1968 HUANTAN for organ and wind orchestra

Huantan (1968), for organ and wind orchestra, is the first work I composed after completing my conservatory studies. It was created, therefore, away from the watchful eyes of my teacher, Ton de Leeuw. Not only that, I was in Paris at the time, having lived there from September 1967 until the infamous student riots of 1968. This beautiful and imposing metropolis made an indelible impression on my development as a person and as an artist. The most conspicuous evidence of this influence rests undoubtedly in my cosmopolitan bent: every trace of parochial interest and ambition was quickly eradicated. It was the time in which Xenakis’ star had reached its zenith, and I missed no opportunity to be in attendance wherever the great master or his music were even remotely involved. Other French composers (Henry, Barraqué, Bayle, Amy, Mâche, etc.) tried to join the Xenakis bandwagon, but only Messiaen’s sanctuary was any match for the violence of Xenakis’ brutal originality and the determination of his prophet, Maurice Fleuret. Paris practically belonged to Xenakis (and Jean-Louis Barrault, of course). It is no surprise, then, that Huantan exhibits all the hallmarks of my youthful infatuation with Xenakis.

Another influence is no less present, although it could have been inherited from Xenakis: my preoccupation with ‘space’. This stems from my earliest childhood, when for the first time my mother took me to the church where my father was organist and conductor. The roar of the organ, filling every nook and cranny of the church, flooded my small innocent ears. My impressionable curiosity soaked up many an acoustic phenomenon since, that would arise during a Catholic service.

The concept of ‘space’ took on a whole new dimension when I came into contact, via Xenakis, with mathematical theories concerning space, particularly the concept of ‘vector space’. This is the definition of a phenomenon – in this case a state of music – in a single homogeneous description that sums up and connects all its aspects as dimensions of an imaginary space. These dimensions can be seen as variables, each with its own characteristics, and the degree of their mutual interdependence is an intriguing problem that struck me as profoundly relevant to music. In cybernetics, then a secondary branch of mathematics, the concept was applied to a great variety of phenomena – from the design of computers to the study of biological systems, in particular with regard to ‘feedback’.

In Huantan I explored both aspects of ‘space’: the wind orchestra is spread over four corners of the church or concert hall, providing opportunities for quadraphonic movements of sound. Clockwise rotations occur in various rhythms and speeds, but also more complex spatial effects have been incorporated. The organ can be seen as the focus, or core, of the teeming masses of sound, not as the central persona in a concerto: Huantan is not an organ concerto!

The aspect of ‘musical vector space’ is systematically addressed for the first time, albeit in a primitive manner, in the organ part. As a four-dimensional space it runs through all the permutations the system allows, but limited by a rule never to repeat a combination of any of the vector parameter values. This approach generated a series of 72 clearly-distinct musical sections, strung together on the basis of a registration plan. The wind orchestra’s music is woven through and around this river of sound. The construction of the organ part is a precursor of Heterostase (1980/81).

Note: an arrangement of the organ part for three organs was made in 2006 for a performance of Huantan in Het Orgelpark in Amsterdam by students of the Amsterdam Conservatory in April 2007.