The freedom that the listener has to make choices. In Ashley, or Reich, there is a freedom in the music for the listener to make choices in their concretisation of the piece. How does this part relate to this? In later European composition, as much as I love listening to it, that freedom is sometimes lost to me, I feel that I have instead a responsibility to decode the correct (or one of a series of correct) meanings. How do you get from note to note? If, after all, it is just a way of generating material and form, then why be so careful about those notes? Why write them down in detail at all? (This isn’t a question of complexity, which has its own aesthetic dimensions; rather that large, carefully notated middle ground that is neither ‘complex’ nor ‘simple’.)
Paradoxically, I feel quite free listening to Boulez’s Structures. I feel less free listening to Kreuzspiel, the rhythm of which is easier to come to grips with, but harder to pull away from. In Structures, it is enough to know – and it really doesn’t take the greatest pair of ears to hear it – that here there is a procedure being composed out. What that procedure is is, contrary to Reich, beside the point. It is enough to hear it and to trust it. This trust frees us to navigate our way around this crystalline world, to concretise its internal relationships in a form that we can make sense of. It is in this respect exactly the same as Cage’s Music of Changes, an old cliché that like all the best contains a great deal of truth. With this freedom the listener gains power; and as Spiderman knows, with great power comes great responsibility. With some later European music I find that I’ve lost some of that power, and only been left with the responsibility. Whether this is a consequence of composers being afraid to grant it to me, or me being afraid to use it, I don’t know, but it is an anxiety. Which is why I’ve been so pleased recently to discover the music of Peter Ablinger, in which there does seem to be a return to the mutual trust that is the only way the 50s avant garde made sense. In Ablinger’s music, the processes are to a degree transparent, and they’re engineered in such a way as to suggest the need for a response without ever determining what that response might be. It is strange, but liberating music. This CD on Kairos is where I’ve started, and seems as good a place as any to begin.