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Section 3: The score

Ex. 3.1. The first page of ZAB.

The score of ZAB is very well written, and all special signs and symbols, most of them created by Boivin, are used consistently throughout the piece. The composer displays thorough and careful attention to detail, not only in the coherent use of symbols but also in the symbols' relations towards movement and sound. The beauty of the piece can already be found implied in the notation. Boivin says that works by Luciano Berio, and especially those of the Sequenza series, served as inspiration for much of the graphical notation. When Boivin was composing ZAB, there were not many standard conventions regarding the notation of modern music. Rather than following a specific notational style, Boivin considered what he calls ‘practical matters’ when choosing the notation. One aspect Boivin took into consideration was symbols’ abilities to reflect and communicate his ideas; he sought for a notation that generated creative feedback and provided a sense of freedom, as well as creating an easily readable score. He also made use of signs from literature for other instruments: the signs for the three degrees of sul ponticello are for example derived from signs for flute embouchure.

Ex. 3.2. 3 positions of Sul Ponticello. ZAB, page 15, third system.

During a meeting with Boivin in Paris, I was presented with a DVD showing Jean-Pierre Robert’s version of ZAB. Mainly in the interpretation of the visual parts, this DVD proved to be a substantial tool in understanding the score. But the DVD was also useful in apprehending details in the playing technique, and in finding the intended sounds. Example 3.3 depicts one of the passages that were initially rather difficult to understand only by looking at the score. As can be seen in this example, everything is played in a traditional manner, with the bow and the left hand fingers. The upper stave tremolo between two notes is a trill on the G-string, which is played in double stops with the notes on the lower stave. The glissando effect is the most important for the composer here, and it should be played legato or quasi legato. The passage continues with glissando sounds, this time played pizzicato, the lower stave marking normal pizzicato and the upper stave marking pizzicato above the left hand (bi-tone pizzicato). This results in sounds that slide quickly in and out of each other, through the multi-directional glissandi.

Ex. 3.3. Unclear score notation. ZAB, page 9, third system.

A sound or video recording can of course save a lot of time during the study process. However, watching the visual recording of the piece initially coloured my interpretation with Robert’s approach, although this would later change when I was working personally with Boivin. Altogether, I believe that by studying the DVD in conjunction with the score I was able to recreate a more precise picture of the composer’s original intentions, than I would have been able to without the DVD. As long as there is no established tradition of performance, that is present in the interpretative choices or a source of finding technical solutions, a DVD or CD is completely necessary as a supplement to the score unless a personal connection with the composer is possible. I must also emphasise the DVD’s initial importance, in providing me with an immediate artistic impression of the piece.

For a long time, my contact with the composer was limited. Only close to my first performance of ZAB did I get the opportunity to play for Boivin, and to study the theatrical parts together with him. These sessions were intense and challenging, and I quickly realised that my own reading of the score was not sufficient enough. Not surprisingly: Boivin is extremely cautious about every detail of movement and sound. We worked for days only on the sounds of the percussion and the voice, on the attacks, articulation, dynamics and timbre, and the fine balance between everything. To discover those details of sound that are simply impossible to notate. The same procedure was repeated with gesture and theatre. Deep connections between sound and gesture, the flow of the movements and abstract theatrical elements were revealed under the direction of the composer. It was challenging, and occasionally felt almost like starting from scratch again, relearning the piece with an additional critical voice.

I realise that it is very important it is to establish a performance tradition in order to preserve the composer’s ideas for the piece. It is nearly impossible to learn ZAB correctly without being taught by someone who already knows the piece. For now, we can talk to the composer, but later it is necessary with a living performers tradition.

The score provides a detailed guide to the performance of the music, but is still very much open to freedom in its final execution. On the whole, and according to Boivin’s experiences, a free, unbound performance is characterised by a general, over-viewing conception of the piece, which allows the performer to find the overall conjunction between the different parts, to connect the sequences, or in Boivin’s words, to find the “micro-rhythm”. His advice in the search of the “rhythm” of the piece is to give it some time to mature, and to listen without apprehension. In my own experience, after having publicly performed the piece twice at this point of writing, I think that the greatest difficulty lies in presenting the overall form, to connect the greater lines between sounds that are similar to each other (to connect past and present), and to make natural transitions between the often small, individual cells that constitute the piece.