Sparks of solitude by Franck Bedrossian

The Factory 17.11.2022

Premiered on France Musique in September 2022, Franck Bedrossian's cycle Départs de feu was born from the encounter with a mezzo-soprano voice, that of Laura Muller. An opus for solo voice where poetry and audacity play a central role.

Poems. Short, punchy, nervous, vibrant. Five miniatures, five haiku-like poems by Céline Minard, inspired Franck Bedrossian's new cycle, Départs de feu, the composer's first opus for solo voice.

One pen, one voice

I read more and more poetry, " says Franck Bedrossian. Caught up in the flow and flux of information, I like the short form, the suspended moment that poetry offers. A great reader of Emilie Dickinson and Rimbaud, Bedrossian signs here his first collaboration with a contemporary poetess. He met Céline Minard in Rome, Villa Medici, in 2007. " I had given her a sketch of a saxophone quartet I was working on. I remember that she liked the graphic design of the score. Then I discovered his novels. The meeting with a pen and, a few years later, the meeting with a voice. Under the Cistercian vaults of Royaumont Abbey, one day in September 2019, Franck Bedrossian was struck by the timbre of the mezzo-soprano Laura Muller. The need to write for solo voice was already present. " I believe that a composer who is not able to write a piece for solo voice is not complete. That's where it all starts. The whole symphonic instrumentarium is, it seems to me, an extrapolation of the vocal source." But what is it that touches us, in the singularity of a voice? A mystery... " Whether in the baroque, classical or contemporary field, I have rarely been touched by voices. I have been more moved by the twilight dimension of Byzantine chants, by certain rock voices as well.

Vocal laboratory

2020, containment. " After writing my piano concerto, in the middle of a pandemic, I called Laura Muller back. In this period of crisis, I probably wanted to return to the source of music in a radical way. And the idea made its way... In the spring of 2021, the two artists began to work together. From the outside, their experimental sessions look like improvisation. "Except that I gave so many constraints to the interpreter that she didn't have much choice! I asked her to produce a wide range of sounds and effects - screams, rales, various vocalizations, tremolos, vibrations, whispers, sound textures on very fast consonants, stuttering... - at sometimes extreme tempi. With an almost scientific precision, Bedrossian records, samples, classifies and listens, again and again, to all these sound actions, raw material to weave his future piece. "For example, to find the right stammer, I asked him to repeat a certain sentence as fast as possible while stumbling over all the consonants. And one day I said: "That's it, I found the sound".

Then comes the text, the five unpublished poems by Céline Minard: "Precipitation", "Circulation", "Departures of fire", "Rolling" and a "Final" that concludes with these words "And we who flee". The theme? Ecology and eco-anxiety caused by the dwindling resources and the future of the planet. This could have been inhibiting... " What saved me was the ambiguity of the text, its poetic dimension, explains Franck Bedrossian. Céline's poetry has something incantatory about it, bordering on song and rhyme. Some phrases lend themselves to different interpretations, as in a song. It was the first time that the composer set to music a text written to measure and in French.

The art of metamorphosis

French, in fact. I was extremely careful to ensure that the text could be understood," he insists. I incorporated a lot of language into it. When, on the contrary, I wanted to have melodic freedom and no need for the text to be understood, I stretched and compressed the durations. In the third movement, the melody forms and flies with non-textual syllables, which are added and stretched so much in duration that one does not realize that they are words." The five movements of Départs de feu explore the possibilities of the spoken voice by varying all its parameters: pitch (from very low to high), timbre (whispered, murmured, spoken) and intensity: up to the point of screaming. A whole panel of vocal techniques comes to feed the noisy texture: tongue rolling, mixed consonants and even kisses... Composer and interpreter deliver us, in short, a music where the melody is contained in the word.

Acoustic illusions

"What interested me was to have a music that continues to be polyphonic even with a solo voice. Because the composer likes what is transformed. Franck Bedrossian creates acoustic illusions: "I had this fantasy of recreating what we have in Bach's violin repertoire, in the Chaconne...A single voice that becomes multiple. We need polyphony, even in a solo piece. I wanted to give the illusion of different sound planes. Thanks to the speed of speech, the contrasts and the very fast dynamics, one has indeed the striking impression of a voice that splits into two.

Five shades of loneliness

Sometimes the meaning - or one of the possible meanings - of a piece appears to the composer after the fact. By listening to the piece once, twice, I realized that it was a staging of solitude, in different contexts," Bedrossian confides. To feel less lonely, the voice, the interpreter, is obliged to split into two, and this requires great virtuosity . In wanting to thwart the limits of perception, the composer has written a complex and acrobatic score. " Virtuosity is for me an enviable consequence of writing, not a goal in itself. On the other hand, virtuosity that constantly plays with the limits can only interest me. Thus, in the last movement, Laura Muller sings and whistles at the same time.

Throughout these short poems, the voice alone, often panting, expresses the urgency to say. Départs de feu deploys a music of urgency and speed. Proof of this is the final stammering: "This voice is, at the end, dropped by the words," explains Franck Bedrossian. The stammering supplants the speech". But this flight forward, this stammering, of handicap, becomes melody, like an embellishment. Franck Bedrossian thus quotes Rimbaud, in echo to the "Final" of his Départs de feu: " It can only be the end of the world, moving forward".

From the airwaves to the stage

Départs de feu was commissioned by the program Création mondiale, directed by Anne Montaron on France Musique, and the complete version was broadcast on Sunday, September 25. From now on, the composer has in mind the stage creation on April 21, 2023, planned within the framework of the 32nd Biennale of Contemporary Music of Zagreb (Croatia), co-sponsor of the piece with France Musique. An experience that Franck Bedrossian is looking forward to. "I can't wait to see these five stages of solitude, embodied and projected on stage. A light amplification, with loudspeakers, is planned.
And the composer concludes: "This is really the piece I wanted to write".

Suzanne Gervais