‘Through an excess’ / by Omer Corlaix
At a time when Wikipedia and other social networks dominate, going from the private area to the public arena has become a form of civil baptism for the biography of an artist. Thus, we are fortuitously given a date by the reviewer Renaud Machart ; in Le Monde‘s edition of Friday 2 November 2008, he expressed astonishment that ‘minor or obscure composers’ such as Franck Bedrossian had a more up-to-date biography in IRCAM’s new database (intimidatingly baptised ‘Brahms’) than well-established composers such as Luciano Berio or George Benjamin. From unknown to known, the line is thin. Tomorrow, might one perhaps be reproached for having had his or her biography in the 2011 edition of Who’s Who before having been legitimately recognised by the Bottin mondain1 ?
Thankfully, we no longer live in an era when the Jockey Club refused Wagner its imprimatur ! In his defence, Franck Bedrossian could today boast of teaching composition at the world’s second-ranking university (according to the 2010 Shanghai ranking2), whereas the first French university is ranked only 39th ! Ought we to have begun his biography by clarifying his lineage ? We shall thus limit ourselves to remarks made by the 12th Duke de Brissac in his memoirs3 : ‘[…] there is no French race. Aside from the fact that [the French] speak the same tongue (rather badly), obey the same laws (just as little) and sing the same hymn (equally out of tune)…’. In fact, the year 2008 might well mark the turning point in Franck Bedrossian’s life as an artist, with his departure for the United States in view of teaching composition at Berkeley, the year having begun with the 24 January meeting at the Centre de Documentation de la Musique Contemporaine on the topic of ‘saturation’ launching his residency with the Ensemble 2e2m.
Let us summarise the learning years. In September 1998, Franck Bedrossian enrolled in Gérard Grisey’s composition class at the Paris Conservatoire. The latter’s sudden death in November of that year put an end to the dialogue that was developing. In 2001, he began the degree course in computer composition at IRCAM, which concluded with the first performance of Transmission for bassoon and electronics in October 2002. Given the number of repeat performances it received, this work stood out as the session’s reference. The following year, he obtained his composition prize at the Conservatoire with the version for 35 musicians of La Conspiration du silence. By the time he left for the Villa Médicis, he had harvested a number of prizes4. Arriving in Rome in June 2006, Franck Bedrossian decided that he would live from composition and from teaching it. At the same time, he freed up time to think about his tools and his aesthetic project—what he calls, with a touch of irony, the ‘time of the criticism of arms5’. With those markers in place, the composer returned to his worktable and produced his first string quartet, Tracés d’ombres, for the Diotima Quartet in 2007, premiered at the Villa Médicis, and three works for wind instruments: Propaganda for saxophone and electronics, following in the wake of Transmission ; Manifesto for wind octet ; and Bossa nova for the accordionist Pascal Contet. For a time, Franck Bedrossian indulged in Roman farniente for a few chess tournaments but could obviously not resist the Roman and Florentine bellezza6.
He profited from the republican ‘otium’ to polish up his catalogue, revising some of his opuses such as Charleston and La Conspiration du silence, works composed for the graduation prize at the Conservatoire. The new version of La Conspiration du silence, performed in March 2009 at the Archipel festival in Geneva, initiated a new period in his oeuvre. The critical and public reception was good, as attests reviewer Jonas Pulver in Le Temps : ‘A breath of bow. A flute roll. A harp explosion. A bass drum vibrato. With Franck Bedrossian, instruments question their subconscious and indulge in exchanges of identity as if to better deconstruct the myth of the philharmonic sound7’. Jonas Pulver’s remarks complement those of Maurice Ulrich, editorialist of L’Humanité, in his very fine portrait : ‘Sometimes the sound idea seeks its instrument8’. In his review of Bedrossian’s first recorded monograph, Pierre Gervasoni of Le Monde pointed out the extravagance of energy deployed: ‘Charleston is invested by some 15 musicians in the grip of hysteria but gradually comes to lie within an arrangement
of frictions and tearing, which also constitutes the privilege of the trio L’Usage de la parole9’. He concludes with this first synthesis : ‘In a fury, Bedrossian’s music comes in a variety of forms with an innate sense of nuance’. His sense of organisation and nuance assert themselves in his first string quartet, Tracés d’ombres. During its second hearing at the closing event of the Ars Musica Festival in 2007, Michel Debrocq of Brussels’ Le Soir grasped the musical gesture : ‘A bird soars into the upper register, and the piece ends in the whispering of an ancient chorus that almost approaches silence10’. The dramaturgical dimension of his music was also noticed by Pierre Gervasoni at the first performance of Propaganda at the Biennale Musiques en Scène in Lyon : ‘This piece, of wild richness, here transcends its ideal of bruitist saturation to attain a certain form of the sacred11’. It is not sound saturation per se that interests Franck Bedrossian but the musical situations that it generates. He specifies : ‘More than saturation, it’s the saturated phenomenon that interests me12.’ Here, at last, is the distressing word : ‘saturation’.
