Richard Beaudoin: Digital Memory and the Archive

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Composer Richard Beaudoin continues his deep investigation into the realm of microtiming with Digital Memory and the Archive, the follow-up to his 2012 New Focus double-album Microtimings. On this new disc, which features a cycle of works for one and two cellos composed for Neil Heyde and longtime Arditti Quartet cellist Rohan de Saram, Beaudoin engages in an inquiry about the intrinsic nature of subtle expressive differences, building a rich approach to composition which embeds timings from iconic performances into the fabric of his music.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 44:48
01Reproducció (after Casals/Bach)
Reproducció (after Casals/Bach)
Neil Heyde, cello6:01
02Unikat (after Argerich/Chopin)
Unikat (after Argerich/Chopin)
Neil Heyde, cello8:39
03Bacchante (after Debussy/Debussy)
Bacchante (after Debussy/Debussy)
Neil Heyde, cello7:47
04Nachzeichnen/Tracing (after Gould/Schoenberg)
Nachzeichnen/Tracing (after Gould/Schoenberg)
Neil Heyde, cello5:42
05You Know I’m Yours (after Monk)
You Know I’m Yours (after Monk)
Neil Heyde, cello4:54
06Les deux lauriers (after Teyte/Cortot/Debussy)
Les deux lauriers (after Teyte/Cortot/Debussy)
Rohan de Saram, cello, Neil Heyde, cello7:34
07‘La chevelure’ from Trois Chansons de Bilitis
‘La chevelure’ from Trois Chansons de Bilitis
Maggie Teyte, soprano, Alfred Cortot, piano4:11

RIchard Beaudoin continues his in depth investigation into the relationship between the subtleties of timing in performance and expression with Digital Memory and the Archive, his second release on New Focus (a follow up to FCR125 Microtimings). Featuring performances by cellists Neil Heyde and Rohan de Saram, Beaudoin creates works that use precise timings and information from iconic recordings as a source of skeletal information around which to construct new compositions. Beaudoin’s work raises fascinating questions about the nature of interpretation, facsimile, and dialogue with past luminaries. As Neil Heyde elegantly writes of the towering artists on whose performances Beaudoin has based these works, “In these pieces they are hardly ghosts at all, but real presences.” In communing with the essential fabric of recordings that have touched so many, Beaudoin brings these great artists with him in the journey of creating new work, keeping their artistry alive.

The album opens with Reproducció, perhaps the most direct resurrection of a legendary recording in the collection. Beaudoin analyzed the timings in Pablo Casals’ recording of the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Cello Suite BWV1008. The score reflects not just the pitches of the famous movement, but the precise proportional durations of Casals’ rubato. Beaudoin’s approach illuminates the layers of notational specificity – while Bach’s original notation is precise in so many ways, it is also extremely flexible in others. What might it mean to not simply play Bach’s Sarabande, but to play Casals’ performance of Bach’s Sarabande? This is the question at the core of Reproducció.

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The other works develop less direct but no less intricate relationships between the original recorded timings and the newly generated notation. Unikat is based on a Martha Argerich recording of E minor Prelude, op. 28/4. Here, Argerich’s relative dynamics in her performance of the left hand chords is mapped onto the length of variable arpeggios in the cello. The result is a piece that draws our attention to subtle changes in similar arpeggiated figures, and an accumulation of density and energy that mirrors Argerich’s interpretive and expressive arc in her recording. Bacchante uses a recording of Debussy himself playing his “...Danseuses de Delphes” from his Préludes, livre I, from 1913, a work that was itself inspired by a replica of the Acanthus Column in the Louvre. Beaudoin uses a similar notational system to Reproducció here, but adds variable note sizes and alternate beaming to help illuminate the mapping of the different hands of the piano onto the cello line.

Glenn Gould’s 1965 recording of the first of Schoenberg’s Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke is the source for Nachzeichnen/Tracing. Including the creaking sounds of Gould’s chair, this piece, played entirely without the bow in a panoply of colorful effects, captures the expressionist character of Schoenberg’s work and the focused intensity of Gould’s performance.

