In Resonance with Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana–Maria Avram

presented in Monk Mink Pink Punk #7

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Interview by GILLES PEYRET and SERGE LEROY, 23 June 1994
Translated from the French by Josh Ronsen, September 1999-January 2000
Corrected and updated by Ana-Maria Avram, November 1999-January 2000
Original text (in French).

Iancu Dumitrescu: It is important in my opinion to "live" the idea, to be in complicity with the idea... But... is it possible to live an idea? Can one imagine a music without having, at least, some ideas? That is the question! What I can say, assuredly, it is that the ideas become... music at the moment when one can live them, can "burn" them, therefore to transcend them...
Ana-Maria Avram: On the other hand, can one think it is possible to mirror a structure in another material, and to express it by a similarity of structure? That is not possible. One cannot express a philosophical idea by a structure which would be its translation. That means nothing. It is an illustration. One must find the metaphor, find another method to revive the idea, but not by a similarity of structure. What is valid in one material is not in another...

Ana-Maria Avram

For example with certain works, a grand master like Xenakis would like to express philosophical and scientific ideas, starting from a law that he wants to use to generate music, but finally what remains is a certain show of force, tension, harshness and courage which is essential in his music, and not the fact that mathematical laws are expressed. That, it is his business, it concerns himself alone, it is his own kitchen, and each composer has his, each one needs to cling to something, to be able to start, but the essential is not there.

Serge Leroy: You speak about phenomenology to try, when you interpret the work of another composer, to find the idea, to try to have this vertical impulse, scorning the well-known, of any imitation, to try to find the virginal impulse, but what happens when you interpret your own music?
Dumitrescu: The question is very complex... Firstly, "interpretation" does not exist!

Secondly, you cannot even listen to something composed in the moment. One needs that for the execution of the work. The score is an intermediary between the composer and the performer; and not between the composer and his public; let's be clear about that! Because the execution is, to tell the truth, if you are a true phenomenologist, all the same a creation.

Therefore the execution of your own music, it is the inverse procedure. But in essence, it is the same thing, a re-creation that needs the same genuine state of spirit.

Iancu Dumitrescu

It is tragic for you that you did not hear, that you did not have the occasion to know a phenomenological artist.

If you have time, if you have the chance, it is necessary that you make an excursion to Munich or elsewhere to see Celibidache. He still gives courses, but apart from that, if you want to see what is "interpretation" for a phenomenologist, it is necessary to see what happens with Celibidache, because it is, to tell the truth, the negation of "interpretation." [Celibidache died in 1996, click here for a short biography of his life, there is also a web site designed by a former student. -ed.]

In any event, for a phenomenologist, the usual sense of interpretation is excluded! That does not exist!

Avram: Because to "interpret" means to pass a message by your own subjectivity, and that is the reverse of phenomenology. For this, one must find the objectivity of a message, where this message is found in me, in you, in him. Thus it is the common number.
[Josh Ronsen: How does that happen?]
[Avram: That you have to learn, but also to discover in yourself how to read a score in order to reveal what is important, the direction that the music aims. Then, even if always, each time the execution of the same score will be different, in will still be true, in the sense that it will respect each time the "intentionality," the DIRECTION, even if it would be expressed in a different way, because conditions are unique every time. This "intentionality" is in fact the common number, the objectivity of the message, that needs to be realized by the performers, the audience, the conductor. With pure intuition you have to discover this DIRECTION.]
[Ronsen: When is the "interpretation" of a score a wrong one?]
[Avram: When, and only when, it looses its DIRECTION.]
[Ronsen: How this direction is it expressed?]
[Avram: By accents, articulations, heads of themes, by crescendo and decrescendo, by climaxes, by accelleando and rallentando. By the REDUCTION (phenomenological, as "epoche" of the vertical situation). By the transparency of the superposed themes. By the occult relation, unquantifiable, between melody or theme and contra-theme... The tonal or a-tonal relationships. The sense of modulations.... The sense of the lack of modulation also. The shortness and the length of musical ideas...]
[Ronsen: That concerns executing, reading a musical text. But composing?]
[Avram: The same problem, but, if you want, the reverse. Don't miss this direction, when you are writing. Keep your genuine state and energy. Even if it takes a very long time to write. The texture has to have the NECESSARY, UNCONDITIONED length. The articulations of the sonorous surfaces have to be substantial enough.]
Leroy: Thus any "programme music" ["loosely understood as music inspired by, or suggested of, specific extramusical objects, events or ideas" - Robert Schumann: His Life and Work by Ronald Taylor, 1982, Great Britain, pg 117, i.e. Schumann's "Papillons" which was a setting of the final scene of the novel Flegeljahre by Jean Paul. -ed.] is excluded, becomes impossible. All this which makes the foundation of a certain music...?
Dumitrescu: I do not know if you want to use the word "programme" here! Or "foundation of the music." The music is inexpressible, thus something pure, untranslatable! Thus it is for this that one needs it. Even its "foundations" are found only within itself!
Leroy: With a certain programme music, where one would seek to describe a battle for example, a sensation, but this is excluded from phenomenology...
Avram: Those are always subjective things. Titles, like other texts which try to "express" the music, are only external phenomena, a poetic excitation to which composers cling. [Or only to make the public cling to something. As an aside: That justifies, for me, the phenomenon of many of today's composers of endlessly prating about their music. I'm not sure that it always explains their music, but often only to direct one in a wrong way. -1999 update]
Leroy: Thus romanticism cannot be phenomenological, since it is related to the sensation, to the sentiment. One senses there an experience, a memory...
Avram: No! But the music remains valid, because there is a difference between what the title tells, which even the composer, perhaps, imagines that this music wants to express and what it truly is.

