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Book Review

by Avaera
(Parts : I to IV)

V and VI - VII

VIII and IX - X




A very interesting book was recently published (2004) by the musicologist Ivanka Stoianova , Ph.D in musicology, and professor at the University of Paris VIII. Among other writings, this book reprints a new version of an article written in 1988 about the music of Jean-Claude Eloy, entitled "A la Recherche du Feu Méditant" (In Search of the Meditative Flame). This title paraphrases Jean-Claude Eloy’s work: "A l’Approche du Feu Méditant" (Approaching the Meditative Flame), composed in 1983 for Gagaku orchestra and two Buddhist monk choirs (from the Shingon and Tendai sects), and performed the same year at the National Theatre of Japan (Kokuritsu Gekijo), in Tokyo.

This publication is an expanded version of the original text, including parts of an interview by the author with Jean-Claude Eloy who comments on his work from the time of his youth and his initial studies to his more recent projects – such as his current work-in-progress, "Libérations".

The entire book offers a number of writings about composers from the second half of the 20th century. For details, please refer to the preceding page (special information page).

For the original version of this text (1988), see : (go to "intros-biograph")

Quotation of a section from the 1988 version (pp. 213-214) :

"… Within the slow spirals of "star time", the works of J.-CL. Eloy ignore the petty restrictions put on musical pieces destined for ordinary concerts and his works extend over two, three, four hours. As in the electro-acoustic fresco Gaku-no-Michi or the four acts of the "imaginary ritual" in Yo-In, a solo-percussionist’s long journey through a hundred or so instruments embedded into their electro-acoustic metamorphosing reflections. Or even in the immense imaginary ritual of Shômyô voices, Gagaku instruments and their electronic reverberations in Anâhata. Contrary to the homeostatic sound blankets in the great works of repetitive minimalists, Eloy’s compositional strategy adopts a framework of vast "maximalist" architectures : a strategy founded on the formative principle of contrast (but over time, through drawn out transformations) and on the fundamentally dialectical reasoning that aims for the integration of opposites within a coherent overall work. Passages of great violence and extremely dense swirling movements of sound transform, through gradual processes, into practically still and transparent contemplative moments, according to a gestural logic that displays opposites and multiplicities as they move towards integration into a coherent whole in spite of extremely vast dimensions.

The true greatness of this music lies not in its nomadic surge as it traverses the whole world, nor in the multiplicity of the most sophisticated of means and techniques used, nor in the composer’s virtuoso mastery of his craft, nor in the impressive scale of his works, but above all in its immensely human dimension, a dimension that is sorely lacking today in the virtuoso manipulators of computers.

Eloy’s works immerse us in a "unique gold" where we recall our adult, adolescent and childhood fantasies, in search of a deep truth, in search of ourselves, within ourselves and within the world. This nomadic, eternal, timeless and above all fundamentally human dimension is what makes the attractive force of the "spirals of the same galaxy" in Eloy’s music. For it itself is on a continual quest for "the Meditative Flame": "... its meditation is the heart, that is, the fullness of the world, the dimension that lights the way and gives us shelter..." (*).

(*) M. Heidegger, "Alèthéia, Commentaire d'Héraclite", in Essais et conférences, Gallimard, Paris, 1958, pg. 333.

Published in French :

"Entre détermination et aventure"
Essais sur la musique de la deuxième moitié du XXème siècle
Collection "Esthétiques"
("Between determination and risk"
Attempts on the music of the second half of the XXth century
Collection "Aesthetics"
Editions l'Harmattan, Paris, 2004


From a book published by the musicologist François Decarsin in 2003 under the title of "La musique, architecture du temps" (Music, architecture of time), we can quote an interesting commentary in the chapter entitled : "Du continu au temps lisse" (From continuous to unbroken time) (pp. 152 à 154):

"… This achievement of immobility, of loss of awareness with regard to the notion of time, is claimed, in varying degrees, by composers from Jean-Claude Eloy to Ligeti or La Monte Young. The work no longer refers here to the criteria necessary to put into perspective a past /future axis through the action of memory and the return of the familiar, nor even those criteria that structure the present, because of the slowness of its unfolding and the often imperceptible continuity of renewal […] "it is music that is absolutely continuous without one single interruption from the beginning to the end (*)" […]

(*) Jean-Claude Eloy, Shanti (record cover), Erato, 1979 (STU 71205/6).

