Liner notes for the sub rosa CD Intimate Rituals

Vincent Royer, viola, with Gérard Caussé, viola, Petra Junken and Horatiu Radulescu, sound icons

Horatiu Radulescu in conversation with Bob Gilmore, Amsterdam, January 2006

BG  Das Andere opus 49 is dedicated “to Patrick Szersnovicz for his Brahmsian soul”, and was a commission of the Gulbenkian Foundation for the La Rochelle Festival 1984. Can you tell me something about the piece?

HR  Das Andere was composed in Avoriaz and Versailles in 1984 but mostly in the high mountains in Avoriaz where I was skiing with my first wife Christine-Claire. It is maybe one of my most courageous scores, because I tried to make an investigation into what could be non-historic and phenomenological. It’s a type of spiritual séance. The title refers to the notion of alter ego, “das Andere”, the neutral word in German by which Mircea Eliade defines the state in certain primitive religions where you confound yourself with your God. In the score there are two micro-music characters: Σ (sigma), the sum of 2-voice-polyphony of harmonics, i.e. a biphony in the very high register, a double melody, of which there are six models activated on three planes (the two high strings, the two middle strings, and the two low strings); and A (α alpha), the other character, which is totally the opposite, arpeggios of very low chords, in a Baroque-like style that suggest as a central tone one of the open strings. The secret of the piece consists in a more-or-less continuous descent, a registral movement “downhill”. It starts with very high pitches, with natural harmonics according to six very different models of micro-improvisation on spectral modes. One of the keys of the whole work is the very beginning: a double melody with the 7th harmonic on the A string and an irregular melody of harmonics 7 to 13 on the D string. But because the open strings themselves are in a vibration ratio of 3:2, the 7th harmonic of the first string functions as the 21st (7×3) in relation to the mode on the second string, and fits in amongst the harmonics 14 to 26 (i.e. (7 to 13)x 2) of the second string, sounding totally natural. (At first I thought of this opening 7th harmonic on the A as a pien, a false note inside the scale on the second string, but later I realised that because of the perfect fifth between the open strings, this note is integrated – feels “at home” – amongst the harmonics of the D string, the virtual fundamental being the D one octave lower). All the A (α) arpeggios of the second personage are mostly ring modulations – sums and differences of harmonics; but those harmonics themselves now act as new fundamentals. The whole piece as it progresses gains more and more richness of timbre, on account of the continuous registral descent. Exceptionally I use a multiphonic sound on the C string, a very special technique of bowing and fingering producing a multiple “broken” sound. The whole language is very abstract, not at all decorative nor narrative. The 49 sections modulate into different spectra. You have a sort of dance of Fibonacci proportions in a continuous macro-form accelerando. Eighteen minutes of sound dramaturgy, in a very strict spectral language. The piece got an “encore” in Brazil, Belo Horizonte, when it was performed by Vincent Royer.

BG  Besides the multiphonics there are many other new string techniques in Das Andere – was this the first time you had used these techniques?

HR  I use a special type of phase-shifting bowing (which Rohan de Saram called ‘u dhu u dhu’), which I discovered in 1981 in Versailles while composing my large ensemble work Iubiri. The bow glides very swiftly over the string and seems to be rebounding off two imaginary walls; I found this bowing technique on the violin, on the G string. I also use a new approach to playing harmonics with one finger, which I call “little devils”, which produces an irregular melody of very high harmonics, with fast bowing, interspersed with occasional sounds of the open string, like Morse signals. Some of these techniques I used before in Ecou Atins from 1979, in thirteen dreams ago from 1978, in Everlasting Longings from 1971 and in Credo from 1969, the first spectral work for nine celli. The compositions Iubiri and even Awakening Infinity for very large ensemble from 1983, and Ecou Atins, are like big sisters and little sister to Das Andere, and prepared the way for it.
Das Andere was written for Gérard Caussé, who is a fantastic viola player of diabolic and great skill. He is an incredible, ‘wild’ player, very passionate, performing on a marvellous instrument, a Gaspare da Salò from 1560; so I was very excited to write for him. We worked very hard to prepare the world première. Even the most conservative critic, Jacques Lonchamps in Le Monde, wrote that the effect of Das Andere was close to that of a whirling dervish. Versions for cello (Rohan de Saram, Jean-Paul Dessy, Catherine Marie Tunnell and others), violin (Rodrigue Milosi, with enormous success in Darmstadt in 1990) and double bass (Corrado Canonici) brought Das Andere to an even wider audience. Garth Knox and Maurizio Barbetti performed and recorded other personal and inspired visions of the original viola score.

