Rambler Roundtables: ELISION ensemble concluded

The third and final installment of these roundtable conversations takes the music of Klaus K. Hübler as a springboard to a discussion of the possibilities and implications of ‘radical instrumentalism’.

The previous two parts, on the subjects of interpretation and the limits of the musical, may be found here and here. And don’t forget that this Monday, 8th February, all the composers and performers featured in these roundtables will be involved as ELISION make their first visit to King’s Place of 2010.

Hübler casts only a light shadow in the corners of recent music history. Despite being the recipient of several major prizes (including Darmstadt’s Kranichsteiner Musikpreis in 1988) and in possession of a considerable European reputation, he was left out of the New Grove II (an entry is forthcoming for the online edition). Brian Morton and John Vinton also overlooked him in their dictionaries too (but not Laura Kuhn in the 1997 edition of Baker’s). Wikipedia has certainly never heard of him. He does have a website, somewhere – I’ve seen it – but I’m damned if I can find it again. He seem to have been overlooked even by Google. Nevertheless, his influence is felt extremely strongly by some and his music, the best of which dates from the 1980s, when Hübler was still in his 30s, has an almost cultish appeal. Serious illness prevented him from composing between 1989 and 1995 – one possible explanation for that shadowy presence – but the interest of a younger generation of composers in his innovations in notational technique, as well as a growing body of players able to meet his exacting performance requirements, may well presage a re-examination of his work.

Roundtable 1, ELISION ensemble: Klaus K. Hübler and ‘radical instrumentalism’

TimR-J: It’s great to have Hübler on a programme like this. How do composers and performers rate his importance, and his legacy on current trends in composition (especially in notational and performance practice)? And what do you think is the potential for exploring this legacy further?

Richard Barrett: I heard Hübler’s Third String Quartet at Darmstadt in 1984. This I believe is the piece in which his characteristic way of doing things was most fully-developed. At the time I found it very thought-provoking, one of those things one has to make one’s mind up about one way or the other. In retrospect (and I’m sure this was quite conscious on his part) I see it as a demonstration of the problematic nature of splitting instrumental practice up into (what one chooses to be) its constituent parts and composing/notating them in a quasi-polyphonic relationship to one another. The main problem for me is that if a composer “separates” a number of aspects of instrumentalism and then makes a point of keeping them separate, the machinations necessary to do so result in massive limitations in the structural/expressive potential of the music. What interests me, and I suppose this can be seen as partly a reaction to Klaus’s quartet ‘painting itself into a corner’, is to think of the disassembly of instrumental practice as a stage in a process, which is succeeded by a stage of reassembling those elements into a new configuration. If one must constantly be exposing the disassembled state of the instrument and its relationship to the performer, this closes off too many musical possibilities as far as I’m concerned, particularly those which might serve to create relationships between instruments and sounds.

TimR-J: Isn’t something of that reassembly that you mention always going to happen, in effect, simply by virtue of a performer playing the music? That a certain reassembly happens as a consequence of an individual bringing performative (and possibly interpretive) coherence to the disassembled bits on the score? I’m not sure – from the perspective of the listener, anyway – how far a notated disassembly can be maintained once a piece is learned, performed and heard.

Daryl Buckley: I first heard of Hübler in the late 80’s through cassettes supplied by my infamous Darmstadt correspondent and man on the ground, Michael Whiticker, then again through conversation with Richard Toop, and lastly in the early 90’s through materials from Robert Platz demonstrating his work as a conductor with Ensemble Koln. I do recall Toop telling me that Hübler was one of three German composers to watch (Wolfgang Rihm was also on that list!). Its quite curious but for someone who was at the time regarded as extremely provocative the music has lapsed and seemingly disappeared from continental festival and ensemble programmes. I have no idea why. However the work is not easy.

