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Volume 8 Issue 6 - March 2003

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NEW MUSIC I hope the

NEW MUSIC I hope the audience will say this music forces them to think about 2 com poser com poser going further with th~ i~ea ?f INTERVIEW WITH YANNICK PLAMONDON AND MARC COUROUX FEBRUARY 2003 by Paul Steenhuisen On March 30, Tiu Esprit Orchestra will prenuere Stork, Utter, Forego, the new 30-minute piano concerto by composer Plomondon, this year's,redpient of the Jules Leger Prize. The piano soloist will be Marc Couroux, known for his improvisations, brilliant technique, distinctive piano sowui, and strong views on the concert 'ritual'. Plamondon 's new piece is a 3-part work with substanJial live inStrumenJaJ, amplification, as well as an wwsual formal. approach - in the third sectiPn, the soloist plays overtop a previously recorded, computerfragmented, ordered and transformed rendition of the solo parts. The "sampled" materials junction as both recapitulation and cadenza. The spedal collaborative nature of the piece spawned the idea of speaking with these friends together. STEENHUISEN: Y annick, I think of you as a composer of question marks, and Marc as a philosopher and multi-tasker. Why on earth did you write a piano concerto, and Marc, what on earth are you doing playing one? · PLAMONDON: it's always important for me to start with something people know. Having an orchestra, a soloist, a concert hall, a premiere. Everybody's sitting in the hall, knowing in 'advance what is going to happen - known quantities. From this point, I'm working with and against expectations. STEENHUISEN:· What's the role of pianist? PLAMONDON: He's the focal point, the hero. Everything comes from the piano part. It's the relation of the individual and society, me and Marc, music and society, me and .the music - a network. The concerto is one of the only forms that.permit this type of ex­ ~loqltion. · . , ·coUROUX: The premise is very Yannick Plamondon simple. If you're going to write a concerto, it's going to be heard in a concert hall, in the usual context we associate with orchestral music. You have to do something about it as a composer. You can't just receive this tradition and write a piece that's already consigned to the dustbin of history. You have two choices - either say "Screw that, I'm not going to write music for concert musicians anymore", · and start a garage band, or you can use the tools you have as a composer, your training, and the background you've grown up in'. But it's stuck with the ritual that comes with it, so you have to try and slip something in there . . Y annick is perfectly suited to this task of destabilizing the tradition because he works with materials tliat come the tradition. He plays with these materials. The listener will be receiving theSe romantic paradigms - the hero versusJhe mass - but they'll be screwed around with, they'll be in different orders, formally altered, stretched out or compressed. As a listener, you're taking this material in, but you're taking it in a kind of strange way. PLAMONDON: I agree. My problem is that I like the resources, the instruments of concert music, so I have to go where they are. Society tells me that these resources are in concert halls. My point is to work with these resources where they are now, expecting that one day the intentions of my music will lead these resources and these institutions to change the context. 'For me, the change of context comes with the creation of events. · concerts and people s1ttmg m the . audience in the classical way. My perspective is to work progressively. I want to push them, where the impetus for changing the space is coming from the work, and not from politicaJ pressures. STEENH\]ISEN: What do you want to change it to? PLAMONDON: For me it's very difficult to say precisely what it should be. But it's clear that it's · not stimulating enough the way it is right now. COUROUX: There's always been a kind of dissonance between what I feel_ is the energy centre of music today and the fact that the music we make today is stuck in a· concert hall, stuck in a museum. It doesn't really live any more. I totally agree with Glenn Gould - this idea of having a pianist climb Mount Everest at every show is kind of a dumb thing because people are just spectators, watching, waiting for you to fail. It's a very bad dialectic, where people aren't really listening, they're there because they feel this is the cultural thing to do. The notion of a cultural alibi is a potent one. Too often, people go to hear Brahms symphonies because they want to appear cultured. STEENHUISEN:Seemslike ' people aren't going tci hear Brahms symphonies anymore though. COUROUX: In Montreal they . are. My attitilde hasn't been tO ditch the process entirely because I think there is still some valuable work we can do. I could say I'm not going,to do concerts any more poser. Yannick does that. Someone else who does that is Jean Lesage. He knows the code. STEENHUISEN: Yamiick has said that the social-political field of the concert is still caught in the 17th century solution, sustained by .19th century artists, for a 21st century public. PLAMONDON: People still have in their minds a very clear idea of what they're going to hear at a concert. There's no imagination. You go to it, you know where it is, it happens, it's finished, yov're out - the same thing you experienced many times before. I don't feel comfortable with.that, probably from my own cultural background. I'm not coming from a classical music background, but I like these sounds, in themselves and for themselves. My problem is that these resources are institutionally captured by some very old, defmed institutions. I don't want to just fight with them by saying they're bullshit. COUROUX: You'll never win. Thafs the point. PLAMONDON: As a composer, if you really want your message to come across and you want the formal recombinations of your music to strike the listener in a particular way, in a way which· will make them see another world, you have to take into consideration what their references are. Each time, I want the piece to force them to go further. STEENHUISEN: And yourself too... ' PLAMONDON: Yeah, it's the same thing. It's.a voyage, an exploration. That's what I really like about Marc. He was a very huge inspiration for me from the beginning. I remember he inspired me with this idea of creating a kin

