This year, I’d like to make blogging and online communication a more regular thing if only to have a place for my mind, both personal and creative, to wander/settle/muse. I’m currently researching the intersections between Feldman’s music and the “painterly” world with which he regularly interacted. I know this is nothing new but I’d like to explore his ideas concerning duration and surface vis à vis scale and flatness in painting.
In the meantime, “Happy New Year” — here’s my favorite Feldman piece.
Well, blog. It’s been a long time. I forgot what my login password was. Oh well. Here goes.
One of the things I’ve gained since being away from home is perspective. Perspective on a great many things: personality, needs, wants, goals, art, work, and identity. I started this blog when I first arrived in Paris back in August (2012) as a way to focus my artistic ideas. I’ve just returned from California after having three hardcore performances and a recording session of the piece of music that I was writing at the beginning of my stay here. It is one of the most detailed and ambitious pieces of music I’ve ever conceived and executed, showing to myself and my peers just how far I’ve come in the last nearly ten years of my composition study (If it was done mixing and editing it would posted HERE but it’s not, so go THERE to hear other music of mine while I finish hashing out the recording from the sesh) But this is not all that I was faced with when I returned home. My time in California was impacted by musical obligations but it was inundated, mostly, with friends and family, all of whom I have not seen since I left or even before that. There were so many people in so many different parts of my life that I didn’t have enough time to share with everyone. What perspective gave me was a look at the community/ies with which I have such strong ties. All my life, I’ve been wary of relationships, seeing them as resentment or let-down just waiting to happen. I was even more cautious of networking-type relationships – acquaintances, viewing these as empty or at best, shallow simulations of relationships. What I know now is that both of these, as well as other types of “relationships” fulfill some part of me that desires, indeed yearns, for “contact.” Emotional, psychological, physical, sexual contact. Any contact that I make with the people around me has its place as a way of shading or coloring in the boxy exterior of my life–it really is what makes me feel anything at all these days. And this is where all this hippie-talk makes its way to my music.
The “music,” the thing-in-itself, was never the endgame for me as a musician. (I have too much “low-brow” culture in my veins for that to have ever been the case. The eighties ballads, the soft-rock and bad jazz all prove my questionable taste in bands dating back to that Peter-Cetera-era-Chicago-John Denver-Sheila E-Sting-Aladdin-soundtrack-thing-that-was-going-on-in-my-Dad’s-CD-changer-as-a-kid-thing all counter-weigh the three-B’s of my childhood: Bach, Beethoven, and the Beatles.) I want contact. This is why my tastes and aesthetics all veer toward that visceral sensation we feel when we “experience” (not listen, not hear, not see or read) the music we love. Fuck, I’ve dedicated my life towards this experience and have lived the equivalent of three lifetimes as a 28-year old in a (sometimes misguided, perhaps other times quixotic) quest to seize it (this is where the semi-obligatory mention of drugs, alcohol, and delinquency which colored years between puberty and adulthood will make sense of the previous sentence). Coming back to California and getting in touch with the people who’ve got me to where I am now has shown me that writing music and experiencing music in the way that I’ve privileged for myself these past ten years IS NOT how I want to spend the next-however-long-I’ll-live-until-I-die-which-might-be-tomorrow.
This is not to say that I’m taking my hat out of the Western-concert-art-music ring forever. I’m just saying that there is a lot of the culture that does not agree with my current perspective (see, look, I’m still on topic) and that instead of placing this musical culture above other parts of my life as a somewhat improbable professional lifestyle, I will be counting it among my activities, interests, and pursuits. And for another caveat, I will still be pursuing, playing, writing, studying, and teaching music until the blood dries from my veins (see, still operatic). Another aspect of this perspective is a reality check: the so-called “careers” proffered by this work is neither practical (neither from an economic nor an artistic) viewpoint and are nearly all unavailable, improbable (as I mentioned before), or untenable. Here’s the list and you figure out which ones are which:
(remember, the labels are: impractical economically/artistically, unavailable, improbable, and untenable)
1) Tenure-track university professorship at university or community college
2) Adjunct faculty position at university or community college
3) Private music lessons
4) Arts administration/assistant
5) Professional composer (live off of commission/royalties and/or some other private gig)
6) Studio gig (producer, engineer, session musician)
7) Computer/Electronic music (software/hardware designer, developer, tester)
Another caveat: I will still be applying to academic jobs with all the earnestness a PhD-owner can muster, I just won’t be putting all of my eggs in that basket. Also, none of these jobs are bad – hell, all of them are good – it’s just that everyone else thinks they’re bad-ass jobs, too, and since the 4-year Master’s/PhD factories are working overtime during this global economic recession, that’s a fuck-load of people. What I’m honestly really trying to say is this:
I want to be a composer who plays in a rock and roll band who also helps people.
This is what I want, whole-heartedly in my heart (sic).
Now, how does one do this? Well, I’ve been giving that a lot of thought and I have a few ideas, none of which are cogent enough to write about here…let’s just say after 23-years of nearly-straight-through-schooling, I still have some brain-cells and bright ideas left in me. What I can say is that it involves blazing a different trail. I’m of mind to think that if you want isn’t an option, you don’t give up, you just have to make it an option, that is, create it. Suffice to say, my options involve a lot of uncertainty and unknowing, but that’s why no one wants to do it. Shit, I don’t want to do it if I didn’t have to. That’s just it…those job options seem to suck the volition and agency out of my needs-and-wants when it comes to my life. I want to decide what happens to me, goddammit. So, while I let the powers-that-be mull over my job-applications, wondering if I fit their faculty position or fulfill their quota or provide a service that they can use, I can get to work making something happen for myself.
Anyways, that’s all I’ve got after a pensive few months wandering the European musical and actual landscape. On this note, I’m pretty sure the next installment of this “perspective” thing will be under the topic of “privilege.” I’ll also, probably flesh out what “community” means in terms of art goes. I’ll write that entry soon. I got a short deadline at the beginning of June. Huzzah!
Preliminary Workshop: Composing Beyond Music with Peter Ablinger and eight other artists
Musikprotokoll Festival, featuring a variety of artists in various sound-art mediums: acoustic pieces, analog noise, electro-acoustic pieces, multi-media pieces, improvisation, sound installation and sculpture, as well as DJ sessions and micro-lectures (my favorite one was a “Slam”-style lecture, which name-dropped Deleuze, Barthes, Baudrillard, Badiou, Attali, et al. [seriously, like, at least ten names and their various concepts in ten minutes?!?! It’s worse than me!!] in a delightfully soupy British accent).
