Exercises in Style – No. 68: Med Ordbok (Translation)

In 1960 Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais formed OuLiPo, Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, as a part of Collège de ‘Pataphysique.

OuLiPo consisted of mostly French mathematicians and authors who were interested in exploring the effect of constraints and structures on the creative process. Some of the forms they studied were lipograms (writing that excludes one or more letters of the alphabet), palindromes (text that can be read both forwards and backward), and mathematical problems such as permutations set theory and game theory.

Written thirteen years before the formation of OuLiPo, Exercises of Style (1947) was an important inspiration and several of the techniques in the book were further examined by members of the OuLiPo. One of the exercises, “Translation” (ironically replaced in the English translation from 1958), was formalized by Jean Lescure as part of the toolbox and techniques of the OuLiPo. Lescure dubbed it S+7.

In this exercise, Queneau replaced all nouns with the seventh noun after it in a dictionary, for instance, “heure” became “hexagon” and “type” became “typhon” etc. Another example would be to transform the line “I wandered lonely as a cloud” from Wordsworth to “I wandered lonely as a clown”. The result will depend on the size of the dictionary, but the author is supposed to stick to the same dictionary throughout the text. Variations on the technique could easily be conceived by changing the class of word substituted for instance verbs, or to increase or decrease the number of entries to count (V+9).

When Anders set out to do a musical version of this substitution process, he found that simply substituting some of the notes in the original piece “#1 Notation” with a transposed note was kind of uninspiring. Instead, he took the process a few steps further. He generated a twelve-note row from the melodic theme of the first exercise and searched for a piece of music to use for the substitution.

He landed on Weberns’ Symphonie Op. 21 (1928) for clarinet, bass clarinet, two horns, harp, and string quartet. This hauntingly beautiful piece was chosen as a template for the exercise due to its sophisticated use of the twelve-tone technique and a strict adherence to form, mirroring the formalistic approach of Queneau and OuLiPo.

The derived twelve-tone row was superimposed on the Webern, Symphonie Op. 21, keeping his form intact. In other words, the rhythm and the orchestrations are kept from the original score, while the pitches have been replaced by substituting all notes from Webern’s original row with the corresponding in the Queneau-derived row. The score was realized with a combination of instruments from IRCAM’s solo instruments 2 and SWAM from Audio Modeling.


Early bird price for a limited time only: 19 Euros.

Regular Price 33 Euros.

Progress: 21 of 99 finished.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: