Michel Petrossian : In the Wake of Ea
Thanks to the deciphering of two Babylonian tablets by the Belgian scholar Marcelle Duchesne-Guillemin, we know how the strings of the Babylonian lyre were arranged : five in front and five behind. Those strings, moreover, correspond to the notes of the principal musical scale. The fourth string, which is also the most important note of the Babylonian series, is described in a very particular way. Whereas all the others are designated by numbers, in this case it is stated that it was ‘made by the god Ea’. The divinity of underground waters and creator of the arts, Ea is thus situated at the heart of the Babylonian musical system, as a guarantor of a certain permanence.
A lyre that comes apart as time goes by and a string in the middle that aims to preserve permanence, through its connection with Ea, is emblematic of Babylonian music itself, immaterial and ineffable, but transmitted by ephemeral instruments and by voices that have long been silent. It is that tension that inspired this work.
The piano, representing the fourth string, experiences a series of rebirths, to the rhythm of an aquatic motion. Like an elegant prophet moving through the currents of a river, it struggles in two ways (employing a repeated note and a musical phrase that is sometimes verticalised and sometimes spread) and in two contrary directions with regard to the orchestra : confronting it and seeking to win it over.
The orchestra, an expanded lyre, lapses into a process of dispersal, but is stopped in its tracks by the piano, the string ‘made by Ea’, which transmits a renewed impetus to it and preserves the desire for permanence. The general form of the work proceeds by defragmentation, recalling a civilisation that dominated the East and of whose splendour there survive only a few shards discovered in the course of excavations in an always turbulent land.
This work is dedicated to the memory of my father.