write music in the 21st century? Theodor Adorno asked a similar question following Auschwitz, and Franco Donatoni following John Cage. For me, there is a light hidden in the behavior of the sounds, and their inner relationships stir the soul, conveying a meaning that suggests a succession of events. Regardless of whether the material is neutral or historically determined, to say new things is to find or uncover that incommunicable meaning, that indefinable light that sleeps within the reflection of what one is able to reach.
Il Sorriso del Dubbio
Written in 2018.
Il Sorriso del Dubbio is a contrasted comment on life, on aging, on seeing oneself growing enough to be able to contemplate the way in which existence undergoes the repetition of the days that pass, the weight of every day, one by one, heavy and light, the inescapable humor and lucidity of the end. My children are capable of focusing their full attention on the retractable arm of a garbage truck passing by, its mechanical movement, the pouring of the garbage, the handover of the container, then following the truck until a repeated loud warning comes out from Mother. Their concentration is “untouchable,’’ free from all aporia. Yet, a doubt must surface one day, a doubt that is the fingerprint of a tarnished consciousness, the garish awareness of a witness to a crime. And the most fascinating aspect is that such a consciousness and
the intricacies of its tarnishing are unknown to them, so far.
The smile is a pleasant aspect of things that are, the poetical expression of a Latin sky, “the smile of trees and vine, a smile which bathes the ugliness of the most humble things and flowers the stones of old walls and conveys to sadness itself its radiant calm’’ — Romain Rolland, Jean-Christophe, La nouvelle journée (1912).
Commissioned and played by Arraymusic’s Array Ensemble, February 8, 2019.
Quartetto 2, Rubato e agitato
Written in 2018.
Horace, in his Poetics, denigrates the present for the sake of the past. Quartetto 2 illustrates a parallel between the shift to atonalism and the Dionysian experience of looking into the irrational. It seeks to overwhelm the listening parameters and redesign the tonal music geometries through an analysis of language in a structure that is ontologically posterior to the system that instantiates it, i.e., the complex relationships between the signified and the signifier.
Quartetto 2 seeks to reschedule music inside a system of logically inevitable propositions, such as “protocol sentences” in the definition of a grammar where any identity of opposites, any “transformational equivalent,” entails a denial of the “principle of non-contradiction.”
Changing things made possible the continued existence of other things. The reality of a string quartet in today’s technological world is confronted with a present that is no longer recognizable, in which the screams of expressionism fossilized long ago. The ideas conveyed here would like to challenge this assertion.
In Limine Cœlorum
Written in 2017.
I wrote this piece in memoriam Franco Donatoni. “In Limine Coelorum” depicts a conviction that Franco Donatoni, at peace with himself, has reached one of many ceilings in the Heavens whence he considers the delirium of this known universe and marvels at the simplicity of the spiritual oblivion.
Les Étoiles de la Terre
Written in 2017.
Les Étoiles de la Terre comments on the public reckonings faced by numerous, heretofore “untouchable’’ luminaries of our time.
It begins with an exploration of the godlike status bestowed upon them by the commonality; shudders with the realization that no one is without their faults; and resolves with the understanding that life must continue regardless of past imperfection, as the stars now dwell upon the Earth.
Assonance (Elle & Lui) per violoncello
Written in 2016.
Assonance is a tribute to Benjamin Britten’s Cello Suite No. 1, opus 72.
Assonance is intended to portray a dialogue between two opposite, yet complementary characters. It does not seek to develop any material, but to articulate a collection of events inspired by the natural expressivity of the cello’s registers and expressive possibilities. The vocal quality of the high register speaks to the woody grain of the mid-range and restarts in the sonorous bass colla parte before reiterating the Italian expressivity of the dialogue in the high-pitched apex. The profoundly emotional contrast embellishes the unfolding of the piece toward a similar narrative in the low bass at the end, mixing fifths and pizzicati, as if a reconciliation were to take place.
Oratio Horarum, Miserere
Written in 2016.
