Lingua Franca Nos. 1 - 4 (2004)

from Symbiotica (a cross-cultural mixup)

(a reconstruction of Pierre Boulez's Piano Sonata No.3,  Formant 2: Trope)

Below is an excerpt of a description of Boulez's Third Piano Sonata written in January, 2004 by Allan B. Ruch, followed by my own notes on the 'reconstruction'.

'The ideal version of the sonata has five movements, which Boulez calls formants. Although all five formants contain very specific systems intended to open the work's structure to aleatoric elements, only formants 2 and 3 have been published, so the work has never received a complete public performance by anyone save Boulez himself. Formant 2 is titled Trope, and formant 3 is titled Constellation. This is further complicated by the fact that the Constellation movement has a mirror-image double, Constellation-miroir, which may be played in its stead. Additionally, Boulez recently published "Sigle," a short fragment that so far remains unassigned to a formant. (The name may spark the interest of a Finnegans Wake reader, as it may possibly be inspired by Joyce's "Sigla.")

Trope is made up of four fragments, each taking its name from related terms of literary criticism: Text, Parenthesis, Commentary, and Gloss. The performer is free to chose which fragment serves as the beginning; as long as Commentary is played either before or after Gloss, and providing that the performer plays through each fragment to the end in the direction selected. A clear inspiration here is Finnegans Wake -- Boulez indicates that the score for Trope should be bound in a spiral to emphasis its nonlinearity.

In 1957 (Boulez) published an essay called "Aléa" (meaning a single die) in which he detailed his ideas on "controlled chance," or limited indeterminacy; a compositional technique that would open a work up to indeterminacy while still preserving creative control. In this essay he attacked pure chance operations, and rather arrogantly implied that those who pursued such a course were foolish and incompetent. The attack was obviously directed at John Cage, who became quite angry with Boulez, once a friend and creative associate. Cage remarked, "After having repeatedly claimed that one could not do what I set out to do, Boulez discovered the Mallarmé Livre.... With me the principle had to be rejected outright, with Mallarmé it suddenly became acceptable to him. Now Boulez was promoting chance, only it had to be his kind of chance." Cage's anger was compounded by the popularity of the essay, which firmly established Boulez's term "aleatory music" as the label for the type of music that Cage had practically invented.'

Allan B. Ruch

I have taken the recording of Boulez's Formant 2: Trope from the Third Piano Sonata, recorded brilliantly by Idil Biret, and reconstructed it. Trope consists of  four movements or 'fragments': Within each fragment, I first separated the music into short phrases or segments, numbered them, then rearranged the segments randomly and inserted silences between them. 

Finally, I digitally modified various segments in the first two fragments, and added accompanying sounds to the last two fragments. In addition, two female voices in the final fragment articulate French and American-English words, respectively, in unison. The words, beginning with letters a-z and arranged in alphabetical order, illustrate the consonants and vowels that are found in each language. 

I have maintained the same order of fragments (Movements) in which they were recorded. 

Because the very nature of the Third Sonata begs to be poked and exploited, I will not apologize for my meager transformations. It is true that in some way I have attempted this reconstruction as a hopeful conciliation between the great ideas spawned by these two ingenious masters of 20th century music, Pierre Boulez and John Cage.