There is a strange relationship between continuity and discontinuity at play in the music of François Nicolas, one that I haven’t encountered in a single other composer living today, and perhaps not before (admittedly I haven’t listened to every composer, and certainly not understood every composer). One that I am trying desperately to understand.
On the one hand, Nicolas resists a partitioning into discrete and discontinuous blocks à la Momentform or Messiaen’s strophic forms (my favourite juxtaposer), and on the other hand, resisting a continuous flow of sound à la process-based music or static, drone-based music. Nor is it seemingly a simple movement from one to the other: It is not the (admittedly brilliant and beautiful) Brahmsian resolution of this problem which is a linking and sometimes radical blurring between formal blocks, and it is not the simple cutting out of discontinuous moments from within a continuous stream (something which I have been trying in my own works recently to achieve).
Rather there is something about the unceremonious or perfunctory (I can’t think of a better word yet) way in which Nicolas treats his discrete “moments-gestes” that is utterly compelling. No matter how strongly ‘affirmed’ a single discrete moment is, the way in which it is so quickly tossed aside in favour of a new idea goes some way to subordinating its identity to a single musical flow – despite genuine closure on the level of phrase structure.
I think this may also have something to do with the various and conflicting ways that Nicolas structures his global form, for instance: what if there is large-scale and layered metrical structure to which the music must ultimately conform, but which is indifferent to the deployment of the individual moments-gestes?
The other thing that I find striking with regard to this continuity-discontinuity arrangement is the level of homogeneity between these moments, despite their diversity in character. None seem to be ‘derived’ from one another, as in the organicist conception of Romantic-Modern music (the essential ‘germ’ of the work, deployed in the opening bars, giving birth to whole drama), but none seem wholly unrelated to each other. Nor are they simply related by a single series or spectrum (and certainly not by more metaphorical connections).
Maybe there is something Wagnerian about all this…
Despite my preference for a more lush harmonic terrain (an influence from Spectralism and Messiaen), and despite some different conceptions around metre, I can’t see my principles of local and global formation not being influenced by all this. Must interrogate this further!