East Meets West in France: Catching the Musical Scent

Edward Campbell

conference: DARE 2017: aberrant nuptials
date: November 22, 2017
venue: Orpheus Institute, Concert Hall
format: in words
practice: music and sound
keywords: de/re-territorialisation

abstract about the author(s)


French modernism since Debussy has integrated within itself aspects of  the  music and culture of geographically diverse regions, including elements from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Vietnam. This paper focuses on the work of the generations of composers who succeeded Messiaen, Jolivet, and Ohana and Boulez in exemplifying how French modernism and the musics of the world encounter one another in innumerable, innovative ways.

On the French-born side, a large number of composers, many one-time members of Messiaen’s celebrated class, have drawn on the East in their work. Jacques Charpentier used Indian Karnatic modes for his seventy-two piano studies. François-Bernard Mâche composed a number of works drawing on aspects of the East including Maraé, Aera, and Khnoum. Jean-Claude Eloy engaged with the music and cultures of Japan, India, and Tibet, in works such as Kâmakalâ, Shânti (peace), and Gaku-no-Michi. French Canadian composer Claude Vivier integrated non-Western sounds into several of his works, and others, such as Hugues Dufourt, Georges Aperghis, Marc Battier, and Thierry Pécou, continue to engage with other cultures.

Such conjunctions are not the exclusive preserve of French-born composers and there are now several generations of Asian composers who have studied and worked in France. These include Japanese composers Sadao Bekku, Makoto Shinohara, Akira Tamba, and Yoshihisa Taïra. Chinese composers include Hao Chang and Chen Quigang and there are Vietnamese composers Ton-that-Thiet and Nguyễn Thiên Đạo. Some of these figures have worked, in turn, with their own French-based Asian students: among Taïra’s pupils are Chien-Hui Hung, Liao Lin-Ni, and Malika Kishino. Other French-educated and/or resident composers include Xu Shuya, Karen Tanaka, Fuminori Tanada, Misato Mochizuki, Kenji Sakai, Sanae Ishida, Mayu Hirano, Keita Matsumiya, Naoki Sakata, and Aki Nakamura.

Beginning from this mapping–out of the musical landscape, the task of this paper is to consider the nature of the rhizomatic workings operational in these musical engagements, the deterritorialisations and reterritorialisations, the movements of the macro and micro, molar and molecular forces of East and West, which meet one another in ever-shifting assemblages of cultural, linguistic, and sonic forces. At least since the time of Debussy,

East and West may be thought of as partners in a Deleuzian “aberrant nuptial,” the aim of this paper being to consider how this operates in the music of Taïra, Dao, Thiet, Eloy, Pécou, and Kishino. In doing so, I will refer also to the work of Edouard Glissant, who drew on a number of Deleuzian concepts in his thinking on the relationships between global cultures. Thierry Pécou, for example, picks up on Glissant’s concept of “Creolisation,” which applies to the entire mix of global cultures and which is open equally to the cultures of China, Egypt, Japan, South America, and the rest. As Jean-Luc Tamby notes, in his “encounters with traditions,” Pécou “dreams of ‘making the whole world resonate.’” To further open out this idea and to explore such resonances will be the goal of the paper.

about the author(s)

Edward Campbell

Edward Campbell is Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Aberdeen and co-director of the university’s Centre for Modern Thought. He specialises in contemporary European art music and aesthetics including historical, analytical, and aesthetic approaches to European modernism, the music and writings of Pierre Boulez, contemporary European opera, and the interrelation of musical thought and critical theory. He is the author of the books Boulez, Music and Philosophy (CUP, 2010) and Music after Deleuze (Bloomsbury, 2013) and co-editor/contributor to Pierre Boulez Studies (CUP, forthcoming 2016). He is currently working as co-editor on The Cambridge Stravinsky Encyclopedia as well as on a monograph on the importance of Asian and African music in French music since Debussy.

info & contact


University of Aberdeen, UK


e.campbell [AT] abdn.ac.uk