Monday, March 16, 2009

Michel Chion - Requiem

INA-GRM 1978


Chion's Requiem probably represents one of the defining moments of the musique concrète canon, a work all other pieces must be judged by and one of the few absolute masterpieces of the genre. Things begin with a high pitched tone soon joined by an electro-acoustic, echoing wind and then just after 40 seconds, silence, a man narrating a few lines in French and the start of a slow buzzing, chant-like humming, dripping water, echoes, reverbs and more French vocals repeating the words 'Requiem Aeternam'. And all of this is only two and half minutes into this labyrinthine construction which comes close to nearly annihilating the standard structure of a requiem. Traces of the traditional Funeral Mass remain (largely through the titles of the various movements), but have been so brutally deconstructed that it's very difficult to know exactly at which point in the proceedings you are experiencing. In fact, it's almost as if Chion wants to create all moments at once, stopping time so that everything and anything can happen simultaneously, purposefully disorientating and confusing the listener.

Chion himself has stated that the work is a test of the listener's memory and challenges their ability to be able to connect all the various fragments together in their head. At one moment, you find yourself assaulted by an artillery of static, overwhelmed and confused to then a few moments later be suddenly freed, caught by a single tone, then a fractured libretto (which seems to be transmitted from the nether regions of space), and finally thrown onto an oscillating radiophonic pulse, a powerful wave of sound and whispered vocals, which seem to evoke the passage through time, a calling from another world, the transition from one life to the next. Initially familiar sounds repeat themselves like the three second choral passage introduced in the 'Dies Irae', but slowly as time passes and the journey spins into the unknown depths, those familiar sounds being to dissolve, becoming more and more impossible to cling onto. Towards the end of the piece, after traveling through a maze of sound, disorientated now, the last few minutes of the journey seem to take place alone - the familiar patterns of the beginning have all but disappeared now and through pounding drums, the start of a new harmony emerges. Childlike voices break through from distant realms, as the final waves draw to a close, floating slowly and cautiously with a final flourish before the subdued finale, laughter and then silence.


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