OK…I’m gonna make this one short(ish). And I’m about to get parentheses-happy. Reader be warned.
As I’m writing this, I’m at the Graz airport en route to my final destination on this trip: the Venice Biennale, specifically, the International Contemporary Music Festival. The last few days in Graz were particularly insightful, in that I was able to truly begin stepping away from Western-style “concert music” in a real way. For the last 8-9 years, I’ve been in school for music composition, which for the unknowing, is a very specific form of music-making with its social roots in 17th-century (as the language of sacred music began to migrate outside the church and into performative situation) but whose actual music can be traced to centuries previous. That being said, it’s old and has a lot of historical baggage; *cough, I mean, collection of signs/significations; *ahem, I mean, it’s like, totally, you know, hmmm…musty? Anyways, it’s been the main project of contemporary artists to re-examine, (de)/(re)construct, critique, or otherwise position oneself anew against this “baggage.” Oftentimes, the aim is to (re)create artistic vitality through versatility of practice (engagement with several art-forms/making) or new relationships between the art-form and changing social (multicultural? Post/neo-colonial/imperial?) and economic (effective forms of global neo-liberal Capitalism) spheres .
Whoa, that was a lot of words. I just wanted to say: I’m ready to try new things. Being tied to an institution is great (read: FUNDING) but any institution, no matter how well meaning or “good,” can really start to cloud your artistic judgment.
So, alas, I pursued this new program at the Impuls Academy (one of those music festival/course things similar to Darmstadt, Accanthes, Royaumont-Voix Nouvelles, etc.)called (unpretentiously) “Composing beyond music.” This workshop of nine “artists” (I’ll get to them in a bit) will all work with composer Peter Ablinger (known for his idiosyncratic concert pieces, theoretical writings, happenings, and sound installlations) to create a site-specific (I prefer Robert Irwin’s term, “site-conditioned”) work–whether performance or “sound” installation–at the Kulturzentrum bei den Minoriten in the center of Graz, Austria in February 2013.
This past weekend, the initial meeting of all nine “artists” (plus Ablinger, organizer Ute Pinter, and documentarian/artist Christine Schörkhuber) took place in Graz where we measured our reactions to the space and exchanged ideas about possible projects. This project seemed a little forced only because 1) we just met each other and were not familiar with personalities/work (this was less of an issue though) and 2) we started sharing super-preliminary ideas only after ~12 hrs and one viewing of the space (this was what was problematic). So, for me…factor in the reality that I’ve had little to zero experience in this kind of work despite my interest, and you’ve got a 45-minute presentation “stream-of-consciousness” style. I basically ranted through every idea, concept, artist name, possible scenario, and foodstuff that came to mind AS it came into my mind (that last one is exaggerated, although I was usually hungry during these 5-6 hour discussions).
These meetings were concluded each evening with complimentary tickets to Festival Musikprotokoll (described above) where we saw acts like the Arditti String Quartet (yeah, I missed this one), Ensemble Zeitfluss, and the inimitable Klangforum Wien, in addition to less-“fancy” “music”/”sound” acts.
A quick aside on the “scare quotes” in this blog entry. Throughout this project, and indeed one of the ideas behind this project, is questioning the ideas behind given concepts such as “composer” or “music” or “sound” or “art.” I know, high-falutin’ aspirations, but still…when art approaches life, it tends towards philosophy and what is philosophy but asking the right questions? In this situation, in the disparities between art and life, new work and inspiration can be found; we, as musicians, can compose differently, using stuff that aren’t objects (whether they be notes or instruments or performers) but that are immaterial. Okay, here we go: we can compose a new situation, maybe a new reality for the artistic participant; compose a perspective or an idea; reaffirm or critique givens through confrontation…shit like that.
OOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKAAAAAAYYYYYYYY. AAAAAAAAnd we’re back from “Philosophy Talk.” The other “composer/sound artists/people” (I’ll refer to us artsy-types) ranged from 23ish to older (hard to tell how old people are, really). Many of us have had multimedia experience or at the very least, musical experience OUTSIDE a concert hall/setting. The square-table discussions among the artsy-types were fun in that none of us knew what we were doing for projects so we were flying by the seats of our pants. Needless to say, after 2.5 days of trading ideas and hanging out, we got to know each other pretty well and I’m looking forward to coming back in February to realize our projects. That’s enough for this post: off to Venice.
“Sound becomes theatre: Collaborative workshop on Mauricio Kagel’s Insturmental Theater-pieces.” w/ Theodore Ross
Various theoretical/research-based talks given by pianist/researcher Paulo de Assis, vocalist Linda Hirst, pianist/docARTES director Luk Vaes, and composer Helmut Lachenmann (with his wife/pianist Yukiko Sugawara and cellist Arne Deforce)
Concert: “Mauricio Kagel’s Tactil and Unter Strom: reconstructed”
Luk Vaes (piano/metal turbine), Seth Josel (guitar), Jona Kesteleyn (guitar) – all playing several “instruments” in the second piece
As it turns out, traveling is an exhausting adventure. After a quick laundry stop in Paris, a train took me to Ghent/Gent/Gand, Belgium (we’ll call it “Gent”) where my friends David and Rachel have been living and working for the year. David was awarded the little-known Belgian American Educational Foundation (BAEF) grant (set up by President Herbert Hoover [?!?!]) as an intellectual exchange between the two countries. David decided to settle in Gent, attaching his work to the Orpheus Institute (which was a perfect fit…more in a sec), an “artistic research” facility in what used to be a (the?) major European capital in the 15th century (perhaps even earlier). Last Spring, David told me Lachenmann was going to be in town for a conference entitled “From the Known to the Unknown: Possible Worlds for Artistic Experimentation in Music,” an incredibly high-falutin’ and humorously unwieldy title, IMO. I agreed and wanted to come visit anyways and it fit into this action-packed three week European safari.
