terre thaemlitz writings

Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
- Terre Thaemlitz

Track description for remix of "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune," by Claude Debussy, published with the compilation Replay Debussy (Germany: Universal Music, 2002).


If Debussy is most commonly praised for his use of harmonic ambiguity, which was philosophically paralleled by such statements as, "There is no theory. You have merely to listen. Pleasure is the law," one may say that this project is also noteworthy for its ambiguity in asking Electroacoustic producers to reinterpret Classical music for a large company such as Universal Music. Given that much contemporary Electroacoustic audio claims a heritage in materialist philosophies (many related to Constructivism and other politically charged movements which developed in critical response to the Symbolists and Impressionists associated with Debussy), combined with this project's requirement that the original compositions must remain "recognizable for the listener at all stages (and) listenable till the end" without knowing the degree to which the target listening demographic is familiar with contemporary Electroacoustic audio, it is the boundaries of criticality within this very project which have become the predominant issue at hand. For those of you familiar with any of my projects dealing with issues of non-essentialist identity politics, you would be correct in assuming it is precisely because of these contradictions that I became involved with this project.

Debussy may be interpreted as both a hero and enemy of the contemporary Electroacoustic camp. On the one hand, Debussy's praise of the gramophone as a device capable of demystifying the art of audio performance parallels the assertions of software-based composers who cite the technologies they use as critical references to audio's distribution and reception through the mechanisms of post-Industrial Capitalism. On the other hand, the challenge of Debussy's critique was ultimately one of taste, falling short of any active transformation of the material conditions of production.

For this digital rearrangement of "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" I chose to treat the left and right channels as separate 'instruments' in an orchestra of two (symptomatic of today's standard 2-channel stereo). Structurally, one may draw some political symbolism between the 'Right' channel presenting a more complete and conservative treatment of the original source material, and the 'Left' channel presenting a treatment which is less restrictive yet always ultimately capitulating to the dominant context of the 'Right.' The emphasis on digital editing techniques over more abstract resynthesis procedures is intended as a momentary disassociation from the prescriptive nature of third-party audio software audible in most contemporary Electroacoustic music. However, I recognize my (and this project's) inability to operate outside of the contexts which facilitate the development of such technologies. Like Debussy's legacy, my attempt at critique is perhaps most informative when acknowledging its ineffectiveness.

- Terre Thaemlitz, November, 2001