last summer (2015) i participated for the second time in Tzlil Meudcan, an international festival and summer course for contemporary music, and was given the opportunity to have a 10-minute piece performed at the festival. preparing for this event, i was looking for the appropriate strategy to avoid writing a “piece”, but to create ideas to be transformed into a musical performance by the performers themselves.1 because at the beginning CompositionCloud was empty, these first ideas also reflected what i thought were the most basic needs for the production of music: musical instruments, which were to be played by Patrick Stadler and Brian Archinal (Ensemble Nikel), and ideas of what is to be played on these musical instruments, some form of notation.
in addition, after submitting the performance materials to the performers, i began to write a short introduction to CompositionCloud, which i then discussed with the instructors and participants of the course.2 this introduction became the first theoretical text of this blog, the conceptual framework (and later, also Introduction to CompositionCloud). the following text, however, is more narrowly focused and serves as a reflection on the process of transforming the materials that i shared with the performers into the concert performance that took place on July 23 as part of the festival.
this is what i sent to the performers on June 17:
the performance materials include 7 diagrams, 2 musical instruments, and 2 technical texts concerning the musical instruments. you should interpret the diagrams on the musical instruments and refer to the technical texts for the possible sounds/playing techniques. the exact choice of how to do so is yours: you can link certain graphic elements to specific musical parameters, you can use the diagrams as “images” of the sounds to be heard, you can understand the diagrams more abstractly and construct ideas of your own on top of them. the diagrams can be used as “full scores” or “parts”, and you may choose how the performance score will look like from the following 3 options: 1. interpreting a single diagram. choose a diagram that you like and read it from any direction and at any speed. 2. interpreting a series of diagrams. choose several diagrams, order them as you like, and read them from any direction and at any speed (diagrams may also repeat and/or overlap). 3. interpreting a collage of diagrams. choose fragments from the diagrams, order them as you like, and read them from any direction and at any speed (fragments may repeat and/or overlap). note that you are not obliged to use all the material that is given to you. you may decide to limit yourself to just 1 or 2 playing techniques and/or to 1 or 2 diagrams (or 1 or 2 fragments of a diagram).
in CompositionCloud’s terms, what i shared with Patrick and Brian was a complex of ideas, that is, several ideas that are shared together as a set and are to be combined by their receivers according to provided guidelines that instruct them what to do with the ideas and point to a field of possible combinations. the ideas, in this case, were diagrams1-7, the saxoschlauch, and vibrating_rulers; the guidelines were the instructions given above; and the resulting combination was supposed to be a concert performance.
obviously, what i asked the performers to do, required more creative effort than interpreting traditional musical scores, and this also introduced several difficulties. the first rehearsals were in Basel without my presence, and even though Patrick and Brian were actively involved in the creation of the musical instruments they were to play (i met both of them twice to experiment with the instruments), after the first rehearsal i received a rather frustrated response. the main issues were: too much information on a single diagram, too limited expressive possibilities of the musical instruments, unwillingness to be selective about the submitted material, and the “normality” of the result, which disturbingly resembled a “piece”.
in my reply, i insisted that they should be selective when dealing with the diagrams, which were, in this context, only starting points for creating a musical performance and not ends in themselves to be accurately represented in music.3 the graphic variety of the diagrams did offer a richer palette of expressive stimulations than the expressive possibilities of the instruments i designed, but this did not have to be a problem: one can also think of a musical instrument as a sort of a filter, a nonlinear system in which different inputs (different diagrams, different parts of them, other scores, etc.) may produce similar outputs (or vice-versa). as for the result, i was well aware that it could sound to the audience just as another “piece”, but i was also interested in the working process.
apparently, what i wrote did help, as the next response i received was much more positive, and we agreed that it would be better to continue this discussion in the 2 rehearsals that were scheduled in Tel Aviv.
at the beginning of the first rehearsal, Patrick and Brian presented to me what they had prepared, a 1-minute interpretation of each diagram, each read from a different direction and in a different manner. below are phone-quality recordings of these interpretations.4
the next step was to decide how to transform these short interpretations into a 10-minute musical performance. we started by trying to focus on a single diagram, and the chosen one was diagram6. the result (see the playlist below or click here: d6_sxschVR-Nikel_luftwaffles_lng), however, was too short, and Patrick and Brian felt that a single diagram is not enough to keep them creative for the required duration of the performance. therefore, in the next attempt (d1-7_sxschVR-Nikel_1) all the 7 diagrams were used as possible scores, and Patrick and Brian were spontaneously jumping from diagram to diagram, reacting to each other and interpreting freely what they saw on the pages in front of them. they were not coordinated, but they occasionally recognized what the other was playing and responded to that by playing variations of the sounds and musical ideas that they had already fixed for the different graphic elements when they prepared the stricter interpretation of the diagrams.