As some may know, I’ve always had a diletantte-ish relationship with theory (and by “dilettante” I mean to say that I can’t stop reading this bullshit) and this conference was a surprise as it served as to exercise those Deleuzian, Barthesian, Derridean impulses running through my already convoluted and distracted mind. It seemed that the operative words of ORCiM (Orpheus Research Center in Music) were “experimental model,” “artistic research,” and most importantly–especially as it pertains to my pal David–“embodiment.” This last one is pertinent for anyone looks for a critical re-engagement with the physicality of performance and performance practice as it relates to different compositional paradigms. The former two terms recurred in various insightful talks/papers about an ongoing conversation from (at least) the 1950s, that is, “What is/constitutes ‘artistic research?’” An important question, of course, but one, which I do not need to go into any detail about here. Ask me later if you’re really that unoccupied that you have time to think about such things. On this point, this question has raised conversation after conversation, oftentimes late into the night, regarding the realm of work, artistry, reflection, philosophy, personal experimentation, historical review, life practices, etc. I believe that any critical artist must constantly re-examine his/her own project if only to be quite sure that the path chosen is the path wanted. That’s all.
On the first day of the conference, German guitarist Theo Ross gave a workshop on some aspects of Mauricio Kagel’s instrumental theater work, focusing to a great degree on the Acustica, für experimentelle Klangerzeuger und Lautsprecher. As the demonstration rolled along, it was obvious that Ross was being led down the proverbial “memory lane” as he ultimately bore his regrets that this music no longer received the attention it deserves today. As someone pointed out later, however, “sometimes you have to let the next generations go down the same paths and make the same mistakes.” As Frantz Fanon said, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
That evening’s concert, a reconstruction of the “scores” of Unter Strom (1969) and Tactil (1970) by Luk Vaes with an incredible amount of work from Godfried-Willem Raes at the Logos Foundation. The evening was was a stunning and humorous display of Kagel’s (instrumental) theater and a glimpse into the musico-historical era from which it had sprung (relationships to Cage, Stockhausen, and Dada are immediately felt). The institute’s underlying focus on “embodiment” was a large part of this performance. By “embodiment,” I mean to emphasize the somatic or physical-corporal aspect of performance. Kagel’s spectacles are infused with visually-tactile (see the pun? – Tactil…) sensations ; that is, our engagement with the pieces is related to the degree to which we empathize, observe, and participate with the performers’ physical relationship to the sound-action. It’s easier to do so when there is a degree of noticeable psychological/physiological vulnerability or stress (i.e. climbing high ladders and playing guitars connected to the piano ten meters below by taut wires as in Tactil…half-naked, no less; or, in Unter Strom, engaging with an amplified 4-string “harp” (which is basically a metal grid fence eight to twelve meters long). Needless to say, if one of those “strings”/steel-death-whips were to come undone…bye-bye.
Kagel’s theatrical filter is, of course, but one of the several ways that twentieth-century composers have explored musical embodiment. Helmut Lachenmann would speak the next day about his relationship to his sound material, the relationship between the performer and his/her sound-machine (instrument), and what I see as the reification of embodiment in the score (I feel, after all, that he is a twentieth-century classicist and contrapuntalist in the modernist, German tradition). Moreover, as he has been wont to do, he spoke willingly and at length about his love-hate relationship with his teacher, Luigi Nono, and Lachenmann’s own sublation of Western musical history (especially when it comes to Cage and politics!) The concert were solo pieces, which can be said to be two of his “greatest hits.” The groundbreaking Pression (1969) for solo cello (performed by Arne Deforce) and Serynade (1997) for solo piano (performed by Helmut’s wife Yukiko Sugawara). You can hear/see them here, so you can make up your own mind about them (personally, much of this already sounds a bit dated–they “sound” or “make sonic” the historical times from which the piece(s) have come). Even though I missed the concert, I’ve fond memories of hearing these pieces several times when I was an undergraduate at UC San Diego…in fact, only Stockhausen’s Zyklus rivals the number of times I heard Lachenmann during those formative years.
An excerpt from Lachenmann’s Pression (1969)
An excerpt from Serynade (1997-98)
After the Lachenmann morning lecture on Thursday, I rambled on down the European road to my next destination: Graz, Austria. Here, I would actually engage in the preliminary worn on my own project – a site-specific work to be executed at the Impuls Academy sessions in February. In a way, the theory that had been so well-(re)presented in Gent would, for me, find its praxis with my next work.
Witold SzalonekMusica concertante (Łukasz Owczynnikow, double bass) Ken UenoOn a Sufficient Condition for the Existence of Most Specific Hypothesis (Ken Ueno, overtone singer) Beat Furrercanti notturni (Aneta Kapla-Marszałek, Magdalena Dobrowolska, sopranos) Kaija SaariahoD’OM LE VRAI SENS (Kari Kriikku, clarinet)
WARSAW PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA – THE NATIONAL ORCHESTRA OF POLAND Rafał Janiak, conductor
National Philharmonic Concert Hall
September 27, 19:30h
Georges AperghisLuna Park (IRCAM – Centre Pompidou and WA commission)
Johanne Saunier, dance, voice
Eva Furrer, octobass flute, voice
Michael Schmid, bass flute, voice
Richard Dubelski, percussion, voice
Georges Aperghis, staging
Daniel Lévy, scenography and video
Georges Aperghis, François Regnault, texts
Grégory Beller, IRCAM computer music design
Émilie Morin, artistic production collaborator
Maxime Le Saux, sound engineer
Yann Philippe, video development
Frédéric Vandromme, stage manager
Hervé Frichet, light manager
September 27, 22:30h
Travelogue:::Concerts, Part 1:::Friday, 28 September
Last night’s concert double feature was certainly an exercise in physical durational endurance – both in terms of audition and attention and in hunger/physical fatigue. Allow me to start at the beginning…
I arrived in Warsaw on Tuesday as a tourist, essentially. In my experience, the best way to get the “lay of the land” in terms of the physical geography, the temporal culture (the “time-flow” of a city and its population), and the language/auditory culture is by exploring à pied. What I quickly realized was that Warsaw was an immensely more difficult city to traverse than Paris. The streets were certainly broader (the main “boulevards” were six to eight lanes wide) and distances between points seemed much farther than they appeared on the map that I had (a friend later told me that Warsaw is essentially a field and that most of the physical geography reflects this notion of wide expanses of open land). Moreover, there appeared to be a comprehensive bus system (I have taken a few buses but only picked the ones I needed based on luck and intuition) but only one metro line (north to south). A second line is under construction, tearing up whole roads/sections of Warsaw. Anyways, in my self-guided, flâneur-esque experience of the city, I apprehended a few things:
1) Slavic languages are totally lost on me and oftentimes had to buy/order things based on emphatics and paralanguage rather than anything else (I had nothing else!) – I must say, though, that I am grateful for the hospitality and patience allowed to me by many of the locals.