While loathe to construct evolutionary trees, pantheons and genealogies I do think over time that Hübler will be seen to have had an increasingly important, albeit individualised conception, of the composerly dissection of instrumental choreography and practice. There has been a resultant ripple from the Third String Quartet and this can be found, in my opinion, in the recent work of American composers such as Aaron Cassidy, Timothy McCormack (and yourself Evan?) and others where the notational parametricisation of the physical actions of players has been given a central importance. And I think these ‘ripples’ will continue.

As a guitarist I’ve never played Hübler.  But I have tackled Richard Barrett and am in the process of relearning transmission!!!   For a musician the nature of performance, of learning a piece, is inevitably as Tim has noted, drawn to some king of reassembly and I wonder how far this process can be defeated-at least in the domain of these extremely virtuosic pieces. The torrents of energy unleashed onstage are underpinned by hours of practice and integration of musical detail into streams delivered by the breath, fingers, lips and minds of the musician. Certainly when playing Richard’s music one is conscious, and often physically so, of the stress of competing and contradictory parameters and requirements BUT there is always the integration into a sonic whole- the interpretative coherence that Tim refers to is required.

Evan Johnson: My Hübler experience started with two graduate student colleagues of mine at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Aaron Cassidy and Carter Williams; the two of them were also my introduction to Hans-Joachim Hespos and much else besides.  For me, no doubt unfairly, Hübler is the idea of treating the right and left hand of a string player separately; seeing the scores for Opus breve and the Third Quartet were a sort of ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ moment.

Among the few composers I know of who rigorously pursue the consequences of Hübler’s approach to string writing, and its applications to other instrumental families, are Aaron and Wieland Hoban (and you, Tim? I don’t know enough of your work to say!).  I’ve never been particularly tempted in that direction, partially because my music tends to retain too much of a ‘lyric’ impulse for the somewhat marginal, unstable, flickering soundworld that such an approach tends to evoke to have much of a place.  What Aaron calls ‘decoupling’ does appear in my scores, but more incidentally, and certainly much less rigorously and thoroughly treated than in his, Hoban’s, or indeed Hübler’s own work.

Richard’s reservations are also well taken, although I’m not so averse as he is to the idea of the limitation of expression through formal restrictions.  Certainly, though, the more general idea of ‘writing from the instrument’ and its technique is something I know is absolutely fundamental for Richard, and I wonder if he sees Hübler as a ‘pioneer’  of any sort in this more general respect?

Richard: Hübler was probably the first to notate this ‘decoupling’ idea in a systematic way, but it’s been around in improvised music for a lot longer. I don’t expect Klaus would see his usage of it as emerging from the work of people like Malcolm Goldstein or Barry Guy or Evan Parker though. (I think on the other hand that the way I try to approach instrumentalism has at least as much to do with such musicians as with the tradition of notated music.)

I’m not ‘averse to the idea of the limitation of expression through formal restrictions’ at all. It depends on what the restrictions are. What I meant was that, if a music is constantly having to reaffirm its decoupledness (and often for reasons of notational elegance, I have the impression), its potential for audible structural articulation is greatly attenuated, and, more crucially, its potential for creating relationships between instruments (especially instruments with dissimilar techniques), between the sounds of those instruments, is reduced to the most simplistic of levels.

By far the majority of compositions which use this idea in an extensive way are for a single performer, they’re all fairly short, the activity in them is all uninterruptedly rapid, and the composer writes only one piece for the instrument in question. (Klaus Hübler’s Third Quartet sidesteps such issues by enacting its decoupling as a global structural process rather than beginning with that “ideology” already in place. But again that’s something you can only do once.) So the particular ‘restrictions’ we’re talking about here might be perfect for particular situations, but as a ‘way of life’ I think they constitute a straitjacket.

