MATRA, US première

April 19th, 2014

The Kitchen, New York

International Contemporary Ensemble, Neuevocalsolisten Stuttgart, David Fulmer conductor


Cantata for vocal ensemble, instrumental ensemble and trio concertante

at MATA festival NYC

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.

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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!