2) Asians/non-Poles were few and far between; therefore, I got a lot of stares…awkward.
3) Hipsters are everywhere
4) Soviet realist architecture is garish, cold, and imbues a certain blanket of oppression in and of itself. Moreover, the application of Capitalist demarcation (read: large, glaring logos and brands in neon/lit-up signs) over this architecture only lends to the overall sadness of the city’s appearance. Add to all of this the fact that most of Warsaw was demolished/obliterated by the Nazis in World War II (only to be rebuilt in an “old” style) makes one realize that Warsaw/Poland occupies an unfortunate “place” (in all senses of the word) in history.
But on to the reason I am in Warsaw: the annual Autumn Festival of Contemporary Music! This year marks the 55th edition of this storied institution (though my knowledge of the “story” is actually quite limited!) and I am truly impressed by its diversity of programming and more for its dedication to Polish composers, both older and emerging ones. My dissertation advisor and friend Ken Ueno’s concerto for himself (overtone singer) and orchestra (in this case, the Warsaw National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra) was being given a performance on a program with Polish composer Szalonek as well as contemporary luminaries Beat Furrer and Kaija Saariaho.
I want to give an account of this concert; however, my feelings for this initial concert, though overwhelming positive, are vastly overshadowed by my visceral impressions, reception, and reaction to French/Greek composer Georges Aperghis’s Luna Park, the second concert I attended last night.
(The YouTube excerpt is a mini-documentary about the creation of Luna Park put forth by IRCAM)
In contrast to the historic Warsaw Philharmonia, the venue for the latter show was the IMKA Theater, tucked behind the edifices of a huge multi-national corporate bank and a huge multi-national hotel chain in a tiny building flanked by the trees and lawn of a park (it was difficult to make out in the dark). It is important to keep in mind that I hadn’t eaten since a snack I had c.4p that afternoon (the Aperghis began at 10:30p) and that I had just left a 2h program of phenomenologically-demanding pieces of orchestral contemporary music. Me, some old friends, and some new friends made our way to the theater. Since we already had tickets (thank you, Ken) we were able to go in and score some killer seats up front. After some small chit-chat with my aforementioned new friends, we were confronted with the compact yet obviously technically-endowed set. Four “boxes” or “cages” were equipped with screens (for obfuscation, projection, dramaturgical effect), cameras and monitors of all kinds, as well as sensors (this last group of devices were obviously – to me and most of the audience most likely – hooked up to Max/MSP/Jitter, a audio-visual “digital signal processing” engine pioneered by the event’s co-sponsor, Paris’s IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique). As Aperghis states in the the program notes:
In Luna Park, everyone spies on everybody. The four performers are sitting side to side, but contact each other only virtually, never directly or physically. They need to go through the “web“: spy microphones, cameras that follow every move, screens and loudspeakers. Everyone looks at themselves in the camera as in a deep well, establishing an almost erotic relationship with the lens and their own reflection in it.
For those unfamiliar with the “sound” Aperghis’s work (probably most people because, as is the case with many artists in this niche field, many are unknown to the general public), I think the easiest for me to convey its profile would be to ascribe to it several criteria that theorist/composer Claus Steffen-Mahnkopf attributes to “complex” music (note: that the essay that I take these from, “Complex Music: An Attempt at a Definition” clearly differentiates as its thesis so-called complex music with what he calls complexist music, a multi-dimensional and parametric genre of (de)constructionist methodology for the (de)composing out of musical discursivity…yeah, “they” want it to be that complicated). Here are the criteria with which I would qualify Aperghis’s general oeuvre:
1) density and rapidity of events; (this is the most readily-accessed experience of his music)
2) complexity of the rhythmic and pitch structures;
3) abundance of morphology; (such is the role of repetition and “digital signal processing” in this piece);
4) poly-processualization of formal directionalities;
5) apperceptive surplus; (I define as “too-muchness” and the subsequent inability for the subject to experience it phenomenologically in its moment-to-moment totality);
6) diagonal mode of listening; (because of the polyphonization of discursivity and parameters, there aren’t one-to-one vertical correlatives; therefore, there is a phenomenon of experience the different strata of musical layers in “diagonal” or oblique relation to one another. This phenomenon is intensified when, like in Luna Park, several more layers (than auditory or traditionally neutralized embodiment) are added: electronic sounds, gesture tracking, video projection, light, paralinguistic/musical gesture, text/language;
7) expressivist (sic) expression;
8) multi-perspectivity and multidimensionality of the “empiricity” of the art-word, above all of musical time;
9) deconstructionism of the work character and the performance situation; (here, I would contend that much of Aperghis’s work is inherently theatrical, so he is often deconstructing the traditional performance situation only to rebuild it to suit whatever dramaturgical ends he requires for each project).
The main themes that Aperghis engages with in Luna Park are surveillance of self and others (then, narcissism, voyeurism, objectification), the relationship between “self” and “other” (interconnectivity and community) qua the relationship between people and technology. I couldn’t experience this piece without various Foucaultian concepts of power relationships derived from Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison jogging through my head. As Aperghis expounds, “being conscious of being observed changes our behaviour, makes us become someone else. What is the function of the body in this technological machine? How do we react to that self-propelled machinery? Is the body not becoming only the ‘eye’ and the ‘ear ‘? (emphasis mine)” Shit. I just realized that he wants to talk about the Deleuzian “Body without Organs” too. Well, I’m too tired to bite, so screw it.
