Seminal, the crazy instrumental and vocal Noah's ark

The Factory 24.05.2022

It is a crazy project, as sometimes happens in the heads and guts of artists, a world-project, almost encyclopaedic... Seminal is a hydrid proposition: text, reading, voice, instruments. In 49 minutes, Frédéric Acquaviva unfolds a rich and noisy universe, carried by a mysterious microtonal harmony. A behind-the-scenes look at the making of an original score.

From one work to the next, Frédéric Acquaviva does not like to repeat himself. Repeating the same thing is not for him! It took him two years - in the middle of a lockdown - to complete Seminal. The number of musicians is considerable: 128, that is 124 instrumentalists and four voices, who form a virtual orchestra and a vocal quartet of soloists. The mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg, the singer Joan La Barbara, the tenor Wills Morgan and the voice of the Belgian visual artist and video maker Jacques Lizène are all part of the project. " Having a non-singing artist sing allowed me to instil a little distance, a dose of humour that I think is necessary for any artistic approach," confides Frédéric Acquaviva. But that's not all! Another voice, a mysterious speakrine, overhangs the whole, that of the performer ORLAN , who chants an original text: "It's a list of data that I translated into English," explains Frédéric Acquaviva, " a cosmological list that enumerates more or less false theories based on the end of the species and the world...".

The crazy density of this new work was palpable, very concretely, in April, in an art gallery in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, Satellite. On the walls, the immense graphic score allowed the public to see, at the same time as they heard the work, absolutely all the sound tracks arranged by the composer, the play of texture, the combinatorial effects, in short: the intimate life of Séminal. Sound and image to better engage the listener and penetrate the bowels of Frédéric Acquaviva's original approach.

As he contemplates the graphic score on the walls, the composer says: "I asked all these very different musicians, from different backgrounds, sometimes on opposite sides of the world, to send me a recorded note of their choice, from which I would compose. The music would unfold like a DNA. Frédéric Acquaviva's ambition was to compose an orchestral work with a symphonic dimension. The composer started from the following observation: the romantic orchestra was out of breath, outdated, explored a thousand times. The instrumentarium fascinated the composer. "I wanted each musician to play a different instrument. No question of 16 first violins, 14 second violins, 12 violas, 10 cellos... But rather oud, folk guitar, Irish flute, prehistoric drum, mouth organ, theorbo, synthesizer, trombone, harmonica, shophar, old guitar found on the ground in Berlin, zither, alphorn, Thai organ... The list is long! This new orchestra has a name: the PolyTransMetaOrchestra (P.T.M.O).

Seminal 1 - Unpublished extract

"These are instruments that are never heard together, that are not supposed to be played together," says the composer. The PolyTransMetaOrchestra brings together for the first time 124 completely eclectic instruments, usually separated in space and time, since they are spread all over the world. A virtual orchestra, but very human. "I like to work with musicians I've met: my friends, artists I respect. I wanted to mix professional instrumentalists, virtuosos, and passionate amateurs, from 1 to 94 years old! Frédéric Acquaviva had never worked with so many different timbres. "How can you create a rich, complex proposal from such simple elements: a single note for each instrument? I have been told that this music is a definition of anarchism, and I quite agree: everyone is a soloist. I also worked a lot on rhythmic shifts.

Seminal 3 - Unpublished extract

And in concrete terms? In front of his computer, using all these instrumental and vocal tracks, Frédéric Acquaviva decided to compose in real time, as he received the sound files from the musicians he had asked. Paradox is at the heart of Séminal: while ORLAN's voice tells of the disappearance of all forms of life, the orchestra contradicts it. Little by little, the microtonal, noisy, dense harmony emerges, asserts itself, taking birth from the DNA of each instrument, as if each note wanted to fight to make itself heard and proliferate. In short, to exist.

Seminal 4 - Unpublished extract

As the work progresses, the composer proposes new, constantly changing combinations of instruments. "Towards the last five minutes, there are electronic manipulations that take place. At the end you hear 600 instruments because the tracks are multiplied. Vertiginous! As the piece progresses, ORLAN's voice disappears, fading away in favour of the instrumental density. "I repeated the end quite a few times, we arrived at something too static or saturated with colours, we couldn't hear anything. Everything was difficult but everything was joyful in this work," smiles Frédéric Acquaviva. Instead of composing alone in my corner, I had all these recordings, and behind each of them there was a beautiful story. A friendship, a musician confined to the ends of the earth, in China, for example, a recording made in a lift cabin...".

Confinement or not, Frédéric Acquaviva had planned to compose this work. The pandemic gives it a new dimension and proves stubbornly that"you can't stop creation, you can't stop the imagination". The exhibition is over, but the record was released last April, by Presses du réel, with a rich explanatory booklet and the impressive list of all the musicians who make up this first virtual world orchestra. "Séminal is a bit like taking instruments from all over the world on a Noah's Ark.

Suzanne Gervais

Book release Flagrante delicto investigation for lethal music (Al Dante / Les Presses du Réel) at the Marché de la poésie on 11 June, Place St Sulpice 75006 Paris


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