Back to Grisey and Carter: Defining the problem… again.

The problem remains this: how to take Grisey’s elastic metric sense, but peel off the heavy dependency on a single-minded periodicity? Or, from the other side, how to take Carter’s often ridged polyrhythmic frame and create elastic phrases from it?

The problem, I find, with Grisey’s elastic metric sense in pieces such as Vortex Temporum and parts of Quatre Chants is that of closure. Each period is so closed that you get into this problem where the entire period negates itself before the next one can start (this derives from the kind of writing most evident in Partiels). Hence neither real continuation, nor real modern polyphony (since all lines, no matter how independent within the period, are forced to close together at its end). Then you get into this situation, in Vortex as much as Quatre Chants (in particular the ‘Berceuce’), where any continuation of the content of a period beyond the closure of that period is defined as a transgression – not as a continuation in its own right. The logic of simple transgression is a negative one: transgression always refers back to what it is a transgression of. Real continuation is more positive – the idea develops beyond its initial context.

The kind of rhythmic skeletons that I’m using at the moment that derive from Carter allow for an opening up beyond this logic, and a real independence of lines. But at the expense, at the moment, of locking me into strict relations of subdivisions that can’t really be messed with without destroying coherence, but that tend to create phrases lacking in real directionality. What I want is to be able to create those expanding and contracting phrase structures as in Grisey, while maintaining Carter’s polyphonic and structural mentality. How to have a synthesis of this contradiction?

This problem really comes to the fore with the vocal writing that I’m beginning to work on for my new song cycle ‘Stars, not far off.’ The vocal lines need some serious elasticity in order to carry the content and form of the poetic lines…