Review

Patricia Lynn Dirks, Computer Music Journal, no. 23:1, March 1, 1999

Impalpables is an appropriate title for Belgian composer Annette Vande Gorne’s latest release. By definition, ‘impalpables’ are things not readily comprehensible by the mind. This disc contains a collection of words and music featuring the poetry of the contemporary [Paris-based, Belgian] writer, Werner Lambersy. Vande Gorne incorporates in her compositions various methods of combining text and music in an electroacoustic environment. It is these techniques that expose the music of the spoken sounds and words contained in the poetry. At the same time, Vande Gorne uses her music as an aural interpretation of the thought-provoking short stories and poems presented.

Le ginkgo [The Ginkgo Tree] (1994) is a radiophonic narration of an eternal society’s quest for mortality. This work was commissioned by Année nouvelle through the Université catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve and Vincent Engel. It was first performed in April 1994 during the Année nouvelle Festival in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. The text for Le ginkgo comes from excerpts of Lambersy’s short story of the same title. This composition was created mainly from electronic manipulations of vocal material read by Vincent Smetana, the narration being heard in different spatial environments, depending on the nature of the text. According to Vande Gorne, the story suggested a musical form that would follow three axes: time, space and movement. The sustained high frequencies and rich timbres present in this music set the mysterious mood for the corresponding character of the short story. When the dream world of the narrator’s tale are combined with Vande Gorne’s lush sound-world it reinforces the fact that the music and story are one. This intertwined atmosphere of Le ginkgo results in a whirlwind of excitement and mystery for the listener.

Architecture nuit [Architecture Night] (1988) is a five-piece composition using excerpts from Lambersy’s book of poetry of the same title. This work was commissioned by the Radio télévision belge francophone (RTBF) to be an entry in the Prix international des radio publiques francophones Paul-Gilson. Architecture nuit was also a finalist at the Bourges Competition in 1990. In each of the five pieces it is literally the words that create the music through Vande Gorne’s fragmentation and juxtaposition of the poetry’s text. The meaning for each piece in Architecture nuit comes from the arrangement of the text rather than the words themselves. Vande Gorne compares the form of each piece to that of a supernova exploding into many parts, rapidly increasing in complexity. It is in Architecture nuit that the spoken text becomes an individual organic member of a more comprehensive synthetic sound family. These vocal sounds are used both percussively in rhythmic gestures and in smooth descending glissandos. Over a background of silence, words can be heard either with vibrato, in mumbled whispers, or in squealing echoes. These variations transform the spoken sounds into comprehensible words while at other times retaining them for their pure sonic value. In this polyphonic sound-world there are varying degrees of comprehensibility, with audible sentences only momentarily emerging in each poem. These word transformations and techniques in Architecture nuit are reminiscent of those used in Stockhausen’s famous tape piece Gesang der Jünglinge (1956). This ability to play upon the listeners’ degree of understanding provides the primary means of sharpening the ears to explore and evaluate the newer world of electroacoustic sounds available today.

Noces noires [Black Wedding] (1986) is a commentary on death, the dying and humanity’s reactions to them. It was premiered in October 1986 at the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris. The text for Noces noires is a poem read by Lambersy from his book of the same title. The solo voice throughout presents this composition like a radiophonic production. The solemn tolling of bells, distant trains departing combined with awkward silences act as musical allusions to our associations with death. In Noces noires it is the deceased who is the bride with death as the groom. In order to emphasize a specific text, the solo voice is sometimes heard unaccompanied, alone, surrounded by an eerie silence. At other times, disturbing images from both the text and sound-world are presented, but Vande Gorne’s delicate, though abundant, variations on the sonic material keep the listener attentive and emotionally involved. Noces noires asks the listener how something so inevitable as death can be so questioned, and how it is we are not able to accept death in all its human horror? The sound material present can be compared to mourners who have arrived at a black wedding to give emotional support to the family, or in this case to the narrator. The overall meaning of the entire composition is a personal one. For a true appreciation and understanding this is a composition that may need to be heard several times. The closing line of text in Noces noires best describes the meaning of this work for the author, “Les mots ne serviront qu’à dire mon étonnement devant cela” [“The words will only serve to speak my astonishment facing this”]. Annette Vande Gorne’s passion for the marriage of words and music are evident in all three of her works.

It is this interest that allows Werner Lambersy’s written words to be transformed into a new listening experience of musical expression and aural comprehension. Impalpables is a creative accomplishment both in the literal and electroacoustic spheres.

… creative accomplishment both in the literal and electroacoustic spheres.

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