Michael Edwards

ma bel

Programme Note

ma bel

ma bel was written for Jean-Francois Laporte and his composite compressed-air instrument, the Babel Table. This name works in both French and English, if the word order is reversed. And the connection to the Old Testament myth explaining the origin of the world's different tongues is clear.

The title ma bel transposes merely one character of ba-bel but in doing so offers several meanings to speakers of different languages: as a homonym in French (ma belle) it could refer to my beautiful (wife, daughter, belle-sœur, etc.) or imply the more complete ma belle vie; in English it could be misheard as marble (the stone but also the child's toy) or refer to Mabel, the woman's name; but in Arabic ma bel means what but, after which I particularly enjoy question marks and perhaps even a why?—good things to ask about a piece such as this.

So then: so few symbols, and even fewer syllables, but so much meaning and context. And Babel connects back beautifully to this in that, obscured from its mythological context, it refers more generally to a confusing mélange (as in mixture, not the Viennese coffee :): a mêlée, in the non-violent sense, of sounds and voices or a noisy, confused scene in general. Such is ma bel: a plethora of unrelated samples mixed with the potent sounds of Jean-Francois' instrument, all driven by a score which is digital yet conventionally notated.

What you see or read, however, is by no means what you get (I'm referring now particularly to the score). The symbols need even more translation, interpretation, and making sense of than usual. And that's not just the musician's job but the audiences' too (as always), given the sound structures on offer.

And further: ma bel integrates strongly emotive vocal utterances from a certain Austrian female; samples that are prelingual but often guttural (synonyms perhaps here: before the tongue, as in before language as well as the muscle)—even guttural in both senses: articulated in the throat and perhaps unpleasant or strange—and most definitely communicative, in a nonsensical way, bien sûr.

This is what music is: by no means a language but nevertheless able communicate or rather provoke a wide variety of experiences, and transporting meaning (or not) to individuals formed both collectively and uniquely. (Ahh… ma bel(le musique)!)