Choose your own …

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I’ve said this a couple of times now, to people who haven’t heard Peter Ablinger’s music before, but who are interested: He’s sort of (sort of) like our John Cage. Which is one of those handy shortcuts you sometimes have to take in conversation.

And yeah, it’s a little hyperbolic, but it gets the idea across.

But it’s not just the ideas and sounds and themes of Ablinger’s music that suggest Cage; there’s a certain unavoidability about him too. Not that I think that every composer after, say, Voices and Piano or IEAOV is going to have to come to some sort of accommodation with Ablinger as they did with Cage after Music of Changes or 4’33″. The music world isn’t structured in that way any more. But there is a sense that every path you follow, if you follow it far enough, leads you to Ablinger.

Connected with this, and something else Ablinger shares with Cage, is a sense of completeness about his compositional project. That,  like unfolding a box, every side to each new work has been laid out in turn and followed through. His deceptively excellent website is a perfect illustration and realisation of this. Pick a link from his list of works, get an idea of the themes and materials of the piece (transcription, representation, listening, subjectivity, community, space, technology, the environment, etc.), pick one and follow the thread to the next piece. It’s like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books we used to read in the 80s before the Internet existed. Choose Your Own Realised Sound Concept.

Today, while writing up next month’s Secret Music listings (soon come), I discovered his piece Piano and Record for the first time: a faithful transcription of the microvariations of a blank vinyl record for solo piano. Isn’t that just the perfect early 21st-century artefact?

I bloody love Peter Ablinger.

P.S. Can a hyperbole ever be a shortcut, geometrically speaking?


2 comments

  1. Totally agree with this. The other interesting thing that has always struck me about Ablinger is that his music — more perhaps than any other concert music being performed today — is terrifically uncontained by our usual notions of the ‘musical work’. Hence all his ‘projects’ and work-series. This was perhaps something Stockhausen was pointing towards, but in his case by so totally expanding Werktreue that it expands out of its own previously collectively-imposed boundaries (I’m thinking of Licht). Ablinger’s work is similarly contiguous, but instead it is done through modesty somehow, as in ‘the artwork as sketch’. But with Ablinger’s music, what the sketches are ‘pointing towards’ (i.e. the larger work they are ‘sketches for’, in painter’s terms) is elusive, not even the sum of all the parts. It seems deeper.

    Tim — I don’t know whether you saw the recent exhibition at SoundFjord (I haven’t yet, but it’s extended until May 5th) but I did hear one piece of Duncan Whitley’s recently at Goldsmiths which was wonderful — his ‘Four Shephard’s’ piece from 2011. It’s weirdly similar to the subsequent piece he made (which I heard earlier), called G.D. Parada — both these pieces were recorded in rural Portugal but somehow they converge on similar aural situations. In any case, the exhibition looks like it’ll be really worth visiting.

    As far as hyperbolic shortcuts goes — the most obvious would be the gravitational slingshot used to get probes out to the further reaches of the solar system. The orbit pathway found is hyperbolic, and it allows one to get a probe (like the Saturn probe Cassini) accelerated via the gravity of other bodies.

    • Argh – I think I’m going to have to miss that SoundFjord show, but thanks for the tip about Duncan Whitley.

      Yes, you’re right about modesty; this seems part of the work even more than it is with Cage.

      Thank you for the answer re hyperbole. Remarkably, I think the analogy holds up in both physics and rhetoric….


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