Ka, Cinq poèmes musicaux (1993-94) (Urbana 7.a)

KA, “five musical poems” (1993-94) 
For clarinet, horn, violin, cello, percussion, and two synthesisers.

Commissioned by the French Government.
Premiere in February, 1995 by Ensemble TM+,
directed by Laurent Cuniot.

Duration: 22 minutes.

There is no recording of this version.

There are three versions of KA:

KA (93-94) (7.A)
Ka II (2007) (7.B) for flute, clarinet, two saxophones, percussion, and electronic.
Ka III (2015) (7.C) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and electronic.

During the period of creation of this piece I had in mind the idea of a relationship which always seems present, the relationship between music and other forms of art. The secret hope was that these pieces could inspire five poems (true poems, with words), five frames, one film. I know that this hope is born out of solitude and isolation.

At that time I witnessed a sad episode among composers of our parents and mentors’ generation, during which the generational reaction and the front to defend a position were the core values. I then wrote a text of intention, let us say a poetic text but which is personal because it is mainly directed to myself. A play of words “l’ardente – te ladren.” It sounded as a text that would become, without my noticing, the composition’s core: the author and his double’s concern. The image of a borrowed mythology (the Egyptian) provided me with a title and the necessary distance to write.

This was the poem:

L’ardente – Te ladren [1]
Que l’ardente demoiselle,
muse vienne à mon encontre
si nuptiale et enchanteresse
violente et coriace putain
la création ne naît que
des cendres et lambeaux
d’un espoir éphémère
pour tisser nos rêves
et pour que les soirs de pleine lune
les chiens, les chiennes

If we are to believe the Alchemy, Kabballah, and Symbology, Ka is a kind of double that each person had in Ancient Egypt. It can also refer to the divine creative powers, or the conservation forces which maintain the universal order. If we go deeper into the funerary Egyptian religion, we find that its great richness and bends come from the complexity of their perception of the human personality; it is at this point that the “borrowed mythology” finds its particular resonance with our present time.

By providing a general overview of the piece without going into the details that put it together, I made a list of the motivations or concerns instead of analysing or breaking up the five poems that make it up.

I wrote the following:

Why poems?

Lyrical poetry in music. The correspondence. The unexpected paths, the intricacies of art, the love.

I am obsessive with relationships: I love and I hate. I am inside the universe, attracted and repelled but always leaning towards another.

I like knitting (from Latin’s textus: tissue) in real life as well as in creation. To shape and to see, sometimes in spite of me, this conservation force that governs the universal order take shape. To see through the individual I the divine creative power which manifests itself, without conscious control.

I catch a glimpse, beyond the mechanisms, God’s manifestation in literature, painting, or raw music.

Yes, musical poems.

There is no narration. Only emotion through the metaphors of sound.

The repetitions (as in literary poems) have rhythmic function, and the rhyme a charming function.


Why five?

Five has its history; it is the main regulator. It organises and synthesises by nature. The balance being between the binary and the ternary, it embodies that union which each one of us hopes to acquire. For the Maya people, it represented the God of Corn, which was important. In ancient Japan, the elements were five: earth, water, fire, air, and space.

I have seven instruments to say five poems (these numbers will have a very important role in the rhythmic and metric organisation, which can be seen from the polyrhythmic game between 5 and 7 pulse subdivisions.)

Five poems which are as many directions – driving forces for the composition, I would say – that I hope can someday take shapes other than those of abstract music.

These subtitles could be:

  • The body
  • The breath
  • The vibration
  • The battle (Old German for the epic ears of Borges)
  • The depths of the unknown

With regard to language, several things may be said. First, harmonious language is very special. The system of micro-intervals has been put to practice thanks to the two synthesisers which give the piece a kind of strangeness. Among the explored harmonies there appear, for the first time, perfect chords that have undergone a slight change. Since this first incursion into a clear reference to tonal colours, but always void of tonal functionality, I have not stopped making such incursions. I am particularly interested in the instability created in perception when the ear tries to classify and correct these chords to make them fit into some known category.

During the writing process of Ka it was necessary for me to invent new instruments, almost certainly related to the ideas of hybridisation and mixing of electronic and instrumental sounds. I invented two percussion instruments:

-An aluminium sheet that prefigures my works on the modal synthesis software Modalys (conceived by Jean-Marie Adrien and compiled by Joseph Morrison in IRCAM).

-The use of maracas with a piece of drumstick as a percussive element on the vibraphone and the drums. The piece of drumstick provides the instrumentalist, apart from the obvious timbre change, with a charming, ritual-like air. I had already used this device in Declines for tuba, percussion and tape in 1992. In Ka this instrument plays a key role.

The creation of hybrid synthesiser timbres also has to do with this need for amalgam and new luthiery. A coloration of the piano at the keyboard’s low and high extremes which leaves room for the complex FM synthesis sounds in the central tessitura. Synthesisers are not used as mere producers of electronic sounds, but as true instruments with a true ductility in their dynamic and timbre possibilities through the use of continuous controllers.

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