Le Premier Jour

Le Premier Jour


General Infos
  • six voices 
  • 2015
  • 25′
  • texts by Proust’s Recherche 
  • commissioned by Musik der Jahrhunderte 
  • ESZ – Sugar Music


Imagine giving to six persons a book and asking them to read it aloud for a few guests you have invited. The six (let’s call them the readers) open the book only to realize that yes, they can read it, but they don’t understand a single word. Nothing at all.

It seems like the meaning is gone, maybe it slipped away in the frantic movements of the paper sheets -the readers are panicking as they turn rapidly the pages hoping to make some sense of it all.

It’s too late to give up and it looks like the audience catches perfectly what the readers say

(which it doesn’t, but it would be rude to state differently!).

Steadily and slowly continuing in their performance, the readers get more comfortable with the text, a glimpse of understanding crossing their mind -totally wrong.

As they go on they acquire confidence, growing increasingly bolder and multiplying their efforts in pursuit of significance.

The audience is raptured.

As if by magic, words do begin to make sense, blooming into sentences, flowing like rivers across the public and opening in plains: the plains collide to create mountains and even further the riverbeds become streets in a beautiful city, a city of living tales merging and diverging in shouts and whispers…

The readers make their way to the central plaza where it suddenly dawn on them that the city with its rivers, mountains and plains is nothing but air, the breath coming from their lungs while they were reading. The book itself is just a monument, an effigy built to prove how books (and cities, rivers, plains or mountains) lack any sense.

In fact, the first impression was the very right: although rivers, cities, etcetera, etcetera seemed to exist – nothing but for a short while.

Now, switch this unknown language with Proust’s french to get a grip on how “Le Premier Jour” works.

Created by Serafini in 1976-78, the Codex is an illustrated encyclopedia counting eleven different sections, moving from botany, physics and mechanics to cookery, ethnology and architecture.

Exquisitely crafted drawings, not to mention a preface written by H. M. Italo Calvino, would have been enough to explain the enthusiastic and widespread appreciation of the first edition, but two other features made the Codex well known:

  • it depicts an insubstantial world inhabited by bleeding fruits and rainbow-weaving machines; it reveals how trees can learn to swim and careless lovers change into crocodiles.

  • the language filling the 400 pages of the encyclopedia is totally impenetrable: although an alphabet and a few occurrences are clearly distinguishable, any attempt to translate it failed.

In 2009, during a lecture at Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles, Serafini has eventually acknowledged (as expected!) that there is no hidden significance in those symbols.

The author’s intention was to recreate the feeling of a child inspecting a book for the first time or the astonishment of a barbarian entering a library: in both cases the subject can’t wrap his head around what he’s looking at, but he senses that those marks on the paper may have a meaning for someone else.

This idea is of primary importance in my score.



The Codex loses its opacity twice: there is a French quote halfway in the book, towards the end of a chapter on cultural anthropology. A man with a nib in place of his hand contemplates the sentence he has (probabily?) written. Scattered on the floor lie a few other french words.

The sentence reads 


fille orgiaque, surgie et devinée, le premier jour, sur la digue de Balbec


On the following page, the same man can be found skewered to death by a BIC pen. Some shreds of paper at his feet say :


statuaire, liade, souven, voici encore, yeux baissés, voire


Having found a single intelligible sentence in a 400 pages tome , I felt pushed to dig out its source. Google took me rapidly to this excerpt:


from “The Sweet Cheat Gone” by M. Proust

[…] l’Albertine réelle que je découvrais, après avoir connu tant d’apparences diverses d’Albertine, différait fort peu de la fille orgiaque surgie et devinée, le premier jour, sur la digue de Balbec et qui m’avait successivement offert tant d’aspects, comme modifie tour à tour la disposition de ses édifices, jusqu’à écraser, à effacer le monument capital qu’on voyait seul dans le lointain, une ville dont on approche, mais dont finalement, quand on la connaît bien et qu’on la juge exactement, les proportions vraies étaient celles que la perspective du premier coup d’œil avait indiquées, le reste, par où on avait passé, n’étant que cette série successive de lignes de défense que tout être élève contre notre vision et qu’il faut franchir l’une après l’autre, au prix de combien de souffrances, avant d’arriver au cœur