Played by the gamUT Contemporary Music Ensemble at the University of Toronto, February 4, 2017, as part of the Via Italia concert, New Music Festival. Featuring Ian Sabourin, countertenor and Prof. Gary Kulesha, conductor.
“Oratio Horarum – Miserere” is an anxious prayer and a cry of overwhelming fear of one’s destiny. The anxiety is first portrayed in the reaction to the name of God by the ensemble’s laughter using onomatopoeic figures, symbolizing the profound unease of the world and the incapability of men to worship God. The unfolding of the piece indeed illustrates the inner fear of one who knows his awkwardness and misery, yet supplicates God not to look upon him with the weight of his sins. The end of the gesture brings a timid Amen still tainted with anxiety but looking with hope to the promised mercy.
A buildup of fourths and fifths leads to a statement of the name of God from the countertenor, followed by an elongated arsis using projected rhythmic figures in which a person’s inner evil, among other realities, is portrayed by the audacious roar of the tambour à corde (lion’s roar), and which ends with a whispered remark by the guitar. The two subsequent variations follow the same pattern, culminating in the Amen.
Throughout the piece, the stylistic predetermination of the countertenor struggles against the apparent hostility of its harmonic surroundings. As Salvatore Sciarrino pointed out during the premiere of the piece, “the material we heard is not transformed but only articulated.”
La Fille sur l’Eau per trio d’archi
Written in 2016.
La Fille sur l’Eau is written for the birth of my second child, Anna Leora. It is a tribute to the fragility of life, its transcendental beauty, and the overwhelming fear of the unknown.
It is intended to portray a continuum from “the fear of trying,” as the girl considers the water and the unknown it represents, to her eventual fusion with the water, musically shown in a recurrent figure that continuously changes in order to “give birth” to a classical-type theme at the viola (bar 225). Her methodic curiosity will drive her to love what she does not understand at first as she perceives her beauty in the water and discovers her image in its reflection.
A Lyrical Interval of Time
Written in 2016.
“Lyrical Interval of Time – poetry” is written for the Sound of Silence Art Song Project. It is based on a particular harmony inspired by Scriabin’s Mystic chord and some cognitive “dissonances” using exaggerated emphasis on some of the onomatopoeias in the poem. It is intended to portray an array of dramatic colors in which the full indeterminacy of the poem coexists in a musical determination. The dialectical function of the music can be felt as painting within the immanence of the structure, resulting in an utopian sense of happiness.
Poem © 2016 by Karen Lee –
Side Road Swamp
Where roads are called side or concession Curled leaves embrace brown frog
bark arms sway praise summer sky Half dipped in swamp
dark green glass ripples rot of aged earth floats hot mist
frogs dragonflies birds unseen thin tree pins mulch island in place
answer roll call what hold me?
sharp sounds whistle strings in tiny throats no leaf beneath
laden creatures bellow untethered living only this
hide in weepy green drapes
Faceless maestro new friends breathe together as old keen sight ears cocked pores wide
breath of seen unseen red car rests between hot tar and marsh hold visual soundscapes
leads silence more intrigue here later frame in words unequal
fugue of browns greens than scentless lavender fields to lyrical interval of time inimitable
caw splash bubble burst I share poetry we laugh marvel inhale
rustle whistle ribbit splash she lives photography with skin
veiled flight swoosh whirl perched on random tree stump swallow swamp whole
birds plead coax flirt leans precariously suspended.
captures curve line reflection
of masterpiece through lens
less perfect than her eye
Delirium Potastis per clarinetto, sassofono e pianoforte
Written in 2015.
Delirium Potastis is Latin for a “given delirium,” poetically stirred up by the consequences of war (the theme suggested by the Thelema Trio for their commission) in which ordinary soldiers are both purveyors and victims of gunfire, landmines, bombs, and other forms of death. Despite the harsh reality, they try to reach inner peace by singing their incomprehension and guilt in the midst of the violence and darkness surrounding them: “I moan like a culprit, fault blushes my face, begging Thee, forgive, O Lord.” The graphic and sonorous representation expressed in the musical ideas is “seen” in the numerous onomatopoeias that punctuate the discourse.