Daryl: As an Artistic Director of an ensemble I have the liberty of a different perspective here. I often think it is the weird straightjackets that composers don, the arcane and idiosyncratic sonic paradigms that make them interesting, even sometimes annoyingly so! For some reason Aldo Clementi’s endless obsession with the scavenging of musical fragments as debris and delivering them over to a good solid canonic pummeling springs to mind.  And in the mid-90’s Australia, a Chris Dench ripping off his burning shirt of Nessus, resiling from all of his previous notational exertions, and in an effort to get more performances consciously simplifying his existing scores (or at least talking lots about it)-eliminating the impeding ‘complex rhythms and microtones. The removal of what he perceived to be a straightjacket and notational dead end didn’t help his situation of course but this leads me to my next observation.

And that is that the moment a composer working with the idea of decoupling distils those ideas even further into a radicalised notational format that moment is one, which drastically shapes both the number and nature of performance opportunities available. There are few ensembles and few players who will engage with this and certainly most of the major new music ensembles that have to run seasons of activity will focus on pieces they can do in one or two calls. This music, as is much of the work ELISION undertakes, does not readily fit that mode of endeavour. So perhaps the repertoire outcomes are more about the available performance resources? The few brave souls who are out there?

In our final concert for this year at Kings Place I am hoping that we can do the oboe solo Grave e sfrenato with Peter Veale and I would also love to tackle Hübler’s ensemble work Feuerzaber.  It’s earlier than the Third String Quartet but it has, amongst other things, an absolutely fabulous instrumentation.

Richard: I hadn’t looked at it in terms of ‘weird straightjackets’ and ‘arcane and idiosyncratic sonic paradigms,’ to be sure. But more generally (and possibly quite off topic) I have a problem with those ‘musical philosophies’ which incorporate implicit rules about what can and can’t happen. I would prefer to see the music I’m involved in as characterised primarily by an infinity of possibilities, rather than primarily by its smallness in relation to the surrounding culture. If this kind of music has any place at all in the world, as far as I’m concerned, it’s as a demonstration of the possibility of imaginative freedom on a level which isn’t readily available to more commercially-oriented musics. I don’t think this is helped by composers staking out little aesthetic territories which they tend and defend and refuse to go outside.

Benjamin Marks: For what it is worth, CERCAR, while having its various split layers (harmonics, slide, mute, trigger, breath impulse), has other perhaps slightly more hidden constructions that might put some perspective on his work. CERCAR is from RICERCAR (presumably the RI missing would suggest it isn’t dedicated to a King!) and the prominent notes at the beginning are c, e flat, g, a flat and b natural (reference to Bach). I haven’t looked further than this into the correlation between realized pitch (i.e. working out what sounds the combination of slide and embouchure produce) and Bach’s music. Also the rhythmic material of the harmonic line is perfectly retrograded at a mid point, with the addition of a short wild coda and the inclusion of a vocal line (very much hidden behind other material). The vocal line articulates the acrostic – Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta (this is not really that possible to hear – try saying an ‘n’ and making your lips buzz!). I haven’t had a lot of time to fully analyze the piece (I have to play it after all!) but I’m sure the slide line would reveal other constructs, perhaps also Bach related. It may well be a mistake to focus too much on his notational practices, if you are looking for the guts of his music (unless the Bach is seen as just a kind of useful vessel, without any other import or significance). There are moments in CERCAR where he almost pokes fun at the notation – a sudden change from mute open to mute close and back to mute open, without any other activity (perhaps this a reference to a similar event at the start of Berio’s Sequenza V). Or you could be more serious perhaps and see this as necessary to visibly articulating the multi-layered process he is engaged with. Finally Aaron made a point that it is possible to work out most (if not all) of the pitch material in CERCAR (some of the pitches are suggested in the score too). Aaron was interested in using his notation in such a way that pitch couldn’t be worked out – that there was no other way of writing the score. As a performer I generally stick to a three part approach (was that articulated by Ferneyhough?) of i) reading the piece (a general feel, shapes, phrases, landmarks) ii) detailed work (in this case ‘working out’ most of the desired result combination by combination, finding all the interesting ‘cracks’ between the layers) iii) putting it all back with a sense of both (you then start to ‘read’ the notation as perhaps Hübler intended, rather than rely so much on the ‘workings out’). Sorry very general but I should be learning some music. Bye!

