Email discussion with Carl Ludwig Hübsch, February 2008

Below is an interestingly different view from mine! German composer Carl Ludwig Hübsch from Cologne tells me about the compositions on his CD "Carl Ludwig Hübsch's Primordial Soup"- see my review here - in a mail correspondence we had in February 2008. He let me look at the written materials which consisted for a large part of structures written in the traditional way, with bars and with the twelve tones of the chromatic system, except for a number of non-pitched sound which appeared within the bars with verbal characterisations like for instance "grating", "crisping" "squeaking", "rushing" (Knarren, Knistern, Quietschen, Rauschen). He explained that his notated elements were often revised anew for new performances, something might be left to be explained orally during rehearsals, in some cases they might also be revised during rehearsals, and after recording edits could be made. Characteristically, he also says below that during rehearsals he is striving towards “finding out what the piece really would like to do”.

In this way, his works are very much "in progress" so that "final versions" may hardly exist, but the exact notation serves a very strategic role. The point of agreement between us seems to be that we both want to go beyond reproduction, we both strive to find a new form of music making which is able to combine prepared elements and improvisation. I speak of “sharpening the process”, he speaks of “sharpening the situation”. But while I see non-traditional notations as the strategic tool pointing forward, for him it is the exactness and differentiation of traditional notation – however, restricted to those cases where it can be combined with improvisation activity that goes beyond and outside the notated parts. I see traditional notation as having become for a large part inadequate - while he sees "playing instructions" and "graphics" as something leading for a large part to "mechanical playing".

One may conclude that traditional notation does not posess its way of functioning "in itself", only by the ways we are using it ;-)))

Those insertions marked with italics are my remarks or questions, the rest of the text is by Carl Ludwig. German original text is here.

Dear Carl Ludwig, I have now looked through the things you sent me and listened to recordings again…

There are some surprises in it … especially much more has been notated with traditional notes then I thought. Earlier, I imagined that 2271 Hades was described just with suggestions (even though I now get the impression that certain coordinated places and sudden shifts maybe do not quite fit into that) – and something similar could apply to other pieces.

And then I could ask myself…

- it seems you have exact notation, followed by “improvising on in the way that was suggested”. Does that function as a method in its own right … (you may of course be suggesting very differentiated things by exact notation and even then demand that musicians play on, improvising) ...

Dear Carl,

My point of view is somewhat different. I use traditional notation because it makes clear that I have, so to speak, “already once realized” the whole piece. Also I want to enforce the musicians to take clear decisions whether to follow the notation or not. Purpose is "sharpening" the situation, thus it is getting "hotter". I like the clarity which is required to change a fully-notated idea. For doing so musicians are needed, who are ready to match even complex notations immediately to their own language .

I use rarely conceptual instructions or graphic notations since I have experienced them leading to a rather mechanical way of playing. I try to write a music which modifies the relations between the players (voices). Its lifeliness and its immediate nature take ground in such relationships. But there also pieces of mine which are similar to your examples. (I find your postcard piece particularly interesting).

My way of notation could be compared to a net which I span and within its masks, or better, between its knots music(ians) “evolve”. They continue the knitting of the net, they define it anew, through their decisions in respect to performance and situation. The degree of determination is, so to speak, defined anew in every moment. A good part of my work rehearsing such pieces consists in taking away the musicians` respect for the notation and - at the same time - working seriously with the notes. (Here I find an analogy to “jazzifying” classical or popular tunes. Rules seem to lead improvisers to creatively modifiy them into their own rules. I attempt to stimulate that.) Another part of my work with a written piece consists in finding out what the piece really would like to do. This situation is sometimes hard to stand for musicians :-).

Personally I find that we have to create a new tradition in which pre/defined material and improvisation can mix. This presupposes probably something like the right mix of “distance and intimacy”, as you say, inside the musician.

This is central to me, yes. All the mixed forms have been available since a long time, and improvisation for me is just one method of composition, with its strong and weak aspects. According to this, I make my decisions of what I use and to which degree. The crucial point is the ability and will of the musicians, to move within fluctuating hierarchic structures: to give direction, to accept direction, to support, to give birth, as an organism, as individual, as a fully responsive individual.

Dear Carl Ludwig, a detail: … do you mean “just ONE method of composition” or “just a method of COMPOSITION” ?

Dear Carl,

“just ONE method of composition”.

My understanding of improvisation does not really include e.g. imitating a cliché or playing whatever comes to your mind or to saving a situation or to showing one's as an instrumentalist. The most people seem to connect such things with “improvisation”. But in this case, our case (actually, which is our case?), it would be a misunderstanding. Improvisation does not describe the arbitraty state of “anything goes”. My idea of improvisation means doing the right thing for the music with full awareness, out of the moment, let grow, make emergence possible. The same happens when somebody is sitting at his desk, lets ideas evolve, maybe modifies them and writes them down on paper. But here we have the condition that everything that happens – as being written with ink(see Morton Feldman) – is irreversible and will influence all coming events. This method -like every other- has its weak and strong points (start a new chapter here :-)) and should be used in respect to what it can do.


Carl Ludwig Hübsch home page
My review of Carl Ludwig`s CD
CBN article: Sharpening the process
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