Beaudoin doesn’t limit himself to historic recordings of the European classical canon, turning his focus to a Thelonius Monk recording of Body and Soul from 1962 for the inspiration for You Know I’m Yours. Zeroing in on Monk’s uncanny ability to establish rhythmic independence between his left and right hands, Beaudoin builds the composite relationship between the two into the solo cello line. The result is a propulsive, fluid, extroverted work that captures Monk’s irrepressible spirit.

The final work on the recording is for two cellos, with Neil Heyde joined by the eminent Rohan de Saram, long time cellist for the Arditti Quartet. Maggie Teyte and Alfred Cortot’s recording of “La chevelure” from Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Bilitis is the model, with one cello mapping onto the vocal line and the other onto the piano. The static from the early recording as well as record skipping make it into Beaudoin’s imaginative transcription.

In a poignant nod to these great artists, Beaudoin closes the recording with Teyte and Cortot’s actual 1936 recording. But our hearing of it has been transformed by the additional layer of interpretation that Beaudoin, Heyde, and de Saram have laid on top of it. Indeed, Beaudoin’s process asks fascinating questions not just about our relationship to iconic recordings, but the phenomenon of interpretation itself, the sustained re-engagement with a work of art that has been passed down. By creating new works through the minute analysis of historic recordings, often using very fine technological tools, Beaudoin actually reconnects us with one of the most fundamental and low tech characteristics of artistic traditions – they are stories passed down from generation to generation, either by oral tradition, or via archival means, to be understood and interpreted in the context of each new era.

– Dan Lippel

Recorded 15–16 November 2021 (tracks 1–5) and 2 December 2021 (tracks 6–7) at Hastoe Village Hall, near Tring, Hertfordshire, UK

Producer: Neil Heyde

Engineer and editor: Jonathan Haskell

Cover: Glenn Brown, When We Return You Won’t Recognise Us, 2020 (detail), Oil and acrylic on panel, photo: Lucy Dawkins, © 2020 Glenn Brown

Richard Beaudoin

The music of Richard Beaudoin has been performed by Claire Chase, Annette Dasch, Dashon Burton, Estelí Gomez, Neil Heyde, Rohan de Saram, Mark Knoop, Constantine Finehouse, Carl Rosman, Kreutzer Quartet, Roomful of Teeth, Sound Icon, Boston Lyric Opera, and Konzerthaus Dortmund. It has been heard at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Wiener Konzerthaus, Hamburg Laeiszhalle, Linz Brucknerhaus, Schwetzinger SWR Festspiele, Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, MASS MoCA, Weill Recital Hall, Wilton’s Music Hall, and King’s Place. He is assistant professor of music at Dartmouth College.

Neil Heyde

Neil Heyde has been cellist of the Kreutzer Quartet since the 1990s and has performed extensively as a soloist in the UK, mainland Europe, China and the USA, broadcasting on the major radio and television networks. He has made more than 40 commercial recordings of music ranging from the 17th to the 21st centuries, expanding the repertoire for both quartet and cello through exploratory collaborations with composers — and by championing music from outside the mainstream. He heads the postgraduate programmes at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where his work focuses on relationships between performers and composers — past and present — and he is currently visiting professor of artistic research at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.

Rohan de Saram

Rohan de Saram is one of the world’s most distinguished cellists, master of classical and modern music. He has performed concertos with the major orchestras of Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and the former Soviet Union. De Saram worked directly with Kodaly, Shostakovich, Poulenc, Walton, and more recently, with most of the world’s leading contemporary composers, including Pousseur, Xenakis, and Berio who have, amongst others, written works for him. A child prodigy, he studied with Gaspar Cassadó in Italy, Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico, and Sir John Barbirolli in London. His numerous recordings include a large body of work with the Arditti Quartet and solo repertoire from Vivaldi, through the masterworks of the later twentieth century, to recital concerts and recent works.




Similarly to narrative forms and the visual arts, there are several intriguing ways to set up a meta-musical discourse, i.e. to make music develop from its own reflecting about itself. From a strictly technical point of view, the advent of audio recording was the first – as well as the longest-lasting and most pervasive – deception by means of which music became something other than itself, became matter and at the same time dead language, betraying its own ephemeral, ineffable nature. The vast majority of these recordings have represented our only (literally mediated) contact with certain music, in some cases rising to the rank of precious, irreplaceable fetishes.

