John Cage
John Zorn
J-S Bach


Sons brisés - J. Allende-Blin

Sons Brisés

[1] Die Kunst einer Fuge by Gerd Zacher. Ten times Bach's 'Contrapunctus I' from The Art of Fugue. Ninth interpretation: 'Sons brisés', dedicated to Juan Allende-Blin.
Allende-Blin was born on February 24, 1928, in Chile. After studying in Santiago, he moved to Germany in 1951. There, he entered the Detmold Musikakademie where he met Zacher. Later, he became a pupil of composer Olivier Messiaen. Zacher's 'Sons brisés' (broken, or dissociated sounds) is based on the organ work of the same name from 1967, by Allende-Blin, which is the third and last part of the cycle Échelons. Sons Brisés is dedicated to the German painter and poet Lothar Schreyer. The potential connections incorporate and exceed the musical domain. Zacher dedicates his ninth interpretation of Bach's 'Contrapunctus I' to Allende-Blin. So there are lines of communication between Zacher, Bach and Allende-Blin. Another line, a national line, is connecting Allende-Blin to poet Pablo Neruda, whose citation serves as a motto for the explanation of the ten interpretations ('Si me preguntais en donde he estado debo decir 'Sucede'' - 'When I am asked where I have been I must reply: it happens'). Both were born in Chile. And Zacher, too, lived in that country for awhile, in the same house as Allende-Blin.
Some trans-historical musical lines: Zacher - Allende-Blin, Zacher - Messiaen, Allende-Blin - Messiaen, the triangles Zacher - Messiaen – Bach, and Zacher - Allende-Blin - Bach. The trans-national line, Germany - Chile - France. Trans-national lines in combination with artistic lines: Allende-Blin - Schreyer, Zacher - Neruda.

[2] In 'Sons Brisés', Zacher uses the bellows of the organ 'like the hourglass to measure the flow of time'. In order to reveal the episodic proportions of 'Contrapunctus I' (The places where the subject does not sound. 'They successively consist of 6, 2, 4, 5, 3, and finally 7 times 2 bars'), he inflates the bellows of the organ every time the theme of the fugue appears by resetting the control so that new air is admitted. The air pressure diminishes when the control is again switched off. He then plays on one air until the next entrance of the subject. The longer the episodes, the less air is left in the bellows. As the organ runs out of wind, the pipes whistle, gasp until they slowly go out of tune. The last sound that is heard is a slow disintegration of the last chord, as though the organ breathes its last.
Two short comments should be made here. First, Zacher - like Bach - establishes the subject as a rallying point, the place where everything is fine again. Everything is alright as long as the fugue remains a fugue; that is to say, as long as the voices of the subject are at work (and relate fugally to each other). In 'Sons Brisés', the subject joins two successive, very alienating episodes together; the subject needs to restore the unity. The German language has one word for both 'fugue' and 'joint': Fuge. Fuge can therefore be associated with (ad)joinment, adjustment, articulation of accord, or harmony. The expression, 'mit Fug und Recht' commonly means 'within rights', 'rightfully', 'rightly'. Listen to the first 45 seconds of 'Sons Brisés'. No problem. As long as the fugue remains intact as a fugue, as long as what constitutes a fugue as fugue can be heard, it does not deviate from 'the original'. However, in the relatively free episodes, where the fugue can no longer be regarded a fugue in the narrow sense of the word, something else originates. It is there that the fugue gets out of joint. That means, it becomes disjointed, twisted, and out of line, beside itself, in the wrong or the injust. It does not proceed as it is supposed to proceed; it is deranged, out of its hinges. The German expression for this is 'aus der Fuge', or 'aus den Fugen gehen'. Where the fugue gets out of joint ('wo die Fuge aus den Fugen geht, wo die Fuge aus der Fuge ist'), the pipes of the organ begin to whistle in falsetto and out of tune. But, there are no fugues without episodes. Is Zacher, then, explicitly saying that every fugue becomes disjointed at some point? Thus within 'Contrapunctus I', 'Sons Brisés' establishes a basis for criticizing a reading of Bach's first counterpoint in The Art of Fugue as unproblematic, simple, uniform, etc.
Second comment. The status of the episodes. According to an analysis of 'Contrapunctus I' by Alan Dickinson, 'a subtle oscillation of primary and episodic phrases makes itself felt'. The hierarchy is clear. The subject is primary, the episodes are secondary. All analyses first focus on the development of the subject. They all seem to rely on distinctions between the central and the marginal, the essential and the inessential. 'It is in keeping with a singleness of conception, in which a prodigal cultivation of material and a resourceful exhibition of one motive may equally be means to creative fulfillment, that the intervening episodes are primarily connecting passages. Their purpose is to lead from one entry to the next, and this usually means leading into the next key' (Dickinson, p.11, my italics). According to Derrida, to deconstruct is, first of all, to reverse the hierarchy. Better yet, it is to show that the text in which these hierarchical oppositions seem to appear may give rise to a counter-reading. 'Sons Brisés' and Zacher's explanation on the CD form an initial impetus for this. Incidentally, a reversal may also take place in the Dickinson citation. The episodes are mere 'connecting passages', but, according to Dickinson, they are nonetheless very important because they function (among others) as preparations for a modulation. (This is probably best heard in bar 48 of 'Contrapunctus I', where a modulation to A is prepared through Bm7 and E7.) According to Dickinson, it is precisely the episodes themselves that guarantee the progression of the fugue. Stated differently, what are presented as secondary passages (also by Dickinson) prove to serve an essential function.
A reversal takes place in 'Sons Brisés'. The subject itself has become a connective passage. The appearance of the subject, which allows air to enter once again, enables the reconnection of the episodes rather than having them enter into the realm of pure silence. The subject takes over the function of the episodes in the way described by Dickinson. Additionally, the title, 'Sons Brisés', 'broken sounds', explicitly refers to what takes place in the episodes. This is precisely where 'it happens': the strange effect of the organ sound being sucked, as it were, into a funnel. Here, 'Contrapunctus I' transforms into 'Sons Brisés'. In this sense, the episodes may hold as primary and essential. Finally, Zacher, in referring to the numerology that is often associated with Bach, starts his explanation of 'Sons Brisés' with the remark that 'Bach carefully planned the length of episodes. They successively consist of 6, 2, 4, 5, 3, and finally 7 times 2 bars'. It seems that Zacher wants to point out to us that Bach did not simply regard the episodes as secondary material, but, in fact, treated them with the greatest care. By focusing our attention on this, by emphasizing the proportions of the fugue, Zacher achieves that the episodes lose some of the subordination that the term 'connecting passages' might suggest.

