Last weekend we attended Nuit Surprenante, a concert in the Monaco Printemps des Arts series. It really was a very surprising evening: the concert featured a variety of contemporary works and ensembles, including the Ensemble Accroche Note playing Horatiu Radulescu's Inner Time II.
We were completely unprepared for the Horatiu Radulescu piece - some of the most painful "music" I have ever listened to. The piece, which lasts nearly 1 hour, features 7 clarinets playing seemingly random, atonal sequences of notes... at earsplitting pitches. Just for fun, here is an extract of the piece:
I was able to make it about half-way through... and then I just couldn't take it anymore! I had to leave - with a splitting headache!
The piece did prove to be extremely interesting in a completely contradictory way. Inner Time II was painful to listen to, but extremely beautiful as a synesthetic experience: strings of shapes and colors woven together. Sharp vertical rectangles that shimmered, literally, in a gorgeous palette of yellows, yellow-oranges, and eggshell whites, on bright white background. I wasn't surprised by the prevalence of white - it's my color for pain. Totally natural given the loud, shrill nature of the work.
I drew this rather summary figure to illustrate what the piece looked like to me (click on the image to better see the details).
This synesthetic experience intrigued me nonetheless, and upon returning home, I began researching Radulescu. And I have to say... I'm fascinated by this composer and his work!
Radulescu is often described as a spectral composer, because he often focused on the spectral technique of composition, that is, where compositional decisions are often informed by the analysis of sound spectra. This can also be described as a type of aesthetic, where music is ultimately considered as sound evolving in time. Spectral music can include any music that foregrounds timbre as an important element of structure or musical language (thanks wikipedia).
Inner Time II is meant as homage to Alexander Calder. As explained in these liner notes:
The basic material is a single registral filter, a basic shape (mobile of distinctly Calder-like appearance laid over the spectral scordatura, which in its macro form provides the overall descent-ascent, and on a smaller scale furnishes 137 mobiles - derived from the basic one by the quasi-serial processes of inversion, retrograde and retrograde inversion, as well as contraction and expansion in space (pitch) and time.
I find this analogy to Calder's mobiles to be very accurate, and immediately brings to mind the dancing multiples of rectangles I perceived. Dancing rhythmically because the notes being played either just before, just after or on the pulsations. And also "melodically," as the same liner notes explain;
The pitch structure is based on a scale of 42 pitches (spectral scordatura) which are the partials 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and then every odd-numbered partial up to the 83rd of a low A; the emphasis on odd-number partials neatly matches the natural timbre of the clarinet, reinforcing as the composer puts it, "the sober and poetic unity of the score". The 6th partial is the bottom E on the clarinet; the 83rd lies just below the high D which marks the top of the conventional E flat clarinet range (though here, astonishingly, all the high partials are achieved on the normal B flat instrument!). Each clarinettist has a repertoire of just six steps of the scale (six frequency orbits), spread throughout the total range. However, since an enormous degree of accuracy of intonation is called for, especially in the highest register, where distinctions are notated to the nearest 64th of a tone, and then further inflected in cents (highly accurate tuning devices are used to find a basic fingering given for each note, and used again in rehearsal for verification), even the production of these six notes is a Herculean labour.
This rough overview of some of the facets of Radulescu's work really has me intrigued, and I'm looking forward to learning more, especially about his forays into graphic notation.