With such premises, the idea that the copy, or rather the simulacrum of a specific musical interpretation can be considered as a second-degree score, in fact being an intrinsically autonomous work with respect to its ‘official’ graphic abstraction, is already less absurd. Put in specific terms: if, for us, the ‘Goldberg Variations’ correspond only to Glenn Gould’s 1981 studio album, nor are we willing to trade it for any other, then our Johann Sebastian Bach is Gould himself. And if music is all a vanitas to begin with, all the more so when it is based on purely imitative, even predatory logic, in the disillusioned conviction that the entire history of artistic creation is nothing more than a game of Chinese boxes of which the beginning and end remain unknown.

This, in essence, is the ‘microtiming’ procedure implemented by American composer Richard Beaudoin (*1975): an operation that, especially on the conceptual front, goes far beyond transcription or rearrangement; it is the impossible replication of an isolated sound event, of a precise space-time portion that it would be not only utopian, but utterly futile to attempt to reproduce. And yet, as a result of a drastic, yet inevitable change of perspective, the alchemic formula is resolved, the perfect fake is transformed into a new and estranging artefact, entrusted to the executional expertise of an equally adventurous accomplice.

It is only in the opening piece, however, that the highest degree of mimesis is realised: in homage to the Catalan Pablo Casals’ mastery, Beaudoin keeps intact his reading of the Sarabande from Bach’s second Cello Suite (“Reproducció”): the insidious test of identification falls on Neil Heyde, the album’s protagonist, through the patient sketching of a sound photograph so faithful that the cult first turns into obsession, then into subtle perversion. Subsequent applications of microtiming delve even deeper into the grooves of recordings by Martha Argerich, Debussy (performing himself…), Thelonious Monk and the aforementioned Gould (his take on Schoenberg’s ‘Klavierstücke’), slowing down the original tracks to better analyse, like an entomologist at the microscope, a spectrum of frequencies that turns out being much more stratified than it appears on the surface.

Beaudoin’s over-zealousness extends from the exact chronological succession of notes and pauses, imperceptibly changing tempos and articulations, to ambient sounds such as the musician’s breath, the inadvertent creaking of the pianist’s seat, even – and here we reach a further meta-level – the sound grain and microtonal oscillation of an old vinyl record on the turntable, recognisable (and thus emulable) especially in the presence of sustained tones.
Neil Heyde’s virtuosity shines through in the faithful rendering of these sudden para-textual intromissions, until he is joined by the eminent Rohan de Saram (former Arditti cellist) for an episode of a more markedly romantic, albeit crepuscular inspiration: a voice-piano duet by Debussy (‘La chevelure’, from ‘Trois Chansons de Bilitis’), which Beaudoin finally re-proposes in its “original” guise, a vintage 78 rpm played on a coeval gramophone.

An exercise in futility or a new frontier of potential music? Digital Memory and the Archive is a dramaturgy of desemantised sound, an inextricable short-circuit between the dead body of music and its transfigured reviviscence, as if perpetually coming and going from and to the absent theatre of Mulholland Drive’s Silencio club. But the fascinating otherness of Richard Beaudoin’s objets sonores is enough to thin out philosophical lucubrations in favour of an unfettered contemplative amazement.

— Michele Palozzo, 3.07.2023


Vital Weekly

This is a release with solo cello music - mainly. There is also a duet and an original recording. I'll come back to that. The cello has a very 'dramatic' sound; at the same time, it expresses melancholy. You cannot play it very fast, so it always conveys an atmosphere of measure, besides residing in the mid-to-low frequency range, adding a degree of sadness. Nevertheless, its mastery has brought forward musicians such as Pablo Casals and Mstislav Rostropovich, who have produced beautiful performances and recordings. Although cellos often appear in indie and rock music, there is also an affinity to metal, as with Mr Marcaille, Metallica, or industrial, when Laura Maes played with Militia.