If truly it could be a question of something, it is only of the memory in oneself, the sensation in oneself, and not of the sensation of something which is defined. The music is nothing. Therefore it cannot express something, concrete, palpable, like a "battle" or something else. The music is not concrete. [Many thinkers tried to explain and analyze music by semiotics. It is an enormous, silly mistake! Because in semiotics you always need the triangle of signifier, signified and referent (object). But in music tertium non datur! (the third is excluded). There is no object, referent! Never! That's also why music isn't a language. Languages need a referent. Even laws of a grammatical genre — or which can be compared with those — can be found in music (by analogy, only by analogy!) the lack of referent makes music something different from what a "language" has to be. -1999 update]

Dumitrescu: [responding to SL's remark] Do you like romantic music?

No, nothing is related to the sensation.

If, for example, one speaks about Chopin, a great romantic, one cannot say that he remains on the level of sensations, that it is about something entering, disturbing, tickling a neuron. It remains in the domain of the sensation, therefore of the sound, i.e. physics, but the music is another thing, it is another level. It is the transcendental level, that which transcends the sound. It is a question of expression, it is a contact with something very complex.

[Avram: If that was not the case, "noise music" could never exist. The difference between noise and music is not what we learned in acoustics class, a matter of the shape of the sound, but this possibility of transcendence, that is the musical level. Noise as noise is, in fact, a true pollution, but noise in music, I think, is opening some new, in-depth and genuine ways of prospection. -1999 update]
Dumitrescu: But to return to "romanticism:" the truth is opposite to what you say! Phenomenology, being based on "pure intuition," offers us the possibility to discover, if you want, romanticism in a pure state, not contaminated, not spoiled. What more do you want? One eliminated all the contaminations and finds the lived "definition" of romanticism, as a "stylistic matrix" that has nothing to do with the chatter about the music, but only with the music itself. This is why phenomenology is necessary. It can reveal the virginal "purity" of things!

By phenomenology one manages to reach the absolute.

One differentiates, while "living" the categories. Romanticism and classicism differ, thus, by the very essence to be them... One can thus have pure representations of the styles... This "intuition" reveals the objectivity which is found in me, in you, in him, one reaches to what is, in us all, the last layer of the conscience, therefore this stratum where subjects enter, people, there are no more differences. One reaches to the "general" which is given, objective.

Phenomenology is a generally applicable, valid method. The question is the form of application which it takes. And here, in the field of the music, there is not a mind more profound than Celibidache.

Phenomenology is thus the only system which can explain, to render comprehensible the music. It can give us even its definition.

[Ronsen: Phenomenology's or music's' definition?]
[Avram: Phenomenology's. Music has no definition. Celi said that since he lived and thinked, he couldn't give a definition of what music is. Remind yourself: Iancu said in the first part that it is only something made with sounds, which is born, grows and dies. But it isn't the sound itself.]
Dumitrescu: It makes us find the dimension of the "other" in "myself." Otherwise one is in a total collapse... What I apprehend, you do not understand... And him, he does not agree with us two... Thus where can one arrive?

When with the physical sound... The physical sound is nothing, it is...

Leroy: The vector of the transmission.
Dumitrescu: That can become even a vector, under certain conditions.

Celibidache said: "If I succeed ONE concert per year..." (And how many does he give each year? About a hundred and twenty?) Because that is the situation with an orchestra.

Thus it is perhaps possible to transcend, to get a person to transcend. We have a flutist, an oboist who, for moments, because the moment of transcendence is very sensitive, will arrive at this transcendence, but to engage hundred musicians like that, so that they are all in the same state... it is rather difficult...