With the advent of surveillance technology (closed-circuit viewing, key-stroke readers, hidden cameras, fiber-optics, etc.), Foucault’s panopticon is reconfigured into a set of wires and circuit-boards–everything is being recorded whether or not someone is watching; recordings can be archived; our pasts can come back to wreck havoc on our presents. Facebook, Google, and other technologies (seemingly benign panopticons) can effect how we represent ourselves and that self-surveillance and self-mastery–the way we recognize our subjectivity in relation to other people and the ways we internalize these–is multiplied. These new panopticons act as grotesque mirrors for ourselves, where the infinity of potentialities Robert Smithson’s mirror affords us collapses in on itself, leaving fractured, disassembled, yet entirely manic, and often elusive, selves:
Different elements of the work are performed by visual and acoustic equipment on stage. In the clutches of that panopticon, in that real whirlpool, the public must create their own collages of images, their own montage: they must be active. It is a perennial play between virtuality and reality.
The relentlessly haptic and manic nature of Luna Park was experiential overload. It was perhaps overly representative of media saturation–a self-conscious critique of diminished attention spans and the fragmentation of “self” through the techné of multimedia signal processing. Following this dis-location, Aperghis recombines the four performers in a Frankensteinian re-embodiment of sound and image:
Depending on the image currently being screened and what is happening on stage, there will be close-ups, juxtapositions and mixings. It can be amusing and terrifying, like a rollercoaster […] A musical polyphony is built of bits of phrases, words, phonemes and numbers. Deconstructing and reconstructing what others have said.
The recombination of audio-visual signals reconstitutes the self as an interconnected/non-isolated (techno-)organism, that the networks of information and meaning that connect us individuals as a community are vast, complex, and nearly unknowable, and that the cancellation of “self” can give rise to a multiplicity of “selves” as evidenced in the “remixing” of screens onstage and the combinatorial aspect of video projection and timbral and gestural morphology (e.g. which flute reinforces which performer’s breath; three screens of Eva, one screen of Michael; one-half Johanne’s face, the other half is Richard’s, etcetera):
Breaths are prolonged by instruments (bass flute and octobass flute). One of the roles of sound and electronics is to create false tropes, colour (sic) the recorded images, lend them another ‘sense’ each time they are viewed, so that when a given fragment returns, it seems familiar and modified at the same time.
What struck me over the head at the piece’s beginning and what I was left with at its end was, “wow, that was an immensely impressive technical achievement…” The fact that I may have been a totally mind-blowing art-work came later. The potentials for Max/MSP/Jitter as an efficient and elegant engine for multimedia art were realized last night; there were no fuck-ups, no apparent latency issues. It was spot-on, professional, and technologically beautiful…as far as something can be such. What I construe as typical Aperghis: that is, the streamlining of musical/dramatic utterance with the corporeal body and the visceral nature of performance and “expressionist” expressivity (in this respect, much of his work exists in this old(er) tradition) is, with Luna Park, raised to a new standard.
There were some problematic things, many of with have to do with gender and sexual politics in the paramusical/linguistic utterances. Many works in Aperghis’s catalog highlight the female voice (Récitations (1977-78); Cinq couplets (1988); Simulacre (1991-95); Sextuor ‘L’Origine des espèces’ (1992)) and his work with vocalist Donatienne Michele-Donsac has been inimitable and groundbreaking. However, within the “expressionist” vein in which he operates, Aperghis’s treatment of the female gender has typified the fallen, “mad,” or hysterical woman trope. The over-sexualization in his renderings of the female voice (oftentimes what resembles crazed, orgasmic screeching, (Récitations 7) as an example) can effectively reduce what might simply be characterized as “overdramatic” to sad, hackneyed, offensive caricature. In Luna Park, the issue of sexual voyeurism and transgression is broached when Richard’s character interacts with a Johanna via projection. He engages in vaginal intercourse with her with his hand, while musical repetition (repetition and variation are constant compositional techniques in Aperghis’s music) suggests (overtly) coitus (read: fucking). The act is interrupted when Richard’s character strikes Johanna’s and the session ends. The act, in its shocking portrayal of female (sexual) subjugation and male (sexual) hegemony, serves to reinforce the history of female objectification and female-directed violence, not only in some of Aperghis’s works, but in the body of (music) theatrical works, particularly in the twentieth to twenty-first centuries (Schoenberg’s hysterical-woman-in-the-forest piece Erwartung comes to mind…)
Far from being an apologist, I don’t believe this episode in the 100+ minute work undermines the force of power in expression that constitutes the whole of Luna Park. Perhaps Aperghis will address this issue of sexual dynamics between “genders” in future projects, interviews, or writings. In my final conclusion, Luna Park is a compelling musico-theatrical destruction of the corporal entity and its reconstitution and rehabilitation into a techno-multiplicity within the discursivity of surveillance and power.
In contrast to Luna Park, my experience of the opening musical entry into the Paris Festival d’automne, British composr Benedict Mason’s was extremely disappointing. While Luna Park exemplified the genre of experimental music theater with precision, finesse, and furious vitality, SEVENTH was only able to clumsily stumble along with half-dedicated musicians/actors, an awkward meta-textual element (“I am not anti-music…,” begins David Alberman at one point mid-piece), and a rambling and incoherent formal structure. At best, I found SEVENTH to be amusing. My favorite moments were when the two players, hooting and hollering in their best Laurel and Hardy, wandered not only off stage but also out of the auditorium. However, they were still audible to the confounded audience who remained within the hall; in fact, what confused others all the more was the fact the house lights were raised slightly (!). At this point, in a moment of Cage-an self-consciousness (post-4’33”), the audience started to murmur and wonder out-loud; some audience members took this as an opportunity to leave (though some began to walk out a mere ten minutes into the evening-long work; also, this was not the first of these moments in which the performers left the room!!). I, too, was tempted to leave, but at the time this thought came to me, it appeared the piece was winding-down to its finish.
Before the start of the piece, I caught a glimpse of Mason a few people to my left; by the time I wanted to leave, I noticed he had gone. Had he been disappointed by his piece? At the cue of someone who seemed to have intimate knowledge of the piece’s structure, the audience politely applauded for the absent composer and performers. Much of the audience, myself included, filed out of the amphitheater confused but relieved (that it was over). As we headed out into the rainy Autumn Paris night, there were the missing artists–seeing us out as they stood near the exit, smiling like they were in on a joke the rest of us spent an entire evening trying to understand. Bastards.
