Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

The one thing I cannot find Collapsologie specifically mentions is
pandemic, unlike civilizational collapse which does (the Black Death, for
example). What Julien Chirol’s and Pierre-Eric Sutter’s Requiem pour les temps futur is, however, is a reinvention of the
requiem after this apocalypse.

Although Chirol and Sutter use a conventional requiem, the inspiration
behind the libretto is an influential book by Pablo Servigne published in
2015, Comment tout peut s’effondrer along with his more recent
work, N’ayez pas peur du collapse allied with the traditional
Latin mass. It could almost be a manifesto for Extinction Rebellion and
today’s ecological or climate emergency but Chirol and Sutter have already
advanced beyond the theory into what they now imagine the future reality is
at least from a compositional viewpoint. There is no attempt here to hide
the textualizing of a liturgical work by using a philosophical concept as
Henze might have done; nevertheless, the contrast between its two entities
– music and text – remain striking.

The premise behind Requiem pour les temps futur, as described by
the composers, is that in a world where humanity has been decimated who
will sing and from where will the beauty of the human voice come? Their
answer is Artificial Intelligence. That isn’t exactly what we get here
because it seems to be a hybrid form of fresh and raw human voices and
synthetic generated ones, though often they are fused together into a
blended form but as art it is close enough.

Clearly Requiem pour les temps futur upends what we think a
requiem is though we have been here before: Bussotti’s Rara Requiem (itself part of a larger work, Lorenzaccio)
with its phonemes and frenzy of sound, Zimmermann’sRequiem f¸r einen jungen Dichter, or Nono’s Y entonces comprendio, for example. But though Chirol and Sutter
are subversive, the slogan “No Future” which blazes across the booklet
doesn’t perhaps in the end warrant the anarchic or punk credentials of a
work that doesn’t radicalise what it is proposing.

Relying on Manuel Poletti’s IRCAM for help in synthesizing the voices of
the splendidly named l’ArmÈe des Douze Sages – a slightly shadowy,
predominantly male chorus whose only information is given in their
Christian names – it is undeniably difficult to distinguish between what is
real and what is not. There may be advantages to having a libretto in Latin
– even if that language itself is rooted in a collapsed past rather than a
new future. The astonishing clarity and precision of the phrasing seems to
have been heightened by synthesis, certainly more so than one would
experience in either a live performance or a normal studio recording, but I
think this is what you would expect of electronic interventionism. What is
also particularly noticeable are the spatial dimensions but are these any
different from music composed in this form in the late 1950s by
Stockhausen, or by Musique concrËte which can trace its origins even
further back to the 1920s and 1930s and to Pierre Schaeffer in the 1940s?
It’s entirely probable that what AI in music is isn’t a paradigm shift but
an inevitable modification of the past.

The music of this requiem – and it is played by a classical orchestra, even
if it is acoustically processed – is both occidental and oriental. Although
there is some spectral, even ethereal writing, I’m not sure AI always does
this well; or, perhaps Requiem pour les temps futur is simply
meant to sound as tense and dramatic through its seventy minutes as it
does. That collapsed past, of music which sounds so archaeologically
distant, seems almost cinematic at the opening of the ‘Introitus’ – the
Latin ‘requiem’ an eerie mirror to the Arabic intonations of the collapsed
past you hear in the excavation scene from The Exorcist. Western
harps and strings and traditional Hindustani and eastern instruments unite
two cultures throughout the work, geometrically laid out on a musical axis
that embraces the classical and the artificial.

Is it spiritual? Essentially not, but there are many requiems which are
not. AI by definition is synthetic, and we have robotic choristers, three
soloists (a soprano, tenor and baritone) but that doesn’t mean this
performance is tone deaf or drained of colour. Much is implied in the
orchestration and there is a rotating balance in the choral writing either
in l’ArmËe des douze sages between genders, despite the mystery of the
chorus, or elsewhere. There are parts of this work that have huge power –
the close of the ‘Dies Irae’ with its shattering climax, the close of the
‘Libera me’ or the organ opening of the ‘Confutatis’. But a work that looks
forward cannot ignore the history of the past so echoes of Verdi and
Berlioz vibrate like seismic waves through this requiem just as you’ll hear
idiomatic pressure points of French music that has been a cornerstone of
IRCAM’s past.

Requiem pour les temps futur
looks forward, if it also looks backwards, to one musical art form. Both
Sutter and Chirol and l’ArmËes des douze sages from their writings on the
work possibly over-romanticise and overstate the musical shift in the work.
Indeed, what may even have been the original concept behind its creation –
a requiem that talks about the finitude of existence and collapsology in a
thermo-industrial society while answering questions about death – may now
be more relevant to a society on the brink of collapse through a pandemic.
The irony of the pandemic is that it might escalate AI which is probably
not quite what Requiem pour les temps futur envisioned.

This is unquestionably a genre-bending work, an experiment in re-invented
classical sonority, that is perhaps uncomfortably closer to the present
than the future it looks towards.

Marc Bridle

product_title=Requiem pour les temps futurs
product_by= Julien Chirol: directeur musical – Pierre-Eric Sutter: directeur musical – Jeanne Crousaud: soprano – KaÎlig BochÈ: tÈnor – Yann Toussaint: baryton – Uma N Rao: chant classique de l’Inde – ArmÈe des douze sages -: choeur et orchestre – RÈmi Aguirre Zubiri: chef de choeur – Manuel Poletti & DÈpartement Analyse et SynthËse de l’IRCAM: voix de synthËse.
product_id=Tacet [1:11:10]