le contrepoint académique (sic) (2011)

le contrepoint académique (sic) (2000)

retrospective text (2011) published in issue 0 of Le Merle

le contrepoint académique (sic) is/was a noisy work. A performance situation instead of a purely musical event. A nuisance in the context of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, for which it was concocted in 2000. It dragged the orthodoxies of classical concert music—through the invocation of an academic, dusty, textbook, archaic, idealized counterpoint, essentially impossible and unrealizable—into the vanguard of free music which Victo prides itself on representing. That unwanted transplantation revealed unsuspected similarities on a political level between these two seemingly antagonistic contexts, especially regarding the position of submission the listener-viewer assumes as a matter of course, and the willingness to accept an unchanging system of address which fails to open up a process of active interrogation and critical inquiry. Concert music constantly reinforces its boundaries by actively denoting and excluding the “extra-musical” (music being one of the rare disciplines to have coined such a negativity) and demanding an unproblematically centered listening free of distracted valences. Indeed, concert music and much of what goes on at Victo (there are exceptions) depend on an unwavering faith in the modes of transmission and reception of their respective contents. While there may be dissonances (noises) to contend with, and even the occasional non-cochlear noise produced by a work which fails to live up to its expectations, or which the performer fails to bring across convincingly (more noise), the ubiquitous conventions which frame the work even before it has begun fail to attract significant scrutiny.

le contrepoint académique (sic) is a noisy work through genre confusion. Its musical content acts as if it is the fragmented (and delayed) outcome of an increasingly rarefied type of counterpoint which anxiously and repeatedly interrupts its own becoming; in a context where concerted confidence is expected, endless dithering and barely repressed insecurities are substituted. The work embeds a private outside-time inspection of materials and their actualization through rehearsal into the inside-time of the live performance, noisily confounding the recipient’s “natural” expectations of a performer in full possession of his powers, communicating faithfully and legitimately. It is noisy by its refusal to settle into a stable relationship with the listener, through a kind of real-time “editing” which propels the discontinuities and multiple times endemic to the recording studio into a context where a guarantee of coherent projection and temporal unity implicitly ground the listener’s experience. It also functions squarely outside of music, by forcing the instabilities inherent to certain types of performance art situations into a feedback loop with musical material, now subjected to and unmoored by an undisciplined (willfully or not), shaky body. It bores holes in a presumed uniform and continuous temporal fabric (necessary to the practice of “structural listening”) by a general waning of intent and the necessary skill to support it, a loss of the “will to teleology”, a cultivation of a sameness through infra-perceptible difference, all contributing to encouraging the viewer by extension to periodically disconnect from the proceedings.

And yet, for many (critics among them), the work passed the litmus test with flying colors. It was acclaimed as a heroic struggle. Its various noises could be incorporated under the rubric of a heightened mannerism (Jarrett, Gould, Helfgott…), its stylistic bifurcations as products of an internal, personal conflict (with an inner demon, perhaps?). Wishful thinking? Willful obliviousness? Others had to look away, close their eyes, to engage in “reduced listening” (cf. Pierre Schaeffer) to minimize extra-musical contamination. (While still others claimed that the recording—the only extant documentation of the complete event—now purged of its visual component, nevertheless donated a sense of impending collapse and anxious tentativeness which pointed (however awkwardly) to a situation outside the framework of music proper.)

le contrepoint académique (sic) was intended to intervene in (without resolving) the situation of highly conditioned (yet taken as a given) and idealized perception which takes place in the “concentration machine”[1] of the concert hall. A tactical intervention which redirected awareness, if momentarily, to possible alternate levels of engagement, self-reflexivity and agency within and around the mutually sustained binds between listener and performer. To forestall closure, categorization and systematization by letting noise into the encounter.

[1] A term coined by composer and theorist eldritch Priest.

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