Boulez Serves up Imperialism

Came across this little arts brief for an upcoming concert featuring Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maître.

The highlight is a performance of Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maitre [sic]…



The highlight is a performance of Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maitre [sic] which encompasses the sound worlds of modern jazz, the Balinese Gamelan, and traditional African and Japanese music.

Okay. Here’s the deal—and I think it’s important, or at least it says a lot about our author's care for attention to detail:

Just for argument’s sake, let’s start from scratch. Let’s assume I have no idea what this piece is about, what it sounds like, whether the composer was still alive or not (or what a composer actually does, for that matter), and that he was also a famous conductor (you know, one of those guys who does an interpretive dance in front of a classical band). Let’s assume I’m a targeted reader.

Now, from the above sentence, I’m thinking to myself, perhaps, this kind of stuff. Not bad. Part Allman Brothers, part Ennappadam Venkatarama Bhagavatar. Suffices to say (etymology link), I’m thinking fusion of some sort or another. Or if I were a tad more classical savvy, maybe I’m thinking this fashion of fusion. Not exactly my bag, but certainly fusiony, to be sure.

My point is that it’s to everyone’s benefit, especially the layperson’s, that the description matches the product. But here’s what this description did:

…because this is the product (Movement IX, Bel édifice et les presentiments).

At this point I'm asking myself, how did this go so wrong, so quickly?

I bet I know; and I bet, deep down, you know, too.



The instrumentation was quite novel for Western music at the time [1955], lacking any kind of bass instrument, and drew some influence from the sound of “non-European” instruments, the Xylorimba recalls the African Balafon, the Vibraphone [the] Balinese Gamelan, and the Guitar the Japanese Koto…

I guess a guitar is like a koto; they both utilize plectrums of one kind or another. (Wiki Disclaimer)

Figure 1. A koto (left) and a guitar (right) Wait! Sorry. Koto right, guitar left. Or…dammit Boulez!

Unfortunately, whoever pilfered the Wiki entry and, subsequently, wrote the little concert blurb must not have finished reading the entire sentence.

…though “neither the style nor the actual use of these instruments has any connection with these different musical civilizations” (“Speaking, Playing, Singing” (1963) in Boulez 1986, 341).

What’s that you say? A quote from Boulez, himself! Cited, even! (At least an attempt at a citation. To be sure, I double-checked its veracity.)

Now, exactly where "modern jazz" came from is still a mystery.


Gustav said...

It's actually worse than you think, E. From the main wikipedia article on Pierre Boulez:

"Le marteau was a surprising and revolutionary synthesis of many different streams in modern music, as well as seeming to encompass the sound worlds of modern jazz, the Balinese Gamelan, traditional African musics, and traditional Japanese musics."

He could have at least changed up the ordering.

Empiricus said...

Oh my. That explains the Jazz, too.

I'm all for Wikipedia, in the end. But, damn, that disclaimer has to be easier to access. Either that, or people need to, you know, know how to not plagiarize incorrect information--Wiki research is what high school is for.

Gustav said...

Plagiarism is just not the vice it used to be. The whole "digital music should be free" movement has completely devalued intellectual property amongst the young. And for the most part, education has turned into regurgitation with almost no critical thought. When students are given assignments that don't require any more research than using wikipedia, plagiarism is the likely result.

However, this is the second time you've caught a newspaper writer getting lazy. That's pretty inexcusable.