Richard: … to which I would add another intended resonance of Hübler’s title is carcer, ‘prison’…

Benjamin: Thanks Richard. It makes a lot of sense – the slide line is certainly struggling throughout to break free of the mirrored, closed structure of the harmonic line. Perhaps this is also indicative of this piece in that the new territory Hübler unearths by decoupling the physical elements is in conflict (perhaps internally) with received traditional practices (as suggested by the Bach references).

Richard: I found Hübler’s obsessively thorough dismembering of instrumental technique pretty startling when I first came across it, and it was something I felt it necessary to define my way of looking at things in relation to, but at the same time it’s important to note that the ideas weren’t without precedent – firstly in the domain of improvisational performance, as I’ve already mentioned, but also in the work of composers like Holliger (two examples: First String Quartet (1973), and Studie über Mehrklänge (1979), the latter being written in tablature throughout), Lachenmann (obviously), Kagel (the cello parts of Match) and even Berio (the harp and trombone Sequenzas). One thing that most of those examples have in common, which in the end I feel closer to (and indeed which I feel has greater potential in a more general sense), is a concern not just with the disassembly of instrumental technique but also then its reassembly into new configurations, “new instruments”.

One example of what I mean in the programme of this upcoming concert is the final part of Aurora, in which the two instruments have been ‘deconstructed’ into a particular set of compositional ‘parameters’, some of which (pitch, dynamic) are then held at a constant value (the D natural a ninth above middle C, pp) while the others (articulation, the “wawa” of harmon mutes, breathiness, pitch-fluctuation by random valve/slide movements while fpcusing on the constant pitch) alternate asynchronously between two states. The rate and relative regularity of these alternations articulates four parallel structural processes, with minimal ‘intuitive’ intervention. So, I conceive this as reassembling chosen elements into a new instrument (or pair of instruments), whose (drastic) limitations are coextensive with the musical identity of this area of the piece.

The rest of Aurora works in the same way, to one extent or another, so that the “partial instruments” in the resulting ensemble are interrelated and mutually complementary. Instrumental parameters, such as the ones mentioned, are placed in different relative perspectives in different areas of the overall structure (indeed these changing perspectives and their durational proportions are the overall structure), and they include concepts of pitch- and time-interrelationships. The intention is thus not (or not invariably) to negate such more ‘traditional’ perceptual modalities, but to generalise and expand them.

TimR-J: Does the sort of disassembly and reassembly that Richard describes chime with other composers here? What other potential areas for exploration are there once one has begun to think about instruments like this (is there more out there than taking apart and putting back)? And how does all this feel to the instrumentalists – presumably you break through to a new understanding of your instrument?

Daryl: I always used to joke with Richard about his 10-string guitar solo Colloid … the humour I recall was centered around the feeling of his dots almost composing the body-yes, a definite disassembly and a fascinating reassembly of the muscles and tendons!  Linking through to another thread Colloid I would venture is a really wonderful example of Richard’s links to notions of decoupling drawn from the improvisers’ language – I think Barry Guy would be a case in point especially as the piece works it way down towards the final and very physical phrases on the lowest strings. Let me know if I’m wrong here …

Richard, back to Aurora. What kind of role has your comprehension or sensibility towards the work of Jakob Böhme impacted upon the way you have thought about the processes of reassembly in Aurora?

Liza Lim: Great, Richard.  That’s so interesting to hear you describe so succinctly what a ‘decoupling/re-coupling’ approach to instrumental writing allows you to achieve.  It moves it beyond just another bag of ‘tricks’ – you can complicate performance all you like but does the compositional idea move beyond Paganini?  I guess my focus in instrumental exploration tends always to look at areas where I feel there there’s a lot of ambiguity and flux in the quality of the sounds – inbetween states, like between ‘solid’/’liquid’, ‘granulated’/’gaseous’ – a sense of potential for transformation that can occur very fluidly from any point in a continuum.  Stringed instruments lend themselves particularly to this kind of ‘3-dimensional’ extension of sonic flux and that becomes a point of reference for the way in which I hear other instruments when I’m writing.  I often look for technical analogues – the way certain kinds of multiphonics on wind instruments or split tones in the brass can offer a similarly nuanced mobile field of sound – to what can be achieved on say a ‘cello.  The zones I’m interested in are the ‘paradoxical’ places where the instrument flickers between a number of possible sounding outcomes – between harmonics/subtones/’real’ notes/distortions – so that you get a sense of colliding morphing layers.  But I don’t notate anywhere near the level of detail that Richard does – I rely more on the performer to nuance changing densities and qualities by using the gestural language of the music as a guide for moving energy through sounds.

Richard: Daryl: The kind of thing I was describing actually applies to most of what I do with instruments, so it isn’t confined to what happens when I think about Böhme! The passage in Aurora that I was talking about relates of course to the “higher unity” mentioned in my programme note, represented by the last minute or so of the piece being all on a single unison pitch, though the concept of “unison” is at the same time being questioned or undermined by everything that’s going on “inside” the sound so to speak.

The ‘disassembly/reassembly’ idea, I should add, is something that goes on between instruments as well as within them. The ways in which instruments can (or can’t) be combined to generate some kind of aggregate sound is also part of “instrumentalism” in history, performance practice and compositional thinking, and this is an important aspect of Aurora as well, as it is of my preceding duo Hypnerotomachia for two clarinets and the next one, Città del sole for flute and recorder. So none of these pieces consists of an encounter between two monadic entities – in a sense they aren’t just pieces for two ‘new instruments’ but also, and to varying degrees, each features a single ‘new instrument’ played by two players.

Timothy McCormack: I very much identify with most of what has been said here. However, in my own work I am starting to see the process less as ‘taking apart’ an instrument and then reassembling it, and more as enclosing the instrument within itself, creating a new directionality specific to that instrument’s unique properties. Perhaps it is, in the end, not all that different from what what has been said here already.

Dominik Karski, when asked about his unconventional usage of the harp in an in-concert interview (ELISION was performing his trio motion+form), said that he does not see his sounds as being strange or unconventional; they are ‘simply sounds that are available’. That is how I view the various ways I have performers manhandle their instruments in my music. The operations are simply available through the union of/interaction between the performer and the instrument. I do not consider an instrument to ‘become an instrument’ until it is in the hands of a performer.

A good example of an ‘available’ physicality that has been totally integrated into a piece’s aural, physical and structural fabric is a certain operation with the bass clarinet(ist) in Disfix, which you will hear on this upcoming ELISION concert. The performer is constantly altering his embouchure position upon the mouthpiece itself, causing the pitch material to jet upwards into the higher partials. The performer is typically fluidly transgressing between different positions on the mouthpiece, causing the sound to also be in constant flux. Pitches, ranges and timbres collide, issue from and morph into one another, yielding a multi-layered, contrapuntal, highly ‘vertical’ sound from a (primarily) monophonic instrument.

This is all informed by my interest in mediation. Finding ways in which numerous, defined forces exist in the same space (in an instrument, for example) and work to mediate each others’ influence on the resultant sound is a huge concern/exploration in my music and why that which is aural and that which is physical cannot be separated. Just as Richard indicates that his ‘dissassembly/reassembly idea … is something that goes on between instruments as well as within them’, my employment of mediation also interests me because it cuts across and exists in several performative strata, which then causes further mediation between those strata. The instrument’s ability to mediate itself; the instrument and performer both imposing their force of mediation upon the other; the constituent members of the ensemble mediating each others’ influence (I approach this not only through timbre, but also through counterpoint and, most importantly, density). Layers upon layers of mediation resulting in one final sound-object.

