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Ardoise A work of new music by Isaiah Ceccarelli and Eugénie Jobin

Music is the space in between the notes.

–Claude Debussy

In composer Isaiah Ceccarelli’s new musical creation for the Aga Khan Museum, the spaces between notes are at least as important as the melody itself.

The cracks and creases between the whir of the keyboard invoke the natural world and the artistic traditions of fallen empires.

Accompanying the musical recording is a graphic score that calls to mind the strikingly beautiful craftsmanship of one of the most impressive manuscripts in the Museum’s Collection.

THE STORY BEHIND ARDOISE

In 2020, the Museum commissioned Ceccarelli to craft a work of new music that responds to the Remastered exhibition. Premiering in November 2020, Remastered celebrates the Museum’s world-class collection of Iranian, Ottoman, and Mughal Indian manuscripts paintings.

Ceccarelli took interest in a 16th-century manuscript of the Nigaristan ("Picture Book") of Ahmad Ghaffari (accession number AKM272). In particular, he was inspired by the book’s elaborate exterior.

Emblazoned with generous touches of golds and painted with a jewel-toned scenescape, the lacquered binding was designed to tantalize not just the reader’s eye but also one’s sense of touch.

“I returned frequently to the creases in the flap and its gold decorations as a source of inspiration,” he said. It got him thinking about “music between the cracks of different styles.”

He also reflected on the ingenuity and painstaking labour that would have gone into producing the manuscript’s cover. All the materials, from the gold, to the watercolour paints, to the varnish, would have come from the natural world.

FINDING INSPIRATION OUTDOORS

Sounds and materials from the natural world play a leading role in Ardoise. Ceccarelli and collaborator Eugénie Jobin included sounds they recorded outside his home in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

Ceccarelli and Jobin also found slabs of slate, an easy-to-find resource in south-eastern Quebec, and experimented with using them as percussion instruments. They even recorded the vibrations of a drum with stones planted on top of it.

The quiet rattle of the drums, the thrum of falling rain, the hum of the synthesizer, the spaciousness of Jobin’s production — these elements combine to form a soundscape that’s both cinematic and contemplative

SCORING ARDOISE

Ardoise, as a piece of music, is unconventional, and so is its score. Rather than using Western musical notation, Ceccarelli developed a “graphic score”— an alternative form of musical notation that uses graphic design to communicate musical cues — to represent the sonic structure of the work.

Again, he looked to the Nigaristan of Ghaffari for creative inspiration.

“The gold decoration on the book binding is a main theme of the graphic score, and especially the satisfying relationship of gold on black,” he says.

“The harmonies and textures of the music are directly related to the interplay of the colour, texture, and material of the book binding, which I brought into the graphic score by piling up gold and silver ink and paint.”

CREDITS

Music by Isaiah Ceccarelli and Eugénie Jobin

Graphic score by Isaiah Ceccarelli

Isaiah Ceccarelli: slate slabs, stones, bass drum, large cymbal, metallophone

Eugénie Jobin: synthesizer, voice

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Eugénie Jobin (October 3-19, 2020).