Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.



23 Sep 2020

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Requiem pour les temps futurs

Julien Chirol: directeur musical - Pierre-Eric Sutter: directeur musical - Jeanne Crousaud: soprano - Kaëlig Boché: ténor - Yann Toussaint: baryton - Uma N Rao: chant classique de l'Inde - Armée des douze sages -: choeur et orchestre - Rémi Aguirre Zubiri: chef de choeur - Manuel Poletti & Département Analyse et Synthèse de l'IRCAM: voix de synthèse.

Tacet [1:11:10]

$8.99  Click to buy

The one thing I cannot find Collapsologie specifically mentions is pandemic, unlike civilizational collapse which does (the Black Death, for example). What Julien Chirol’s and Pierre-Eric Sutter’s Requiem pour les temps futur is, however, is a reinvention of the requiem after this apocalypse.

Although Chirol and Sutter use a conventional requiem, the inspiration behind the libretto is an influential book by Pablo Servigne published in 2015, Comment tout peut s’effondrer along with his more recent work, N’ayez pas peur du collapse allied with the traditional Latin mass. It could almost be a manifesto for Extinction Rebellion and today’s ecological or climate emergency but Chirol and Sutter have already advanced beyond the theory into what they now imagine the future reality is at least from a compositional viewpoint. There is no attempt here to hide the textualizing of a liturgical work by using a philosophical concept as Henze might have done; nevertheless, the contrast between its two entities - music and text - remain striking.

The premise behind Requiem pour les temps futur, as described by the composers, is that in a world where humanity has been decimated who will sing and from where will the beauty of the human voice come? Their answer is Artificial Intelligence. That isn’t exactly what we get here because it seems to be a hybrid form of fresh and raw human voices and synthetic generated ones, though often they are fused together into a blended form but as art it is close enough.

Clearly Requiem pour les temps futur upends what we think a requiem is though we have been here before: Bussotti’s Rara Requiem (itself part of a larger work, Lorenzaccio) with its phonemes and frenzy of sound, Zimmermann’sRequiem für einen jungen Dichter, or Nono’s Y entonces comprendio, for example. But though Chirol and Sutter are subversive, the slogan “No Future” which blazes across the booklet doesn’t perhaps in the end warrant the anarchic or punk credentials of a work that doesn’t radicalise what it is proposing.

Relying on Manuel Poletti’s IRCAM for help in synthesizing the voices of the splendidly named l’Armée des Douze Sages - a slightly shadowy, predominantly male chorus whose only information is given in their Christian names - it is undeniably difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. There may be advantages to having a libretto in Latin - even if that language itself is rooted in a collapsed past rather than a new future. The astonishing clarity and precision of the phrasing seems to have been heightened by synthesis, certainly more so than one would experience in either a live performance or a normal studio recording, but I think this is what you would expect of electronic interventionism. What is also particularly noticeable are the spatial dimensions but are these any different from music composed in this form in the late 1950s by Stockhausen, or by Musique concrète which can trace its origins even further back to the 1920s and 1930s and to Pierre Schaeffer in the 1940s? It’s entirely probable that what AI in music is isn’t a paradigm shift but an inevitable modification of the past.

The music of this requiem - and it is played by a classical orchestra, even if it is acoustically processed - is both occidental and oriental. Although there is some spectral, even ethereal writing, I’m not sure AI always does this well; or, perhaps Requiem pour les temps futur is simply meant to sound as tense and dramatic through its seventy minutes as it does. That collapsed past, of music which sounds so archaeologically distant, seems almost cinematic at the opening of the ‘Introitus’ - the Latin ‘requiem’ an eerie mirror to the Arabic intonations of the collapsed past you hear in the excavation scene from The Exorcist. Western harps and strings and traditional Hindustani and eastern instruments unite two cultures throughout the work, geometrically laid out on a musical axis that embraces the classical and the artificial.

Is it spiritual? Essentially not, but there are many requiems which are not. AI by definition is synthetic, and we have robotic choristers, three soloists (a soprano, tenor and baritone) but that doesn’t mean this performance is tone deaf or drained of colour. Much is implied in the orchestration and there is a rotating balance in the choral writing either in l’Armèe des douze sages between genders, despite the mystery of the chorus, or elsewhere. There are parts of this work that have huge power - the close of the ‘Dies Irae’ with its shattering climax, the close of the ‘Libera me’ or the organ opening of the ‘Confutatis’. But a work that looks forward cannot ignore the history of the past so echoes of Verdi and Berlioz vibrate like seismic waves through this requiem just as you’ll hear idiomatic pressure points of French music that has been a cornerstone of IRCAM’s past.

Requiem pour les temps futur looks forward, if it also looks backwards, to one musical art form. Both Sutter and Chirol and l’Armèes des douze sages from their writings on the work possibly over-romanticise and overstate the musical shift in the work. Indeed, what may even have been the original concept behind its creation - a requiem that talks about the finitude of existence and collapsology in a thermo-industrial society while answering questions about death - may now be more relevant to a society on the brink of collapse through a pandemic. The irony of the pandemic is that it might escalate AI which is probably not quite what Requiem pour les temps futur envisioned.

This is unquestionably a genre-bending work, an experiment in re-invented classical sonority, that is perhaps uncomfortably closer to the present than the future it looks towards.

Marc Bridle

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):