CONVERSATION (with interventions from Ivor Cutler and the Tao Te Ching)


(with interventions from Ivor Cutler and the Tao Te Ching)


Table pour quatuor
Table pour quatuor


Yes, ‘one’, it may be foetal plenitude perhaps, at one with a crayon stroke, Meccano or with a bedtime story of loss, followed by more attempts to foil chaos with visions of coherence. Of which this is one. As a young child in Montferrier, I rocked my head on the pillow until for some reason my eyes started to hurt, then following the patches of light with rounded ends moving slowly, morning sunlight projected on the walls through old pale blue shutters. I have a bit of fever today when I am writing this, memories of early loneliness are sweet. Systems are good.


Are they?


The passage of 1/ to 2/ is not the same as the passage from 2/ to 1/, after all, my predicament (and I don’t seem to be alone in this), is to be bound by sequence and language:

In the 1-2-1 (ABA) form, the return passage from 2/ to 1/ is poignant with uncertainty: rather than a confirming and affirming of symmetry, it talks of the impossibility of plenitude: the first 1/ is long gone, and anyway all it was then was a sensory projection, patch of light on the mind, a construction perhaps, now sort of reaffirmed, it is the ghost of a construction.

In Cézanne’s lifelong play with shapes and memory, a small by-product can be seen: the lack of continuity of the background when it is interrupted by a foreground object:

reading him from left to right, the passage from background to foreground has been charged with an awareness of the fact of space, of the infinity of space, which is so shattering of certainties that when the journey ‘back’ to background needs to start (the object is now foreshortened to the end of its being) , one finds oneself in a changed world, where alignments, shapes and hues have irremediably transformed.

Systems are good, especially for talking about their demise. So much for 1/,2/,1/. Now to:


The Tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.


Bringing in great old texts to rescue your dubious arguments is really not to your credit. There is a sort of pessimistic strand in the opening of the Tao Te Ching. It seems to me that the ‘nameable’ is our main place of residence, with no escape as such, even improvising music or sitting on a cushion. Nothing wrong with either by the way, but the hint of salvation around the corner in the dwelling in the ‘darkness within darkness’ looks a bit too much like a ‘Free Pint Tomorrow’ sign on a pub window. Ideas indeed do shape the world.


You are the one talking about escape. The formal games (of which you are a part of I ‘ll remind you), are just there, inherent, shaping and shaped by the whatever. 1213212312 then 4312 etc… Out of N discrete types of events or categories, if one applies the same method as before, the shortest string containing all permutations includes repeats and palindromes, so, in order to best not repeat, one needs to repeat. An other interesting fact: in all this symmetry there is an essential asymmetry, like a sort of big bang, something having to do with origin. This is plain maths stemming from the first act of division, discontinuity, separation, language, like in the beginning of the Torah. And I don’t believe it to be culturally biased: birth is separation. For exploration to take place away from the rocking on the pillow, or even within the rocking on the pillow, permutations happen, and you will find these palindromes, substitutions and symmetries are all over the place, in music, nature, the lot.


In your obsession with coherence and systems, you miss essential ambiguous facts: let’s take sound: where is it? In your mind? In your ears? At the source of the sound? Can you answer with certainty without superimposing ideas on what’s going on? So to observe things for what they are in their minutiae seems worthwhile and essential. And this has to include observing the observing. With a bit of luck it also might cure you from your desire for salvation-by-way-of-system. And I warn you: aleatory systems are still systems: Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard.


Bad eye ivor Cutler

Ivor Cutler – LARGE et Puffy – Arc publications 1984


I will ignore your misplaced humour. In your so called observation, what will you do? Listen to the fridge? Will you eventually find the fridge interesting? The fridge noise is just a fridge noise, no devoted observation however detailed will hide the fact of its boring boring noise-of-the-fridge-ness. No phenomenological categorisation in the manner of Pierre Schaeffer, however penetrating, justified and fascinating, will give meaning to the layers of your listenings beyond that of the categorisation itself. It’s just a fridge. Neither will Cage-ian equanimity cut through its tedious murmur. Representation takes place right at the level of perception, it is itself action, choice, conditioned perhaps but choice all the same, so in this brief time I have, why listen to fridges when I can create? Toute Pensée émet un Coup de Dés .


Fridge on its own: no. but what about fridge plus washing machine?


(long silence)




My god these numbers, they keep growing. What about the body in this incessant chatter? Can we chat about body? There are shifts in types of attention which I can actively and deliberately operate and practice, this is body. Or types of listening: long listening to silence, where the body seems to literally resonate in a quiver with the slightest sound, even before the sound, actually moving, shaking, with the quietest of signal. This is articulation, discontinuity at work, the passage from one state of hearing to another. But what sort of mappings and distinctions can be deduced? And is mapping what is needed? Perhaps. In Buddhist teachings, (talking from the little I know) the maps are networks of varied ‘skilful means’ showing a path which cannot-but include the map itself, and is and isn’t the goal. A guided walk on a sort of Möbius strip compassionately and systematically offering mind to mind.

2/it seems like we might have switched roles. Doesn’t this screw up your sequence? Time to stop for a while?






A selection of recent attempts which this text might relate to can be found here.

Based on a score, an artist’s book, ‘QUATUOR’ is in preparation, produced and illustrated by the artist and printmaker Matthew Tyson at Imprints (Crest- Drone- France)

Set Ensemble is publishing in the autumn 2014 a set of scores in BORE edition #3

Ensemble Azut is releasing a CD of French Chanson revisited , available now from the website.

With thanks to Dominic Lash, for the many conversations.

Misc. notes and links:

The mathematical objects I mention and find obsessively interesting are called super permutations, to me they have an elegance similar to that of the physics of a soap bubble, obeying several conflicting imperatives.

On the maths of superpermutations:

Tom Johnson, a composer who has thoroughly explored permutations and plenty more.

Quotes from Stephane Mallarmé: complete text of Un coup de dés here

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