It was in the summer of ’83 that I had the idea of composing a piece inspired by Japanese Gagaku music. I was in the middle of an intense period of production, playing concerts every night. Early in the morning I would get home, tired and stressed-out, somewhat dissatisfied and yet oddly invigorated. To wind down, I would listen to the only record I had of Gagaku music that I had at that time (I have found better ones since then!). I had the impression that this music literally “healed me” and that it gave me hope that “everything” still made sense.

Gagku means “elegant music”. It is a style of music that appeared around the 8th century in Japan. I asked myself if I could create, in my own manner, a similarly noble and calm ceremonial music, one of the slowest musics in the world. This idea became the Confitures de gagku.

I chose the title because I thought the word “gagku” would be more evocative of some kind of strange wild, exotic fruit, rather than a piece of Japanese classical music, and I also liked the idea of a “confiture”, a mixture, the idea of composition, preservation, of tradition and improvisation. In English, the word “confiture” is often translated as “jam” (which musicians use to mean “improvise”), as well as “preserve.”

Gagaku music inspired me on many levels with this work, notably with the instrumentation, the placement of the different groups, and the ceremonial character of the music, but I also did research in other sources, especially the book La pensée chinoise (“The Chinese Mind”), by Marcel Granet, which was very helpful. I was fascinated to discover the world of ancient Chinese philosophy, principally the Taoist calendars, which were based on magic squares, dividing the year into 5 seasons, with each season being attributed a different emotion, colour, sound, part of the body, etc. Interestingly, the 5th season is the centre of the year the time of harvests and abundance, which is perceived to be the equilibrium point between the “yin” and the “yang”.

Confitures de gagku follows the course of the “Taoist” year, beginning with the noisy exuberance of birth and descending progressively into cold and death. Quite a programme! …well, basically it is the story of each of our lives.

The work was composed in 1986 with the financial assistance of the Ministère des Affaires Culturelles du Québec, des Événements de la Pleine Lune and Danse-Cité, hosted by the dancer Daniel Soulières. In fact, the original version of the piece was presented for a 10-night run with 11 musicians, 4 dancers, still images projected on to two screens on each side of the orchestra and, in the centre, a third screen which projected for the first time the magnificent live hand-drawn animation on film by the film-maker Pierre Hebert. I’ll say it again — quite a programme!

The texts used come from a variety of sources: the first was written by Jean Dubuffet and is taken from his pamphlet: Asphyxiante culture, the follow-up of Tao-Tö-King of Lao Tseu, other texts came from anthologies of Japanese haiku, and others from the book We Do Not Work Alone by Japanese writer Kanjiro Kawai. In 1988, Confitures de gagaku was released as one of the first records on the VICTO label, run by Michel Levasseur and associated with the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville.

I would like to whole-heartedly thank Tim Brady, who gave me a very pleasant surprise when he suggested that we perform the piece 20 years after its initial creation. I am very proud to present the work at the Festival MNM with Bradyworks along with 6 of the musicians who performed in the original performances in 1988.

Jean Derome [xi-08]