Richard Beaudoin: Microtimings

, composer


The inaugural recordings of Richard Beaudoin’s music based on microtiming: a refined methodology for translating micro-temporal properties of a recorded performance.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 118:45
01Étude d’un prélude I—Chopin desséché
Étude d’un prélude I—Chopin desséché

Mark Knoop, piano7:16
02Étude d’un prélude IV—Black Wires
Étude d’un prélude IV—Black Wires

Mark Knoop, piano6:30
03Étude d’un prélude VII—Latticed Window
Étude d’un prélude VII—Latticed Window

Mark Knoop, piano1:55
04Étude d’un prélude XI—four28
Étude d’un prélude XI—four28

Mark Knoop, piano24:40
05The Artist and his Model I—La fille floutée
The Artist and his Model I—La fille floutée

Mark Knoop, piano9:05

nach Webern, nach Pollini

Mark Knoop, piano
06i. Neuordnung nach Dauern
i. Neuordnung nach Dauern

Mark Knoop, piano1:12
07ii. Bewegungen in Zeitlupe
ii. Bewegungen in Zeitlupe

Mark Knoop, piano5:21
08iii. Neuordnung nach Lautstärken
iii. Neuordnung nach Lautstärken

Mark Knoop, piano1:50

Étude d’un prélude X—Second String Quartet

Kreutzer Quartet
09i. Flutter echoes (Étude d'un prélude II)
i. Flutter echoes (Étude d'un prélude II)
Kreutzer Quartet9:37
10ii. The Real Thing (Étude d'un prélude VI)
ii. The Real Thing (Étude d'un prélude VI)
Kreutzer Quartet5:40
11iii. Kertész Distortion (Étude d'un prélude VIII)
iii. Kertész Distortion (Étude d'un prélude VIII)
Kreutzer Quartet10:35
12iv. 28four
iv. 28four
Kreutzer Quartet11:59
13The Artist and his Model II—La durée sans contacts s’affaiblit
The Artist and his Model II—La durée sans contacts s’affaiblit
Kreutzer Quartet22:16

This 2-CD set includes the inaugural recordings of Richard Beaudoin’s music based on microtiming: a refined methodology for translating micro-temporal properties of a recorded performance into standard notation, which are then used as the basis for newly-composed acoustic works. The CDs include eleven recent pieces, all recorded in England, based on microtimings of Martha Argerich playing Chopin, Alfred Cortot playing Debussy, and Maurizio Pollini playing Webern.

Disc One is devoted to piano music played by Mark Knoop (“one of the most brilliant pianists of the contemporary repertoire” The Sunday Times). Disc Two is devoted to string quartet music played by the Kreutzer Quartet (led by Peter Sheppard Skærved, who plays the 1698 Stradivari ‘Joachim’ violin).

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Both discs include works from the Études d’un prélude series and the series called The Artist and his Model. Of special note are Mark Knoop’s remarkable performance of the ferociously difficult piano work, Étude d’un prélude IV—Black Wires, and the Kreutzer Quartet’s stunning performance of Étude d’un prélude X—Second String Quartet, whose four movements treat the Chopin-Argerich material in very different ways.

Writings about Beaudoin’s compositional approach, sometimes called ‘temporalism,’ have been published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, the Journal of Music Theory, and the International Symposium on Performance Science 2009. Beaudoin has given lectures on these works at Cambridge University's Centre for Music and Science, The Royal Academy of Music, London, The Steinhardt School at New York University, The New England Conservatory, Harvard University and Dartmouth College.

The music of Richard Beaudoin has been performed by some of the finest musicians in Europe and America, including the soprano Annette Dasch, the Kreutzer, Lydian and Chiara String Quartets, pianists Marilyn Nonken, Mark Knoop, Constantine Finehouse and Wolfram Rieger, organist Clive Driskill-Smith and tenor Joseph Kaiser. Beaudoin’s works have been premièred at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Wiener Konzerthaus, New York’s Weill Recital Hall/Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Festival Hall. He has received opera and vocal music commissions from the Konzerthaus-Dortmund, the Staatstheater-Kassel, and the Boston Lyric Opera. He is a member of the Faculty of Music at Harvard University.


Mark Knoop, piano (Steinway model D 587462)
Producer, Engineer, Editor: David Lefeber
Recorded 16 December 2010 at Potton Hall, Saxmundham, Suffolk, UK.
Special thanks to Olivier Senn, Stanislas Nanchen and the Royal Academy of Music, London.

Kreutzer Quartet
Peter Sheppard Skærved (Violin: Stradivari ‘Joachim’ 1698)
Mihailo Trandafilovski (Violin: Honoré Derazey 1855)
Morgan Goff (Viola: Daniel Parker 1715)
Neil Heyde (Violoncello: Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence, c. 1700)
Engineer: Jonathan Haskell
Producer: Neil Heyde
Recorded 17 – 18 May 2011 at the Church of St John the Baptist, Aldbury, Herfordshire, UK.
Special thanks to Olivier Senn, Stanislas Nanchen and the Harvard University Department of Music.

