LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF MUSIKTEXTE 96, February 2002
This is an English translation of a text in German appearing in the above mentioned issue - however, without the literature list. It deals with commenting some concepts of interactivity and democracy which, according to my thesis, should be understood in connection with our performance practise. When playing practise follows an authoritarian form, then how much value can be attatched to allegations about democracy etc.?? For non-German readers the context will obviously not be possible to trace, but I hope the issues brought up here can stand alone enough to make sense in themselves. They need discussion.
Interactivity and democracy are interesting, and also not totally unrelated concepts, and for me as composer and a friend of the "alternative music history" since 1968, MusikTexte 95 November 2002 offered manifold stimulation and provocation for commenting.
In his article "Democracy and new music", Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf discusses individual attitudes and work ideologies with Nono and others. Important as attitudes certainly are, let us not forget, however, that democracy, when all comes to all, is based on experience with actual collaboration. This is exactly where we, as artists, have the possibility of doing something constructive, to create models of human collaboration.
It it well-known that not only the meaning of the words we say are important - one may for instance think of the way in which statements from a teacher are understood and misunderstood by the pupils. It is also very influential how it was said. Likewise, in music there is not just one semantic level which can be focused upon in isolation. If a work is put forward in traditional notation, if it is simply rehearsed and read as a text, if it is finally presented as something unambiguous - well, then a "lehrstück" in the sense of Brecht is also presented, quite apart from possible "contents" aiming differently: organisation is allowed to be authoritarian; you should become inspired by gifted representatives of tradition, just as the musicians have so loyally been. The traditional chain of communication: composer - interpreter - listener, which Thomas Gartmann has good reasons to critisize, is still intact here. When the opposite thing happens: when musicians obviously are actively co-creating, when this is a dialectical, collective work taking place within the playing practise, and when the performance could be seen as containing hints to the effect that this is perhaps not a totally solid, unchangable object and that the music also to a high degree is born in the head and body of the listener, then the chain is loosened, then a humanistic vision is not just stated, but musicians and listeners become part of it.
Whether the thesis goes "Let all people become brethren" in the classical way, or rather in a modern way, "Let all people become brethren, or...?" - to discuss the difference at all may be devoid of sense because the context shines through. Instead, please let us have some significant actual structures and occurrences, not just post-sync texts!
So it is logical that Thomas Gartmann in his article "Music and interactivity - a paradox?" ("Musik und Interaktivität - ein Paradox?") examines a number of works which explore new performance practise. Compositional internet relay race, audience participation affecting an electronic system, a concert with changing appearance in the open, the composer as an architext of a fremework for performances.
The excerpts from Mathias Spahlingers Vorschläge zu ver(über)flüssigung des komponisten (Untranslatable play of words meaning "Suggestions for making the composer more fluid or more dispensable") are exactly constructive examples of a non-authoritarian conception of music which also influences playing practise. (Only a few examples were stated from the book which was published as Rote Reihe 70 in 1993). Tasks are described which can only be carried out through collective attention. In "an angel" it is the introduction of a pause having a duration and a place not having been aggreed on in beforehand. In "one's own time" musicians are to concentrate on the invention of sounds, but also to wait for the best moment of entry, and at the same time also avoiding a too dense sound. There will surely be something to co-experience and participate in for the listener - and what is perhaps the most important thing: we have the chance, it cannot be excluded that something really great will happen.
If we relax the chain of communication so that more complex and advanced structures arise, will there be a loss of aesthetic substance, as Gartmann supposes in some cases despite all his optimism? In all cases, the experience of all those who participate can be intensified, and that is probably not a bad point of departure.
The independent free improvisation scene has had great success since the seventies - in spite of very modest economies, international networks and an extensive CD production flourishes. When this is not yet the case with open composition with its innovations of notation, its use of improvisational elements, in short, with the other "alternative" new music, then the reason lies probably not least in institutional matters. This is a problem that may be solved slowly by comitted ensembles. But composers are also very much a part of the picture. Let us hope that the "fluid/dispensable" composer [please see explanation above] will become more common - we are certainly not dispensable for such a humanistic development!
Feisst, Sabine: Der Begriff 'Improvisation' in der neuen Musik (Diss., Berlin, Freie Universität 1995). Sinzig (Studio, Verlag Schewe), 1997. Berliner Musik Studien 14.
Globokar, Vinko: "Vom Reagieren", Melos 2, 1971.
Globokar, Vinko: Individuum-Collectivum. Saarbrücken (Pfau), 1995.
Gronemeyer, Gisela; Oehlschlägel, Reinhard (hrsg.): Christian Wolff. Cues. Writings and Conversations / Hinweise. Schriften und Gespräche. Köln, 1998. Edition MusikTexte 005.
Keller, Max E.: "Improvisation und Engagement", Melos 4, 1973.
Müller, Hermann-Christoph: Zur Theorie und Praxis indeterminierter Musik. Aufführungspraxis zwischen Experiment und Improvisation. Regensburg (Gustav Bosse Verlag), 1994. Kölner Beiträge zur Musikforschung, Band 179.
Stryi, Wolfgang: "Die fortgeschrittenste Entwicklung". Mathias Spahlinger im Gespräch, MusikTexte 86/87, November 2000.
Sutherland, Roger: New Perspectives in Music. London (Sun TavernFields).
Wilson, Peter Niklas: Hear & Now. Hofheim (Wolke Verlag), 1999.
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