Sol pour huit flûtistes
Written in 2001.
As the Ancient Greeks do not sing the frequencies, but rather compare them to one another, Sol for eight flutes, in addition to the musical sublimation of the key nominal elements of Psalm CXI, articulates “platonic bounds” around the Ut queant laxis sapphic hymn.
Played in Montréal when I was leaving the over-subsidized musical scene, afraid of what my own words might do to me (Beckett, L’Innommable, p. 26).
Written in 2000.
The revelation of the sons of God (bar 3) to man (bar 232) is like a Word of God into his works. To the objective manifestation corresponds, in man, an evenly created ability to feel and to worship Him.
Tomorrow toward hope, toward the infinite; Demain(s) toward the conjunction of the lines of expectation, toward the One Who was supposed to come, toward the One Who came, Who comes each day to the wounded and tattered, to save him from his ruin, tomorrow again.
The work is a collection of distinct and recurring sublimated nominal elements from Genesis 1:1-27 where instinctive choices are their own guarantee of the elements’ intrinsic value.
Played by André Ristic and his trio.
Délivrance pour neuf instruments
Written in 1997, following the meeting with the shadow of the divine during a game of chess, September 7, 1997.
War is raging in man. He is part of the combat. The mind and the body are torn and ripped, slashed, torn apart, devastated, exhausted by these Powers and Principalities in their cosmic conflict that we cannot even comprehend. We are the scattered remnants, tattered and misled, of what’s left of a glorious army. Among us, there are princes, captains, lords, amnesics, aphasics, ataxics, haggard, trying to remember what was this battle whose noise still resonates in our ears …
Played by the Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal.
Seul in memoriam henri bernier
Written in 1996.
To Henri who put an end to his life, with François.
I will always pray for you, always.
His last poem:
Sur voie de parchemins esseulés, déconfits
Par marée des cadrans, galvaudeux des quasars
Observe aube de nuit, belle photographie
Que sculptent azimuts de latries fort bizarres.
La Lune entremet orbe occultée, absconse
Mais loquace chez bien de sentiments de l’être
Dont la main caresse, en dépit de craintes, ronces
Qui maculent de fiel la lorgnette champêtre.
Basculant d’horizon en massifs, le Soleil,
Fuyard, vain dévoyé, cède sous l’arc lunaire
À l’idylle du masque ou éclipse de vermeil,
N’envie que le coït noir, égal, débonnaire.
Le vieillard sur croisée voit l’orgasme étrange
Tel un cortège oblong de constellations
Qui secoue la prison, savoir élu dans fange
Dont blandice humain ne sent délation.
Dans l’abysse du nord, camouflé par étoiles,
S’éprennent dans lacis de terre les deux astres,
Enchevêtrés, diable n’y voyant cathédrale
Au grand rire du fou, jouissent de ces cadastres.
Au matin sur dormant, spectateur recru dort,
Jusqu’à ce que soudain Pierrot tance Agénor,
Le laisse folâtrer, bêle sons du pandore
Qui soutire l’élan aux sybillins ténors.
Un intrus éclatant ouvre aussitôt judas
Devant une éponge aux anfractuosités
Emplies d’un nourrisson crevé par les soldats,
Aveugle le sage et l’oint de morosité.
Quartetto 1, Attacca
Written in 1993.
Une réflexion solitaire devant l’apothéose du jeu collectif. La complexité de la machine intime est mise en branle. Il y a une succession de micro-événements sur un abîme de silence. Des strates agitati d’insectes odonates introduisent à l’ambiance du vide-agresseur initial la déformation, la transmutation; je reviens, j’éclate; il s’amalgame, il respire. He was crazy.
Played by Quatuor Arthur Leblanc.