[3] 'It is not worthy of further attention. Only a few contours are still remotely discernable. Or are they already hallucinations? The fugue enters the realm of remembrance'. Zacher ends his explanatory notes almost mystically, poetically. Ghostly. A specter, too, can only be vaguely discerned. It is something that one does not know, precisely, and one does not know precisely whether it is. Not out of ignorance, but because it no longer belongs to knowledge. It cannot be perceived very clearly. An hallucination perhaps? A resonance?
What, then, precisely is the specter here? First possibility. Just as a specter appears only in the absence of what it represents, so does 'Sons Brisés' appear only in the absence (although at the same time it is very much present) of the first counterpoint of The Art of Fugue, this being there of an absent or departed one. 'Sons Brisés' as a specter. Second possibility. 'Contrapunctus I' is the specter, the revenant, returning from a past ('the fugue enters the realm of remembrance'); it is an appearance from a bygone time. 'A masterpiece always moves, by definition, in the manner of a ghost', writes Derrida (Specters, p.18). But it is transformed here. Disguised as 'Sons Brisés' ('only a few contours are still remotely discernable').
Let's try to approach it from a different perspective. What is the status of 'Sons Brisés'? Could this version be called a specter of the specter, a trace of the trace? 'Contrapunctus I' (the specter) is haunted by the spirit of Allende-Blin's Sons Brisés. The result: 'Sons Brisés'. Or, should we put more emphasis on the uniqueness of 'Sons Brisés'? 'Sons Brisés' as 'the reapparition of the specter as apparition' (Specters, p.4). It is a repetition, but it also appears for the first time. The ghost comes by coming back. It features both 'Contrapunctus I', which comes back for the ninth time and appears for the first time, as 'Sons Brisés'. In its own materiality. Independent, on its own. As in the other versions of Die Kunst einer Fuge, 'Contrapunctus I' is present and absent at the same time. It resonates, it resonates in 'Sons Brisés'. Resonance. Both the canny and the uncanny are at work, both presence and absence. What resonates is not really there anymore; yet it refers to something familiar. The resonance is the presence of something absent and has a quality of strangeness and otherness.