Thierry de Mey’s Musique de Tables (1985)


Sounding Now 2018
A Festival of Contemporary Musical Practices
Sunday, 22 April 2018 @ 5pm
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory • Orchestra Hall

Contributed by Ilysia Tan (YST BMUS1)

Thierry de Mey is a man of many hats; not just a composer, but also a filmmaker of experimental dance films. De Mey started music lessons young and continued to play music up until high school. At age 20, he studied film at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion and continued to study music composition, performance (piano and percussion), and contemporary dance. His knowledge of multiple modes of art allows him to take a multi-disciplinary approach to music composition. De Mey is interested in the body and its relationship to musical motion in space. These elements remain constant in the experimentation and exploration of his works. He has collaborated with choreographers such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Wim Vandekeybus and his sister Michèle Anne De Mey. Most of his music productions are intended for dance and film.

Musique de Tables (Table Music), written in 1985, merges dance and music. It is a percussion piece that choreographs a short ballet for hands. In an interview, he said “I asked the drummers to make particular gestures, they are drummers as they make sound, but at the same time they are dancers because of the essence of the gesture.”It is also both a visual and aural work. “The piece must be seen as well as heard,” he says.

The work is for 3 percussionists, but the only instrument is a table, hence the title. Constructed like a baroque suite with an overture, rondo, fugato, gavotte, recapitulation, and coda; this work incorporates rhythmic counterpoints with intricately choreographed hand gestures, including page turns. He invented a notational system for the different percussive movements the musicians make with their hands.  The specific positions of the fingers and hands are coded in music symbols.

Instruction page from de Mey’s Musique de Tables.

The limited but precise gestures situate the work along the line between music and movement. Blurring the line between instrument and instrumentalist, dancer and musician, De Mey’s piece is an effective exploration which manages to cross the boundaries of traditional aesthetics in each art form, constructing a space where the various forms of art interact and entwine.

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