It is the true role of the conductor.

Avram: It is a moment when the physical is exceeded, the sound material, the signs of the music.
Gilles Peyret: Thus the conductor, more than to direct musicians, or to direct the emission of physical sounds, leads the musicians in a state of mind.
Dumitrescu: He leads them towards a state of mind.
Peyret: Like a shaman...
Avram: Yes, it is very close to the mystic.
Dumitrescu: It is the mysterious and ungrateful role of a conductor. To tell the truth, the conductor does not direct. What does the conductor do? He tries to avoid the errors, to avoid the accidents, he seeks to marginalize the things which intervene against the moment of transcendence. Thus, a good conductor sees, has the pure intuition of an approaching error, of a small accent at a certain time, of a small heaviness or I do not know what coming from the orchestra, and being able to stop the beginning of a general error.
Iancu Dumitrescu
[Avram: It also depends in which way the conductor understands his role: as a "psychopomp"... a guide for the spirit...]
Dumitrescu: The music is something which passes. It is not something which is determined. Nothing remains after the silence returns. It is like a discussion, like what we have now for example.
Avram: Even if something is written, what is this, there on the score? A base from which to fly away.
Dumitrescu: It is true! It is a state of mind. That is the secret. In my opinion, it is the goal of the music to comprehend a material which is the music, but to comprehend, it is necessary to eliminate much, to avoid the painful moments, to try to coordinate logic a little... It is necessary to "live with" the music, with the score, if you want, but always "hic et nunc," as one says in Latin. Here and now. Otherwise, it is the death of art.
Avram: It is finally simpler to announce that one does not have to be a conductor. He should not come with his bias, his prejudices, whatever the concrete and momentary conditions of the orchestra, the spirit of the orchestra, of all that is related to one moment and can vary considerably, and say "there, I do like that! I will always do like that! I will always make this accent there, this gesture there, this tempo there!"
Dumitrescu: To say: "Here is my tempo!" has no meaning. The tempo is "true" or "not true." That is all!
Leroy: There exists all the same a difference between the interpretation and the composition. One can admit that Debussy or Ravel, at a certain moment, or after a sorrow of heart, at his piano composed something... or expressed love, expressed something...
Dumitrescu: They are geniuses! A genius who composes, he is, when he succeeds — because there are also moments when he does not succeed — when he succeeds, I repeat, he is in a trance. It is for that that one cannot... throw away... remove the smallest phrase. Is that possible? From a Bach for example?
Avram: There is not a phrase which one can remove without changing all. Nothing can be changed. But that has nothing to do with his personal sorrows, or joys! The level is so different! Communication is occulted, as between consciousness and unconsciousness.
Dumitrescu: You can't change a note! In music, it is not possible to change something, because you would change the entire proportion. How do you explain that? It is supernatural! Only phenomenology can explain the great secrecy of a living composition which remains always alive, for two, three centuries, and of which nobody can remove a single note.

Of course, there is the possibility of playing like that, like an idiot [taps machine-like on the table], but that still recalls something, therefore it is a mystery also, but nothing can be eliminated, and that is, in my opinion, very significant.