Richard: Something I was meaning to mention in connection with ‘unison’ was an anecdote I recently heard, about a musician from Uganda who was invited to work with some new-music players in the UK. On the first day he demonstrated the music he played on his wooden flute, and the British musicians worked hard with adjustments to their techniques – embouchure, microtonal fingerings etc. – to be able to play exactly the pitches that the Ugandan flute-player was using. When he arrived on the second day he had sawn the end off his flute so that all the pitch-relationships had changed (though, as far as he was concerned, the music he was playing was “the same”). So the ‘concept of unison’ can be narrower or broader depending on one’s viewpoint. I would like to think that my own viewpoint is considerably broader than that of the aforementioned British musicians!

Tim, I don’t understand your use of ‘mediation’.

Tim McC: I use ‘mediation” to characterize the nature and behavior of the relationship between various techniques/operations that I use in my music. I think of sound as a result of multiple physical forces being activated simultaneously. The fact that these ‘forces’ take place simultaneously and in the same space (the space of, for example, one instrument), means that their individual influence upon the sound may not be heard, but their composite influence is. They ‘mediate’ each others’ influence.

But enough with the flowery language. This mediation can take the form of keys being added to or subtracted from a ‘primary fingering’ to change timbre/pitch content, etc; the directional operations of the bow (side-to-side (speed), up/down (pressure), to-and-fro (position ie: sul pont, etc …)) changing independently of one another; the performer simultaneously executing multiple flutter-tongues (with the tongue and in the throat); the performer altering breath/air quality, embouchure quality or position on mouthpiece, etc … One can handle these in such a way that their shifting influence upon the other techniques becomes audible. It also allows for me to write contrapuntally for individual instruments using parameters other than pitch and register. In this way, I see it as being very similar to what Richard indicates as the ‘unison’ section in Aurora. It’s a way for me to work ‘inside the sound’, as you put it.

In a way, techniques (I think the term ‘operations’ is more fitting, actually) become ‘objects’ to me – they are independent of one another and have their own qualities and boundaries; but they can be combined with others, the act of which may cause them to lose some of their qualities, or be pushed beyond their boundaries. As a result, my music tends to employ a limited set of operations-per-instrument, and the piece is sustained through their proliferation and the constantly varying sound resulting from their mediation.

Since all of the techniques I use are yielded from the instrument itself, or the nature of the performer-instrument relationship, I see my handling of instrumentalism to be inward-looking, using what the instrument/performer apparatus makes available, rather than as a process of deconstruction/dissassembly. In the end, I think that what we’re all doing with instruments is very related, and I’m not suggesting that my approaching the instrument ‘from the inside’ vs. your approaching the instrument through its deconstruction are radically different. If anything, they are two sides of the same coin, the difference between them perhaps being one of syntax or mentality rather than of actual practice or philosophy.

I hope that helped clear things up, though, looking at how long it turned out to be … probably it didn’t!

Richard: I get the impression sometimes that composers use idiosyncratic terminology, to describe something they do or some way of doing it, as a means of announcing that it’s more different from what other composers do than it actually is. To a nonspecialist listener (which let’s hope most listeners are!) such territorial claims probably look somewhat overdone.

Maybe I could ask the following question to the composers here present: if you were asked by someone without specialist knowledge of contemporary music and its terminology (or that of critical theory etc.) to describe the way your music works with instruments and players, what would you say?

Evan: Off the top of my head, and perhaps more thought would reveal a more useful answer, I’d probably wind up saying something general enough that it certainly describes the quite different instrumental practices of the three of us at least, probably Liza as well given what she has said (although with different emphases and aims, I would imagine) and probably a good deal else besides: that I take the instrument itself and the physical act of playing it as grounds for ‘musical’ thinking and development, and that these approaches can often result in the player being faced with contradictions in what they are being told to do.

Richard Barrett: To answer my own question, I’m interested in a music which exposes the physical means and processes of producing sound and makes this exposure part of its sonic/structural/expressive vocabulary.

