pneumatique, prajna desai and ian mcLellan davis

A prose-poem combining translation and erasure, pneumatique (2021) springs from correspondence, written exclusively in French, and exchanged in 1963 between two architects, Eulie Chowdhury, an ambitious, young Indian architect, and Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French master of modern architectural design. Both were more than acquainted with each other during the lifetime of a unique historical episode in the history of twentieth century architecture. Chowdhury was Le Corbusier’s right arm in the team responsible for the planning, design, and execution of the new architecture of Chandigarh (1951-65) in north India.

In early April 1963, Chowdhury arrived in Paris to take up a residency for a focused study of modern architecture in and around the city. Not five days into her arrival, she slipped in her boarding room in the Pavillon Suisse, a seminal building designed by Le Corbusier. Hospital bound post-surgical recuperation then left her immobile for the rest of her stay, the painful longue-durée instantly aborting the adventures that lay before her.

And so she studied from her sick bed quadrangle architecture as a life of forms and systems, its trickle down into patient management. She watched the modern project of efficiency shape as much the cast of doorways allowing free movement as the power of surveillance and remote response by nurses on machines of such fabulous new technology as the intercom. Through it all, waiting for Le Corbusier to arrive.            

An account then of accident and adoration, pneumatique works through the strange confidence inspired by involuntary sequestration, letting history and fiction craft a loving and learning of their own design.

~ prajna desai

The musical component to Prajna Desai’s pneumatique (2021) is improvisatory and epistolary in nature. The process of arriving at a conceptual approach and compiling the final work developed through correspondence; emails and Skype calls between myself in New York and Prajna in Mumbai. 

She and I decided to generate the music in a way that was not disconnected from the text but at somewhat of a remove; each element isolated yet connected in synchrony. In doing so we hoped to leave room for both fortuitous chance occurrences as well as a bit of discord and fumbling in the dark. 

Prajna worked out a duration of time in which she could read through the text at a comfortable pace (approximately 6 minutes). Then, myself (guitar), TJ Borden (cello), Lucia Stavros (harp), and Carmen Rothwell (contrabass) sat quietly together, read the text to ourselves, set a stopwatch for 6 minutes, and improvised. 

The piece became an exploration of how much (or little) we (the ensemble) could internalize of the text after one read, how we would express our interpretation sonically, and then how that musical expression would interact with Prajna’s recitation of the text.

~ ian mcLellan davis


this online publication is a part of the tenth and final issue of harlequin creature: hcx. click the “HCX” tag above the title to read/see/hear other contributions to the issue, and go to our “magazine” page to order a copy of the print anthology, which includes eight distinct book projects.

more on hcx here.

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