énoncé (1983-4) is the first work in which I engaged directly with one of my main ongoing preoccupations: the question of what might constitute musical meaning today (or, at least, in 1983). I am not one to embark on a new work until I have established clearly—for myself at least—what its message might be and how that message will manifest in the musical text/ure. As I have often remarked, the title of a work is a significant element in this establishing of musical character. My hesitance in this regard is one reason my output is small-scale, but at least I can give an adequate account of why each of my pieces is the way it is. As Richard Toop has observed, I spent the first half of my life in a state of anxiety over the meaningfulness of musical material in the post-serial world, and initially sought to solve this dilemma by relocating attention from the local musical detail to the higher levels of structure: to rates of change (and rates of rates of change) of density, texture, timbre, and so on.
In 1983, when I embarked on énoncé I was at an early stage of this process of substantive clarification/paradigmatic shift. I was unsure of how even to frame the query, and decided to fall back on broad-brush gestures driven by exchanges of energy. Consequently, the sections of the piece are fairly coarsely determined, and consist of a closed dualist group:
many instruments: one voice—girder first realisation (tutti—pp 1-12)
one instrument: many voices—barrage (piano solo—pp 13-30)
many instruments: many voices—polyphony (pp 30-55)—transition: 'intake of breath' (pp 55-57)
many instruments: one voice—girder second realisation (tutti—pp 58-63)
one instrument: one voice—alone (cello solo—pp 64-6)
The title refers to Michel Foucault’s distinction between two modes of meaning: énunciation, the ritualised act of utterance which deprioritises content, and the statement or énoncé, including the latter's meaning and reference to the world, as Alan Sheridan puts it in his . The work oscillates between these two versions of musical justification. In this reading of the piece, the girder sections are ritualised acts, where the justification is given by authorial fiat, and the first girder possesses a newly-minted propulsiveness. The barrage begins replete with the unindividuated energy of the first girder but progressively ‘cools’ towards stasis. Beneath this convulsive broadside however, the ensemble tentatively begins to sustain long notes which, barely palpably, contradict the entropic decay of the piano sound, and evolve into the polyphony section. There, justification is supplied by the internal logics of the distinct phrases that reverse the thermodynamic arrow of the barrage by gaining form as the section unfolds, moving slowly from ‘coma’ to ‘consciousness’—the polyphony is the énoncé. By the end of the polyphony, however, the density of the music has moved beyond the point of individual intelligibility and converges, once again, on girder character—after a brief 'intake of breath', which I gave the ironic nickname ascent into heaven. This second girder has a quite different complexion to the first: its autocratic energy is destructive, and by its end the entire sonic space has been annihilated. In the face of this wipe-out the only possible way forward is a complete reinvention, and the cello presents a new potential, as yet emotionally blank: a singular melody in third-tones, accompanied by a drone provided by bowed vibraphone and a sustained sung tone on both outward and indrawn breath—in the 1984 recording this drone is intoned by the conductor, Richard Bernas. The melody ends abruptly mid-phrase.
At the time I felt that énoncé laid my cards on the table. It had a certain ‘punk’ modernism, quite different to the rather po-faced music being written around me at the time; I even referred to my prickly counterpoint as ‘wire-wool’. I was satisfied with its vision, and formal dimensions, and expressive range, and I have not changed my opinion on the piece in the decades since. Mind you, if I were to rewrite énoncé today, I would simplify the rhythmic notation, and (probably) parse it in shorter bars. I would also lay out the score more traditionally; at the time I was concerned that the instrumental seating plan might prove challenging for the conductor so I laid out the score to reflect where everybody was onstage. I’m not at all sure, in hindsight, that this really helped. However, unless I run out of things to do, renotating the score remains only a good intention.
Music Projects/London conducted by Richard Bernas
Studio recording from 1984—first performance of the complete work.
Note: Due to the historical nature and poor storage of this recording the sound is of limited quality.