BG  On this disc we hear Gérard Caussé in your Agnus Dei.

HR  Agnus Dei opus 84 for two violas – homage to Igor Stravinsky – was composed in Versailles in 1991 for the Paris Lucero Festival and is dedicated to Gérard Caussé and Vincent Royer who premiered it in Paris. The score uses the two violas like a single instrument. Being a homage to the late, serial/modal, sacred, Latin, venetian Stravinsky, I used two types of very special modes approximating spectral functions, defective modes that I’ve been obsessed with since my childhood. The first is built by the reiteration of two minor thirds either side of a perfect fifth. So at the beginning we hear C, Eb, Bb, Db. This is used in the manner of an ‘infinite column’, like that of Brancusi, reaching all the twelve different chromatic notes. You can also modulate to a second transposition, as in Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition. The fact that this is generated by only two different intervals makes it resemble a proto-language with only two syllables which you combine to make a whole language. These intervals simulate harmonics 13 – 16 – 24(6) – 28(7). There is also a second type of “column”, which is less perfect, using major seconds around the perfect fifth – approximating harmonics 7(14) – 8(16) – (6)12(24) – 13(27): with this defective mode you can build up to eight notes only. Then you can modulate to another centre/transposition. In Agnus Dei there are four ‘musics’ : alpha, beta, gamma, delta, which are played in the pattern: α β α γ δ β γ δ α γ β δ. The whole piece is a dance between these two modes, or two “columns”. And there is no spectral tuning; as in my piano sonatas, tempered pitches approximate spectral functions.

BG  Why did you think of Stravinsky in connection with this piece?

HR  Because it’s pulsating a lot. The music dances as a homage to Stravinsky. And Stravinsky in his last period used also a Webernian serial technique based on defective modes (c.f. In memoriam Dylan Thomas where the basic row has only 5 notes, the inverse form of the major third total chromatic material of the theme of Béla Bartók in Music for strings, percussion and celesta). Agnus Dei is a type of spectral music on a tempered scale, but a proto-language with only two intervals per mode, describing pure and strong symmetries of great energy and with surprising modulating potentiality. Gérard Caussé and Vincent Royer played it in a very pulsating way, very vividly, with great refinement at the Lucero Festival in 1991 and for this CD. Kim Kashkashian and Garth Knox performed Agnus Dei in Badenweiler in the Black Forest, and other viola duos have played it too.

BG  Your next work for viola, Lux Animae, again makes use of natural harmonics, of real (rather than simulated) spectral materials.

