I plan to compose a piece for ensemble (of open instrumentation) that ‘unknots’ an unmeasured prelude by Baroque composer Louis Couperin. This general concept of ‘unknotting’ is taken from the mathematical reverse engineering processes of complex string figures, which has lead me to the question: if Couperin’s prelude can be conceived as a possible knotting, or tracing, of various possible interactions between musical materials (or even the phyical movement of the performer’s hands), then how is this knotting undone?
This concept is drawn from Cage’s and Deleuze’s concept of the virtual and the actual, considering the possibility of reimagining the unmeasured prelude as one possible ‘action’ within an ecology of sound (a world of ‘becoming without being’, to quote Panzner). Such a concept is particularly difficult within the unmeasured prelude, as the horizontal (rhythm) and vertical (sustain) measurements of the musical material are left open, or at the very most, suggestive. In this way, they eschew more traditional forms of analysis and deconstruction. It seems difficult to find a clear ‘identity’ at the centre of the musical material.
A reason for this may be that, in Couperin’s work, it is not clear what the boundary is between that which is measured and that which is not (i.e. the vertical and horizontal relationship between various parameters is arguably interdependent, for example, a horizontal augmentation of rhythm and duration would lead to the destabilizing of vertical harmonic relationships). This is a critical viewpoint for performance vis-à-vis the Cageian concepts of ‘noise’ and ‘frame’.
Panzner reminds us of Cage’s anechoic chamber as a room of enounter, in which subject and room ‘unfold’ each other. In my attempt to unfold (or ‘unknot’) Couperin’s prelude, I will consider the various diagonal ways in which unmeasured rhythm and duration can tip over into an unmeasuring of pitch. Here are some possible ways in which my composition could be realized:
1) Reharmonize the prelude so that various possible ‘pathways’ of pitches are available to the performer (one of which, at any time, could include the original pitch material). These reharmonizations could shift from slight evolution of the original material (e.g. triadic harmonization) to radical reharmonization (e.g. spectral/overtone harmonies), as a sort of ‘movable’ boundary between the work’s original frame and its unmeasuring.
2) Adopt a radical interpretation of the rhythm and duration as notated by Couperin, once again shifting from various degrees of smaller 'frames' (e.g. strictly proportional readings of rhythm) to larger ones (e.g. disproportionate readings, possible simulteneities, extreme durations etc.). By pushing the boundary of that which is purportedly ‘unmeasured’, one can experiment with its effect upon any apparently ‘measured’ component (e.g. harmonic rhythm).
A more radical formal approach may be undertaken in the composing of this work, but it will, in any case, strongly connect to my reading of Couperin’s preludes as a ‘movable boundary’ in which the Cageian concepts of frame and noise come into play.