Vortrag in Oxford

Kongress "Spectralisms"


An International Conference
Faculty of Music, University of Oxford
15–16 March 2017


“La voix comme radicale altérité”: Sound and meaning in Grisey’s Quatre Chants pour franchir le seuil

 In Gérard Grisey’s Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil (1996-98), sound and meaning are relating to each other in a complex – and partly even conflicting – way. On the one hand, a close affinity between sound and meaning is avoided. As he writes in his diary (July 1996), Grisey intends to interpret the human voice as a radical alterity which is opposed to traditional concepts of interpretation. This might not be surprising if we consider the ‘purism’ of sound which is regarded as typical for spectralism. But on the other hand, levels of signification get audible in chromatically descending instrumental lines and a dark instrumentation which could be interpreted as grief and pain.

This paradox simultaneity can also be retraced by describing the structural concept of the first song. In his specific reading of the text, Grisey follows a double strategy. From the poem, two conflicting structural archetypes (A, B) are derived: A musical thinking which progresses step-by-step is superposed by a spiral movement, a complex proliferation which grows exuberantly.

In his writings, Grisey often emphasized his aim to respect the basic principles of human perception. At first sight, the superposition of conflicting semantic and structural processes might seem inconsistent with such statements. However, human perception is multifaceted. Beyond “musical logic”, it can also be characterized by a sudden vacancy of the world, a subversive presence (Deleuze). In my paper, this multidimensionality of perception is emphasized by reference to Jean-Luc Nancy’s À l’écoute (2002). Nancy identifies two different modes of listening (entendre/écouter) which are nevertheless entangled inseparabely.