Faculty of Music – University of Toronto, Canada
This paper presents a comparative recording analysis of the seminal work for solo percussion Rebonds (Iannis Xenakis, 1989), in order to demonstrate how performances of a musical work can reveal—or even create—aspects of musical structure that score-centered analysis cannot easily illuminate. I analyze ten recordings of Rebonds across multiple musical and performance parameters: tempo, instrument choice and tuning (pitch), accent interpretation, and grouping. I also focus on two passages in the work where a faithful adherence to the score is, while technically possible, rarely undertaken. Through this comparative study of tempo, pitch, accent, grouping, and score fidelity, I reflect on the following ontological questions. What does a pluralistic, dynamic conception of structure look like for Rebonds? How do variegated interpretive decisions cast performers as creators of musical structure? When performances diverge from the score in the omission of notes, the softening of accents, the insertion of dramatic tempo changes, or the altering of entire passages, do conventions that arise out of those performance practices become part of the structural fabric of the work? Are these conventions thus part of the Rebonds “text”?
Kanach (2010) characterizes the performance of Xenakis’s music in terms of a “negotiation” between his immensely challenging scores and their interpreters. Such negotiations appeal to an analytical approach that foregrounds interpretations as agents in actualizing the “structural affordances” (Cook 2013) of Xenakis’s compositions. I interpret “structural affordances” as a departure from a singular, monolithic conception of structure, that is, the structure of a musical work. Leong (2016) explores “how the composer harnesses instrumental and physical limitations to create structure” . In the case of Rebonds, I demonstrate how it is the performers who harness instrumental and physical limitations to create structure by responding to a score that exposes these limitations. I thus understand musical structure as a pluralistic concept; the sum of any number of actualizations of a musical score, replete with its structural affordances.
In Rebonds, Xenakis composed a score rife with structural affordances. The approximate tempo markings in both of the work’s movements afford a wide latitude of interpretation; some performers choose to extend this latitude to other sections of the piece, opting against maintaining a steady tempo throughout. By virtue of instrument selection and tuning, performers navigate the pitch domain by creating structure out of pitch contour and stratification. Accents, an omnipresent fixture in Rebonds, may seem integral to the work’s structure, but their frequent omission in performance call this assumption into question. And finally, through drum tuning choices, accents, and dynamics (which are not printed in the score), performers are able to create structure through grouping and phrase. In Rebonds, the score is the arena in which negotiations between composer and performer take place; negotiations through which structure is created. Using interpretations as an entry point to the analysis of a work encourages the situation of that work as a living, evolving object.
Keywords: Analysis and performance, Recording, Musical structure
Ben Duinker is a Canadian music theorist and percussionist. His doctoral dissertation focused on metric and rhythmic aspects of hip-hop flow and was awarded the 2020 SMT-40 dissertation fellowship by the Society for Music Theory. Duinker has published articles in the journals Empirical Musicology Review, Music Theory Online, Popular Music, and his work on segmentation and phrasing in hip-hop flow is forthcoming in Music Theory Spectrum. He received a PhD in Music Theory and Master of Music Performance from McGill University, and presently holds a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship for research in music analysis and performance at the University of Toronto. Duinker maintains a parallel career as a percussionist and chamber musician, regularly touring, recording, and commissioning new works.