… This very important continuity in flow in no way prevents internal structure, as evidenced in the four parts of Gaku--no-michi, but these differences appear only over a long period, just as two colors can be distinguished before and after the dilution that gradually unites them, blurring the stages as they pass from one to another without ever really weakening their intrinsic difference. Thus, the musical framework unfolds in an ongoing overlap that destroys the lines between sound moments ; it changes gradually and defies identification at the moment of change, which, nonetheless, exists. […]

The permanent mobility defining this music refrains from ever settling into a trajectory that would allow for an orientation based on the ability to differentiate among various states, but instead, it overcomes formal structures in a process of irreversible action, progressing in a " limitless spiral ", a unifying force within its general articulation ; the sound concluding the second part of Gaku-no-michi, iden-tified as a pedal point, is for that matter conceived by the composer as having an " internal development ". Thus, despite the presence of the " sound of meditation " in Shanti and " stages of contemplation " in Gaku-no-michi, the expression is never fixed into the standstill of a truly unbroken progression of time : the very long duration of metamorphoses alone hampers the establishment of a temporal topography, of a past / future axis, without ever sliding into complete stasis.

Traces of this concern for continuity and gradual development can be found in the works of Steve Reich […] A search for "neutralized" time appears to be a concern for Ligeti as well …"

François Decarsin is a professor at the University of Aix-Marseille I, and a researcher in the Laboratory " Esthétique des arts contemporains " (Aesthetics in contemporary arts) at the CNRS / Université Paris I.

Published in French :

"La musique, architecture du temps"
Collection : "Arts et Sciences de l’Art"
("The Music, the Architecture of Time"
Collection : "Arts and Sciences of the Art"
Editions l'Harmattan, Paris, 2003


This concern with "time" seems to be at the root of numerous remarks made about the works of Jean-Claude Eloy. We might quote here Olivier Messiaen’s famous comments from years ago in a book of interviews made with the French critic, Claude Samuel (pg. 88) :

"… At this point in time, we come upon these great spaces of lengthy durations which go not only beyond the bounds of classical measures, but even beyond Greek metrics, Indian deçî-tàlas and irrational values. We are witnessing a change in the notion of time and I believe that one of the musicians for whom this change is the most apparent is Jean-Claude Eloy. Apart from the refinement in tone-colors and the quality of "heterophony", I discern a conception of time in Jean-Claude Eloy’s music which is completely at the avant-garde cutting edge ..."

Published in French :

"Musique et couleur"
Nouveaux entretiens avec Claude Samuel
("Music and Colour"
New conversations with Claude Samuel
Collection "Entretiens"
Editions Pierre Belfond, Paris, 1986.


In a remarkable book written about Karlheinz Stockhausen by the French writer and poet, Paul Dirmeikis, published under the title of "Le Souffle du Temps : quodlibet pour Karlheinz Stockhausen", this quotation by Messiaen is once again cited (pg. 224), along with other elements offered by Jean-Claude Eloy for this book which combines various interviews and contributions of : Annette Meriweether, Michèle Noiret, Kathinka Pasveer, Suzanne Stephens, Irvine Arditti, Nicholas Isherwood, Alain Louafi, Julian Pike, Markus Stockhausen, Jean-Claude Eloy, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Published in French :

"Le souffle du temps : quodlibet pour Karlheinz Stockhausen"
("The Breath of Time: quodlibet for Karlheinz Stockhausen")
Editions Telo Martius, France, 1999.