I have several more tickets for the Festival d’automne. The programming looks great; hopefully, they’ll be far better than this opening hurrah. Look for my upcoming entries on Ghent, Graz, and Venice as my European mini-tour continues
ADDENDUM, Saturday, 29 September:
For my last full day in Warsaw, I visited the old-new-old town center; a simulacra of its pre-World War II days. I read that it had been rebuilt using photographs (and according to my friend, paintings of its appearance in the 19th-century!) after it had been totally razed during the Nazi invasion and subsequent occupation. So even though the “old” town square looks and seems antiquated, it is actually less than a century old.
My knowledge of this led me to Praga (a quarter across the Wisła River from Warszawa Centrum) where my guidebook (yup, a guidebook!) told me I could see pre-WWII architecture; so there it was: in its full, authentic decrepitude. It was actually really cool and the concert I attended last night was held in the “Centrum Kultury ‘Koneser’” in Praga…an old Vodka factory complete with hipster charm (and a sand-volleyball court out back?!).
The concert was a bit tedious (the second piece on the program Fausto Romitelli’s Seascape performed by Anna Petrini stood out in its relative matter-of-factness and simple sensuality; it was a solo piece for contrabass recorder amidst the interactive-electronics/video/light installation works that constituted the rest of the program) and revisiting my remarks about the treatment of the “female” in the Aperghis, the final piece on the program was accompanied by a silent film, which featured an unwatchable (in every sense of the word) trope about a woman, whose agency is removed–if it was ever there at all–and we find out will be brutally beaten to death. Jesus –fucking–Christ. As my friend Lisa commented, “…the fucking dog had more agency than she had.” I was also hungry. And tired.
I should end with this: the first leg of my first European “tour” left my squeaking with glee as I skipped back to my hostel (after having a zanikawa [sp?]), looking forward to my trips to Ghent, Graz, and Venice. Stay tuned!
My concerns with Noise (the capitalized word will be a stand-in for an abstracted concept – my exploration will be an attempt, not to codify a singular conception of what Noise is, but to perhaps delimit its innumerable manifestations and of course, favoring those most useful or meaningful to me) traverse several topics, many of which are complex discourses in themselves. My ultimate aim is a personal one: to use Noise as a way to negotiate and mobilize between the manifold perspectives of my individual person. In other words, I believe Noise to be that expressive means by which I can better understand my own identity. By uncovering the commonalities between the different modes by which Noise is mobilized, I believe that I can come to comprehend–as a composer and artist–a personal and aesthetic identity that both undermines and preserves multiplicities of identity.
I can liken it to my first encounters with so-called new music (however, the pieces I first encountered were all from the beginning and middle of the twentieth century). I began composing, like many of my peers, later in life while fastidiously studying to become a doctor (or something like that). It was the hormones, the ennui, or the angst, but I possessed an intense desire to do something (I wasn’t out as queer at the time, though sexual desire lent the impetus of biological and psychological obligation). The timing between expressive obligation and the discovery of seemingly unhinged musical utterance was miraculous and so I did what any level-headed 18/19 year-old in an impacted major at a top-level university would do – I swore myself over to music.
In my explications of different kinds of Noise, I found similarities in my first reactions to musical modernism. (Before I move on, I should say that the first CDs–yes, CDs…and I still buy the–were Olivier Messiaen’s Le quatour pour la fin des temps [it just had that hardcore, apocalyptic, gothic vibe to it];
Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Pieces Op. 11, 19, 23, 25, 33 [Paul Jacobs on the ivories, I think];
Takemitsu [A Flock Descends into a Pentagonal Garden, Quatrain, Stanza 1, Sacrifice, Valeria, Ring: Deutsche Grammophon’s defunct “echo 20/21” series];
and Xenakis: Orchestral and Chamber Works [Ata, N’Shima, Metastasis, Ioolkos, Charisma, Jonchaies: col legno]
There were many things about this music that left an impression on me. Firstly, time behaved differently in this music than in American popular music and music from the inherited Western canon. Though often linear, it stopped, started, stuttered, stood still, fast-forwarded, seemed to fall back on itself, and seemed to distill seconds into moments of infinity. Secondly, the colors were more vivid: brightness, dullness, opaqueness, and transparency. And the textures, they were almost tactile, beautifully drawn, sculpted, and shaped. The traditional (and in retrospect, arbitrary) emphases on pitch, rhythm, and meter were lost to me, which explains my initial confusion. Heeding my naïveté, however, was probably the best thing I did. I listened like I had never heard music before.
What struck me in all this was perceived entropy that I hadn’t encountered before. It operated like what, at first, seemed like a gossamer curtain through which I could sense a kind of sense or truth. A little while later, it struck me that it was more like a mirror: the “abstract” (to use a visual metaphor) nature of the sound composition allowed me to glimpse a reflection of my own psycho-emotional state. In the tangle of signification and meaning I was able to create semblance of cogent identity. I felt “sense” or “peace’ for the first time since childhood. Since then, I’ve been trying to manifest the technique necessary in order to re-create the immediacy of those first encounters. Even now, the pieces or genres I gravitate to as a listener, rekindle that immediacy and send a literal quake down my spine and a dull ache in my abdomen.
In the years since, I have listened to, read about, analyzed, codified, and written in the style of this music; what has happened is that it has dulled somewhat for me. In the words of B.B. King, the thrill is gone. It has been replaced by an auditory fatigue–a self-sameness has replaced what was once new and exciting. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy this music anymore, it is simply that the desire for the expansion of this initial musical proposition. The initial musical impulse sparked by this kind of mid-century Modernism (this concept is a tricky one to unravel simply and I will have to broach it piecemeal…beginning with a reflection on Smithson’s ultradmoderne) will have to be developed and redefined if it is to continue. Postmodern thought has introduced skepticism to the processes of constructing and deploying of systems and meanings, but I believe that the self-conscious self-scrutiny and interrogative methods of “creative intent” (not necessarily “creation”) are still valid today as a practicing artist.
