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Composer Keiko Devaux Discusses "Arras"

Composed for fourteen musicians, the piece was Keiko Devaux' prize-winning work for the 2020 renowned Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music


"Arras," was world-premiered on October 22, 2020, during last year's Azrieli Music Music Prizes Gala concert at Bourgie Hall in Montreal, Canada. The work was performed by Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne and conductor Lorraine Vaillancourt.

"Arras is a piece about auditory memory and cultural identity," Keiko Devaux told The Violin Channel. "I was imagining creating a piece about my history, my culture, and geography through individual and shared sonic memories. Being half Japanese-Canadian and half French, the piece evolved into a bit of a dialogue between these two contrasting yet complementary identities.

"I'm very interested in episodic memories and the idea of how the act of remembering is also an act of creating. In ways, the stronger we hold onto a memory, the more we distort it. This plays out in how I worked with simple melodic and harmonic ideas and re-introduced them repeatedly through the work through different distorted variations.

"There are sacred and secular musical references,  environmental and mechanical sounds, and rhythmic patterns. These elements are woven together like a tapestry. The word 'Arras' is the wall-hanging tapestry, of Flemish origin, and also the name of a town in northern France, which is known for its production of fine tapestries. The sound of a mechanical loom itself is heard in the piece, but also the act of weaving is very much how these melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic fragments are brought together.  composition of the work.



"This work is the inaugural Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music awarded by the Azrieli Foundation," they continued. "The commission asks to respond to the question/prompt of 'what is Canadian music?' Although there are many ways to respond to this question, I decided to take a more personal and memory-based approach. Canada is such a diverse country that it only made sense to me that repertoire containing Canadian music would aim to be diverse and highly contrasting.

"After deciding upon the theme, I spent a long process listening to recordings, from both sides of my family's history. I spoke with family members about their memories of records we played, and famous singers we listened to. It was a lovely and very personal experience. I also pushed further not only into my own memories, but those of my grandparents, listening to Buddhist chant, and Gregorian chant, and analyzing the spectrums of Buddhist bowls, and the rhythmic patterns of Jacquard looms. It was a very dense and long process of essentially studying and immersing myself in the sounds of objects and music from my family's memory. After all these elements were analyzed and distilled, I began experimenting with how these parameters can interact together. The overall formal idea was conceived from the beginning and helped to shape the use and prominence of these parameters throughout the work.

"I hope the listener can experience, on a macro level, an engagement of very familiar and traditional sounds with more contemporary gestures. I think when very particular sonic elements are abstracted it becomes easier to bridge them together. This can create nice sonic pivots between clear, strong identities that then diffuse into something more neutral and come out the other end in another sonic world," she concluded.

The Azrieli Music Prizes, created in 2014 by the Azrieli Foundation, presents three categories, the Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music, the Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music, and the Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music. The 2022 Azrieli Music Prize laureates were recently announced.


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