In the praxes of contemporary music, when a composer is asked to write a piece by an ensemble, often, for reasons depending on cultural policy demands, “under-questioned” habits or simple convenience and economy, one tends to write something on the base of abstract assumptions, something for instance that would suit any ensemble with the same lineup, something that “would work” in different hypothetical spaces and contexts, or something that would run smoothly and be solid no matter what. Without necessarily disrespecting these wise precautions, I started feeling a bit less comfortable within this framework. It seems to me it relies mostly on preoccupations such as reproducibility, feasibility and efficiency, borrowed from an industry mindset, that favors a certain craftsmanship, but definitely reduces the margins to let the performance be something like a negotiation between “live” - and thus to a degree unpredictable - elements.
When I started working on Autophagy, together with the ensemble we decided to work on the piece in a collaborative fashion, that would integrate predetermined elements with extemporary decisions, and that would incorporate and develop around the relationship between instruments and the performance space. I realized that to do so I would have needed to introduce elements of instability and self regulation in each and every aspect of the piece.
In the writing phase I proposed the ensemble half-formed materials to improvise with and give me a compositional feedback that could suggest unforeseen directions. I absorbed many elements specific to their way of playing from them and in the score I gave them back ample margins to make choices in relation to a more and more unpredictably shifting surrounding soundscape.
The technology involved is also marked by the same instability, and its global behavior is characterized by a clash between fully predetermined interventions coming into terms with a self modifying ecosystem, with feedback loops occurring between instruments and electronics, instrument and instrument and finally instrument and space.
Writing the piece is then more like setting up the conditions for its partly unexpected development, like an organism made of various interconnected parts feeding on its own elements.
Vincent Daoud - baritone sax
Maarten Stragier - electric guitar
James Oesi - double bass
Tom De Cock - percussions
Andrea Mancianti - live electronics
Recorded Live at Festival Images Sonores, Liege, December 2016.