The name of this piece refers to a series of ten woodcuts Paul Gauguin executed after his return to Paris from Tahiti in 1893. The figures on these plates of hard wood reflect the style of Oceanic sculptures Gauguin had seen during his travels. The woodcuts were intended as illustrations to a book titled Noa Noa ('fragrant' in Tahitian), based on his diary, that he wanted to write together with Charles Morice on his Tahitian experiences and that was to show the art of future a new, yet unattended goal. The book was never realized, but the diary is there, and from this diary are the fragments of phrases selected for the voice part of the piece.
In this piece the flutist does not only play the flute, but also breathes, hisses, sings, and whispers into the flute and triggers processes from a Macintosh computer using a pedal. Part of the electronic material is prerecorded and part of it is processed live from the sounds the flutist produces during the performance. The result is a new instrument, a kind of super flute. "I wanted to write down, exaggerate, even abuse certain flute mannerisms that have been haunting me for some years, and thus force myself to move into something new," Saariaho explains.
The prerecorded part was made at the IRCAM studios with the flutists Camilla Hoitenga, who premiered the piece in Darmstadt, and Xavier Chabot, who also took care of writing the computer code that controls the prerecorded part. In the performance a computer, sound processing equipment such as a Lexicon LXP-15 digital multieffects processor, and a mixing console are needed, as well as an assistant engineer who takes care of the balance and, when needed, intervenes if the flutist fails to push the pedal at the right moment.
- Dr. Ilkka Oramo is Professor of Music Theory at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.