So as a recap, my interest in Noise is one of discovery, renewal, and becoming. In a fractured postmodern artistic climate, the desire for wholeness seems all the more urgent but the search feels all the more futile. When gathering my thoughts on post-colonialism, transcendence, transgression, sexuality, dialectical materialism, spirituality, and human immediacy, I’m left to conjecture that perhaps my interest in Noise, if not Noise itself, is a thread, lacing its way through this intellectual territory. Noise, perhaps, is the disruption of meaning, allowing all of these things to cohabitate in a mélange of constantly shifting systems of signification. Perhaps Noise points outward, beyond the systems of meanings, disrupting them and changing them in the meanwhile. Perhaps Noise is the artistic territory I have been heading into since my first encounters with entropy (of course, I had constructed a deeply personal enthalpy over the course of my life, the dialectical relationship bringing me to where I am currently). Noise disrupts the forging of meaning; it is all information and no information. In its “hearing,” all things are possible and impossible: “Hearing has always been alchemical, a violent zone where sound waves mutate into a sedimentary layer of cultural meanings, where historical referents secrete into contemporary states of subjectivity, and where there is no stability, only an aural logic of imminent reversibility” (Arthur Kroker/Bruce Sterling, Spasm: Virtual Reality, Android Music, Electric Flesh). Paul Hegarty, in his discussion of Merzbow related through the Deleuzian body-without-organs, suggests that Noise is in a failure of becoming:
The body without organs cannot become itself, or anything else, and the way in which this specifically cannot happen is through the multiple failure of hearing/ears: its mysterious amnesty in A Thousand Plateaus, its failure through noise to process sense, the failure to stop processing, the failure to return to the “true” body, and the failure that is the return to the “true” body (in, for example heightened awareness of the body’s function — although even if this were possible, it would constitute a forcible intervention in the functioning of the body). The body without organs is the failure of completion, the failure of this failure (organ resistance). The failure is the process of becoming, and becoming-failed is the noise of the attempt to get to the body without organs – the supplemental “place” where it cannot be, where only it “is”.
Whoa. I think “failure” is an important facet of Noise. It brings liminality into the discourse and where there are limits, there are borders, and thus, transgression and transcendence.
In the next few essay-type posts, I want to make a beginning at exploring Noise through the explication of different artists working in this unwieldy and burgeoning arena. I would like to start with Peter Ablinger, Austrian composer/sound artist/installation artist/improviser, because, well, I’m going to be studying with him as a part of the impuls academy 2013 (first in October 2012, then in February 2013). His theoretical writings on Rauschen (“White Noise”) are fascinating, also insofar as they parallel my nascent interest with the work and writings of artist and theoretician/aesthetician Robert Smithson (known for his non-sites and geological works, including Spiral Jetty). Both share a fascination with the concept of “mirror,” and I (perhaps coincidentally?) found this concept to be pertinent in parts of my investigation into the French movement of “saturation,” and Japanese artist Merzbow.
Limits, (a)temporalities, material, process, site/non-site, identity, maps. These are words/ideas that I would like to use to explicate and dissect different areas of the discourse of Noise. I feel that many of these concepts fold into the idea of “mirror,” so I’ll use this as an initial method to distill the artistic similarities between Ablinger and Smithon (and hopefully others) who work and “create” in the burgeoning discourse of Noise.
On a side note, I’m still learning how to use this site, so in-text, wiki-type hyperlinks are next! Woo-hoo! Peace.
It seemed only natural: move to a new country – start a blog. My friend David Coll told me he started his (http://davidcoll.wordpress.com/) when he moved to Paris in 2007 and now it’s his website 😛 I told one of my advisors that this year of composing, going to concerts, taking lessons from various composers, and just living as a composer in a foreign country was going to be my equivalent to a “spirit quest.” As hokey as that sounds, I think it’s true. I want to dis/re/uncover what it is that makes me tick as a composer and as a person. I want to gain insight (perhaps not answer or solve) into certain questions about “my identity” whatever that is.
I started drafting a blog entry that started like this:
His,skull,in,my,hand! . . .
-#116, Volume Two, José Garcia Villa
Villa (nearly forgotten Filipino poet who came to some notoriety in the American literary scene in the mid-1950s by way of “reverse consonance” and “comma poems;” returned to public [read: my] attention in the late-20th century through first-generation/immigrant Filipino literati like Jessica Hagedorn), using the English of his contemporaries Tennessee Williams, Edith Sitwell, Gore Vidal, and W.H. Auden; posturing as an avant-garde modernist (the “comma poem?!”)
Networks of information flow into my brain; so many that I have a hard time distilling what I mean and mean to say.
Finding a common denominator between the topics of discourse, with which I am interested, is difficult. I find this reductive behavior often seems futile; I mean, why should or would there be a single commonality between all of them? One may say that the search for a unifying totality at this point in time would be a senseless project – well, shit. This control-freak wants things to make some sort of sense. But I’m reminded of something someone/Robert Smithson wrote: “What the artist seeks is coherence and order – not ‘truth,’ correct statements, or proofs. He seeks the fiction that reality will sooner or later imitate.” I suppose I’m trying to make my own pieces fit better.
“What pieces, Amadeus?” you may ask of me. There are a few, not many, but a few that have been nagging at my ankle like a stray dog begging for a crumb. Here is where a list may save me time, keep me organized, and get me to my point in a expeditious fashion (like going to the Berkeley Bowl on a Sunday afternoon). I’ll leave sub-questions for another time.
1) As an artist, what is means to be a “composer;” that is, “composing” written music – what the hell is that? The endeavor may seem a bit archaic and given my present location (Paris?), it would seem a bit Romantic in all the wrong ways. (“But Amadeus, being a composer doesn’t necessarily mean just ‘writing down music for orchestras!’” Well, I’ll leave you for later, Mr. Follow-Up Question).
2) What does my cultural up-bringing mean for my art? I’ll never be Filipino enough to be “Filipino,” nor American enough to be “American.” This contradiction has been the source of motivation for many thingsin my life: my adventures in drink/drugs, my determinationto
Anyhow, I decided that “that” blog post was going to be way too much to distill, so I thought that spreading out the ideas and musings would be easier and probably healthier.
The main topics of interest for me remain:
1) Neo-modernist (Hypermoderne is an adjustment of Robert Smithson’s “Ultramoderne” but more on that in a different blog post) (non)-reconciliation (?) with postmodern/multicultural/technocratic socio-cultural mechanisms (read: what the hell kind of artist am i trying to be??)
