Invitation to a listener
Alice Orpheus, Paris, March 30th 2020
There are so many things I would like tell you, but sometimes the obvious hides in plain sight, like something we pass by every day without noticing it anymore.
The urge leading today’s words and mood as a composer and performer is born from my desire to share and experience the body of work I am dedicating my life to. The next few paragraphs have the sole purpose to bring us, you and I, closer, and to build if not a dialogue at least a bridge. I will indeed share with you the absolute and well shouldered subjectivity of what I have in “mind and heart” when writing the last notes to my scores or recording my music.
Physical uniqueness in an artwork
There is for me in an artwork, and therefore in a music piece, the expression of the physical uniqueness related to the time and place of its creation[i]. What I mean is that many factors, many narratives are bonded together in what I would call “the physical uniqueness of an artwork”, which is therefore authentic and unreproducible. Of course this physical uniqueness is rarely the work of a day, and demands most of the time to numerous sessions of writing and re-writing, all fragmented in time. But this uniqueness I write about is also a single gesture made of different moment merged as a whole, existing as a sense carried out by a music score or a recording. To give the most extreme example, I will mention Richard Wagner’s tetralogy “The Ring of the Nibelung” written over a 26 year period. I could also mention a surprising number of recordings over the last 50 years, I will focus on Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece “Songs in the key of life” which was the conclusion of a 2 years composing and recording process[ii].
From this physical uniqueness, an artwork will rise, and only exist, according to me, as an interpretation and perception, both subjective[i]. As a matter of fact, the authenticity of the time of composition that I have defined earlier as a whole made out of fragmented compositional moments, bonded by a sense, this authenticity is unreproducible. The state of mind in which I found myself as a composer at the time, the relationship I had with my musical ideas at the time, the emotions, the urge, the excitement, the exhaustion, the doubts and other movements of the soul during the process of composing, all this in unreproducible.
Of the desire of a new physical uniqueness through a performance or a recording.
From the impossibility of capturing the past physical uniqueness of an artwork, is born a desire: Mine, as a composer, the one of the performer (one or more) and yours, the listener: To live through a performance or a recording a new physical uniqueness.
The dialogue between the audience, the composer and the artwork
Dear listener, it seems that it is now the right time for naming the most essential: The way in which a music composition and its musical statement, the performer and his choices towards the music and the audience, and you, the listener and your understanding of the music, the performance and/or the recording, the way those three parts communicate, the way we all communicate. Today is not the place to write about the relationship between the composer and its work, nor the place to dissert about the relation between the score, the performer and the means of music production (shows or recordings). No, what I want to write about today is the relationship between the score, the audience and the composer. In other words, I want to talk about how I can contribute to your understanding of my work. It seems that it might be the right time for me to admit how touched and humbled I am every time you chose to come to my shows, listen to my recordings or learn my scores. It is a chance for any composer to see an audience moving towards his work. It seems only logical that I wouldn’t let you ride alone towards my musical land, and get lost on the way, but rather guide you and suggest itineraries.
How the listener has been given full control
In our contemporary world, it is now common knowledge that digital recordings are the main medium through which we listen to music. From streamed music to radio stations and podcasts, music is today more accessible than it has ever been. It is even dematerialized. Of course, we still go to concert halls and clubs to listen to music. Of course, some of us still listen to music recorded on Vinyls, CD or K7 (that last example is mainly for unbearable hipsters and the socially removed crowd, it seems). If a visionary entrepreneur dreamt a few decades ago that every household would one day own a computer (a largely developed habit in the economically wealthiest countries of our world) our music, whatever we choose to listen, even exist in our pockets today! When you choose to listen to music, when commuting in a subway, while working, when cooking, you are no longer the listener of a live performance. No, at those moments, you have been given full control of how, when, where and with whom you choose to listen to music. You can choose to listen to music in the morning, in the late afternoon or in the middle of the night. You can choose to listen to music while having a bath, sitting in your living room, or walking outside. You can choose the audience as well: Are you going to listen to music alone? With your lover? with friends? With two, three, four or more? You can finally choose under which social context you will listen to music: drinking cocktails, having diner, running, or sitting in silence etc.
The dialogue, the bridge that I was talking about earlier between you and me, is made out of invitations and suggested guidelines on my end. As a composer, I spend, like any other creator, most of my time, building a meaning, a sense, testing and eroding ideas, starting over until it vibrates as much as my desire. So why should you instinctively have the keys to understanding my actions.
My prime impulse has never been mass success (in which case, accepting my defeat is long overdue). My urge, my impulse lies in the need of building a sense, of shaping of a body of work. In that matter, it seems hard to me, and unfair, to expect that you’d instinctively understand that language that I meant to develop. I am nor a visionary, nor a genius, I only talk about a vocabulary that other composers have created and used before more. From Schönberg to Theleonious Monk, From Henri Dutilleux to Radiohead, from Jean-Phillipe Rameau to Coltrane, from Beethoven to Stravinsky to Jerry Goldsmith from Paul Bley to Aphex Twin etc. my influences as a composer come from many places and only betray my years.
At this point it might be worth addressing a specific issue: For those who have followed my work, you have by now well understood that I write under different aliases. If so far I have not been diagnosed with split personality issues, it is probably because it’s been clear to me that each alias represents a different musical direction and style. Under Orphée, I have been writing contemporary classical music. Under Alice Orpheus, alternative r&b and electronic songwriting, and under Sønar, (collaborative project with artist Alicia Maria Fantozzi) hybrid new age music that seems hard to label even to me. And I will only mention the ongoing projects. This multiplicity of directions and projects only underlines the need I feel to offer guidelines.
With this in mind comes my first invitation in order to shape a discussion around the score itself.
- Every piece I write will come with an explanation about my intentions and influences, (that you will find on my website). If you have been given full control of the how, when, with whom and where, it is important that you are also given access to the essence of the music itself. Everyone listens to music with a different relationship to it. For those who wish to create a new sense of physical uniqueness with the music, suggested guidelines and explanation are tools to this uniqueness. Through social networks (twitter, insta etc.) I will answer questions you might have about the music I write.
- For the musicians among you, I have set up a small e-shop on my website where you can have access to sheet musics (mainly for my Orphée project) so you can build your own relationship and understanding of the score, if wanted.
- This is my invitation: -The music that I write hardly stands the test of background music to dinners. It is music made to be listened to. This music will ask your full attention. It is of course only a suggestion, but know that this music was written to be fully experienced, even to be danced, so you can create your own unicity.
Thank you, really for taking the time to read these words. Keep in mind that this is an open letter, and that the only purpose of this gesture is for us to communicate and to remember, together the meaning of desire.
[i] My love for the thesis of Kant and Schopenhauer on “the world as will and as representation” obviously guides my thoughts.
[i] I borrowed from Walter Benjamin’s work “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction” the notion of physical uniqueness.
[ii] Stevie Wonder started working on the songs and an album that would later become Songs in the Key of life in 1974, two year prior to the official release of the album. It is worth writing that the album combines the work of 150 people under one vision.