Liza: I get what Tim McC’s saying about the way various actions/forces combine so that one arrives at a more complex, probably unpredictable result.  Another thing that can happen though is that things cancel each other out and you get a less interesting outcome.

As for your question, I’m interested in creating situations of heightened attention for performers/listeners  (the musician is the first listener) – & to explore an erotics of performance – a kinaesthetic & ritual dimension for music.  The classic cultural reference for me is Chinese qin (zither) music which has a highly developed vocabulary of gestures and where the sensorial zone between sound and silence is expanded through a focus on incredibly nuanced inflections, rubbing sounds and other subtle noises that are considered to be the ‘breath’ of the instrument (ie: the instrument is alive).   Working with sounds that are ambiguous in nature or that sit at the margins between noise/’tone’/silence requires high level attention and finesse from the musician to keep the sound in a fluid state.  In a sense I’m setting up conditions for musicians to navigate a morphing, activated world of sound.
The performer’s body and instrument are the medium for registering the level of connection they have to this state of activation.  What I’m listening for is changing energy states as performers move through different phases of attunement (of which the music is just the means).

TimR-J: I’m interested to know, Liza, do you think in terms of de-coupling or disassembling instrumental technique when you’re trying to find these ‘paradoxical’ sonic areas, or is it for you a question of stretching/distorting a pre-existing performing tradition – or something else entirely?

Liza: I often focus on areas within an instrument that have some aspect of inherent instability built in but tend not to work with these from the point of view of ‘decoupling’ – ie: I don’t usually treat layers of action in a parametrical way where they might have different rates of change or separate rhythmic identities.   My approach has been more about exploring the ‘inner life’ of that sound, extending the transitional aspects of the sound by identifying component qualities from a broadly spectral point of view – eg: say a multiphonic effect on a ‘cello has a certain graininess overlaid with a flicker effect between a number of different harmonics and a fundamental pitch – these things form part of a vocabulary that I can combine in different degrees – the mix of noise in relation to harmonic content; faster or slower flickering between harmonics – so that the qualities of certain sounds become the basis of the musical language.

Richard: Is there possibly a contradiction there between saying that you ‘can combine in different degrees’ a vocabulary of (according to your own description) quite micro-detailed sound processes and what you say earlier about ‘setting up conditions’ and ‘relying on the performer’?

Re Tim McC’s statement: I just think it was introducing unnecessary terms and complications.

I find a lot to agree with in Liza’s last post – as far as I’m concerned, the issue of ‘decoupling’ is only one component of ‘radical instrumentalism’. Another way I could answer the question I posed earlier would be (as Ben has already hinted) composing for acoustic instruments is (filtered through notation, with all the limitations as well as opportunities it offers) a vision of how I’d play those instruments myself, if I could: that’s the kind of engagement with sound and physicality I’m trying to aim at.

Liza: I think no matter how detailed a composer makes their instructions, there is always the space for the performer (that’s the ‘interpretation’ question again).  Saying ‘the performer plays what the composer writes’ is only part of the story and sometimes very partial!  As Séverine said with respect to Invisibility, there is a process whereby the performer brings their whole cultural makeup to learning and performing music and that introduces a hugely mediating (!) factor into the proceedings.  I like that story about the Ugandan flute player and his concept of what gives a musical work its identity – different aesthetic prioritisations will produce different interpretations and you don’t have to go to some exotically distant culture to find this – just think of how differently an orchestral player in BRF or SWR compared to a musician in a British Orchestra compared to a specialist new music player operate in musical time and space.

7 thoughts on “Rambler Roundtables: ELISION ensemble concluded

  1. Thanks for putting all this material here, Tim, this should put me in a good frame of mind for the concert.

  2. Thanks for the interesting discussion: I’ve set it as a discussion text for my composition class. In the meantime, can I register my appalledness at the Hübler website? That’s one bad-ass piece of web design (and not in a good way).

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