Letter to the editor of MusikTexte December 2003

This text was written as a letter to the editor for German MusikTexte, December 2003. It was not published, due to the recent death of Peter Niklas Wilson at that time. However, I find the discussion important and have, therefore, published it here. - Improvisation takes place also within the framework of a composition; exactly PNW has been one of the first authors to describe in a reflected and coherent form how this has taken place in recent times. Serialism, due to its pioneering way of musical description in parameters like pitches, durations, densities, dynamics etc, in short, through cogent description of musical sound, has had a decisive influence on new music and also inprovised music (cf. the book by Levaillant mentioned below). Obviously, the non-German reader cannot trace the exact context of the discussion, but I hope that nevertheless some main points of principal interest emerge - we need the discussion.

Despite the fact that PNW has at other occasions produced innovative writings on recent music history, and despite the fact that he is right in critisizing conservatism in new music, his view of serialism in the article "Filtern, Struturieren, Speichern..." in MusikTexte 99, December 2003, is massively one-sided and needs correction.

According to PNW, historical serialism is bad because it reflects a "franctic deconstruction" and because of its search for new sounds, which in the end by a decree sought to make invalid "basic intervals of previous Western tone system constructions, octave and fifth". For PNW, that is a "self styling" and a reflection of a Faustian spirit, which "always negates" (all quotations from p.55 at the top). Not even a Second World War with ensueing post-war times of unsecurity can be an excuse for such franctic behaviour.

In contrast to this, the radicality of Cage, according to PNW, is not at all franctic and is not at all infected by a Faustian spirit, but signifies a "perceptive revolution", because of its inclusive nature and because it was characterized by an idea of getting away from subjectivity. - That the idea of getting away from subjectivity was also highly characteristic of serialism (cf. the early issues of the periodical Die Reihe) seems to be something PNW has not been informed about. It would also be relevant to consider how indeterminacy with the former student of Schoenberg, Cage, was achieved through intensive systematic endeavours, for instance in characteristic works like the Piano Concerto, the Variations series and in 4:33 (inclusive of early versions of this work prior to the two published ones). In fact, employing systems may even take place with delight and in a creatively relevant way, cf. the game compositions by Wolff and Zorn, the significance of which were very well acknowledged by PNW - and such activity with the serialists could also be connected to a fascination of the sound [see Sound is Multi-Dimensional...].

With black-and-white polarities we will not be able to conceptualize adaequately, neither analytically nor historically, about these phenomena. We should rather realize that there are different strategies which, in the end, are not totally unrelated to each other. Thus, Denis Levaillant sees the serial view as based on "le fait sonore brut", exactly in his book "L'Improvisation musicale" (Biarritz 1981/1996). There is still much to discover here. I am sure PNW, with his sensitively searching spirit, would have understood this if we could have continued the discussion with him.

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