Archive for the ‘Views’ Category


Monday, October 16th, 2006

On Sunday October 15, 2006, 8 pm, New Musics Concerts*, Robert Aitken, Artistic Director, presented GENERATION 2006: L’Ensemble contemporain de Montreal a stunning programme of pieces by these young composers:

Emily Doolittle, “Four pieces about water”
David Litke (born in 1977 – not in 80), “Elucide”
Maxime McKinley, “Wirkunst-Gómez”
Charles-Antoine Fréchette, “Aspirations”
Aaron Gervais, “Culture no.3”

All the pieces were exciting, and each had an distinctive excellence of its own. An illuminating part of the programme was the introduction that several of the composers delivered live. will publish a series of these texts in the next while, beginning with Maxime McKinley’s. While no words can capture the sense of the music, our literate heart swells with pleasure on being instructed how to hear the abundance of ‘ideas’ and ‘meanings’ in this music composed on the edge of now.

“Wirkunst-Gómez”, the guitar concerto, is the fifth piece in a series of mine, all with the word Wirkunst in the title. The common thread in all of these pieces is that they have been inspired by non-musical works of art. Wirkunst is a catch-all term that I invented by putting together the German words “wir” (meaning “we”), “wirkung” (impression) and “kunst” (art).

Mexican guitarist Pablo Gómez provided me with some of his favourite artists from various disciplines: poet Octavio Paz, architect Antoni Gaudí, and filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Each section is built from the works of one of these artists, who have in common with Gómez Hispanic roots.

The first section is inspired by the word recombination games that Paz employs in his poetry. Similarly in my music, a given number of musical ideas are placed side by side in different combinations. The ideas in this section take their inspiration from Latin dances and certain characteristic Spanish guitar techniques. For example, you will hear a percussive effect obtained by two techniques known as rasguedo and golpe. A rasguedo is a series of very rapid attacks on the guitar strings, while a golpe is a sound with no particular pitch, obtained by striking the body of the guitar.

Another percussive effect is obtained through the tambora technique, which consists of hitting the strings with the thumb, very close to the bridge.

Finally, I have used an effect that resembles a tango.

The second section is inspired by Gaudí’s architectural work with curves. You will hear a scalar motif, which rises and falls through all sorts of contortions, and which is separated by two chords that serve as markers. These markers are located at each extremity of the range and are given definition by rasguedos similar to the ones in the previous section. Note that the scales played by the guitar are also played simultaneously by other instruments of the ensemble, but at different speeds. The purpose is to amplify and give strength to the guitar gesture.

The third section is inspired by the bizarre scenes in certain of Buñuel’s films, as well as by the Spanish Civil War, which he lived through. More specifically, I have transcribed for trombone one of Franco’s speeches, on the topic of discipline. The rolled Spanish R’s are represented by the fluttertongue technique, which consists of rolling the tongue while playing the instrument. In addition, a plunger mute is used to imitate the sound of vowels—the trombonist produces this effect by covering the bell of the instrument to various degrees with the mute. The beginning of Franco’s speech is: “Discipline has no merit when the command is pleasing to the receiver”.

I have tried to convey a burlesque tone; a kind of black humour that arises from the knowledge of the source of that quotation.

Buñuel’s work is also the basis for the fourth section, this time taking the form of the filmmaker’s sarcastic attitude toward militarism, religion, romanticism, and the bourgeoisie. Here I have created a collage of fragments, collected from existing music that represents, in one sense or another, one of the targets of Buñuel’s sarcasm. Parodied church music blends into Argentine tango, which then blends into military music, which blends into stereotypically bourgeois music, and so forth.

Wirkunst-Gómez is of course dedicated to Pablo Gómez, but also to Véronique Lacroix**, and to my former teachers Jean Vallières and Michel Gonneville. Thank you.

Maxime McKinley

Translation from French : Nathalie Watanabe and Aaron Gervais

*Veronique Lacroix directs and conducts the ECM

New Music Concerts