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Guest Post: André Mestre on ‘Corpo Confesso’

André Mestre is one of the 6 participants in the upcoming Soundstreams Emerging Composer Workshop under the direction of composers Ye Xiaogang, Juliet Palmer and the Cecilia Quartet as resident ensemble. André discusses Corpo Confesso, the work he will be working during the workshop and gives us an insight into his creative process.

Ever since I discovered I was going to be joining the Emerging Composers’ Workshop this year, working along with the Cecilia String Quartet, I knew I had one of those opportunities to do something special. Along with old ideas that I had been keeping, new ones started appear and I soon realized that the biggest challenge I was about to face was one of compositional restraint.

Before Corpo Confesso—the work I ended up mailing to Toronto—I struggled against two other entirely different pieces. However, despite this lack of direction, I could clearly see the common preoccupations they shared: materiality, intimacy and code. Here I will try to go over part of the compositional process and talk in retrospect about the issues involved.

My preoccupation with materiality is largely due to Barthes’ essay, The Grain of the Voice (1972). There, Barthes addresses a different layer of music’s self-referential qualities. Not that layer in which the musical discourse references its ongoing architecture—allowing for a sense of form, development etc.—but a layer in where the body, by singing, describes itself. Here, intertwined, materiality and intimacy meet, for a piece of music that favours the medium’s actuality also favours a sense of exposure. But why should code, or notation, be a problem?

The way we codify music is a problem because it is closely tied to certain practices and expectations. Traditionally speaking, even if one attempts to take by the reins aspects of timbre and movement those indications will end up marginalized in a score where pitch, rhythm and (to certain extent) loudness have been prioritized for centuries. This realization is anything but new, yet, as this obvious creates some difficulties on the receiving end, I feel it is important to talk about why different music might require different notation strategies.

The first way I decided to notate Corpo Confesso was on the lines of Lachenmann’s seminal second string quartet, reigen Seliger Geister (1989). In this fascinating work, the German composer separates the actions concerning the bow and the fingerboard in two different staves—allowing him, when needed, as much control over the right hand as one normally has over the dancing fingers. Building upon those ideas—and informed by more recent works by Cassidy, Ferneyhough, McCormack and Bača—I reached an extremely challenging manuscript where music was a resulting vector of (often) opposite forces. While later I did my best to synthesise that information in a way that could be more easily grasped, I’d say that 95% of that “counterpunctual” material survived.

Going back to the concept of the grain of voice, it’s easy to understand why this opposition is not only interesting but welcome. Imagine a person speaking a language that is not their own: one can hear the foreign sounds clashing against a body that has been sculpted by different vowels, different inflections. In that level we communicate ourselves. It’s the most sincere of confessions. Imagining what that would be, from an instrumental stand point, was the challenge of Corpo Confesso.

The Emerging Composers Workshop runs March 28 to April 6. Click here to learn more about this year's participants.

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