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YASUTAKA HEMMI - VIOLIN ENCOUNTERS


MEGADISC, 2004
[contemporary classical]

 

A variety of inspirations link some or all of this
collection. Among compositional preoccupations
displayed here, we find a taste for the use of
'found objects' (renaissance vocal music, bronze
age cave drawings, prerecorded sound and of
course the properties of the violin itself), various
concepts of polyphony (or rather the constant
ambiguity between monody and polyphony
which characterises so much writing for the
violin), conception in terms of the gifts of a particular
performer, and a foreground role for the
pure physicality of performance.
Of course there is nothing inherently new in this.
Early violin works delight in the ability of this
flexible instrument to imitate the sounds of
nature; subversion of the violin's typical monodic
role goes back to Bach and beyond; and the act
of performance as material in itself is perhaps the
one link between the folk fiddler and the concert
stage. Thus we can see these works in terms not
of a continual breaking of new ground but in the
context of the violin's continuing tradition - debatably
a more fruitful point of view.

Like most chaconnes, Brian Ferneyhough's Intermedio
alla Ciaccona (1986) is based on a sequence of
chords: here the chords number eight, and are
shared with many other works in the Carceri d'Invenzione
cycle of which the Intermedio forms a
part. (Sadly, the cycle still awaits a complete commercial
recording.) On the face of it, the Intermedio's
beginning is rather nakedly aggressive.
Nevertheless it is explicitly related to the chaconne/
passacaglia tradition, presenting the core
material in relatively bare form at the start before
elaborating it.

Unsichtbare Farben (1997-98) - like the Intermedio,
dedicated to the violinist Irvine Arditti - takes
its title from Marcel Duchamp, who used the term
'invisible colours' to allude to the contribution of
the title to our perception of artworks. Ferneyhough's
own titles (Funérailles, Études Transcendantales,
Time and Motion Studies...) themselves
often provide an important entrance point for the
listener - and indeed for the performer.
The work's material is primarily (but obliquely!)
derived from the tenor of Ockeghem's Missa
Caput. The listener might perceive softer harmonies
and a more traditional melodic style - stemming
not only from the derivation of the material
but from changes in Ferneyhough's own preoccupations
in the intervening decade.

As its title implies, Labyrinth X (1997-99) by
Keiko Harada travels unpredictably through a
range of different musical materials, from a more
traditional kind of lyricism to use of the violin's
bare physical properties - with many returns
along the way to points previously visited. The
range of tone colours specified by Harada is
appropriately wide - the violin begins with a
metal 'practice' mute, as well as employing relatively
standard techniques such as pizzicato, col
legno and harmonics. Labyrinth X was composed
for George van Dam, a co-founder of the Belgian
ensemble Ictus.

Like much of David Young's work, animali (2002)
translates visual objects graphically into conventional
staff notation. As in other works in Young's Val
Camonica series, these are bronze age rock carvings
from the Camonica valley in northern Italy, as
transcribed by Emmanuel Anati. Young occasionally
leaves them 'untranslated', reproducing them
directly on the page and requiring the performer to
switch between staff and graphic notation. The
entire last page indeed consists of the cave drawings
superimposed on an otherwise blank
musical staff - in a relatively unusual act of compositional
humility, Young writes himself out of the
piece. Again, animali was conceived with a specific
violinist in mind - this time Yasutaka Hemmi.
Patrick De Clerck's Ai Morti (2001) was commissioned
by and dedicated to Patricia Kopatchinskaya.
Many works conceived for a specific performer
embody that performer's individual manner of
playing in the final printed work, and this was
indeed De Clerck's initial intention - finally,
however, he elected to allow other performers the
same freedoms he had allowed the dedicatee.
Rejecting adherence to compositional 'schools', De
Clerck attempts to "build each oeuvre from the
ground up". Ai Morti takes as an appropriately
fundamental starting point two of the violin's
open strings, and all four open strings function as
a central reference through much of the work. The
composer leaves much to the listener as well as to
the performer. Sparse, often 'white-note' modal
writing suggests (without explicitly defining) a
variety of traditions including renaissance polyphony
- an effect heightened by the use of the
performer's voice.

In Berio's Sequenza VIII (1976), composed for
Carlo Chiarappa, a mixture of real and implied
polyphony is again one of the composer's stated
aims (a common feature of the whole Sequenza
series). Like Ferneyhough, Berio makes direct reference
to Bach's Chaconne, although Berio's core
material consists of a mere two notes (appropriately
enough, at least in the English musical alphabet,
A and B). Again, Berio begins the work with
his core material - not only the notes, but the physicality
of playing them - at its barest. And like
many composers before and after him (not only
for the violin), Berio occasionally lets the progression
of his material take a back seat to the joy of
pure virtuosity.


Michael Maierhof's Splitting 5 (2000-01), on the
other hand, makes relatively few concessions to
traditional notions of musical progression. Like
Ferneyhough and De Clerck, Maierhof employs
musical (or at least sonorous) found objects. The
solo violin performs against a pre-recorded CD
derived from fragments of aeroplane noise and
pop songs (the composer credits Mos Def's album
Black on Both Sides). The aeroplanes become
powerfully visceral, while the songs become
mechanised - a mediating process completed in
the violin part.
Indeed the violin itself here functions partly as a
found object. It is restricted largely to the
display of one of its acoustical properties, being
played largely in subharmonics. Harmonics
above the 'normally' fingered note are of course
a staple of violin technique - but when played
with higher then normal bow pressure, the violin's
strings can also produce a number of distinct
tones below the pitch which would have
resulted from conventional playing technique.
These sounds are relatively unsusceptible to traditional
musical manipulation either by performer
or composer, although they are found here
in a number of different forms - with different
fundamentals, in glissando, or with the violin
prepared with a small plastic clothes peg! Their
function is thus largely impassive and nondevelopmental,
rather like the found objects on
the pre-recorded CD - linking them persuasively.
Carl Rosman

Digital recording, editing and mastering - TETSUYA TAJIRI
Recorded: STUDIO SPHERE, MATSUE (JAPAN)
Artistic Direction : PATRICK DE CLERCK
Executive producer : RIC J.B. URMEL
Front Cover : YASUTAKA HEMMI PHOTOGRAFED BY MIRJAM DEVRIENDT
Photo credits : MIRJAM DEVRIENDT AND ANTOINE HUPIN
Special thanks to : MUTSUKO HEMMI, HIDEKO AND TETSUYA HEMMI, TSURUYO AND YOKO SATO, ASAKO URUSHIHARA, TATSUO CHINEN, FUMIKO NISHIGAMI, YUTAKA OYA, AKI TAKAHASHI
Sleeve Design Sign - Brussels

  1. Brian Ferneyhough - Intermedio alla ciaccona (1986) 8:05
  2. Brian Ferneyhough - Unsichtbare Farben (1997-98) 12:02
  3. Keiko Harada - Labyrinth X (1997/99) 8:41
  4. David Young - Animalifrom the Val Camonica pieces (2002) 9:10
  5. Patrick de Clerck - Ai Morti (2001) 8:17
  6. Luciano Berio - Sequenza VIII (1976) 11:21
  7. Michael Maierhof - Splitting fur 5 Violine und CD-Player (2000-01) 13:26
  8. Total Time 70:13
 

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