The Classified Ear
The Listening Chronicle

Reviews 15.07.2021

The words of music

"The words of music": I don't know what possessed me to propose such a theme for this first column on Hémisphère son, even though all those that will follow will only revolve around this in the end: listening - to records, concerts - and words: these impressions and emotions specific to music that the latter have so much difficulty in conveying. And all this in 5,000 characters.

This is not quite true. The purpose of this column is above all to share discoveries, enthusiasms, listening, impressions and emotions. To discover some of the "creative music" that will be discussed on Hémisphère son. In the broadest sense.

But to do this, language must be used, and it is still lacking when it comes to music. To demonstrate this, I could have made a presentation in dictionary mode: "Music begins where the power of words ends. (1) or "Music is only music, [...] it ends in itself and is sufficient.” (2). There are countless philosophers, poets and musicians who have written about the powerlessness of language to transcribe the ineffable.

I could also have referred to my experience as a journalist. When I took the helm of the Octopus fanzine, when it started to appear as a supplement to the magazine Mouvement, I had the illusion of thinking that it was possible to write about so-called "sharp" music while remaining intelligible to the greatest number of people. To avoid insider references, anglicisms and catchwords, so that everyone would have the same keys to read these words about music, and above all would want to listen to the music in question. But everything is not so simple, I quickly realized (3). This is because not everyone buys magazines that deal with so-called "cutting edge" music. 

Who will read Hemisphere Sound? O reader, what kind of listener are you?

But this adjective alone, "sharp"-as well as, for example, the adjective "contemporary" attached to "music"-also demonstrates the vanity of language and the pretentiousness of words, which, if they fail to match it, sometimes know so well how to regiment music, to assign it to boxes that become shackles, crosses to be worn, that orient its perception and reception. 

But also, can a listening be virgin? It is when I want to share my infatuation with certain artists that I realize how difficult it is to talk only about music, not to encroach on the life and work of the artist, to get lost in the biographical, the historical, the genealogical. 

Can a listening experience be decontextualized?

How is music written? How is it spoken? How is it transmitted?

I prefer to rely on the benefits - on the miracle, even, if the reader clicks and listens:

Peter Garland, A Song - Jeroen van Veen, piano 

For example, for me this piece for piano by Peter Garland speaks for itself. It seems to my ears timeless, cross-border, it brings back to this meditative, not to say mystical, dimension which seems to me to be one of the best shared virtues of music, all latitudes included. Like many pieces by Morton Feldman (1926-1997):

or the "Book of Sounds"(Das Buch der Klänge) by the German Hans Otte (1926-2007):

This music is one of those that I can listen to on a loop throughout the day, music of stasis that insinuates itself into the daily décor and rhythm in an almost natural way, music of furnishing in the most artistic sense of the term, ecological music that seems to vibrate with time itself.

What is the point of pointing out that Peter Garland, born in 1952, was a student of two fascinating composers, James Tenney (born in 1934) and Harold Budd (born in 1936 and died a few weeks ago, on December 8, 2020)? To link this 1970s score to the American minimalist movement?

On the other hand, although I am not a musicologist, and even if it is not always useful (although often very interesting) to know how music is made, I was interested to learn the principle of this piece. A Song is composed of 10 lines of music: on each line, the same chord sequence is repeated; the performer is free to play each of these 10 cells in the order he wants, and to repeat it as many times as he wants. Knowing that he repeats a cell, he must also respect the number of chords it contains, which forces him to count. This oscillation between extreme abandonment - to let each chord resonate and melt into the next, their repetition causing fascinating harmonic and even psycho-acoustic phenomena - and extreme concentration - the counting, married to the mastery of the touch - seems to me to illuminate the listening of this piece with a new light, and to improve the apprehension of it. Especially when one likes to compare Jeroen van Veen's reading above with another one, for example that of Aki Takahashi (unfortunately no longer available online) published in 2000 by John Zorn's label, Tzadik.

I count the number of characters and realize that I've already passed the fateful 5,000-sign mark, when I thought I still had time to talk about this other piece by composer François Sarhan (b. 1972), LNfer, un petit détail (2012), in which the fusion between music and words reaches a rare degree of intensity:

L'Nfr performed by the Ictus ensemble on June 3, 2019

Let us specify in extremis that the writing of this text was punctuated by listening:

of Blaké, sonim la nwit , a new album released last November by Jako Maron, a musician from Reunion who excels at fusing Malayan rhythms with more abstract electronic music, similar to that of Alessandro Cortini

but just as bewitching:

Fragments d'un Journal intime by the great Luc Ferrari (1929-2005), an artist who handled language like a magician (4). And it shows how music can easily do without words when the musicians are themselves poets.

David Sanson

1. Richard Wagner, quoted by Karol Beffa in: "Comment parler de musique? ", inaugural lesson delivered at the Collège de France on Thursday 25 October 2012, available online: https: //
2. The philosopher Alain, in Propos sur l'esthétisme, quoted by Stéphane Lelièvre in the introduction to issue 5-2014 of the journal Comparatismes en Sorbonne: "Ecrire (sur) la musique", available online: http: //
3. On the question of music criticism, see the impressive work published last year under the direction of Timothée Picard: La critique musicale au XXe siècle, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2020, 1,568 p.
4. See the admirable collection: Musiques dans les spasmes - Ecrits (1951-2005), edited by Brunhild Ferrari and Jérôme Hansen at Presses du Réel in 2017.
Photo by Pere Borell del Caso, Flucht vor der Kritik


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