‘Saturation’ suddenly appeared in the serene sky of La contemporaine in the course of the first performance of Division in June 2006 at IRCAM’s Agora Festival, and a new sound horizon imposed itself. At the time, few saw the stakes but quite quickly, it he set minds ablaze like wildfire. No man being a prophet in his own country, it was the Radio Suisse Romande that recorded the first major dialogue on saturation13. The passionate reaction of their peers surprised Franck Bedrossian and Raphaël Cendo. Granted, during that time, It for seven instruments was already going on its own sweet way under the auspices of the Ensemble 2e2m... Quite soon, the debate reached the other side of the Rhine, and Franck Bedrossian was invited to Berlin’s MärzMusik festival in 2009 then, in September of the same year, to the Donaueschingen Festival with the first performance of Swing
for 11 instruments. In 2010 he was invited to give a concert at the Darmstadt summer session, and in August of that year, the Ensemble 2e2m again performed It at the ‘Der Sommer in Stuttgart’ festival after the work had triumphed the year before at the Cervantino (Mexico) international festival14.
‘Saturation, a musically rich concept, both process and result,’ commented musicologist Dominique Jameux15 on the fringe of the three pluridisciplinary meetings organised by the CNRS and EHESS16 concerning this concept. One might confine oneself to the definition given during the seminar organised at the CDMC17 in 2008 : ‘The saturated phenomenon in the acoustic domain is an excess of matter, energy, movement and timbre18’. Inharmonic, distorted and multiphonic sounds, the Berio tremolo doubling a flatterzunge, Larsen effects, static, etc. are part of the field of saturated sounds. Certainly, the serial system tended towards an excess of sounds—Iannis Xenakis as well as Pierre Boulez perceived this quite well in their time. But rather than consider it a ‘sound barrier’, a limit not to be
crossed, the ‘saturationists’ apprehend this situation of sound accumulation as the natural condition of sound today. This view of music is also a criticism of the dominant discourse of the 1990s elaborated in the wake of composer Helmut Lachenmann in which ‘instrumental musique concrète‘ appears as the alternative to the aura of philharmonic sound. Saturated music refuses to enclose itself in the Lachenmannian dilemma opposing ‘bruité sound’ and ‘philharmonic sound’, proposing the world of complex sounds as the paradigm of the 21st century. To borrow the terminology of philosopher Jean-Luc Marion19, the strength of this concept is to set the complex sound as an excess of intuition over the signification of the sound itself. It means refusing to confine it in an a priori framework, giving it a chance to be itself. To parody the philosopher : ‘The sound first listens to itself and is uttered only afterwards20’.
1 Claude Debussy as well as Olivier Messiaen had the honour of appearing in the Bottin mondain.
(Translator’s note: the Bottin, the French counterpart of Who’s Who, is generally based more on social
standing than on accomplishments).
2 The University of California at Berkeley took the second-place title away from Stanford University in the
3 Duc de Brissac, La suite des temps, 1939-1958 (Grasset, 1974). The Cossé-Brissacs are presidents of the
Jockey Club from one generation to the next !