we decided to explore this method further, and d1-7_sxschVR-Nikel_2 was the result. it also led to a discussion about the appropriate approach to playing in this situation, as it seemed that Patrick and Brian had to find the right balance between freely improvising and strictly following the diagrams. the latter reduced the listening and attention to the other, causing the whole decision-making process to become too mechanical, while the former simply meant ignoring the diagrams. another issue was that there were almost no pauses: both had the feeling that they should always play something, which was the outcome of both the freedom that was given to them as well as their impression that the diagrams are overloaded with information. this was not necessarily a “mistake”, but it did bother us, and i was wondering if introducing more pauses would lead to a more interesting result. i suggested 2 techniques for doing that: first, occasionally reading the diagrams without playing, imagining the interpretation but remaining silent;6 and second, slowing down and reading the diagrams in extreme “slow motion”, even to the point of completely freezing.
trying to realize that, they played once more (d1-7_sxschVR-Nikel_3), and it sounded much better to all of us. happy with the result, we spent the rest of the rehearsal discussing this working process in general and my role in it in particular. this text, i believe, states quite clearly my contributions: i designed musical instruments, drew diagrams, and guided the performers along the way of transforming this complex of ideas into a concert performance. naturally, the specific way that we found was just a single possibility out of many others, as there were numerous alternative choices that could have been taken. for example, although it was difficult for Patrick and Brian to base the performance solely on a single diagram, we could have also tried to find techniques for making it easier (as we found techniques for introducing more pauses). furthermore, even the instructions i initially sent to them were only a starting point. comparing them to what we ended up with, the performance score followed option 2, “interpreting a series of diagrams”, as all the 7 diagrams were displayed in front of the performers, while the actual interpretation resembled more option 3, “interpreting a collage of diagrams”, as Patrick and Brian did not really read each diagram from beginning to end, but interpreted only fragments of them.7
finally, even though my status as “the composer” (in the more traditional sense) remains questionable, it is undeniable that i did contribute to the performance the fundamental ideas. so perhaps, it can be summarized like that: d1-7_sxschVR, the acronym of diagrams1-7 interpreted on saxoschlauch and vibrating_rulers, is a complex of ideas that i shared with Patrick Stadler and Brian Archinal, who then, with my guidance, combined it into a concert performance. the following combinations were recorded: d1_sxschVR-Nikel, d2_sxschVR-Nikel, d3_sxschVR-Nikel, d4_sxschVR-Nikel, d4_sxschVR-Nikel_x1, d5_sxschVR-Nikel_1, d5_sxschVR-Nikel_2, d6_sxschVR-Nikel_luftwaffles, d7_sxschVR-Nikel, d6_sxschVR-Nikel_luftwaffles_lng, d1-7_sxschVR-Nikel_1, d1-7_sxschVR-Nikel_2, and d1-7_sxschVR-Nikel_3. d1-7_sxschVR-Nikel_4 is a video taken at the concert.8
1 instructors: Pierluigi Billone and Dmitri Kourliandski. participants: Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari, Esaias Järnegard, Giulia Lorusso, Julien Malaussena, Elena Rykova, Adi Snir, and myself. (back)
2 read why i stopped writing “pieces”. (back)
3 in that regard, the “sacredness” with which professional performers usually treat the scores they receive was certainly an obstacle here. (back)
4 the playlist contains more than 7 tracks: d4_sxschVR-Nikel_x1 is an extract of d4_sxschVR-Nikel, trying to make the hectic parts even more hectic; and d5_sxschVR-Nikel_1 and d5_sxschVR-Nikel_2 are similar but slightly different interpretations of the same diagram (both begin with playing multiphonics and rubbing a threaded rod, and consist of similar sounds but in a slightly varied order). in addition, “luftwaffles” was the subtitle that Patrick and Brian gave to diagram6. (back)
5 already before this discussion, i asked the perfromers if they think that at a certain stage they will not need the diagrams (because if they only serve as starting points, there should be no obligation to use them during the performance). for Patrick and Brian, however, the spontaneous interaction with the diagrams was important, and they saw no point in performing without them. (back)
6 i received this advice from Dmitri Kourliandski. (back)
7 note that when i first thought of the collage option, i imagined that the performers will literally cut and paste different fragments of the diagrams. (therefore, each of them received 2 copies of each diagram: one was printed on a normal A4 page and the other on a transparent sheet. moreover, i also sent the diagrams digitally as PDF in case that more copies will be necessary.) however, this was perhaps too much to expect from an interpretation at a summer course, especially as it was just an option and not an obligation. on the other hand, freely jumping between different parts of different diagrams, even if they are displayed as a series, may also be considered a “variable collage”, varying from one interpretation to the other. (back)
8 the concert took place at HaTeiva. the video was recorded by Elena Rykova. the audio was recorded by Ronald Boersen. (back)