Canada : Rodney Graham


In Rodney Graham's musical compositions, as with many of his literary projects, we are caught in a continuum of interpolation and extended time. Though still in motion we seem hardly to advance. Temporal tropes multiply duration and foreground detail: an ongoing sequence of presents.

Most simply, Parsifal 1882-38,969,364,735 is an extended variation on a brief musical interlude composed in 1882. For the premiere performance of Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal, a sequence of nine bars was added to the original music (Wagner's 24-bar sequence for the hero's ascent) by Wagner's assistant, Englebert Humperdinck, to accommodate scenery changes as Parsifal approaches the Temple of the Holy Grail. The resulting loop of 33 bars was to be repeated as often as necessary to synchronize music with action on stage.

Following Humperdinck's principle, Graham supplemented the supplement by introducing a system of internal epicycles to open up and stretch the original score. Prime numbers were assigned to each of the fourteen playing instruments, to calculate their number of repetitions per bar and number of interpolated rests, so that the resulting phases would grow increasingly asynchronous and increasingly lengthy. In this scheme, the orchestra will rejoin its original configuration after nearly 39 billion years.

Like many other "logical extensions," the results are unlikely. While the work's "completion date" has been calculated to Monday 18 June, A.D. 38,969,364,735, Alan H. Batten of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics points out, in a letter to Graham, that even if the universe were still to exist so far in the future, the lengths of Earth's day and year would certainly have changed, making any such date quite meaningless. Clearly intrigued by Graham's project, however, he suggests that "the 'opera' would transcend the whole life of the universe itself and is, in some sense, eternal."

Graham has revisited Parsifal several times. He published a single signature for the musical score in an edition of 12 in 1989, then incorporated it in a rotating display unit as Reading Machine for Parsifal. One Signature, in 1992. In 1889-90, Parsifal. Transformation Music (Act 1). With E. Humperdinck's Supplement No. 90. The Latter Transcribed from the Original Manuscript and the Whole Typeset According to the Artist's Specifications, was produced in 12 volumes, in a display case designed by Jan Vercruysse, and also as single volumes with or without the case. In 1990, Parsifal 1882-38,969,364,735 was exhibited in Cologne at Galerie Johnen & Schottle as an installation work with computer, synthesizer, amplifiers and 14 speakers, and the same year the musical score was published by that gallery in a folded Standard Edition. In 1991 a compact disc of Verwandlungsmusik (Transformation Music) was published by Espace Art Contemporain in Saint-Étienne (France), as orchestral highlights from the expanded Parsifal, followed by a deluxe edition in 1992 with a binding by Pierre Thielen. And finally, Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit, stones engraved with a phrase from the Parsifal libretto in an edition of five, was produced in 1993.

Ironically, the very "romance" of medieval inspiration for Wagner, his reliance on Nordic myths and lush chromatic harmonies, is redefined in Graham's construction by selection and fragmentation, excerpting and repetition of elements until the original grandiloquence is merely suggested, its undercurrent of passion now tamed by mathematics.

In the work of Rodney Graham there is great pleasure in order and detail, in minutiae taken into account. Music is a fertile source for him: invisible, ordered, historical but also present. Each performance is an extended now, vigilant.


Peggy Gale



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