Christophe Bertrand’s Aus (2003) for viola, clarinet/bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and piano is a piece centered on musical metamorphosis. The piece is constantly undergoing transformation and reinvention through the introduction, retention, and dismissal of different motifs. Hypothetically, one section may begin with just ideas A and B and later introduce the idea of C. The next section may include ideas A and C and introduce idea D. The following section may just be idea C while introducing ideas D, E, and F. This process can continue on for some time allowing the piece to evolve into totally different places than it began without calling attention to the process of transformation because of the retention of at least one preexisting idea in each new section.
In this piece, Bertrand plays primarily with gestural ideas that allow for a high level of continuity. For example, around 3’50” he enters into a section where the piano keeps playing downward scale-like figures. However, while he makes the gesture very clear through direction and repetition of the starting accented pitch, he removes any predictability by never repeating the figure exactly the same way. Each restatement of this idea changes the number of notes which dictates how low the figure will reach before restarting. As a result, one can both understand clearly what is happening on the whole (downward scale like gesture), but simultaneously can never accurately predict the specific parameters of each individual restatement. This type of semi-repetitiousness is present through most of the sections of this piece creating a high level of musical interest for the listener to enjoy.
The first six minutes of the piece in particular display a process of such smooth transition between musical textures that one’s ear cannot exactly remember or predict what is coming while it simultaneously has an intuitive flow of the music because of the transformative processes described above. It makes me think of how Morton Feldman’s music is experienced, where one experiences such subtle change over a very large span of time that it becomes very difficult to recall or predict exactly what has or is going to transpire. Bertrand eschews Feldman’s signature scale and sparseness for speed and density to evoke a very different atmosphere to his music than Feldman would.
After just three years between the first two pieces I have posted about, it is intense to see how much more sophisticated and elegant Bertrand’s techniques had become. I’m excited to continue to hear more of his pieces and track how his style and technique developed. Feel free to comment on this with what you think, I’d love to hear your opinions! Hope you enjoy the music.