Ivresse ’84

for violin, laptop quartet and electronic conductor

Typically, for me a composition is a result of intersecting lines—biographically, aesthetically, technically, historically etc. The creation of Ivresse ’84, which was commissioned by violinist János Négyesy was fueled by my continuous interest in (and sometimes bewilderment by) 20th Century modernism and the notion of Western avant-garde which, despite its claims, has become a historical practice just as any other music practice. I am interested in the moment when modernism and its iconoclastic attitude had lost its impact—a moment representing a paradigmatic change in history and society. I suspect that this could be pinned to John Cage, probably the most influential icon of the 20th Century avant-garde. Fortunately, János had worked very closely with Cage, premiering his four books of the impossibly difficult Freeman etudes and, hence, provided some insights into that very moment in an hour-long interview I conducted with him at his and his wife Päivikki Nykter’s place in Lappeenranta, Finland in April 2007. In this interview, he describes a scandal (the provoked result of iconoclasm and expected byproduct of avant-garde art works) during the premiere of the first two books of the Freeman etudes in 1984 in the Italian city of Ivrea. This was probably among the last scandals Cage’s music could elicit and marks the beginning of his last period, the Number Pieces (on which Cage was said to comment to Morton Feldman: “Morty, I’m writing beautiful music again”).
I decided to base my piece on the first Freeman etude and the first 4 minutes of the interview, attempting to create a crossover between a documentary and a real-time interactive composition for violin and four electronic musicians. The music consists of a version of the first Freeman etude, transcribed into standard music notation, in which the material is rearranged to follow the narrative of the interview. For each of the 20 sections, a stochastic process chooses among a range of measures and recombines them into a new structure, which is sight-read by the performer. (This approach, of course, assumes familiarity with the material.) The soloist will be accompanied by the electronic musicians reacting to his actions as well as reading instructions off their computer screens, while playing audio samples taken from Négyesy’s own CD recording.
The conductor will use JazzMutant’s LEMUR control surface to select the sections, thus sending the parts, the instructions as well as the respective settings to all components of the environment (also triggering playback of the interview and its transcription into text; see figure). Although this could have also been accomplished with a timeline, the obvious advantage is that the conductor can now sculpt the musical form in real-time, extending beautiful moments or condensing sections, if they appear too long.

Text from the Interview with János Négyesy to be projected on a screen during the performance of Ivresse ’84. The text uses the Cage font by P22 Type Foundry.




Creation/revision date: 2007

Duration: 7′

Premiere: János Négyesy and the European Bridges Ensemble on September 6, 2007 at the Music in the Global Village Conference (Budapest)

Format: Quintet.net piece