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Le Noir de l’Étoile: TimeTable Percussion, Talujon, Saint Peter’s Church, New York City, 25.1.2011 (BH)

: Le Noir de l’Étoile (Black of the Star) (1989-1990)


TimeTable Percussion and Talujon:

Ian Antonio

Matthew Gold

Chris Graham

Alex Lipowski

Michael Lipsey

Matt Ward


Imagine, for a moment, observing and receiving transmissions from pulsars, the distant neutron stars that emit electromagnetic radiation. Then consider monitoring the pulses, and figuring out a way to translate them live, into sound, as the genesis of a piece of music. In 1985, composer Gérard Grisey met Joe Silk, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who introduced Grisey to the sounds of these distant phenomena. I wonder if Silk had any idea that this meeting would inspire the composer to attempt to harness this bit of nature. Thus, Le Noir de l’Étoile was born, one of Grisey’s last scores—and one in which he reaches far into the universe, using it as an extra instrument with six percussionists and magnetic tape. (Conceivably, with the right equipment, the piece could be performed with the sounds of the pulsars occurring in real time, but here the transmissions were recorded earlier.)

For this performance, by Talujon and TimeTable Percussion (presented by Chamber Players of the League/ISCM), Saint Peter’s Church, located near the Citicorp Building, was an astute choice. The church’s sanctuary is roughly square, allowing the musicians to be placed against the walls, with the audience in the center. As the lights darkened, the voice of French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet flickered to life over loudspeakers—a sort of James Earl Jones for the spectral set—and on tape, transmissions from the Vela and 0359-54 pulsars, captured by a radio-telescope in Nançay, located in central France.

The music ranges from quiet, silvery passages to some moments when one might feel almost clobbered by the sound; massive bursts alternate with clouds of uncertain sonic origin, and Grisey wrote much of the work to take advantage of the spatial layout of the players. At times the six musicians play simultaneously; at others, single drumbeats fall like stars. Sometimes the texture rises up on all sides; at others it circles around the room, as if giant aircraft are rumbling before takeoff. And the clipped sounds of the pulsars are slightly unnerving—like some kind of giant astral hawks, rapidly flapping their wings.

The superb musicians—Ian Antonio, Matthew Gold, Chris Graham, Alex Lipowski, Michael Lipsey, and Matt Ward—seemed completely immersed in the experience, and for once, the word “experience” seems entirely accurate—not hyperbole—as the rattling and gongs ricocheted around the room, fusing with frantic throbs being generated by the pulsars. For much of the time, it felt as if we were being temporarily plugged into the cosmos, perhaps being subjected to some kind of unknown experiment being directed from beyond our atmosphere. At the end of the hour, one friend called the experience, “terrifying,” and although I felt similarly, I would also add, “and exhilarating.”

Bruce Hodges


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