(2007) - cantata for vocal ensemble, instrumental ensemble, trio concertante and electronics

Commissioned by Pro-Helvetia (Swiss Art Council)
Premiere: 12 Oct 2007 Festival Musica Strasbourg
Neuevocalsolisten Stuttgart, ICTUS ensemble
Suzie Fröhlich: Peatzold (contrabass) recorder
Rico Gübler: Tubax (contrabass saxophone)
Michael Schmid: bass flute
George-Elie Octors conductor





ICTUS dedicated page

Tantric Shivaism, Gnostic writings and De Rerum Natura by Lucretius are intertwined to sing in MATRA the endless dimensions of material life. The result is a long, exalted prayer (50 minutes) that pits smooth harmonies against turbulent yet concentrated rhythms and bursts of implosive energy.

Three layers of sound: the six members of Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart (three female voices and three male voices) project the often homorhythmically sung texts in a commendatory spirit with long echoes. The vocal style is rich of short and rapid ornaments (often linked to exhalation phenomenons) introducing musical phrases with glottal effects until they get engulfed by long and luminous chords. A cornucopia of "close harmonies", diatonic quasi-clusters that become brighter thanks to carefully balanced quarter-tones adorning the texture.

The instrumental ensemble is a breathing, spitting force of nature, weaving rhythms and punctuating the pace of things. Bianchi explored the theory of charkas: motion and circulation of energy underlies his conception of spirituality, a combination of labour and struggle. A few fine spectral chords at the woodwinds, conjuring up the sound of bells or gongs, as well as a transparent but unstable instrumental harmony, remind us that Bianchi studied with Tristan Murail at Columbia University. At the electric guitar: instrumental “bone fragments", lurking infrabass shadows, a few saturated textures... The young man is in tune with his time!

Lastly, a trio of low-register instruments — tubax (contrabass saxophone), contrabass Paetzold recorder, and bass flute —calls to mind the tireless inward-looking and inescapable flurry of Samsara, a place of ignorant passions (or of a passion for ignorance). We processed these three instruments with almost no reverb in contrast to the human voices. What a sweet sound for sore ears!


I discovered the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, an apogee of Indian religious philosophy, in my early twenties. I always promised myself that one day I would translate some of its text into sounds. Tantra talks about a dialogue between Devi and Shiva, focused on a series of fundamental questions: "O Shiva, what is your reality? What is this life beyond form, pervading forms? Let my doubts be cleared!" Shiva's answer is made of 112 sutras – which are 112 mediation techniques. Each reply is, in short, rooted into personal experience rather then passive learning. The emphasis is on truth as a process of existential achievement that is impossible to convey in literal terms.

Three of the 112 sutras in Vijnana-Bhairava Tantra form the lyrics of Matra. The texts of Maria Magdalena and Lucretius interact with the tantric writings. The affinities can be heard without any need to enforce a syncretic approach. The materialism of a non-believing poet-cum-scientist from the Roman epoch, such as Luctretius, should not be shocking at all, when paired alongside the quasi-Taoist message of the Gnostic Mary Magdalene.

Lucretius: In the end we are all derived from celestial seed; the sky is everybody's unique father. What once came from the earth returns to the earth. Death does not destroy by erasing body's matter, but by dissolving its union.

Mary Magdalene: Species, form, creature: everything exists within and with another and dissolves within its own roots because the essence of all matter is to dissolve in the roots of a single nature.


SECTION I: Physical body 2 0:00

Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, sutra n.72: Feel the cosmos as a translucent, ever-living presence

Composer's commentary _ This sutra beckons us towards an almost hallucinatory experience: a kind of framework. The idea is to picture the biggest thing you can imagine, and then something bigger and even bigger still—and then to feel it suddenly becoming familiar and intimate.

3 0:00

Lucretius - De Rerum Natura, versus 991: …Caelesti sumus omnes semine oriundi We are all sprung from celestial seed

Composer's commentary _ Evolutionary developmental biology backs this intuition: one or two fundamental genetic structures represent the basic system governing the animal kingdom. Remarkably, some genes lose their organic function over time to take on an aesthetic one. In the case of the butterfly, the gene governing leg growth in certain insects becomes the gene producing multicoloured spots on the wings.

3 7:59

Mary Magdalene Gospel, n.27: God came into your midst, to the essence of every nature in order to restore it to its root.

SECTION II: Astral body (N.B. The original score has tree movements, the second of which features the "ethereal body". As that movement is not included in the recording, II is designated as the final movement.)

4 2:56

Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, sutra n.67: Here is the sphere of change, change, change… Through change consume change.

Composer's commentary _ The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra first of all undertakes a groundbreaking study on the issue of change, the passing of the time, and mutation. The only way to transcend change is nowhere else than within change itself. Not by clinging on it, or by avoiding it, but rather by moving inside it, it will be consumed by itself. Some individual cling to the world of change, and some seek to escape it. This sutra offers a third possibility: by floating within the change, the change itself will be transcended, as it will appear that there is a centre that never changed and has always been the same.

