Mallarmé’s “Les fenêtres” (“The Windows”) allegorically gazes through a window of confining circumstance at an inaccessible space in which reside the blossoms of oneiric beauty. To Mallarmé, humans remain invariably separated from this space by the spatial, temporal, and indeed psychic restrictions of reality itself; but suppose one could travel to that “ciel antérieur où fleurit la Beauté” (“better land where beauty flourishes”)– how would one describe such an experience? Words, ineffectual as they are at approximating the ethereal, would do this individual’s story no justice. Only with the language of music could the traveler recall the far-off realm to those on the near side of the Window.
“Être à l’ouest” (literally, “to be in the west”) is the traveler’s tale. More accurately, it is the traveler’s very state of being as the story is recalled and told, describing both where the traveler was and is now, wearily reminiscing about that distant land having been fully removed from it. Two central motifs, loose manifestations of the traveler’s narrative voice, underpin the piece. Surrounding and evolving from these motifs is a semi-rhapsodic assemblage of distinct sound worlds, each as ephemeral as the last, and yet each equally and fundamentally comprising the piece’s multi-linear structure. Roughly four such worlds are “visited” before they all collide at the climax of the piece, which, for a brief moment, shatters the Window and subsequently transports the listener to the “ciel antérieur.” It is there that the uncanny emerges in evanescent play, only to recede back into the hazy distance as the traveler interrupts with the final remarks of wistful recollection.