Alain Damiens, Boulez: Répons; Dialogue de l’ombre double

Seth Colter Walls

By Seth Colter Walls

on 06.20.11 in Reviews

Boulez: Répons; Dialogue de l'ombre double

Alain Damiens
A fascinating blend of pristine sharpness and odd decay

When French president Georges Pompidou asked Boulez to start a center for musical research in the 1970s, the composer dreamed up with technologically oriented IRCAM (or Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique). Repons, completed in 1984 but not recorded until 2000, the 40-minute piece Repons has thus far represented Boulez’s own high-water mark of engagement with electro-acoustic composition. Scored for a small orchestra, six soloists and a synthesizer that reacts in real-time to live performance, the piece has a dreamy quality that has eluded some of Boulez’s more savage writing for purely acoustic forces. As piano chords are refracted and spit back into the mix by IRCAM’s “4x” synthesizer/processor, with a slight phasing effect, the listener may become conscious of an irony: Did it finally take electronic interference to make Boulez’s music more human sounding, and less fanatically precise than the sound he goes for as a conductor? Sure. But no matter which side of the human/digital divide for which characteristic — as in the blend of fleeting piano notes and panned woodwinds in Section 5 — the blend of pristine sharpness and odd decay proves fascinating.