Academic journal article Intersections

Madness in Linda Bouchard's Black Burned Wood

Academic journal article Intersections

Madness in Linda Bouchard's Black Burned Wood

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

With its images of paranoia, anger, resignation, and infantilism, Linda Bouchard's Black Burned Wood may easily be aligned with musical representations of madwomen. The text, a cycle of eleven poems collected under the title "Sara Songs" takes the form of a rambling monologue in which Sara struggles to come to grips with her role in an unspecified but horrible act. Although the syntactic structure and verbal content of the poems place Sara in a state of derangement, it is the musical setting that is responsible for the instantaneous and overwhelmingly raw portrayal of Sara's madness. This paper explores the use of fragmentation, non-linearity, musical fixation, and dissonance to musically represent Sara's madness.

RÉSUMÉ

Par ses images de paranoïa, de colère, de sacrifice et d'infantilisme, Black Burned Wood de Linda Bouchard peut facilement s'inscrire dans le sillage des représentations musicales de la folie féminine. Le livret, un cycle de 11 poèmes réunis sous le titre de « Sara Songs », prend la forme d'un monologue décousu dans lequel le personnage de Sara peine à accepter son rôle dans un acte incertain mais horrible. Bien que la structure syntaxique et le phrasé des poèmes montrent le déséquilibre mental de Sara, c'est la musique qui est responsable de la description instantanée et incroyablement à vif de sa folie. Cet article explore l'utilisation de la fragmentation, de la non-linéarité, de la fixation musicale et de la dissonance pour représenter musicalement la folie de Sara.

The haunting resonance of temple gongs suffused by low rumbling, a foreboding demon brooding, hidden. A demented glissando transformed by a wash of chimes. Dreams. Nursery rhymes wickedly tinkled out on a piano. Nightmares, creaking floorboards, the sound of stalking footsteps, ever closer. So characterize the sounds and images of terror Sara struggles to repress in Linda Bouchard's 1990 song cycle, Black Burned Wood. "No!" her shrieks echo hysterically, "Don't let it be!" But as her hysteria subsides into an eerily subdued reliving of childhood, it becomes increasingly clear that Sara's experience is no ordinary nightmare; it is her reality, a demented and deranged one.

With these- the images of hysteria, paranoia, and dementia- Black Burned Wood may easily be aligned with musical representations of madwomen. The text, a cycle of eleven poems collected under the title "Sara Songs" written by John O'Keefe, takes the form of a rambling monologue in which Sara struggles to come to grips with an unspecified but horrible act.1 Her emotional responses, fluctuating wildly between anger, disbelief, resignation, repression, and denial, specifically suggest she suffers from a psychological illness resembling nineteenth-century representations of madness.2 The musical setting, scored for instrumental combinations drawn from voice, violin, viola, piano, marimba, xylophone, drum set, and percussion by Canadian Linda Bouchard (b. 1957), is written to depict the physical manifestations of these states of madness, in some cases constructing mimetic representations of Sara's emotional states. As in other works that feature mad characters, the line between what is "real" or what is "not real" is difficult to draw and listeners cannot be certain whether Sara is "really" responding to something she has done, or whether she has imagined the whole episode.

The circumstances behind the composition also provide a context for understanding Black Burned Wood within a genre of representations of madwomen. The piece was one of the five works commissioned by soprano Dora Ohrenstein for her project Urban Diva (premiered in 1990, and released by CRI in 1993). which presents, as the title suggests, a modern setting for the dramatic expression of the "diva." Each of the five pieces for the project centres on a female protagonist and her wild or erratic responses within a given narrative. Each character misbehaves (as divas are reputed to do) and each exhibits unconventional behaviour, projecting extremes of sorrow, anger, or bouts of fantasy or hysteria. …

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