The Absinthe Star


L’Etoile Absinthe – Michèle Bokanowski, 2002

First excerpt:


“…to try to break the willed articulation of the image, so that the image will grow, as it were, spontaneously and within its own structure and not my structure. Afterwards, your sense of what you want comes into play, so that you begin to work on the hasard that has been left to you on the canvas. And out of all that, possibly, a more organic image arises than if it was a willed image.”

– Francis Bacon, interview with David Sylvester


I first wanted to work on space, or rather on the illusion of space: how listening simply in stereo could give a sense of the materiality of space. I wanted to render the music almost tangible, as in painting an illusion of perspective can be achieved. Also, after doing music for dance and for cinema and theme-based music for concerts, such as “Phone Variations” and “Cirque,” I wanted to come back to the abstraction of “pure” music. I also wanted to explore the possibilities of my synthesizer (Kurzweil K2500), both as a source of electronic sound and as an instrument on which I can improvise.

The “theme,” the starting point for these improvisations was a manipulated woman ‘s voice which comes and goes, both always recognizable and noticeably different. From the random, often brutal and violent, confrontation between the material of the Kurzweil’s electronic sound and this human voice, several sequences arose. These sequences were reworked, edited and sometimes remixed, the structure of the piece determining itself as the work progressed.


Note on the title:

 I first heard about the Absinthe Star in a text by Ingmar Bergman about his film The Seventh Seal and the apocalypse. The astonishing juxtaposition of these two words, their antagonism -star, heavenly body, and absinthe, earthly “body” – and their dissonant sound seemed to apply to the music I was composing at the time.


Michèle Bokanowski


L’Etoile Absinthe (second excerpt):


Michèle Bokanowski composes concert music, as well as writing music for film, theatre, television and dance. Among her principal works are the concert pieces: “Pour un Pianiste,” “Trois Chambres d’Inquiétude,” “Tabou,” “Phone Variations,” “Cirque,” “L’Étoile Absinthe,” “Chant d’Ombre,” “Enfance,”, as well as scores for Patrick Bokanowski films including his features “L’Ange” (1982) and “Un Rêve Solaire” (2016). Her composition for theatre has included work with director Catherine Dasté, and for dance with choreographers Hideyuki Yano, Marceline Lartigue and Bernardo Montet.

Bokanowski studied harmony, fugue, counterpoint and analysis with Michel Puig. From 1970-72 she interned at the Research Department of the French National Office of Broadcasting (ORTF), under the direction of Pierre Schaeffer. She then participated in a sound synthesis research group at the GRM (the Musical Research Group at INA). She also studied electronic music with Eliane Radigue.


“Why concrete music is so attractive to me, as opposed to written music… To write music implies that an idea or a thought is at the origins of the composition and that the final thing is the sound rendering of this thought. The sound is at the end of the line, in other words. Concrete music is the exact reverse of this process: you start from sounds… sounds that will perhaps lead you to a constructive thought. Here, it’s the material that induces the thought, or the writing. The possibilities of finding/inventing new sounds and, therefore, new forms are tremendous, infinite … Moreover you can use chance to a much greater extent.”

Michèle Bokanowski – Asymmetry Music Magazine – January 2007