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LEARNING TO PERFORM MURAIL’S TERRITOIRES DE L’OUBLI: SUGGESTIVE CONTENT IN SYNONYMOUS TEMPORAL MUSICAL NOTATION WILLIAM FRIED RISTAN MURAIL’S EARLY WORK Territoires de l’oubli has a reputation as the major early spectral work for solo piano, a result of both the composer’s standing in the movement and the piece’s construction of the piano as a primarily resonating body. The piece is “written for the resonances, and not for the attacks,” in the words of the composer’s prefatory notes, a conception realized in practice by the damper pedal sustained throughout the twenty-five-minute work. The effect is striking , particularly in a sufficiently large performance space with resonant acoustics: the sonic experience of a gradually transforming panorama of resonance. No less striking is the approach to notation that the composer adopts. In particular, places where the notational gap—between a relatively transparent musical idea and its realization with traditional tools—is large have lead to some surprising solutions. Most interesting T 70 Perspectives of New Music are those involving various discrete representations of a single idea, which the composer alternates between, depending on context, with impressive facility. What follows, a survey of Murail’s most striking notational conceptions in Territoires, is both an instructive demonstration of the potentialities of notation, and a powerful illustration of the relationship between notation and learning process. Two matters should be addressed, by way of preface. First: My own experience with Territoires. I learned the piece in late 2008/early 2009 and have since performed it in concert a number of times, including once for the composer during his residence at NEC’s Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP) in June of 2011 (in Jordan Hall’s resonant acoustics, no less). I also had the opportunity to discuss various aspects of the notation with Murail, conversations which since proved invaluable to my subsequent engagement with the piece. Second: The concept of synonymous notation in a general case. It is perhaps a testament to the richness and complexity of musical notation that a given idea can so often be subject to many discrete representations . Synonyms provide a useful analogy in language, with overlap in meaning to various degrees short of perfect interchangeability. Etymology, shades of meaning, and appropriate contexts account for differences in meaning among synonyms in language; with “synonymous ” musical notation the nature of difference is often less clear, since the prescribed result is often identical. The distinctions become psychological in nature, and often lie in nothing more than the suggestion of an approach to realization. Notating four-in-the-time-of-three illustrates a basic example. There are two basic possibilities, interchangeable in the sense that midi scorereading software would realize them identically (as shown in Examples 1A and 1B). Both notations direct the player to execute four even attacks within the space of three beats, with each stressing a different aspect of the instruction: the evenness of the attacks in Example 1A, their placement vis-à-vis the beats in Example 1B. Furthermore, by privileging certain aspects of the instruction at the expense of others, each notation suggests a specific approach: in Example 1A, one based on overlaying four even attacks within the three-beat space, possibly acknowledging where the beats fall with respect to the attacks (in unison with the first attack, immediately after the second, and immediately before the fourth); in Example 1B, an approach based on subdivision of each beat into sixteenth notes, and placing the attacks accordingly. Note that for each, filling in the information not stressed requires mental calculation: division in Example 1A, to locate the beats vis-à-vis the attacks; addition in Example 1B, to notice that the attacks are evenly spaced. Learning to Perform Murail’s Territoires de l’oubli 71 Attentive readers will note the inexactitude with which I inserted beats into the Example 1A notation: beat 2 arrives not immediately after the second attack, but exactly one-third of the way between the second and third attacks; and similarly beat 3 arrives two-thirds of the way between the third and fourth attacks. This was no accident, and illustrates what in practice represents a rather useful kind of mental...


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