The first track on this release invokes memories of Pablo Casals. And it is titled 'Reproduccio (after Casals-Bach)'. The others have a mostly 'romantic' character, you could say, in no way contemporary classical music as you would initially expect. At this point, it is necessary to talk about the composer Richard Beaudoin. He is the 'Architect' of what he has termed the 'microtiming technique'. He transcribes recordings of classical or other music by analysing the pace of the music, i.e. the rhythm of playing, broken down into milli-seconds. This would give a timing track. I am not totally sure whether this also includes the pitch of the music - it looks like it from the graphics, but it is not explained. On this 'score' he then develops his own music by rearranging and modulating the material, or maybe totally creating it anew, based on the timing track.

The effect is, as said, more romantic than contemporary, which, I believe, is totally in the hands of the composer. The music is beautiful in character, as said, both in the way of the (solo) cello sound, the relaxed pace, and the melodic lines. Track one, 'Reproduccio' still faintly sounds like Casals playing Bach. But from track two onwards, I started wondering what the point was in this rather technical approach. Apparently, one goal is to analyse the timing and playing technique of performing artists (Marta Argerich on track 2) like under a magnifying glass. Nevertheless, I challenge that the 'new' music has much quality, apart from that offered by using the cello as the lead instrument. I find little that would trap my attention in the melody lines (again, apart from the first track). It all seems coincidental to me, though there is a faint memory of the character of the originals, the Thelonius Monk (jazz) piece sounding different to the other classical tracks. There is one exception, which is the last Beaudoin track, 'Les deux lauriers' where he has analysed a Debussy song. This is the duet, and the second cello adds variety and drama to the piece. What thrilled me, though, was the addition of the original recording as the last track. A piano and soprano vocals rendition of 'La chevelure' by Debussy. It starts with crackling (a 78 record?) and ends on a minute or so of run-out groove. The idea of adding the track this way I found really attractive, allowing a comparison with the 'processed' music. I am not sure the regular 'click' of the run-out was included in the analysis, which would undoubtedly add some exciting aspects; nevertheless, there is a faint similarity between the two pieces in the way of the dramatic development and a distant memory of the melodic lines. But not more.

But still, not a release that I found compelling. After a good start, it let me down a little, and the last track, though it did intrigue me as a concept, stands out a bit too much, with little context. Maybe I am not 'intellectual' enough to appreciate this kind of constructivism.

— Robert Steinberger, 3.15.2023


Take Effect Reviews

The esteemed composer Richard Beaudoin brings his inimitable vision to solo and duo pieces here, where a contemporary classical approach makes the most of the 7 well thought out pieces.

“Reproducció” (after Casals/Bach)” starts the listen with Neil Heyde’s graceful, stirring cello prowess that spends 6 minutes mesmerizing us with its fluid bowing, and “Unikat (after Argerich/Chopin)” follows with the cello emitting left hand chords and focusing on the length of variable arpeggios with much grace.

Further along, “Nachzeichnen/Tracing (after Gould/Schoenberg)” is performed entirely without a bow, and is as expressive as it is colorful, while “You Know I’m Yours (after Monk)” takes inspiration from Thelonius Monk and is bright, rhythmic and adventurous.

The final 2 tracks are among the best, where “Les deux lauriers (after Teyte/Cortot/Debussy)” welcomes Rohan de Saram on cello, which interacts with Heyde’s cello in a poetic, emotive fashion, and “La chevelure”, from Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Bilitis, places Alfred Cortot on piano and showcases Maggie Teyte’s stunning soprano for the raw, powerful finish.

A very rich and creative endeavor that pays close attention to timing and uses information from the initial recordings that directly affects the new compositions, Beaudoin turns interpretation into a refined science here.

— Tom Haugen, 7.26.2023


American Record Guide

Before this interesting-looking set of titles gets you too interested, I warn you that all is not what it seems! Composer Richard Beaudoin (b. 1975) here arranges well-known works by Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Schoenberg, Monk, and more, for cello without piano. Cellist Heyde has fine fingers, but all but the last two pieces are played so slowly that sleeping is all one can do around them! The well-known Rohan de Saram comes by to lead him around ‘Les deux Lauriers’ for seven minutes, and the program ends with a famous actual song by Debussy, sung by Maggie Teyte and accompanied by Alfred Cortot. But don’t let that turn you on, since the reproduction is queasy. This one is not staying on my shelves.

