Laconisme de l’aile

Kaija Saariaho

Naomi Johnson – flute
Andrew Aronowicz – electronics
25th November, 2013
Melba Hall, The University of Melbourne

The flute’s privileged position as darling of the early twentieth-century composer has only continued to grow as musical vocabulary expands increasingly in the direction of extended techniques. Without the limits of a vibrating reed, the instrument allows for an incredibly diverse sonic landscape through the use of breathy tones, fluttering, percussive tonguing and vocalisations, with these ‘effects’ now an indispensible and exciting part of the flute’s musical language.

It is certainly this versatility of expression that draws Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho to the flute, for which she has now written several solo works. Laconisme de l’aile (Laconism of the Wing) explores the use of breath and vocalisation, making use of live electronics to expand the flute’s sound still further. The player begins with the slow recitation of a poem by Saint-John Perse, which morphs into the instrumental line with a sense of great space created through the oscillation between measured and unmeasured playing. It is on this threshold between flute and voice that much of the work sits, demanding that the performer engage with their distinct vocal timbres in the form of speech and singing. This aspect of the performance has prompted some to suggest a highly gendered reading of Laconisme, asserting that such an intense focus on the lips is a reference to and exploration of female sexuality.

The optional electronics extend the flute’s sound in two directions, and are adjusted through the course of performance rather than pre-programmed. The harmoniser function adds microtonal pitch shifts to the flute line, resulting in the feeling of an increased density or plurality of colour, while reverb allows the sound to linger beyond its natural duration. This is music constantly experimenting with instability, almost as if the flautist traverses an aural hall of mirrors in search of the elusive wind for her wings.

Ignorants de leur ombre, et ne sachant de mort que ce qui s’en consume d’immortel au bruit lointain des grandes eaux, ils passent, nous laissant, et nous ne sommes plus les mêmes. Ils sont l’espace traversé d’une seule pensée.

Saint-John Perse

Ignorant of their shadow, and knowing of death only that immortal part which is consumed by the distant clamour of great waters, they pass, leaving us, and we are no longer the same. They are space, crossed with a single thought.