Marc Couroux PLAMONDON: To bum the concert hall and put everything in the trash.:. that's a very 60's way of doing things. When I h.eard Esprit Orcltestra before, I thought "Man, there's not enough strings in that band." With this commission,.! wanted a full investigation of the orchestra, to redesign the sound of the orchestra. I don't want to take these economical constraints - basically Esprit Orchestra doesn'thave all these strings because they don't have the money to pay them. So I decided not to ask for 16 more string players, but said "Give me a sound engineer, good microphones and some time to redesign by amplifying." From that point, I'm starting to change the situation. I don't want to write a piece for six violins with all these woodwinds and try to imagilll;! a sound design according to these economical constraints. It's total nonsense for me. STEENHUISEN: I think you're using the economic constraint as part of your idea, but turning it back on itself. PLAMONDON: To my advantage, yes. That's my job. I need to choose the constraints and when I cannot control them, try and tum . them. But I don't want them to be a limitation for my sound imagination. COUROUX: With technology as mediator as well. That's an important idea in our time. STEENHUISEN: The meeting point for you two is one of critical exchange. It's not possible in the conventional sense to say "Marc, you're the pianist and Y annick is the composer." It's problematic, but it's also refreshing. COUROUX: It's not the traditional hierarchy where the composer writes a piece in his little room in an ivory tower and gives it to the performer who learns it assiduously, plays it and throws it away. It's an exchange, it always is and March 1 - April 7 2003 always has been.· STEENHUISEN: You also improyise a great deal and lean to- . wards composition more and more, so you're exeeptional in that regard. COUROUX: Unfortunately. I wish I wasn't. But, Yannick is one of those people who have always been open to the notion that this ritual we're involved in is something that needs to change. · When we met many many years ago, there was already a sensation of dissatisfaction from both of us, 'that there's something wrong. PLAMONDON: The discussions that Marc and I have together have changed my vision of music. He's not just the interpreter, or just the performer in the piece. He's more than that. STEENHUISEN: A collaborator? PLAMONDON: Yeah, it's a team play. What I like in Marc is that you have to create the piano sound and to embody it into the score. He's going to read it and recreate these colours according to the syntax and the deep nature of the matter you're dealing with. COUROUX: From the outset, as a performer you have to question your relationship with sound, the act of producing music on the piano. You can't play this piece if you don't do that. It's kind of the same way you approach Xenakis. You can't play it with a Chopin attitude. You can't possibly do that. You have to ask "Where does the next sound happen? · How do these things go together?" STEENHUISEN: At the same time, your knowledge of Marc's very distinct sound must have influenced you. PLAMONDON: Yeah. COUROUX: So, in a way, it is kind of something I'm imposing on him. •' STEENHUISEN: But in an inspirational way. PLAMONDON: Exactly. There are some other important aesthetic elements too. I talk a lot about Robert Smithson and the idea of entropy. From the renaissance, most of the metaphors art critics used were related to biology. You have the cell that grows, you have development Smithson chose another kind of metaphor for art critique - geological or mineralogical metaphors, starting with the idea of entropy. If you look at some of my recent pieces,. you will see that most of the time, the material is revealed in its final stage of evolution. All of the things that come afterward are losses of energy, deconstruction, and entropy, flattening out. It works that way in this piano concerto - I'm bringing elements that are at the peak of their growth. Nobody's going to see the progressive growth from the cell to adult object. Most of the time you have sudden transitions leading you to other, mature elements, until we get out of breath somewhere. At the end we have these static (not circular) nonlinear time designs.• COUROUX: One thing that's always interested me about Yannick' s music is that he uses material that's very tonal, very consonant, ·sometimes based on PoP songs or more popular cultural references, and how the formal restructuring of these elements makes the music interesting. I think we often have this kind of· black and white duality of modernist and post-modernist. You know, modem music is dissonant and all over the place and chaotic and incomprehensible. Alld p0st- 1modem music tries to play these · very obtuse musically meaningful. . games, following a literary model. John Rea is good example of that. Y annick is taking material w4ich is basically rock-bottom tonal materiaJ and playing with form in a way that reconceptualizes or refor.mats it in an interesting way. As a listener, you're perfectly capable of following this material. But at the same time, the · way it progresses makes it very interesting. He isn't calling on your knowledge of the musical literature or otherwise to try and get the meaning. PLAMONDON: They're not structural flags/landmarks. I don't expect any recognition of it. It's a recombination. COUROUX: It's not about creating local "A-ha's!'', it's about creating one generalired question mark. The way you started off the interview, mentioning question mark, was a perfect metaphor for what Y annick does. He's leading you, taking what. you know, the most basic, tonal classical music things, symbols - and combining them. You're able to follow the discourse and that takes you to interesting places that aren't the simplt

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