Tonight a new conceptual work by the French composer / thinker / not sure what to call him Mathieu Saladin. I have enjoyed Saladin’s work a lot in the past. While he seems to belong to the recent, interesting wave of French musicians that have been working in a more conceptual, thoughtfully playful manner, his music and installations have always struck me as having an ongoing theme running through them of their own. His work often seems to highlight and consider the way audiences interact with music or musical performance, often focussing on removing the barriers between the two parties, but doing so in a non confrontational manner, seemingly observing the tensions between the two and setting up scenarios that leave the listener to evaluate their role in the activity. Â His new CDr / free download, available via Mattin’s w.m.o/r Â label again extends this line of thinking, but reaches back into music’s history to bring new light upon one of the most famous concert recordings of all time.
In December 1954 the performance of Edgar Varese’s (at the time highly original and contentious) electro-acoustic / orchestral composition DÃ©serts in Paris resulting in a near riot from the assembled audience, who did not take kindly to the performance of this new, scandalous work. Disliking the piece’s abstractions and the inclusion of the taped extracts that are inserted into the instrumental work the audience mad ether feelings known, talking, hissing, and later shouting and screaming in disgust. This show of audience power, of perhaps a democratic decision taken to reject the music has gone down in history as a landmark in experimental music. Mathieu Saladin has used a recording of the performance as the basis of this new piece of music, named (DÃ©serts).
The score for DÃ©serts see the tape parts inserted in between sections of orchestral playing. Basically, what Saladin has done is take the original recording made for radio of the twenty-seven minute performance and erase, i.e replace with silence all of the parts wherein the orchestra played. Then, in the sections remaining, where we should be hearing the taped interludes we instead hear the sounds of the angry audience. To begin with, we hear only silence followed by tiny bits of sound where small muttering begins, or individuals shout their dislike, but as the piece moves on the silences become the minority and we begin to hear more and more of the angry French hordes.
This is an odd thing to listen to. I found myself wanting to go in search of the original recording so as to hear how the concert degraded in its entirety. I know DÃ©serts from other recordings but would like to have heard the story of this performance unfold more fully. This isn’t the point of Saladin’s work though. While he certainly has chosen this piece so as to highlight the way the audience took over the performance, how they chose to cancel out Varese’s music, voting in numbers to erase what they were not accepting, Saladin also talks in the liner notes a little about how the audience made music of their own, improvised maybe, definitely undecided, perhaps indeterminate. By taking away Varese’s electro-acoustic part and replacing it with the audience’s semi chaotic additions Saladin highlights the democratic decisions made in that concert hall, and he begins the liner notes (that can be read alongside the free download link here) witht he three questions
When is there music? Where is noise? Who makes music?
…so wondering about who on this evening made the music, the composer, the musicians, Pierre Henry, who was operating the electroacoustic playback systems or the audience, working without a score but towards a common goal.
(DÃ©serts), like much of Saladin’s work isn’t something I’m likely to put on and play over and over again (though it is actually quite an engaging experience to try and pick out the dissenting voices we hear in the recording) but as is often the case he has here set up a simple scenario that leads to much thought and consideration as a listener. Earlier this evening I had picked a CD off of the pile of unheard destuff here, a disc of loud and aggressive digital laptop improvisations, and finding it immediately unappealing I turned it off straight away and found another disc. The audience in the concert hall in Paris couldn’t just hit a stop button but they effectively made the same decision that I did earlier, cancelling out a musician / composer that had clearly put a lot of thought into what they had produced, on one hand producing a concert in Paris, on the other sending me a CD in the post. The concert in 1954 was free to attend, and I don’t pay for the laptop disc either. In many ways the odds are stacked up in favour of the listener on these occasions, with nothing to lose, able to silence the composer either as a democratically elected group, or by myself at the flick of a button. I wonder how fair it is on the sole composer merely trying to make his statement and be heard for a brief period of time, but then I am also reminded of the trade-off that the artist must make in return for having his ego massaged, his genius lauded, and that is when his work is placed into the public domain it is there to be criticised, or at least silently rejected out of hand. Saladin’s work raises all of these questions that I personally enjoy thinking about.