The Inevitable Beginning

Sébastien Roux is the French composer who made quite a splash with his 2017 release Quatuor, which was about “repurposing” the scores of Beethoven in a micro-managed way to achieve new works. We might add in passing he also contributed a track to Archipel Électronique Vol 1, a comp put together by the wonderful Franck Vigroux in pursuit of his pessimistic vision of modernity. Today’s solo release from Roux is Inevitable Music #5 (BROCOLI 023), and a very varied set it do be – every piece an interesting exploration of possibilities of instrumental music, played by unusual combinations from the chamber ensemble Dedalus – brass, woodwinds, strings, and voice.

As you’ve already figured out from reading the cover – it’s certainly a record that describes its own contents as surely as a packet of fish fingers – Roux is using the work of Sol Lewitt, that important and pioneering 20th century conceptual-minimalist artist from America, as the basis for these scores. Right away you can clearly see it’s another “repurposing” job, but you have to have a strong imagination and considerable composerly skills to pull off something so bold a coup as this. I am very keen on the work of Sol Lewitt and usually lap it up if I happen to be in an art gallery where one of his works is being presented, although with the “populist” direction that most London galleries are heading down these days, it’s unlikely I’ll get a chance to savour such avant-gardery in the near future.

As I understand it, Lewitt’s wall pieces – which form the basis of today’s record – usually began life as very precise text instructions, which would be executed by draughtsmen working with coloured pencils and markers on the white gallery walls. Complex and delicate grids would emerge from their patient work, and when I say complex I mean incredibly simple – because often simplicity is only achieved by difficulty and hard work. One thing that appealed to me was the work didn’t necessarily have to be executed by Sol Lewitt himself, thus calling the role of the artist into question to some degree, although I recently learned that he only trusted a rather exclusive team of people to carry out his instructions, so I guess it was controlled to a higher degree than I not thought.

It’s something of a leap to use this situation as a basis for musical composition, although it might not be too far-fetched to liken it to graphical scores and text-based compositions, that have formed a marginal part of 20th century musical history. No use in me explaining the process, as there is a spoken introduction to each composition that does exactly that, detailing with some precision the artistic and musical decisions made by Sébastien Roux as he set about this fascinating task. All I will say is that the resulting music is highly compelling, full of tension and dynamism, and also tremendous variety; it’s highly impressive how far he’s gone with the idea, and it’s astonishing how the visual art of Sol Lewitt has been able to fuel such excellent musical explorations. From rich drones to staccato / pointilliste realisations, much depth and richness is here.

Perhaps one could observe that it’s not a matter of “translating” the finished work into music in some way – I suppose a gifted composed could find a way to make any artwork into a piece of music if they tried – but rather using the instructions issued by Sol Lewitt, which do contain specific instructions for actions and the order in which they must be executed, into instructions and actions for the musicians, or more precisely the form the music itself must take. I regard this as a rare stroke of genius. Regular followers of this blog who like the bassoon playing of Dafne Vicente Sandoval as much as we do (see for instance recent albums on Potlatch, with Pascal Battus and Klaus Filip) will be pleased to hear she is present on this record adding her warm tones, but the other musicians are great too – Didier Aschour, Laurent Bruttin, Cyprien Busolini, Silvia Tarozzi and Deborah Walker. Recommended. From 9th September 2019.