4 The Hervé Dugardin Prize (SACEM) in 2003, Pierre Cardin Prize of the Institut de France (2004) and
the SACEM Young Composer Prize (2007).
5 Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right : ‘It is clear that the arm of criticism cannot replace the
criticism of arms’.
6 ‘When you arrive for the first time at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, leading to the Villa, you clearly
perceive the offensive of the beautiful.’ in Franck Bedrossian, De l’excès du son, Ensemble 2e2m, 2008.
7 Le Temps, Geneva, 26 March 2009.
8 L’Humanité, Paris, 11 February 2006.
9 Le Monde, Paris, 1 July 2008.
10 Le Soir, Brussels, 27 March 2007.
11 Le Monde, 11 March 2007.
12 Franck Bedrossian, De l’excès du son, Ensemble 2e2M, 2008.
13 Radio Suisse Romande, ‘Musique d’aujourd’hui’ 11 March 2007: discussion hosted by Bastien Gallet in
Franck Bedrossian, De l’excès du son, Ensemble 2e2m, 2008.
14 The pluridisciplinary Cervantino International Festival has taken place in October for 38 years and is the
reference of the South-American continent.
15 Commentaire No. 130, summer 2010. This revue, founded by the sociologist-philosopher Raymond Aron,
is one of the rare periodicals having a chronicle devoted to contemporary music.
16 Translator’s note : National Centre for Scientific Research and Graduate School in Social Science.
17 Translator’s note : Contemporary Music Resource Centre.
18 Raphaël Cendo, ‘Les paramètres de la saturation’ in Franck Bedrossian. De l’excès de son, 2e2m, 2008.
19 Jean-Luc Marion, De surcroît. Etudes sur les phénomènes saturés, PUF, 2001.
20 ‘Le langage s’écoute d’abord, et ne profère qu’ensuite’ in Jean-Luc Marion, op. cit.
EPIGRAM III, for soprano and instrumental ensemble
Poems by Émily Dickinson
Klangforum Wien - Sop.: Donatienne Michel-Dansac
Cond.: Emilio Pomarico
Blote Vogel Schule (Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik) - Witten - Germany
Works composed by Franck BEDROSSIAN
> 2011 / Aeon AECD1106 - Manifesto
IT, for 7 instruments
Ensemble 2e2m - Pierre Roullier (conductor)
TRACES D’OMBRES, for string quartet
MANIFESTO, for 8 wind instruments
Ensemble 2e2m - Pierre Roullier (conductor)
BOSSA NOVA, for accordion
Pascal Contet (accordion)
PROPAGANDA, for saxophone quartet and electronics
> 2008 / Sismal Records SR003 - Charleston
CHARLESTON, for 15 musicians
L’Itinéraire - Marc Foster (conductor)
L’USAGE DE LA PAROLE, for clarinet, cello and piano
Renaud Desbazeille (clarinet) - Florian Lauridon (cello) - David Chevalier (piano)
DIGITAL, for double bass, percussion and electronics
Yann Dubost (double bass) - Christophe Bredeloup (percussion)
TRANSMISSION, for bassoon and electronics
Brice Martin (bassoon)
> 2019 / KAIROS 0015042KAI - Franck Bedrossian : Epigram
EPIGRAM, for soprano and instrumental ensemble
Klangforum Wien - Donatienne Michel-Dansac (soprano) - Emilio Pomárico (conductor)
> 2013 / Neos 11303-05 - Donaueschinger Musiktage 2012 (SACD 1)
ITSELF, for orchestra
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden & Freiburg - François-Xavier Roth (conductor)
> 2010 / Neos 11052 - Donaueschinger Musiktage 2009
SWING, for 11 instruments
Ensemble Ictus - Georges-Elie Octors (conductor)
> 2008 / Collection ”A la ligne”, published by Ensemble 2e2m
FRANCK BEDROSSIAN, DE L’EXCES DU SON