HR  Lux Animae opus 97 was primarily composed in Darmstadt in 1996 for cello, and premiered by Catherine Marie Tunnell in Italy two years later. Vincent Royer asked me to make a version of Lux Animae for viola, which is very close to the cello version, and he premiered it in Chicago in 2000. I worked out a very special spectral scordatura, where the open strings are tuned as though they were harmonics of a very low E (well below the range of the viola), according to self-generative functions. The C string is tuned to B and the G string to E; these are like the 3rd and 4th harmonics. Then the D string is tuned down to the D that is the 7th harmonic of E, and the A string is tuned up by approximately a quartertone to become the 11th harmonic of the E. Thus the harmonics 4 and 7 (if played at a high volume level) produce the 3rd harmonic as a difference tone and the 11th as a sum tone. They are self-generating functions: 3-4-7-11, like a ‘family tree’ of frequencies. In Lux Animae, playing with all types of techniques on these open strings, the harmonics, which are now new fundamentals, produce their own harmonics in a kind of ‘emanation of the immanence’. Because the open strings are themselves part of a single spectrum, the resulting sound is very natural, very healthy. I use special techniques of bowing and fingering, and of pizzicato to get very specific colours, bringing out the actual resonance of the strings. The score consists of twenty-one short sections, like twenty-one ‘windows on the soul’: a voyage into your subconscious, conscious, hyper-conscious.
The very concentrated sound-architecture lasts less than seven minutes. Besides the very poetical interpretations of Vincent Royer, the cello original with the impressive Catherine Marie Tunnell and other viola interpretations with the distinguished Elisabeth Smalt has brought Lux Animae to audiences worldwide.

BG  The most recent piece on the disc is for viola with spectral scordatura (though different to the one in Lux Animae) and also uses sound icons: Intimate Rituals XI opus 63 ψ.

HR  It is a very special ritual, which gives also the title of the whole CD, Intimate Rituals. I did many pieces with this title. First I recorded, in the Lucero studio in Versailles, something very strange with Petra Junken; we recorded a duo on twenty-four strings of sound icons (my name for vertically placed grand pianos), all twenty-four strings tuned in unison, and therefore with all types of different tensions. We recorded two duos, but when recording the second we didn’t listen to the first. The two duos have the same macro-form trajectory but are more free inside. We tried to get the same approach as Paul Klee painting with the left hand in the darkness, to see how operates our subconscious, what it does without our will. We got some fantastic pseudo-synchronicities, which you couldn’t obtain live with four people. We played with tangent spheres along the strings of the piano. The fundamental is F monesis, F half-sharp, about 88 Hz (the 11th harmonic of an 8 Hz infrasonic C fundamental), and we got very low harmonics – tangent spheres slow and high pressure against the piano strings, and also extremely high harmonics up to the 57th (the D7, above the top of the piano) – tangent spheres fast and slight pressure against the piano strings. Sometimes you hear these incredible mists and noise of the fundamental, due to the loudness of impact. Sometimes there are little impurities, other sounds close to the fundamental; little “accidents of purity” which make a very fresh atmosphere. The tape, which is essentially of two live performances superimposed, can be accompanied by all types of soloists or big ensembles.
In 2003 Vincent Royer asked me for a work for viola, so I composed Intimate Rituals XI using the tape of the pre-recorded sound icons with a viola in a spectral scordatura, a very special tuning-chord; the open strings simulate the 3rd, 4th, 13th and 20th harmonics of an F monesis, giving C half-sharp, F half-sharp, a slightly lower D, and A half-sharp. With this scordatura you have also the presence of the 7th harmonic in the air; the 3rd and 4th harmonics in sum give 7, and the 13th and 20th harmonics in difference also give 7. So the 7th is there too, in the subconscious, even though it is not directly present. The piece is dedicated to Vincent Royer; it was composed in Clarens/Montreux in 2003 and premiered by him in Chicago. The timing is very strict; the techniques are those already known from Das Andere and Lux Animae but otherwise activated. The macro-form is also directed by the Fibonacci proportions. The viola is in a constant dialogue with the sound icons (I don’t like to think of the piece as viola and tape; ideally the sound icons would be live). The viola and the sound icons are dependent on each other, sometimes crossing, sometimes not. There are very intense moments as the sound icons describe a high registral climax at the Golden Section; the viola attains its highest sounds there too and then decays, very strangely, reaching again the richest timbres in the low register. Intimate Rituals are very private, maybe even erotic, situations. From the original recording of the sound icons in the Lucero studio in Versailles in 1986 to the premiere of Intimate Rituals XI with the viola in 2003 is a big span of 17 years, but the same atmosphere should be achieved, a sort of spiritual intimacy.

© Bob Gilmore, 2006