instance, works on the basis of a paradoxical motion - ascending arpeggios with descending melodic patterns in each three note block. The piece is generated by a kind of programme built with fractal series so the music can be developed 'sine fine' without repeating itself. But I don't use any software for the generation process; it’s all done by hand.
Are there any composers who you feel have had a particularly strong influence on the way that you think about music?
A few years ago I was fascinated by the work of Morton Feldman and Eliot Carter. More recently I discovered the music of Tom Johnson and Giuliano D'Angilioni, which has had a big impact on me (I play some of Giuliano’s pieces on his Another Timbre disc ‘Cantilena’). But my deeper influences are still the work of visual artists such as Vera Molnar and François Morellet.
Have you only composed works for piano, or do you compose works for other instruments as well?
I’ve mainly composed works for piano, mostly for its resonant qualities that allow one to obtain very punctual sonic events. But I also occasionally compose for other instruments.
The interview below is taken from the 15 Questions website, and can be viewed on that site here
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I first imagined music when I was a child. Then I began to write it as a teenager while being largely influenced by Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen, then Schönberg. But at this time I was stuck in finding a personal way to develop my ideas. In 2010, when I was 30, I finally found my own path.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It took me time to get a kind of freedom in my compositional process. I've been a pianist for twenty years and as such, I have embraced a large panel of pieces from the masters. I learned a lot just through my contact with the instrument, by emulating these masterpieces. But I felt a huge difficulty to mature ideas that in the end were not mine. I worked a while with Ligeti, Carter and Pesson in mind. Then one day I discovered Véra Molnar's paintings that acted like a revelation on me. Her way of painting was what I was looking for in musical composition. It lead me to include algorithms as a compositional tool.
What were some of the most important creative challenges when starting out as a composer and how have they changed over time?
I would say that it's hard first to find personal technical skills in composition that will make ideas grow up in a smart and efficient way. Later, it's even harder to get good ideas !
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I think about musical composition on a daily basis but I spend only very little time on it. I'm not working in a productive or quantitative way but I can be involved in that process at home, in the train or even when I'm jogging! Most of the time I'm behind the piano in my living room or in the conservatory classroom where I teach in Rennes.
About writing music itself, I would say I just need a quiet environment, music sheet, pencil and eraser. I don't use any software even if the use of algorithms could suggest that.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I try to write down music only if I get a clear overview of the emerging piece. Most of the creative process happens upstream, as an introspective, daily work that can last several months before I pick up a pencil.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The only motivation for me is the desire to figure out a solution to a formal issue. Without any preliminary idea, there is no work to be engaged in. And most of the time I get a deeper understanding of that preliminary work when I'm running.
Could you take me through the process of composing on the basis of one of your pieces that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I would quote Deleuze as I'm working on "space-time blocks". The core of my compositional process is about the behaviour of "space-time blocks" series that are based on algorithms. The piece "Ressac" for instance is about varying durations - increasing and decreasing - continuously stretched over time. Then I include some events to randomize the process.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Even if I use algorithms I don't build them with a software. That's a way I'm following to evolve in a well-controlled and more simple fieldwork.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists performing your work?
Véra Molnar in 2009, then François Morellet were two great influences for me since their body of work as visual artists helped me to figure out my own musical path. I'm regularly pleased to have my music being played during their exhibitions because our creative procesess are echoing each other. I also enjoyed writing the music to Marcel Dinahet's video footage.
How is writing the music and having it performed live connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
It's an ongoing and evolving topic for me. I'm looking for a kind of simplicity, an optimal minimalism that I think provides good results in an album production. I'm now wondering how to strengthen the 'substance' of my music during the concert. Maybe I could introduce some improvisation, which I consider to be a fundamental part of any live performance.
Time is a variable only seldom discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
The notion of time is hard to discuss as it seems illusory to me. It's the primary vector that makes the music come to life. Time enables sonic events to be identified and turns on our memory. One could say it builds a "listening drama". In my pieces time is a quiet element, there is no beginning, no ending, since the algorithm can indefinitely develop.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
The physical aspect of sound is the essence of music. But tone isn't at the core of my work. Like a painter can constrain himself to a very few colors, I compose essentially for one instrument. The piano provides a pretty neutral tone and long harmonic resonances that can be minimized in their expressivity.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
As I said earlier, I perceived the embodiment of my music trough the work of a painter. Sight is for me the most related sense to my compositions. I think a kind of visual transcription of my pieces could be realised. Durations are similar to distances and the pace of durations can be transcribed into paces of lengths. There is also a lot to say about the connections between colors and harmonics, since they are both based on spectral concepts.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I sincerely think my music isn't about any political claim. But I certainly resist any principle that would rule music or define what music should be. In my opinion the artistic involvement is all about the unexpected pathways any artistic field can explore.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I feel that today the sound as a 'personal identity' one can develop is more and more important in comparison to the musical 'discourse'. And it already has a huge impact on formal and structural aspects of many pieces. Maybe artificial intelligence research will surprise us in many ways!
Interview conducted by Douglas Hofstadter from 15questions.net, with thanks