Près UK
Kaija Saariaho - 1992

Près for solo cello and electronics emerged at the same time as Arners, a concerto for cello and chamber orchestra. The musical material in the two works is to a large extent the same, but it is used in very different ways, and in terms of form and dramatic structure the pieces are strikingly different. The only identical elements are certain passages for the solo instrument and a few of the electronic materials. Both works were produced at IRCAM and the electronic component is very important in each case; in Près the electronics continue and expand the musical gestures of the solo instrument in many different directions.

Près is in three movements. The first movement concentrates on a rather linear texture in which the cello part is sometimes fused with the synthetic sounds. This material is based on recordings I made with Anssi Karttunen and have subsequently either analysed and used as the starting point for the work's harmony and sound synthesis, or transformed in various ways. The synthetic element is realised using resonant filters that also operate in real time in the later movements, where the cello sound is modified on a music workstation developed at IRCAM.

As a whole the electronic element consists of synthetic sounds, modified cello sounds stored in the computer and real-time sound processing. This latter element has made use of resonating filters and different types of delay, space-filtering, and transposing techniques. The programming work was realised by Xavier Chabot and Jean-Baptiste Barrière at IRCAM.

The title of the work links it to its sister-work Arners, a nautical term for leading marks or landmarks, and also to Paul Gauguin's painting By the Sea; and hence to the experience of the sea itself and waves, their different rhythms and sounds stormy weather and calms. In other words: material, wave shapes, rhythmic figures, timbres. The charging up of the music and the ultimate release of that charge.

Près is dedicated to Anssi Karttunen, with whose collaboration I completed the piece, and who gave the first performance in Strasbourg on 11 November 1992.