Apropos of Ablinger

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.

4 thoughts on “Apropos of Ablinger

  1. I can follow you with Book I of Structures, but what about Book II, in which composerly intervention takes precedence over the strict execution of a process?

  2. I suppose it’s a matter of degree, with Structures 1a at one pole, and most other things following it to a greater or lesser extent. I’ve always thought, however, that book 2 should be heard in the knowledge at least (if not actually heard immediately afterwards as part of the same programme) of book 1 so that the tension between process and its dissolution has a chance to come out.

    Structures 1a is a bit like a 4’33” though – it gets wheeled out by people like me as a control against which to test a theory. Book 2’s probably more interesting music…

  3. Whenever I’m listening to complex, as in carefully notated, music, I never think I’ve now lost or gained any freedoms – sometimes I think it even struggles to have any particular meaning, even (although of course some of it grapples with extra-musical issues, as some of the composers have political commitments).

    I have to say that this is one of the things I quite like about it, challenging the way I listen.

    Ablinger has one of the best composer sites on the web. Looks really nice.

  4. Or that it challenges you to find meaning, choices, ways to concretise. So I press the ‘play’ button again.

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