the pictographs of emmanuel domenech [2015]

the pictographs of emmanuel domenech [2015]

the pictographs of emmanuel domenech for 2 flutes, oboe / cor anglais, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, violin, viola, violoncello, harp, and percussion [3]*

*deep, resonant bass drum; 5 tom-toms ranging from low to high; 2 large, deep tam-tams; 5 differently pitched resonant wooden objects ranging from low to high [non-specific boxes, barrels, bowls, planks, logs etc.] or 5 differently pitched temple / wood blocks ranging from low to high; 4 differently pitched suspended cymbals ranging from high to low; 1 timpani [29′], mounted claves.

Dedicated to Gordon Crosse

11.30″ in duration.



The instrumentalists play independently of each other. Music is cued to begin only with instruments starting at the same time. There is no ‘fixed’ synchronisation between the instrumentalists. Whilst the relationship of each instrument is flexibly placed against its neighbour, care has been taken to calculate potential outcomes of coincidence and variability. To this end it is vital that metronome markings and time code are adhered to as accurately as possible although the composer appreciates that it is the various interpretations and practicalities inherent in the realisation of tempi that contribute to the richly unique nature and interplay of each performance.

Compositional material is derived from a series of distant variations that unify all sections with thematic landmarks. Thematic material is audible throughout the piece, bringing cohesion and structure to the work. All the instrumental roles are written to a high degree of virtuosity and most contain extended techniques and quarter-tones. The music itself forms dense, highly complex and constantly changing relationships that are frequently wild and sometimes beautiful.

The score and parts:
I have not produced a score for the pictographs of emmanuel domenech; difficulties and variables associated with displaying the musical material in vertical alignment as represented in real time are considerable. Each performance will yield somewhat different results, interplays, gestural and harmonic references and outcomes. As a result, the material contained within the piece can only be read via the instrumental parts. Consequently there is no definitive performance of the piece.

the pictographs of emmanuel domenech can only be realised through performance [as opposed to comprehended by reading through a score]; this is the nature of the music – it has to be experienced to be ‘known’.

Time code:

Time code is not used to imply the use of any kind of click-track in performance or as a straightjacket to flexible performance within the ensemble. However, players are advised to use a stopwatch individually during the performance to help guide timings, prevent long-term tempo-drift and delivery of their material to achieve an outcome that most closely matches the composer’s intention. This is particularly useful after longer pauses or where tempo has slipped due to playing under or over the metronome markings and enables the performer to compensate by playing a little faster or slower to ‘catch up’ or extend / cut short pauses and rests as necessary to remain broadly on track with the time code.

As an alternative to personal stopwatch devises on mobile phones, a large, clearly visible digital stopclock showing seconds, minuts and hours may also be conveniently placed for the ensemble and soloist to refer to for timecode.

0.5” time code corresponds to rehearsal mark 1 in all the parts. This allows all players to set their stop-watches/timing devises together before playing commences. In effect, the 4 seconds ‘synchronise watches’ before rehearsal mark 1 represents a countdown into rehearsal mark 1 and the 5 second timecode marking the start of the piece. Other rehearsal marks in each part indicate individual tempo changes only – they do not correspond from one part to the other across the piece as a whole; only the time code corresponds between each instrumental part.

Time code has been added to each instrumental part for two further purposes.

1] To help gauge the overall duration of each part during personal practice thereby enabling the performer to get a good ‘feel’ for the various tempi and overall duration of the material.

2] To serve as a collective reference point in any area of the piece during rehearsals where the ensemble can start rehearsing by each player locating the nearest time code point to the agreed starting point and beginning from there. This is in lieu of rehearsal marks being used for vertical reference and rehearsal purposes in the usual way.

All other performance notes are given in the score.

A note about the title:

Emmanuel Domenech was a Catholic priest who spent many years traveling through Mexico and the American Southwest before returning to France in the 1850s. Because of his experience with Native American culture, a librarian at the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal in Paris brought to his attention, in the hope he could make sense of it, a curious document that had been filed away in a box there for over a century. The book consisted of hundreds of pages of strange, crudely drawn figures, resembling stick figures, many of them appearing to be urinating, copulating, whipping each other, and displaying enormously swollen genitals. It was thought to be a Native American manuscript and was referred to as the Livre des Sauvages (Book of the Savages).

As he examined it, Domenech came to believe it was an extremely important document that revealed much that was previously unknown about Native American history and culture. He convinced the French government to pay for the publication of a facsimile edition of the book, to which he added a lengthy introduction in which he analyzed and interpreted the symbols. This work, titled Manuscrit pictographique Americain, precede d’une Notice sur l’ideographie des Peaux-Rouges, was published in 1860.

In his introduction, Domenech admitted most of the symbols were previously unknown to scholars of Indian inscriptions, but he went on to develop elaborate interpretations of them, arguing they depicted medicine men, spirits, chieftains, mystic worship, the “cult of the phallus,” and even the introduction of Christianity among the tribes. However, he could not explain all the symbols. In a few places there were “alphabetic or syllabic” symbols, seeming to resemble letters from the Roman alphabet. These, Domenech admitted, he could not decipher.

Domenech must have hoped the work would be praised as a major contribution to Native American scholarship. Instead, the exact opposite was the case. When German newspapers, in particular the Vossiche Zeitung of Berlin, examined the book, they immediately recognized the “alphabetic or syllabic” symbols as German words. Admittedly, the words were often poorly spelled and written in a childish hand, but nevertheless they were clearly German. Apparently, Domenech didn’t speak German, and so this interpretation hadn’t occurred to him.

This led the newspapers to offer a rival explanation of the book. Instead of being a Native American manuscript, they theorized the entire work was actually the scribbling book of a German child, “the leisure pencillings of a nasty-minded little boy,” that had for some reason been filed away in the French library, where it was mistaken for a Native American manuscript.

The newspapers pointed to a number of examples from the book to support their argument. For instance, one hieroglyph showed several red lines. Domenech had interpreted this as the “Emblem of lightning, symbol of Divine wrath.” The newspapers pointed out that a word scrawled above the lines looked like “Wurszd,” the German word for sausage.

Finally, there were many drawings that depicted a figure holding a rod of some kind. Domenech interpreted these as “a medicine man seeking for supernatural power in the entrails of a spirit.” His critics argued they were more likely the young boy’s teacher, holding a cane.

Domenech continued to defend the work, but ultimately unsuccessfully. Modern scholars do not believe it to be a Native American manuscript. The true author of the symbols has never been determined.