Cover: Glenn Brown, The Real Thing, 2000, Oil on panel, 82 x 66.5 cm, © 2012 Glenn Brown  
Photos: Mark Knoop (p. 2, Potton Hall), Yatzek (p. 8, Mark Knoop), Richard Bram (p. 14, Kreutzer Quartet)
Design: Max Vtiourin
Text: Richard Beaudoin
All score excerpts © copyright 2012 by Richard Beaudoin. All rights reserved.

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.



Paul Griffiths Blog

Fascination and irritation – the former happily more than the latter, but both deep, and sometimes deep at the same time – overlap in the experience of Richard Beaudoin’s double album Microtimings (New Focus). The combination of reactions, a combination this music seems to invite, is unusual, and comes from the compositional technique, which is partly revealed in the album title and more fully explained in the composer’s notes. Beaudoin starts out from ‘microtimings’ – timings made with acute precision – of piano recordings: Pollini playing the middle movement of Webern’s Op. 27 Variations, Cortot in Debussy’s prelude ‘La Fille aux cheveux de lin’ and, his major source, Argerich performing Chopin’s E minor prelude. These timings allow him to lay out the whole piece at whatever level of temporal stretching, from none at all to a distention that has Debussy or Chopin going at a tenth the original speed. The sounds, too, are altered, so that the effect is not just a trivial deceleration but a reworking that is appropriate to the new durational form and frame.

Beaudoin’s metaphors for his method are all visual: photography, the bending of images in curved mirrors, and the work of contemporary painters whose work plays with photographic realism and distortion, especially Gerhard Richter and Glenn Brown. From the Chopin he has (so far) derived twelve ‘Études d’un prélude’, including an orchestral score and a short opera as well as the compositions included here: four solo piano pieces and his Second String Quartet (2009), itself made up of four études. Two from the former group show the technique at its most straightforward. In ‘Chopin déseché’ the original text is all there (at a guess), but unfolding at a quarter speed and with everything staccato, therefore indeed desiccated. This is right at the ‘irritating’ end of the spectrum. ‘Latticed Window’, named after an early photograph, provides a lot more fascination. Here the Chopin goes at normal speed (or at least the speed of the Argerich recording), but the music is turned its own negative, with the melody in the bass and the accompanying chords in the treble.

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In other pieces the procedure is less easy to make out, which ups the fascination and the poetry. ‘four28’ lays out the events of the Chopin prelude one by one, apparently according to their durations in the Argerich version. It lasts for nearly twenty-five minutes, about fifteen times the length of the original, which it effectively tranquilizes, for though we may be able to place a chord, there is no logical continuity and time is vastly slowed. The piece is appropriately given a title that makes it a homage to Cage’s last pieces. In ‘Black Wires’, whose title comes from a boyhood memory of Nabokov’s (this is a composer extraordinarily well versed in literature as well as the visual arts), an up-down moto perpetuo discovers elements of the original bit by bit, but only after the piece has begun with a nod to Ligeti’s Musica ricercata and run alongside Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre.

These shadows of other music – Saint-Saëns, Ligeti, Cage, and one might add Pärt in The Artist and his Model II – La Durée sans contacts s’affaiblit for string quartet, one of two compositions worked from the Debussy prelude – enrich the music just as much as do the mystery and surprise of allusions that are non-obvious or unexpected. Music being a time art, the effect of Beaudoin’s haunting string quartet is quite different from that of the visual works to which he refers: a Glenn Brown painting (reproduced on the booklet cover) and an André Kertesz photograph. The image is never fully present. It is gradually disclosed to us, and retracted, in a process that may make us feel we are at once inside the original, exploring its interior, and outside, glimpsing it within a world that is larger and strange.

The excellent performers are Mark Knoop and the Kreutzer Quartet.


I Care If You Listen

Theory and aesthetics in new music are two very, very different things. There’s what goes in to a piece of music, and there’s what comes out, and keeping the two a healthy distance apart has been the sensible option since 1908 at the latest. Music is for the listener, after all, and in a sense the question of (for instance) how Stravinsky constructed his Requiem matters precisely as little as whether or not the Monkees wrote their own songs. The complex machinations of the compositional process should never come to obscure a resulting piece of music’s aesthetic worth. At least, that’s the theory.

The more I’ve listened to Richard Beaudoin’s new pair of CDs Microtimings, the more I’ve started to take Beaudoin’s compositions as direct challenges to the argument above. The pieces have been constructed according to a very particular and rather strange procedure, and this procedure is, as far as I’m concerned, all but inseparable from the listening experience. Go on, the pieces seem to say: appreciate us without thinking about how we were made. Put the concept aside, and just listen to the music. You can’t, can you? No? OK then.