— David W. Moore, 6.23.2023



This disc is titled Digital Memory and the Archive. Why is that? I find it intriguing when, accidentally or on purpose, artists flip the foreground and the background, or blur the distinctions between the two. American composer Richard Beaudoin (b. 1975) created what he calls the “microtiming” technique. In his own words (or from his website, at least), “Iconic recordings are slowed down and transcribed in minute detail, then treated as a palimpsest, forming a parchment over which the composer manipulates, reorganizes, and interweaves original material to create innovative compositions of startling beauty and originality.” Consider, if you will, how a pianist such as Martha Argerich plays a staccato passage in eighth notes on one of her CDs. Hearing her play this passage at performance speed, each note, and each space between the notes, appears to have the same length – although maybe not, if she is trying to make an expressive point. If you were to slow that passage down and measure the length of each note and of each space between them, however, you would find that no two lengths are identical because we are human beings, not machines. The more you slow that passage down, the more impactful those differences become. Beaudoin also takes into consideration imperfections in the recording itself (tape hiss or a record’s wow or rumble, for example) or in the recording’s environment – a squeaky chair (think Glenn Gould) or maybe the performer’s barely audible inhalations or exhalations.

Here, Reproducció is based on Pablo Casals’s recording of the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. Unikat is based on Argerich’s recording of Chopin’s Prelude in E minor (No. 4), Bacchante on Debussy’s own Welte-Mignon recording of his Danseuses de Delphes, Nachzeichnung/Tracing on Glenn Gould’s recording of the first of Schoenberg’s Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, You Know I’m Yours on a brief sample of Thelonious Monk, and Les deux lauriers on Maggie Teyte’s and Alfred Cortot’s recording of Debussy’s La chevelure. That actual recording, from 1936, is included at the very end of this CD in an authentic “performance,” if you will, on a vintage portable gramophone. The booklet note tells us a little (i.e., not a lot) about exactly how Beaudoin’s analysis of the recordings has fed into the creation of a new work. For example, in Unikat, we read that “the volume of each left hand chord is translated into the length of its corresponding arpeggio.” Initially, one wonders if Beaudoin is following in the steps of John Cage by trying to take ego and personal preference out of the process of composition. Beaudoin seems much less willing than Cage, though, to relinquish control of the compositional process, and the compositions in their final form appear to represent a combination of objectivity and subjectivity.

“What interesting ideas,” I thought, as I read up on Beaudoin and on this new release in particular. Is music something we think about, however, or is it something we listen to? I would argue that it can be both, although popular opinion would skew, I think, in the direction of music-as-entertainment. There are many variations on the “I spent all day at work, now I just want to come home, relax, and hear some nice music” trope. Reproducció might be recognized as a Bach-derivative, and Les deux lauriers is a more literal reworking than the other works on this CD. For the most part, though, these are works which replace the authority and charm of the original works and recordings with something much more cerebral. That’s not bad, that’s not good, it just is – but imagine falling asleep next to Cleopatra and waking up next to Lieutenant Commander Data. I mean, I’d be a little surprised, wouldn’t you?

All in all, I am more impressed with the idea than with what has come out of that idea. However, the idea is, at least on paper, a very good one, and I am going to give Beaudoin the benefit of the doubt by continuing to work on this CD in my free time. In fact, I have already ordered its predecessor, Microtimings, a two-CD set also on New Focus Recordings. (We did not review it in Fanfare.)

Before I forget, Neil Heyde’s courageous, dedicated cello playing plays a large part in what I have come to appreciate about this release so far. I wouldn’t call Heyde’s playing a thankless job, but he isn’t exactly living the glamorous life here, so kudos to him for helping those who listen to this disc keep their noses to the grindstone more or less happily.

The creepily gorgeous cover art by Glenn Brown alone is worth the price of the CD, by the way.

— Raymond Tuttle, 6.30.2023

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