Jean-Louis Florentz: Ethiopian music into spectralism

Sholl, Robert (2019) Jean-Louis Florentz: Ethiopian music into spectralism. In: Amercian Musicological Society Conference, 30 October - 3 November 2019, Boston, Mass., USA. (Unpublished)

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Jean Louis Florentz (1947-2004) was in Messiaen’s class of 1971-72 with Grisey, Murail and Levinas (Boivin 1995: 428). While his early works Madbaru and Ti-ndé were performed under the auspices of L’Itinéraire (in 1976 and 1977), references to spectralism in his own (mostly unpublished) writings and by commentators are almost absent (Florentz, 1993; Anderson, 2000; Fineburg, 2000), including Michel Bourcier’s recent monographs (Bourcier, 2018). After Messiaen’s class, Florentz forged a different path from his fellows, recording musical sources in Africa and the Middle East. But it was from Ethiopian liturgical music that Florentz created his own unique style of spectral thought.

This paper uses unpublished material (Florentz, 1995) to show how African music was translated, codified and deployed in Florentz’s Laudes (1985) for organ where spectral music embodies a form of ecstatic Christian apocalypticism. I demonstrate how spectralism is an ingredient of what Florentz thought of as “hospitality” in his modes and as a “mask” and a “contact” with its Ethiopian origins (Florentz, 1995). I show how Florentz derives his system of 31 pentaphonic modes from Ethiopian music (and from his own ethnographic recordings) with reference to the natural resonance of the harmonic spectrum in a manner complementary to that of Messiaen. I examine how Florentz’s spectral thinking employs the technology of the organ to promote fantasy harmonics, and inculcate what he calls “harmonic vibratos” and the harmonics produced by airplane reactors into Laudes as a Florentzian form of spectral inharmonicism.

Florentz thought of his contact with African music as a form of religious/ethnographic “ecumenical” synthesis (Florentz 1995) connecting what the ethnomusicologist Peter Wade, referring to diasporas, has called “the outliers and the origin” (Wade, 2008: 41). Mode, I argue, functions as an “origin” for spectral imaginative deployment that challenges binaries of inside/outside, normative and ‘other’. I defer from Barbara Browning’s biological metaphor of contagion, which implies a lack of control (Browning 1998) to examine Florentz’s spectralism as “cultural translation” (Pym, 2014) and as a pervasive spice in his music that creates an open conduit between the composer’s imagination, source material, their musical reformation, and the listener.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Music > Musicology
Depositing User: Robert Sholl
Date Deposited: 17 Dec 2019 19:48
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:12

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