Michael Edwards

pas de poule, pas de pot

Programme Note

About a year before composing this piece, I was at a concert where a friend of mine was playing the drums in a jazz trio comprising himself, a guitarist, and a pianist. The drums, being naturally clangourous (especially in the enthusiastic, polymetric hands of my friend) along with the guitar (played by an apparently half-deaf aficionado of the noise bomb, who definitely had an amplifier that went all the way up to eleven and stayed there), left the piano struggling, or rather failing, to make itself heard. No amount of amplification was going to help the situation before feedback had its wicked way and sent us all running for cover. So, being in a position to see the pianist's fingers at work, I was left to imagine what he might have contributed had he been even the slightest bit audible. This was a very engrossing project, and I soon arrived at the point where I was hardly even listening to the two sonic terrorists sitting beside him; instead, I was completely focussed on mentally reconstructing the havoc I saw his fingers wreaking at the piano keyboard (it has to be admitted, he too was not at all shy of committing aural atrocities). Suddenly, seeming to grasp the lamentable situation he was in, he did a wonderful thing. After a particularly tumultuous (looking) run over the whole length of the piano, his fingers went off over the high end of the keyboard and into thin air. He stood up, faced the audience, and played, quite unashamedly, the greatest "air piano" solo you could ever wish to see. Notwithstanding the onslaught pouring forth from his comrades-in-arms, his intent was clearly audible above their mere sonic utterances, and seemed to augment and compliment the now climactic part of their performance.

This unheard music then, this music of the eye, became the starting point for my piece. It was tempting to pilfer the idea of the "air piano" solo, but I shunned this out of moral compunction. Besides, it takes a unique personality to bring off this act with the panache I was lucky enough to witness (and, more importantly, will probably never witness again). Instead, I concentrated on the idea of musical mime, of expending tremendous amounts of energy at producing next to nothing at all. Coming after a considerable period of time spent working almost exclusively in the field of computer music, this was not at all alien to me. And, after so many tape music concerts involving no visual stimulation whatsoever, it was actually rather inviting to consider a piece in which the visual element plays the most important role of all, for some time at least. Accordingly, at the beginning of pas de poule, pas de pot we find the pianist busily playing nothing, the clarinettist hard at work at making almost no audible effect. If the performance works, however, it will appear that they are playing music of the highest complexity and speed, with all the subtle interactions and exchanges of a monstrously detailed score. What little aural result there is though (besides the one created inside the listener's head), comes not from the playing, but rather from the amplification of the act of playing.

(About the title: pas de poule, pas de pot has several meanings, two of which at least are "No chicken, no pot" and "No chick [girl], no luck." But the meaning of the words does not have any particular relevance to the music. Their sound, however, created by the alliteration, and their ambiguity (or better still, their lack of comprehensibility to non French speakers) has everything to do with music, which, as we know, is the least concrete of all the arts. The connection is, then, that I write what I like to hear, and I like to hear "pas de poule, pas de pot.")