• Monotone-Silence Symphony

Article, 2011

Monotone-Silence Symphony

Frédéric Prot

"While the monochrome floods us with its silence . . . radiance . . . Yves Klein's Symphony plunges us into its own—resonance . . .

The Monotone Symphony rings out at 10 p.m. on March 9, 1960, in the grand salon of Maurice d'Arquian's Galerie Internationale d'Art Contemporain, before an audience of around one hundred. Three nude models walk onto the stage. Using a sponge, they cover their bodies with blue paint and print themselves on the paper. The voices of the choir and the instruments of the orchestra resound in a single, continuous note.

Yves Klein says he had the idea for this symphony at the age of twenty, in 1947 or 1949. In this sense it links his history to all his work to come, for which it acts as an archetype. From the very start music and painting aim at a single thing, be it notes or colors. The musician and composer Eliane Radigue is a close friend of Yves Klein's. She worked with Pierre Schaeff er and Pierre Henry in the Club d'Essai de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, where electroacoustic concrete music was invented. In 1959, she introduced Yves Klein to the composer Of seas removed, of subterranean confl agrations Rimbaud Klein-Louis Saguer, who agreed to actually compose the symphony which had been haunting Klein for over ten years. Among all the arrangements he considered, from the most restrained to the most sophisticated, using simple tonal, simple atonal, etc., what eventually grabbed Yves Klein was the most elementary: the D major chord.

This work consists of a “continuous high-pitched” sound that suddenly gives way to total silence. The length varies. The Symphony can be divided into a first 5- to 7-minute sequence followed by a 44-second "absolute" silence or into two even halves of 20 minutes. On the score, Klein mentions a three-section orchestra: strings (ten violins, ten cellos, three double basses), brass (three horns), and woodwind (eight flutes and eight oboes). Twenty singers are added, divided into two groups taking turns. The choice and volume of the sections depend on the acoustics of the venue for the performance. Alain Bancquart, a pupil of Louis Saguer's, gathered six strings and three singers at the d'Arquian gallery on March 9, 1960. The important thing was to produce the “striking effect Yves had been asking for,” wrote Philippe Arrii-Blachette, who conducted the Symphony before Yves Klein, for the recording on July 17, 1961 of an anthropometric sequence for the documentary fi lm entitled Mondo Cane (1962), an official entry at the Cannes Film Festival."
Excerpt from the book "Incandescence" by Frédéric Prot, 5 continents editions, Milan, Italy, 2012