the real Albertine whom I discovered,after having known so many diverse forms of Albertine, differed very little from the young Bacchanal who had risen up and whom I had detected, on the first day, on the front at Balbec, and who had offered me so many different aspects in succession, as a town gradually alters the position of its buildings so as to overtop, to obliterate the principal monument which alone we beheld from a distance, as we approach it, whereas when we know it well and can judge it exactly, its true proportions prove to be those which the perspective of the first glance had indicated, the rest, through which we passed, being no more than that continuous series of lines of defence which everything in creation raises against our vision, and which we must cross one after another, at the cost of how much suffering, before we arrive at the heart

The words scattered on the ground appear later on the very same paragraph.

Serafini intentionally quoted the text and I was under the impression that I had found the key to disclose the Codex.

I subsequently tracked down every single occurrence of these words within “La recherche”.

Orgiaque produced a remarkable result, appearing only three times (excerpt above included).

The first emergence – in “Prisonnière” – is scarcely notable:


D’ailleurs, même en repensant par à-coups, par élancements, comme on dit pour les autres douleurs physiques, à cette vie orgiaque, qu’avait menée Albertine avant de me connaître, j’admirais davantage la docilité de ma captive et je cessais de lui en vouloir


Besides, even when I thought in fits and starts, in twinges, as we say of other bodily pains, of that orgiastic life which Albertine had led before she met me, I admired all the more the docility of my captive and ceased to feel any resentment

The other one – in “Within a budding grove” – is quite astonishing. It states the exact opposite of what has been written a thousand pages before, mantaining nonetheless a similar structure and metaphore.


Si peu plaisant que soit cet emploi de parfaitement, il indique un degré de civilisation et de culture auquel je n’aurais pu imaginer qu’atteignait la bacchante à bicyclette, la muse orgiaque du golf.

Il n’empêche d’ailleurs qu’après cette première métamorphose, Albertine devait changer encore bien des fois pour moi. Les qualités et les défauts qu’un être présente disposés au premier plan de son visage se rangent selon une formation tout autre si nous l’abordons par un côté différent – comme dans une ville les monuments répandus en ordre dispersé sur une seule ligne, d’un autre point de vue s’échelonnent en profondeur et échangent leurs grandeurs relatives. (…). Mais ce n’était qu’une seconde vue et il y en avait d’autres sans doute par lesquelles je devrais successivement passer. ainsi ce n’est qu’après avoir reconnu non sans tâtonnements les erreurs d’optique du début qu’on pourrait arriver à la connaissance exacte d’un être si cette connaissance était possible. Mais elle ne l’est pas ; car tandis que se rectifie la vision que nous avons de lui, lui-même qui n’est pas un objectif inerte change pour son compte, nous pensons le rattraper, il se déplace, et, croyant le voir enfin plus clairement, ce n’est que les images anciennes que nous en avions prises que nous avons réussi à éclaircir, mais qui ne le représentent plus.



However little to be commended this use of ‘perfectly’ may be, it indicates a degree of civilisation and culture which I could never have imagined as having been attained by the bacchante with the bicycle, the frenzied muse of the golf-course. Nor did it mean that after this first transformation Albertine was not to change again for me, many times. The good and bad qualities which a person presents to us, exposed to view on the surface of his or her face, rearrange themselves in a totally different order if we approach them from another angle — just as, in a town, buildings that appear strung irregularly along a single line, from another aspect retire into a graduated distance, and their relative heights are switched (…). But this was merely a second impression and there were doubtless others through which I was successively to pass. Thus it can be only after one has recognised, not without having had to feel one’s way, the optical illusions of one’s first impression that one can arrive at an exact knowledge of another person, supposing such knowledge to be ever possible. But it is not; for while our original impression of him undergoes correction, the person himself, not being an inanimate object, changes in himself, we think that we have caught him, he moves, and, when we imagine that at last we are seeing him clearly, it is only the old impressions which we had already formed of him that we have succeeded in making clearer, when they no longer represent him.