I recorded this set of pieces/ improvisations on 15 June 2020


Cello with and without ring modulator

Voice and loutar

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The set was recorded (thanks to their generosity) in one session at St Matthew’s Church, Marlborough Road, Oxford UK, on a stormy evening, 15th June 2020. The grey noise in the background of the earlier pieces of the set is of the rain hitting the roof of that spacious empty building.

The sounds happen as a result of readings of scores which don’t specify what is being played, but difference and sameness from what has just been played. This can be in the form of a sequence of categorised sound events, or, as in the longer Trace 4, a sequence of varying degrees of change from what has just happened.

These are improvisations on cello, playing with specific areas: Jeu 1 is for prepared cello, Jeu 2: mostly for harmonics, Jeu 3 is playing with the delightful analogue ring modulator from Fairfield Circuitry in Quebec, and Jeu 4 is free. Ring modulators hold a bit of a fascination for me because of their analogy with ‘difference tones’ (the ghostly third sound which one hears when two high sounds are played together), and how these may relate to how hearing is constructed in the mind. Ring modulation creates a harmony which has its own unwavering (wavy) rules.

A few verses from Deiosta’ls breus jorns.. by Peire d’Alvernhe.
Peire d’Alvernhe was a 12th C. Troubadour, poet-musician from the south of what is now France. The ‘trace’ idea comes back here, but almost in reverse: his music and poetry, as is the case for most of the Troubadours, was written down about a hundred years after his death, inside ‘Chansonniers’, illuminated songbooks often commissioned as presents. The notation used at that time specifies pitches pegged on the verses’ syllables, and not much else. Even if I am familiar with readings of this sort of music which others have realised within the rich history of the ‘early music’ movement, I still am in a position of encountering a trace and having to construct sounds from it. I play a loutar which is an unfretted goat skin lute from the Atlas Mountains. In the (relatively recent) singing tradition of the Amazigh singers-songwriters such as Mohamed Rouicha, the loutar doubles the voice and comments on it; I try to do this with the sinewed lines of Peire’s conflicted love poetry.

Deiosta-ls breus iorns … (after Peire d’Alvernhe, Translation by Joe Butler)

When winter lays cold hands upon the earth,

when the days’ length dwindles

and the frost strips bare the oaks,

when the songbirds abandon the barren branches of the woods –

then my thoughts turn inwards to a sapling joy

upon whose tender limbs the new leaf buds,

the blossom shimmers and new fruits break forth.

Love is an exacting mistress – her gifts don’t come cheap.

She can beggar you or build you up at whim.

She strips the pleasure-seeker’s flesh to bone, and leaves him moaning ‘more’;

swells the bellies of the faithless till they’re groaning fit to burst.

I know all this – it isn’t news – but still

I’d rather take my chances in Love’s court

than be crowned king of nowhere’s-ville.

In the presence of my Mistress I am witless as a mooncalf.

She has overthrown my reason and untethered my heart.

I stand tongue-tied and imploring – dumbstruck, adoring.

For all the courage she inspires I tremble like a child.

This not speaking is a torment, but what’s worse

is the fear that anything I say will be misunderstood.

My heart’s so given up to her, I think: ‘Just take it all.’

I’m no honey-tongued seducer, I’m no peddlar of flattery.

I don’t think words exist to speak the longing in my heart.

If my Mistress, for a moment, knew the depths of my desire

I might claim her as she once laid claim to me.

Behind this dam of silence my heart fills to overflowing.

If my Mistress doesn’t breach it

I’ll go creaking to my death.

In the stillness of the forest, that slender tree I spoke of –

that sapling Joy whose roots are bound in love –

grows to a glorious fullness.

Through its nurture I’m ennobled. In its shade I grow to wisdom

From its crown I gaze on virtue and renown.

The blossom in its branches is delicate as starlight,

is scented green as springtime, and brilliant as snow.

Deiosta-ls breus jorns e-ls loncs sers,
Qan la blanc’aura brunezis,
Vuoill que branc e bruoill mos sabers
D’un nou ioi qe-m fruich’e-m floris!
Car del doutz fuoill vei clarzir los garrics,
Per qe-retrai entre-ls enois e-ls freis
Lo rossignols e-l tortz e-l gais e-l pics.

Q’ieu vei e crei e sai q’es vers
C’amors engraiss’e e magrezis
L’un ab trichar, l’autr’ab plazers
E l’un ab plor e l’autr’ab ris!
Lo cals qe-s vol n’es manens o mendics,
Per qu’ieu n’am mais so qu’en ai q’esser reis
Assatz non–re d’Escotz ni de Galics.

Ges ieu non sai los capteners
Mas soffre, c’una m’a conquis
Don reviu jois e nais valers,
Tals que denan li-m trassaillis!
Car no m’enqier de dir, me’n ven destrics,
Tan tem qe-l mieils lais e prenda-l sordeis!
On plus n’ai cor, mi pens: car non te’n gics

A car si fos dels mieus volers
Lo sieus rics coratges devis,
Desque ma dompna-m tol poders
De so de q’ieu plus l’ai requis
Mas no-ll sai dir lausengas ni prezics,
Mas meillor cor l’ai trop que non pareis!
S’ella no-l sap, morrai me’n totz antics.

So es gaugz e jois e plazers
Que a moutas gens abellis
E sos pretz mont’a grans poders
E sos iois sobreseignoris,
Q’enseignamens e beutatz l’es abrics:
Dompneis d’amor, q’en lieis s’espan e creis,
Plens de dousor, vertz e blancs, cum es nics!


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