Interview after first performance of “Coliseum”

Interview of Pierre Jodlowski by Marie-Bernadette Charrier about his latest creation COLISEUM : a composition for saxophone, flute, piano, percussion, and electroacoustic device.

At the end of your musical studies, what were your impressions of the late twentieth century music scene ?

It seemed to me there was a kind of paradox between the complete freedom specific of musical creation which can't bear any limit, and the great difficulty to stray ,most of the time, from the established and conventional patterns as regards concert situations. Dramatic art and Dance on the contrary, aim to source most creative solutions and therefore break free from limits and assumptions. It seems to me that Music remains deeply marked by conventions and can't really succeed in tackling modernity (contemporary music is always referred to as an elitist and too complicated art ; it is perhaps because it is given in places or through events which precisely lack modernity).

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In your creations you have explored various fields such as music, videos and interactive programming. Could you tell us how each of these fields proves to be of great and rich interest in the evolution of musical art ?

What I really wanted to do from the beginning was to take into account an essential link with the stage by working with pictures, electronics and scenography. The use of all these elements is aimed to arouse the interpreters' curiosity, and incite them to play differently in these new environments. The instrumental gesture then becomes all the stronger. Besides, I was born at a time when personal computing and multimedia tools were beeing developed at an incredible speed and I feel I have to use those tools because they are an integral part of my imaginative process. When I start a project, I rarely begin with musical parameters but rather with literature or drawings and pictures which I progressively associate to energy and to an interest in form (very much inspired by the cinema). Finally, the music I write tries to tell a story and to achieve this, it is necessary for the musician not to stick to his  score only.

You often refer to the importance you give to the word «gesture» which is not a musical parameter only, but symbolises the essence of music…

Before any sound, any musical figure or phrase, there is always that magical moment of anticipating the musical act : the initial gesture. For me, there can't be any music if it doesn't start with this special moment when the musician takes his bow or close his eyes before playing. I remember there was a time when I paid a great attention to those moments when a work is about to begin, to that initial silence when the first gesture is about to happen.  Music is nothing else than an architecture of synchronous or asynchronous  gestures which finally give birth to what the composer tries to build: a management of time and energy. Everytime I deal with the rhythm of a composition, I can't help physically involving myself by tapping on my desk, just as if I want to confirm the commitment and eventual relevance of my body.

Apart from your composition work, you perform on stage, alone or with other artists. Would you say this practice has influenced your way of composing ?

I really enjoy playing and particularly giving solo performances. It especially helps me to understand the problem of virtuosity. Contemporary music challenges musicians incredibely, so much so, that the result can't reach what is expected. To me, the deliberate use of virtuosity, speed and tension in a composition does not mean I enjoy an intellectual exercise. Playing on stage enables me to confront an intellectual experience, that of composition to a living and fragile one: interpretation.

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When we consider your works, we realise that you often associate an electroacoustic device or a video to instruments; how do you look at the issue of composition for this type of mixed grouping (formation) ?  

It seems rather natural to me to associate electronic sounds or a video to instruments. As a matter of fact, I have written very few strictly instrumental pieces and my mind and my imagination are full of electronic sounds, energies, voices off and referential sounds linked to our world. I believe my music is rather politically committed in the way it often resorts to images that question our society and therefore the use of electronic sounds and pictures becomes compulsory to serve this point of view. Besides, I love electronic instrumental sounds and I believe they give the opportunity to explore an amazing world when we are in concert situations.

We have noticed that you often integrate the saxophone in your compositions; what about this special link with the saxophone and saxophonists ?

During my musical studies, I played the Alto saxophone for a few years and interested myself to both its repertoire and musicians. I also studied contemporary scores and discovered Jazz and John Coltrane who created amazingly free music at the end of his life. I love the power of this instrument and its capacity to collide with percussion (always to be found in my creations). I also worked with Claude Delangle for the Paris CNSM Prize and on that occasion, I composed MIXTION which is now part of the repertoire. Two years ago, I wrote a saxophone, percussion and electronic sounds duet called COLLAPSED which served as a point of departure for COLISEUM.

You have composed COLISEUM, a State commission, for Proxima Centauri (flute, saxophone, percussion and electroacoustic device). It has been created on November 28th, 2008 for the INOUÏES at the Bordeaux NOVART Festival. Could you be more precise about this work ?

As we can understand from the title, a specific place is suggested by this music, probably Rome Coliseum or more genererally, an amphitheatre. This work was born from an impression I had when I was sightseeing in Nîmes. It just happened that I was practically alone when I visited the Roman amphitheatre, it was quite windy and there was both a cold and intense light. I spent some time there and started to imagine what might have happened in this place and far from seeing the fight of a glorious hero, I had the feeling of extreme violence taking place in the midst of dust and blood. I kept these impressions and pictures in my mind for a long time and when I started writing for Proxima Centauri, I couldn't help conveying some of these impressions to the musical energy. That is why we have a virtuosic or rather a continuously intense writing for the saxophone and an energetic structuring of electronic sounds; we also have very light moments, for example in the middle of the composition when we hear two notes of a piano slowly falling one by one. All of this to suggest the roughness of these Roman times.

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What are your artistic plans for the future ?

I have just finished a radio opera, a long-term work inspired by Georges Perec last novel, 53 DAYS. That was a very stimulating creation using sound-takings of orchestra, soloists and also comedians (among them, Michael Lonsdale). Right now and up to June 2009, I am working on two creations: a sound installation for the SIEMENS Foundation based on the evocation of sound memories and for the next Summer Avignon Festival, a project on sound creation and voice processing for a choregraphic play. Starting next September, I'll be working on an ambitious multimedia composition which deals with the question of  knowledge and its disappearance in our contemporary society. I intend to develop a compositional practice really close to the musicians (violin, percussion, clarinet), in particular by integrating improvisation sessions. I am still working on several solo pieces and finally I have a commission from the Toulouse Opera theatre for a vocal work in 2010.

ASAX – Les cahiers du saxophone n°22 / May–June 2009