Avram: [addressing SL] I think you are mistaken when you say "the composer wants to express love..." However, the composer expresses the very depths of the thing, and then the music expresses itself. It does not express anything other than itself. There is no referent! One cannot "put a finger" on what it expresses. There is no precise reference.
Leroy: You would like to say that, if one takes the example of sorrow or suffering, it is not this suffering which the composer expresses?
Avram: No, no.
Leroy: It would be the suffering which would enable him to be, to reach something different.
Avram: If you want.
Leroy: But some will say to feel what the composer suffered, to feel effectively such or such thing, or such landscape...
Avram: Perhaps it is opened by that, and then, as the music does not express anything other than itself, it is permissible with each one to see what he feels like.
Leroy: Then it is simply an opening, and this memory enables him to open towards some vertical dimension, but it is not the recall, the recollection of this thing by which the opening was done...
Avram: Even if the composer thinks that it is it. I repeat: one can translate nothing from one material to another, in art.
Dumitrescu: But the recall is something which pulls...
Peyret: To recall, it is to return...
Dumitrescu: But after, there is another state of mind.
Leroy: But how do you explain then, and it is almost an incongruity, that the composers gave names to their works?
Avram: They were obliged to do so. What do you want? Editors, the public... Those who "consumed" the music were to find a point of support, a reference... What to make of numbers? Symphony number twelve... Especially after the classical period, the forms started "to slip" compared to those already established. "Sonata" or "Symphony" had nothing more to say on the new, freer forms. And when you say "symphonic poem" you are almost obliged to give a poetic subtitle...
Leroy: But, when a classical musician gives a name to a work, he will choose a title like "Daphnis and Chloé" or "The Battle of..." He describes it.
Avram: No, he does not describe it. Besides, how would that be possible? Music is not a language, I repeat. Only in a language can you... describe...
Leroy: Therefore the title would be false?
Avram: That is not significant: false title or not... It does not describe the music, that is to say that the music has, of the moment when it begins, where it starts, a way that it follows by itself. It generates itself. What the composer must do is always to find the form which it requires.
Leroy: Therefore are the titles always false? Even for the Bolero of Ravel? It says nothing?
Avram: So! That it is the rhythm of the Bolero. A very precise rhythm... concrete.
Dumitrescu: It is about an archetypal rhythm, therefore it is...
Leroy: But that Beethoven entitled his symphonies, for example, The Pastorale or The Heroic...
Avram: Often it was not him, it was his editor to increase the sales of the music. On the other hand for Debussy, "the steps on snow," he said it, but perhaps he thought it afterwards, after writing the music. Besides, he puts — you know it, no? — all titles at the end of each prelude. To not induce the performer — and the listener if you want — a route, obliging imagination. Thus one recognizes it is superfluous, it is arbitrary, a title.
Peyret: Therefore he would not seek to describe steps on snow, but to find the impression which he had, one day while walking on snow?
Avram: As well as the experience. And still, "to find the impression..." it is so little, for the music...
Leroy: But it concerns the memory, therefore it is no longer phenomenology.
Avram: It is a simplistic view of phenomenology, because in the acts of consciousness, one can distinguish the moment from the intentionality — therefore anticipation, future, actuality — the present and the retention of the passed — memory — all forming the living present.

The phenomenological "time" is always this "living present" which joins together past, present, future. Which abolishes time, transforms it. The "reduced" to the lived.

Concerning Debussy's steps on the snow, it is the memory which came after he wrote the music. Or it is about a first impulse, there, in front of the blank page... so frightening! The daydream before the creation... That can generate a beginning of something, a structure, a trigger.

And then after, in the moment when you have the trigger, the music generates itself. It re-enters almost in an "obliged passage." To intervene, to try to change its chosen direction, it is to lose altitude, all to waste!

Dumitrescu: Yes, it is that. Therefore it is a very interesting phenomenon. That does not exist in poetry. That does not exist in other arts. That exists only in music. Something which generates itself... on an almost abstract level...
Avram: Of nothing, of itself. Of what would be. What would oblige what becomes...
Dumitrescu: To make a small analysis, [humming again the steps on snow]: It is only one small cell, unique, and that generates... seven or eight minutes of music. It is fantastic. It is for this that we say that Debussy is a fantastic genius, because he could generate a rather abstract music from the sonic point of view... even with only the rhythm of a lame foot...
Avram: Without calling upon traditional forms, and by generating a form completely different from the discursivity that existed before.
Dumitrescu: And calling upon two or three very short cells, true minimal cells of music. It is interesting. It is almost like, in another way obviously, Webern.
Avram: In another sense. For example one day, a friend of Mozart had asked him how he had composed such music. He answered: "I listened to it." He played it. And his friend re-asked the same question to him so that Mozart explains to him how he had composed that. Mozart answered: "I replayed it for you." There is nothing to explain...

In addition and for a little entertainment: Did you see the film Amadeus? There is a sentence very well put. When the emperor asks "Mr. Mozart, hadn't you put in too many notes?"

Leroy: "Too many notes, my dear Mozart."
Avram: And he answers: "No, Sire, there is exactly the number of notes that is necessary." It was a phenomenological answer. There are as many notes that is needed. Not more, not less. It was not a show of pride, but a very short and precise explanation.
Leroy: But in what music would be precisely different from poetry which always describes a state, a sentiment, etc...
Avram: Because in music there is no reference... In the semiotic triangle, I repeat, there is the letter, finally the word, there is the direction which has the word and the physical object.
Leroy: The signifier and the signified.
Avram: Yes, and the real object. "In flesh and bone"... in present, involved. In the music there is never the third. It exists, perhaps, but it is vague, it is abstract. It is not present as such. You can never put the finger on something: "It expresses that. It is that."
Leroy: And it is never fixed.
Avram: ...but holds of another order of reality.
Leroy: And because the music always exploits a temporality, over one duration.
Avram: It is a succession of relations of tension and relaxation. But for me, not even poetry describes something. Only prose does, sometimes...

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