Music Reviews

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Artist: Jean-Luc Fafchamps (@)
Title: YZ3Z2Z1S2, a Five-Letter Sufi Word
Format: CD
Label: Sub Rosa (@)
Rated: *****
Even if Belgian pianist and composer Jean-Luc Fafchamps is neither a Sufi, nor a Muslim and there's any properly esotheric purpose behind this sonic research, he drew inspiration for his Sufi Letters from the Jawahiru'l Khamsah, an old table by Sheikh Abul-Muwwayid, which linked the 28 letters (even if according to some essaysts they're more than 28) to a plenty of symbolic meanings, which he tried to translate into music by a potentially monumental collection of suites for each letter of this mysterious alphabet. Such a bizarre methodology and compositional pattern Monsieur Fafchamps is working on by developing an impressive network of cycles, a proper stylistic rhetoric and correspondences between instruments and letters (T for ensemble and electronics, K for orchestra, A for ensemble and orchestra, Z3 for trombone and electronics, and so on) could sound partially unrealistic, a sort of capriccio inspired by a passing fancy where this composer channeled his past and present interests for alchemy, arithmetic and arcane knowledge, but the fact this composer takes this sonic research seriously is clear from the circumstance he's working on it for more than 13 years. I'm not sure about the underlying relations between compositional aspects and all the intricate matters (the names of Allah, the attributes of divinity, the so-called jinn, zodiac, planetary movements and so on...) embraced by the above-mentioned mystic treatise, but the melodramatic plot of these five suites which got performed by Jean-Marc Sullon and Ensemble Ictus seems to go beyond a pure combinatorial game as it is clear not only from an "ear response", but also from the explanation of the composer: "The pieces are written for different instrumentations, according to the needs of the selected letter and the vagaries of life, and the global project is not a priori unified. On the contrary, the unit proceeds from the work method itself, from the inclusion in the moment, the lack of resistance to accidents and digressions, the return - years apart - to the same obsessions, etc., instead of a general preconceived design. [...] These letters are channels of transformation. anything is likely to appear in it, to naturally emerge from the playing and the transformation taking place. The thing taking shape seems to have a life of its own, to evolve adrift.". The five "letters" of this second chapter of this research smells of life by means of labyrinthine itineraries, sudden accelerations, dust devils, bolting harmonies and perfect intertwining of instruments and electronics, winning rolls of heavy accents - I found remarkably engaging the ones on "Z1" -, emboli on the musical score where sometimes recurring tonal sequences got entangled by sudden sonic spurts and gripping dynamics, which often resembles mixtures of film-music or "contemporary classic" stuff by Berio, Lygeti or Cage (particularly the suites "Y" and "S2"). It could be equally considered a brain-teaser for students and academics of composition and an engaging listening experience for listeners who don't really deal with more technical matters.



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