4 8:56

Vigyan Bhairav Tantral, excerpt from the first question Devi put to Shiva, resulting in the 112 sutras O Shiva, what is your reality? What is this life beyond form pervading forms? Let my doubts be cleared!

French Version --------------------------------

MATRA Ma rencontre avec le Vijnana-Bhairava Tantra,l'un des sommets de la philosophie religieuse indienne, remonte à des années. Je me suis alors promis qu'un jour je traduirais en musique une partie de son message. Cette transposition commence avec Matra, une oeuvre d'environ cinquante minutes qui entend incarner et véhiculer ce type d'expérience: une compréhension des questions existentielles fondamentales fondée sur l'expérience individuelle. Dans les textes du Vijnana-Bhairava Tantra, Devi pose à Shiva une série de questions fondamentales:

O Shiva, quelle est ta réalité?
Quel est cet univers plein de merveille?
Qu'est-ce qui constitue la semence?
Qui tient l'axe central de la roue universelle?
Quelle est cette vie au-delà de la forme qui pénètre les formes?
Comment y accéder pleinement, par delà espace et temps, noms et descriptions?
Clarifie mes doutes!

Shiva répond par 112 soutras, ou techniques. Quand une réponse arrive, elle ne procède donc pas du savoir d'autrui de préférence aux écritures religieuses ; elle est fille de l'expérience personnelle, c'est-à-dire de la méditation sur cette technique. L'accent est donc mis sur l'expérience individuelle et sur la conscience du fait que la vérité est un processus individuel, impossible à transmettre littéralement. En effet, au-delà de l'objet, cette vérité n'est pas un savoir mais un état de l'être.

Trois des cent douze soutras du Vijnana-Bhairava Tantra forment les textes de la cantate Matra. Les textes de Marie de Magdala et de Lucrèce s'entrelacent avec les précédents pour affermir un message fondamentalement commun sans aucune volonté syncrétique.

L'oeuvre se divise en trois sections et à trois niveaux de lecture. Le premier, textuel, véhicule trois Soutras, un par section avec des extraits de l'Evangile de Marie de Magdala et du De Rerum Natura de Lucrèce. Le deuxième niveau représente symboliquement la structure des sept corps (système commun à de nombreuses philosophies et médecines orientales) selon laquelle l'homme connaît et perçoit l'existence grâce à sept centres différents (dans Matra on trouve les trois premiers, définis comme corps physique, éthéré et astral). Le troisième niveau, spécifiquement musical, transmet une expérience qui dépasse le dicible. Il revendique une autonomie, une vérité intrinsèque cachée dans la force évocatrice du son, une authenticité a priori. La cantate Matra a donc un objectif polysémantique, pour que les trois niveaux, musical, textuel et symbolique, communiquent et s'interpénètrent.

Sur le plan musical, l'ensemble vocal incarne le dialogue, à la fois comme message et représentation du message. En solo et/ou en ensemble choral, la voix est à la fois message et messager, qui communique mais qui exprime aussi une matière, une épaisseur. L'ensemble instrumental est le soubassement de tout l'ensemble. Dans l'évolution de l'expérience musicale de la cantate, il se présente comme corps et résonateur du message vocal. Le trio concertant, composé de trois instruments relativement inusités (flûte basse, flûte à bec contrebasse - flûte Paetzold - et saxophone contrebasse) assure une troisième dimension, une sorte d'air chargé de gravité, à mi-chemin entre les instruments et la voix, doté de son autonomie, tantôt pour conduire tantôt pour unir les deux ensembles. Presque un choeur grec transfiguré tant par la nature abstraite des sons qu'il produit que par la perspective particulière que lui confère sa situation dans l'effectif orchestral.

Cypres press release


  • October 12th, 2007

    MATRA, excerpt

  • September 23rd, 2012

    excerpts, live

    Video: Paolo Santagostino

  • March 24th, 2012

    interview Sub Rosa label, Jean-Luc Plouvier


  • Matra

    preview For info please contact UNIVERSAL

Concerts & events

Press Clippings

  • April 21st, 2014

    New York Times

    ...Meshing Talents for a Dense and Strenuous Sound... ...Mr. Bianchi is fond of extremes. Some of them — the quarter tones produced by the singers, the bottom notes played on the Paetzold recorder — melt into the gray zone where human hearing gives way to a more visceral perception of air in motion. The division between rhythm and harmony also begins to blur as the sound waves of sustained close harmonies combine into an audible pulse. In “Matra” sound is above all matter, the bubbling, sputtering, trembling coming-into-being of sound as viscous and dense.

  • October 16th, 2007

    Offenburger Tageblatt

    ...astonishingly subtle sound jorney...outstanding acting soloinstruments...

  • June 5th, 2014

    The Brooklin Rail

    ....Bianchi’s Matra proved to be an exercise in circular motion, and a study of the forces of nature that compose matter. The performance included moments of smooth harmony which, juxtaposed against the dense rhythms and visceral outbursts of energy, created a beating pulse that represented the cycle of human life. Bianchi’s tireless and passionate composition, although at times demanding and a challenge to fully comprehend, was a triumph.