In 1964, the year he joined to the Lettriste group, Alain Satié composed about twenty generally short "lettries," several of which were published that year in the journal Psi, and in a special issue of Encres vives dedicated to the new Lettriste poetry school. These first works burst forth with a shocking concentrated interior line, something their author would continue to develop.
Compositions such as L'Espagnol électrique, Le gladiateur, Le portuguais, Le samouraï, Pouh, Le Roumain, Pithécanthropus érectus no. 2 L'orthodoxe repenti, etc. astounded by their allure and the simplicity of their cadence. Using the rediscovered physiological rhythm of life (heart beats), they unfolded in varied, frequently isochronic successions of extremely elaborate auditory components, from repeated alternating sonorities to dense agglomerations of sound, some short, some sustained.
The material is made up of long and short frequencies--where silences return to prepare the ear for contradictory sounds--that are generally incisive, almost aggressive, and in this sense they correspond to the themes of compositions such as Le gladiateur, Le mercenaire, and so forth. These thematic pretexts are not just by chance; for instance, in Le mercenaire ("The Soldier of Fortune") they justify the integration of violent and hard sounds such as whistles, shouts, or repeated gun shots.
Even when these basically reductive works sometimes bring in a chorus, such as the seven voices in Le Portugais électrique, or superimposed repetitions, as in Le samouraï, they never stray far from the economy of means best illustrated by the Ballade de sons, with its reduced means dominated by the o, i, and s, as well as various non-alphabetic letters.
This culture of dissonance reaches its highest intensity with the poem titled Objets hétéroclites , also from 1964, which is composed only of 13 curious sounds, exhibited at random, one after the other, and which are like as many new letters tossed out with no concern for their relation to each other. This is the case also with Le gladiateur, in which another sort of material is used, and the sounds bump into each other and cling together as if fighting in a neutral rhythm, punctuated only twice by clapping hands and stamping feet. Here - and in general in all of Satié's musical and poetic work - rhythm is not based on passion or interior tension, but rather is a more or less symmetrical assemblage of sound motifs. This corresponds to another realm where Satié has been very active: the artist's visual hypergraphic work, where in the static elegance of his canvases there is a crystalline configuration of regularly juxtaposed signs.
In a general way, Alain Satié's distinctive sound works aim at the unification of the diverse, and the concordance of discord. They are reductionist, introducing repeated structures which, through composing monotone series of iambs and trochees, draw attenion away from the general to display the inner harmony in the details.
In 1964 and going into 1965, pursuing this patient construction phoneme by phoneme, the composer produced another series of five pieces. In these the rhythm is the most notable thing. They are musical scores displayed typographically: their elements, arranged in squares, in L-shapes or in criss-crossing diagonals, suggest repertoires of sounds through which the poems can be interpreted. These works are always to be read from left to right, by successive horizontal layers. With subtlety and chance amid long periods of silence, they evoke concentrated phonemes which become frankly hermetic - on the verge of the inaudible - when they are superimposed through meeting by chance on the lines of the grid.
This original process culminated in Mes deux seins et docteurs, which was to apprear in 1967 in the journal Psi, in issue no. 4, which never came out.
Other compositions in this group imposed rigorous isosyllabic rhythms, made up of an equal number of syllables, equal in length and stripped of accentuation, which to some extent left the performer with the task of varying the expression by placing the accent on one sign or another as he or she wished.
It is impossible to discuss all the works that Satié composed during this period, but one should note Entassements (1964). It is organized in seventeen lines, of twenty-three letters each, divided into four verses of unequal length, which fulfills the formal preoccupations of this author by making use of polyautomatism. Alain Satié would return a few years later to unconscious rhythm, to compose a similarly rich work in five vertical columns, entitled Pour s'élever jusqu'à Dieu (1970).
Naturally such an exploration would only lead the author to compose several mono-lettries, such as Le Russe, Le cimetière enterré, L'amoureux, (this latter composed in 1964 and published in 1966 by ELH Editions) and Variations autour d'un phonème (1966), in which he achieved an extreme trituration of his unique sound expressions.
Starting with the end of 1965, Alain Satié produced less sound poetry, but the few works completed were longer and more explicit. For instance Bande de beatniks (1965), published in the journal NGL no. 6, and Question de formalités (1967), are characterized by the systematic repetition of the same lettric term at the beginning of each line, with a response to each one of these by longer expositions in diverse expressions. In Bande de beatniks, for example, there are infinite variations on the sounds in the word "cheveux," hair.
During this period also, Psi Editions published two long poems in separate volumes, representing the highest achievement of this sound poet: Cela va sans dire (It goes without saying) in 1969, and Pour ainsi dire (So to speak) in 1970. These two works sum up Satié's past contributions, introducing different types of isochronic periodicities, obtained by the repetition of identical elements, recalling the anapestic cadence of a forge, where two short blows follow one strong one.
The works in this style are veritable incantations: their rhythms and their repeated sonorities seek to create in the listener a magical or quasi-magical state of ecstasy.
In 1970, Alain Satié created a new form for the art of verse, called controlled and returned infinity, which he applied to the compositions &Ougrave; meurent les glands (published in the journal Lignes créatrices, no.2, 1971), and Sur le pont d'Avignon (in La Novation no. 5/6, 1977). These two "esthapéïriste" poems (calling on the infinite possibilities of the imagination) use fragments of Latin phrases to suggest impossible sonorities to text-lovers, while the visual, hypergraphic elements, spread here and there, serve as a leit-motif to invite the reader to discover a specific concept which is intended to lead the sound-lover in a different direction.
This poetic and musical work, based on the letter and the infinite, is far from being a closed system, but by its richness and original qualities, hopes to lead to even more astounding creations.
November 30, 1978
Translated by David W. Seaman
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