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Microtimings contains three multi-part works, scattered across the two CDs. Disc 1 is performed by pianist Mark Knoop, and Disc 2 by the Kreutzer Quartet. The Études d’un prélude are “based on a precise transcription of Martha Argerich’s 1975 recording of Chopin’s Prélude in E minor, Op. 28, no. 4.” The Artist and his Modeldoes something similar with Alfred Corot’s 1931 recording of Debussy’s “La fille aux cheveux de lin”, and nach Webern, nach Pollini uses Maurizio Pollini’s 1976 recording of the second movement of Webern’s Variations for Piano, Op. 27.

Approaches to the material vary. Étude d’un prélude I—Chopin desséché is a direct (piano) transcription of Argerich’s recording, simply slowed down and re-notated such that her minute rhythmic nuances and touches of rubato can be written in quavers and semiquavers. The “dessication” of which the title speaks results from only the initial attack of each note being sounded. The Artist and his Model II—La durée sans contacts s’affaiblit, for string quartet, does something similar: it slows the recording to a tenth of the original tempo but retains its detail precisely, even including the white noise.

Others are more convoluted in how they are manipulated, and the Webern/Pollini piece (all for piano) perhaps unsurprisingly draws a more abstracted approach.Movement I—Neuordnung nach Dauern retains Webern’s original rhythmic and dynamic cast for the movement, but “reorganizes all of Webern’s pitches according to their duration in Pollini’s recorded performance;” Movement III—Neuordnung nach Nautstärken does the same but with the notes’ volume rather than duration. Two of the Chopin/Argerich Études28four (for string quartet) and four28 (for piano) – do the same thing, or something similar, organizing material according to the duration of the recorded sounds.

A third category within these pieces includes those which have been composed rather more freely; that is, with fewer rules governing the precise placement of the notes. Oddly, though, these works are if anything more arcane than the others in terms of their structure and genesis, mostly being composed “after,” or “directly in response to,” or “as an analogue to” various paintings or photographs. I can do no better with Étude d’un prélude VIII—Kertész Distortion (for string quartet), for instance, than to quote the liner notes: the piece “was composed as an analogue to André Kertész’s photograph, ‘Distortion No. 172,’ made in Paris in 1933. The photograph is of a nude as seen in a curved mirror. The composition treats the Chopin-Argerich material in an analogous fashion, curving the time (and the pitch) just as Kertész’s mirror curved the light.” It’s a ludicrously specific and obscure brief, but the result is fascinating, and – when you’re listening for it, at any rate – you can really hear the Chopin prelude drift in and out of focus. It is, though, pretty much entirely dependent on an awareness of its concept, and attempting to listen to the work without thinking about how it is distorting its original is a very tough ask. It’s hence not just an aesthetically demanding listen: it’s also an intellectually demanding one, as it really necessitates at least an awareness of what the photograph in question is – as well, needless to say, as a more or less bar-by-bar knowledge of the Chopin prelude.

In other places, such vast amounts of necessary prior knowledge get in the way of appreciation. In the case of The Artist and his Model I—La fille floutée (for piano), the liner notes tell us only that “The piece owes a debt to Gerhard Richter’s 1994 painting ‘Lesende’.” Without being told more precisely how this debt is owed, the listening experience is an uncomfortable one; the piece is too close to the Debussy/Corot original to be appreciable as a standalone work, but too far from it to be a straight reinterpretation. And beyond the girl’s hair arguably being flaxen, the connection to Richter’s painting is simply not apparent. This problem is emblematic of what really gets in the way of the project overall: its processes are paraded so clearly as to provoke an unbecoming dependency on them. It isn’t altogether clear what anybody is meant to do with these pieces, beyond compare them to their various esoteric sources. these terms, though, it’s frequently a fascinating experience. I think the second CD, which is the Kreutzer Quartet’s, is the better one musically; the extra remove created by the switch of instrumentation gives Beaudoin’s pieces more room to breathe, and the effects and distortions he draws from the instruments create a thrillingly fleshed-out portrait of the various musicians and artists involved. But in terms of performance, Mark Knoop’s rendition of the piano works stands out more: even when he is essentially just channeling Argerich, he still finds room – somehow – for a fresh interpretative stance of his own, and this is a pianistic achievement of the highest order.

Sometimes the way the CD set presents the music is less than beneficial, and though it’s aesthetically beautiful and informative at times, there is a gap between the level of information which the music seems to demand and that which it actually gives. It’s also ludicrously finicky (“The first three movements of the [Second String Quartet, made up of four Chopin/Argerich pieces] may be performed separately, as individual works. However, 28four may only be performed as the finale of the complete quartet”). I also wonder whether buyers of this CD will be more likely to get that the title four28 “refers to the late pieces by John Cage,” as the notes inform us, or to be able to read four different languages, including ancient Greek, which are included in the booklet without translation.

But while this album is (for me anyway) something of a minefield of conceptual questions, it’s also vital listening for anyone at all interested in performance analysis, recomposition, or any of the three recordings on which the pieces are based. It’s also a masterclass, from the Kreuzer Quartet and especially Knoop, in how to perform rigorous music expressively. It left me a touch more respectful than convinced, but this is hardly an album for the mass markets, and on its own terms it’s an undoubted success. This is music you have to know about to understand, but if you can live with that, it’s worth it.

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