2) Post-colonial identity refraction and manifold identities (that last one is one of Ken Ueno’s, so I’ll give him credit for it)
3) NOISE in its many guises in (non)contemporary repertoire (“saturation,” “sawari,” “rauschen,” “dissonance,” “mistake”)
3a) How it relates to the concepts of transcendence/transgression; the decoupling of identities; excess-limits-sensation(!!)(George Bataille jumps into my head here for some reason – “immanent violence”? idk)
4) Modularity and the shift/transformation of form and function in different context/environments. [Does “non-site-specific-site-specificity” make any sense?]
Anways, the REAL reason I’m writing this post is to write this Antonio Gramsci quote that I found while reading Edward Saïd’s Orientalism (Saïd quotes it as one of the reasons for writing the book):
The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is “knowing thyself” as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory […] therefore, it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory
Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks
Let’s just say that I’m going to be compiling an inventory of traces while I’m here. That is all for now.
Whoa. The French are fancy. My first concert of the year was a doozy: contemporary orchestral music (well, Schoenberg’s Erwartung, brings the average date of composition back to, like, 1950) in a snazzy, historic venue (read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salle_Pleyel). As best as I can recall without doing any quick internet research, the Lucerne Festival is an intensive orchestral “band camp” with head camp counselor, Pierre Boulez. Young and aspiring (not to mention oftentimes brilliant) orchestral players, conductors, and composers (I think) apply for admission every year and the cream-of-the-crop get to study 20th Century/contemporary (music of the last +/- 20 years) orchestral repertoire with Maestro Boulez and you know the Maestro rolls deep (this year his posse includes “Composer-in-Residence” Philippe Manoury, an old teacher of mine).
Pierre Boulez was scheduled as the conductor, but much to my dismay, he came down with “un irritation d’oeil.” Bummer. His more than competent Lucerne Festival colleague, Clement Power, took the “diriger” reins this afternoon with a style very similar to Boulez’s. One more thing about the orchestra: lots of cute guys 😉
The first piece was, in fact, Manoury’s; originally written for the Cleveland Orchestra when Boulez was music director there in the 1990s, it was presented today with youthful vigor and zest that showcased the piece’s intricate formal episodes, musical boisterousness, and orchestrational flair. You can read Philippe’s detailed analysis of his own work here: http://www.philippemanoury.com/?p=2575. The man is a classicist, a savant of 20th century repertoire (his knowledge is nearly encyclopedic when it comes to the music of Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Stravinsky, so on), and it shows in how deftly he brings an orchestral gesture to life. Emphasis here was placed heavily on winds, brass, and percussion (a racket that drove some of the players on stage to plug their ears when not playing!), with the strings providing textural strength, sonic resonance, or gestural reinforcement. My main criticism of Philippe’s is often the length of his pieces – the rapidity of his music, not simply the tempo and rhythmic speed, but the constant changes in musical “states,” often require longer chronometric duration. His “Sonus Ex Machina” solo+live electronics pieces are often of comparable length to this piece; however, the breadth of the orchestral palette is enough to make 30 minutes an appropriate duration for this “force of nature.” 😉
The second piece was Jonathan Harvey’s Speakings. I must confess, my attention lapsed here (possibly due to a combination of a consistently spacious, pensive texture; dreamlike electronic elaboration and spatialization; and the warm Parisian autumn day). The third part of a tryptych, which is analogous to the “purification bouddhiste du corps, de l’esprit et de la parole […] Dans Speakings, j’ai voulu réunir la musique orchestrale et la parole humaine. C’est comme se l’orchestre apprenait à parler, comme un bébé avec sa maman, comme le premier homme, ou comme entendre une langue très expressive que l’on ne comprend pas.” So basically, with the help of spectral analyses and signal processing, Harvey wants to “speak” through the orchestra. There is a degree of nostalgia and sentimentality in the desire for this process that makes me feel funny; moreover, the effect tends towards gimmickry, which lacks substantial musical discursivity (for my tastes). I don’t want to say that this is the reason it left me cold (read: sleepy), but this listener wanted a reason for the orchestra to speak. Besides, what is the point of speaking if you’ve got nothing to communicate (unless that is your point, which it isn’t here). It had its moments: the soloists manipulated electronically were done so in a sensuous if not recognizably “IRCAM”-kind of way; the orchestration was transparent and cool; and though I was not properly seated for it, my experience of the spatialization was tasteful and dream-like (not because I was sleepy!).
Oh, Schoenberg: that woman wailing hysterically in the woods is such a “one-note act” (OMG, the puns in this post are OUT.OF.CONTROL). Top-level Schoenberg is always a delight and this monodrama (emphasis on “drama”) has been a favorite of mine since I first heard it as an undergraduate. Schoenberg states in his book Style & Idea: “In Erwartung the aim is to represent in slow motion everything that occurs during a single second of maximum spiritual excitement, stretching it out to half an hour.” Erwartung represents a formal mark in Schoenberg’s “pure atonal” (read: pre-dodecaphonic/12-tone) compositional phase – it strives towards the label “atonality” in its various parameters: rapidly shifting tempi and fragmented rhythmic phrases; a far-flung harmonic language (for its time) with “dissonances” propelling the “action” forward to its terrible peak (the woman finds her lover dead in the forest) without “resolution,” effectively painting a swirl of emotional states through non-functional harmony (Debussy’s music, contemporaneously, would use non-functional harmony for a decisively different and non-dramatic effect); new orchestral playing techniques (different bow placements on the strings, for example) and weird gestures (that never-ending piccolo trill or that one “funny” cello glissando). Here, one can see why it could be said that this period was analogous to the period of German Expressionism in the visual arts: the sound, the technique, the aim seemed to be entirely psychological and evocative.
Man, was I tired after that The French really put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the hoity-toity (sp?) music scene here. This concert would get a hell of a time getting programmed in the States. I just bought my subscription for the Paris Festivale d’Automne, I booked my trip to the Warsaw Autumn Festival, and I’ve got my eyes on the Venice Biennale. So far, the music is looking/sounding pretty good.
Friday, September 7, 2012, 12:04 am, Paris, France
I’ve only been in Paris ~10 days, so celebrating a birthday here is a little lonely. I suppose there are worse places to be on my birthday. Here’s to 28 being as good as all the rest have been: bon anniversaire à moi!
“I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering,which is not the opposite of forgetting but rather its lining. We do not remember; we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten.
How can one remember thirst?”