Wednesday, August 9

repetition and difference

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze has said that perception is based on repetition and difference. And that's why I think it's necessary to have a certain form of repetition, because perception requires articulation fields to let you know where you are. And you can know where you are only when you can recognize similarities. But some things should only seem similar, because if they're too much alike then they'll repeat themselves, and the fourth time will be exactly the same as the third, and the third like the second. And if you can foresee this, the work is dead. Immediately. Because as soon as you can predict the combinations, it's superfluous for the composer to proceed with them. So why do it? For me what's interesting is to present material that is evolving and then, from time to time, to bring back the model . . . but not in exactly the same way. So that a listener has to wonder, "Do I recognize it? Don't I recognize it? I'm not sure anymore. But I know that it has something to do with it." And in this sense I like ambiguity . . . But the kind of ambiguity that's simply a matter of games and style doesn't interest me at all.

This, for me, is the difference between, for instance, the late Picasso and say, Jackson Pollock. You look at one of Picasso's later paintings for two minutes, and you know very well how it's been done, you've understood everything. But if you observe the best works of Pollock, you're puzzled and you try to see and explore his labyrinth; and that makes the work interesting and sustains your attention. Of course, you can be lost at first, but after a kind of acquaintance with the painting, you've lived with it and it changes. But the simplistic works, in their relationships with you, don't change. And that's their death.

Another example in this respect is Kafka, because he also constructs a kind of labyrinth where the logic is perfect, but it leads you into areas that are completely unexpected, such that you think you're going one way and then you wind up in the other direction. And I've found that when you're composing a work, it's exactly the same—you don't want to know at the onset where you'll be at the end of the score. You have a vague idea, of course, but it's not a matter of going in a straight line, you have all kinds of divagations.

You've spoken about the legendary Chinese landscape painter who disappeared into his canvas. And in many of your works, you seem to create moments of almost Oriental transparency and particularity that are then counterbalanced by moments of chaos--suggesting a movement from hyperconsciousness to the realm of the unconscious.

I myself like this kind of approach, so it's reflected in what I'm doing. And since this is what I like in painting and literature, I also want to express it in music, because it's certainly my personality—to be crystal clear in the sense that sometimes the crystal reflects yourself and other times you can see through the material. So the work suggests a hiding and opening at the same time. And what I want most to create is a kind of deceiving transparency, as if you are looking in very transparent water and can't make an estimation of the depths.

And when you stir things up . . .

That's when you begin to know.

-- Pierre Boulez, interviewed by Jonathan Cott in Visions and Voices

Visions and Voices