Paper Session
Nov 11, 2021 03:00 PM - 03:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211111T1500 20211111T1550 America/Chicago Sonic Techniques AMS 2021
Arabesque in French Music After Debussy
Individual Paper 03:00 PM - 03:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 21:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 21:50:00 UTC

Claude Debussy famously used arabesque melody--with its soft dynamics, spiral-like contour, musty timbre, metric instability, short rhythmic values, and narrow range--to evoke mythical images in Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1894) and Syrinx (1913). Despite Debussy's endeavor, this figure faded in popularity with the neoclassical return to clarity, restraint, and economy. The arabesque was transformed, its free fantasy and continuous self-engenderment recast as a cog in the anti-impressionist, anti-symbolist, and anti-Debussyist formalistic machine. As I argue, the arabesque lived on after Debussy: it serves avant-garde manipulations of pitch, time, and space in music by Edgard Varèse, Olivier Messiaen, André Jolivet, and Pierre Boulez. Extending Gurminder Bhogal's (2013; 2020) scholarship on arabesque in the music of Debussy and Ravel, this paper shows the figure's continued significance in the modern and postmodern eras. 

The opening section focuses on the arabesque's evolution from visual pattern to melodic line as it moved through art, aesthetics, and literature in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The second section introduces Debussy's arabesque concept, focusing on details in his public writings and private correspondence. The third and main section shows radical reenvisionings of Debussy's approach in Varèse's Amériques (1918–1921), Messiaen's L'Ascension (1932–1933), Jolivet's Incantation (1937), and Boulez's Mémoriale (…explosante-fixe… Originel) (1985). Varèse and Jolivet blend French traditionalism and spatialization, replacing abstract ornamentation and the continuous serpentine line with a mixture of horizontal melody and vertical registral expansion. Messiaen extends the arabesque's accessory role, using Debussian extensions to delineate form and support harmonic procedures, and Boulez juxtaposes arabesque melody and jagged angularity over a serial background structure.   

Extending beyond the fin de siècle, the arabesque represents one of the wellsprings of musical modernism, proving influential not only for Debussy, but also for later generations of French composers. No longer explicitly tied to exotic poetic images, post-Debussian arabesque looks to the past while forging forward. Carrying the weight of its complex history, the fossil‑like figure participates in Jacques Rancière's "realm of artistic combination," embodying the ordinary becoming extraordinary, the ornament of the past awakening with new life.  

Stephanie Venturino
Eastman School Of Music
Decomposition, Ross Bolleter, and the Ruined Piano
Individual Paper 03:00 PM - 03:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 21:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 21:50:00 UTC

A piano sits abandoned in a farm shed: strings rusted, wood warped and tunneled with termites, paint peeling from its keys. This is just one of many ruined pianos – instruments permanently transformed by extended exposure to the elements – that Ross Bolleter has encountered and played over the years. By traditional standards, these pianos would be irreversibly damaged and unplayable, but Bolleter, an Australian composer and improvisor, instead sees these as treasured instruments with the potential for unique sonorities and creative techniques. Through an examination of Bolleter's performances, projects, and instruments, I show how the ruined piano resists and rejects the traditional piano's associations with wealth, domesticity, and control, and even challenges the very definition of "piano." Rather than limiting its musicality, I argue that the ruined piano's material decomposition encourages performative improvisation and invites connection with the local ecology and community, as shown through close analyses of examples such as Bolleter's improvised album Secret Sandhills (2002), the Wambyn Ruined Piano Sanctuary, and art installation Piano Labyrinth (2005) at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA). My research contextualizes both the traditional and ruined piano within Australia's colonial history, and draws from Australian cultural archives and my personal correspondence with Bolleter. I apply Johannes Ullmaier's juxtaposed definitions of Destruktion and Zerstörung (2015) to situate the ruined piano within larger discussions of piano destruction (Schmidt 2012), highlighting the role of the human in the process of and relationship to ruin. This research bridges the musicological and ethnomusicological, indigenous and colonial, traditional and unconventional through the lens of natural decay and instrument mortality. Examining ruined instruments offers insight not only into their construction and sound, but also opens opportunities to reflect on the critical role of materiality in musical understanding and experience, as well as the close relationships between music, environments, and communities.

Devanney Haruta
Brown University
Penderecki's Phantom Bell
Individual Paper 03:00 PM - 03:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 21:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 21:50:00 UTC

One of the most curious aspects of timbre and its manifestation through orchestration is its ability to create what is known as a timbral emergence: the synthesis of a new timbre whose component instruments are unidentifiable as themselves. Sometimes timbral emergences can go so far as to create illusions of phantom sounding bodies which aren't present in the ensemble. Penderecki has created a fascinating aural illusion in the fourth movement of his massive, powerful oratorio for Orthodox Easter Eve, _Utrenja, Part I: The Entombment of Christ_. In the opening seconds we hear the unmistakable sound of the resonance of a great dystonic cathedral bell. However, a look at the score tells us that there is no bell present at this moment. I will give an in-depth look at bell acoustics using Hibbert, Taherzadeh, and Sharp's work in bell pitch perception (2017 p. 55, 62) and show how Penderecki's timbral illusion not only models a bell, but a giant, imaginary Russian-style cathedral bell, as opposed to a European bell. 

Experiments in perception of inharmonic spectra suggest that it is neither general inharmonicity nor the prominent minor third at the bottom of a spectrum that qualify a bell-like timbre in people's minds, but rather harmonic series that have either been compressed or stretched by a certain amount (Cohen 1979; Slaymaker 1970). Penderecki's fifteen-note chord contains the pitches present in bell spectra and also shows a similar degree of stretch of the harmonic series when compared to a large Russian cathedral bell, which tend to be much heavier and thicker than their European counterparts and whose harmonic spectra exhibit greater factors of stretch or compression when compared to the harmonic series. I suggest that this is an effect which Penderecki created intentionally, given his desire to capture the essence of the ancient slavic Easter Eve rite, and his precompositional travels to old monasteries in Russian and Eastern Europe in order to find examples of the tradition that had been unadulterated by modern liturgical reforms (Schwinger 1989 p. 217-24).

Presenters Chelsea Komschlies
McGill University
McGill University
Brown University
Eastman School of Music
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