COMPOSER // IMPROVISER / MUSICIAN
It is in criticism, critical analysis and critical practice only, that New Music can actually exist and be alive.
All other considerations – material, form, sound sources, logics of composition, metaphor and semantics – need to be taken off this starting point. Understanding sound not so much as material to build abstract forms but rather as a semantic, continuously communicative device in its own right (making abstraction an impossibility), and furthermore, form as a means of making relationships clear (or simply as something irreducible to the unfolding of music), one can conceive a musical practice as criticism and proposition of possible alternative stances. Harshness of material, volume, agressiveness, shrillness and other seemingly „inherently critical“ dimensions of sound do not necessarily have to play a role in this. They can be part of a compositional stance and practice that strives to be critical, but the actual criticism does not lie in the choice of material.
Taking a critical stance in music today means changing the musical practice as such, given that the main frontline is to fight dehumanization, the reduction of life, commodification of all areas of experience.
The idea is to put everyone in the process – me as the composer, the performers and the listeners – on an equal level. As equal as possible - albeit with different faculties, states of knowledge and capacities in the specific situation, of course, but on equal terms in regard to taking part in the process, keeping the freedom to an own perspective. This is important, as music to my understanding can no longer be about linear and hierarchical communication, the composer writing a piece that is then performed correctly to be perceived properly. We are surrounded by such hierarchical communication, not only musically, but on all levels, and continuously, there are attempts to force upon us messages, information, advertisement. In such a framework, the position of the listener as an active quality is lost, making our listening, which is not a receptive faculty only but much rather a way of experiencing oneself, a gateway for repression. In the current situation, all artistic attempts need to adress the fact of repression, reduction and one-dimensionality in our society, and in terms of music, one aspect of this adressing is an opening of the roles in the process. The consequences of this perspective are manifold and we are yet to discover their full meaning, as the historical avantgarde has, sadly, discarded these ideas and left this line of tradition broken or almost without follow-up.
Today even more than in the 50s and 60s, it is of vital importance to apply and fully develop these concepts; otherwise, to my understanding, New Music loses its validity completely as it aligns itself with the established logic and voids its critical potential.
Some of the consequences can already be named.
Writing music can no longer be writing closed and dramaturgical forms, as the listeners, in such concepts, are comprehended as passive recepticles for organised sound, their emotional responses calculated, their reflective capacities directed. One has to be really conscious in applying climaxes and crescendi, cadences and dramatic silences, etc. as all these are ingenious devices, so to speak, of linear communication. Instead, writing music becomes writing possibilities, choices. Fragmentary procedures, variable scores, the musical work as the potential of a musical work. The location or actuality of the musical work, then, can of course only be in its performance, in the moment of its being played.
In such variable and fragmentary concepts of music, the performers are given more freedom and space for their unfolding, comprehending them as musicians in the full sense of the word, not only as assistants to my, the composer's, ingenuity. They are invited to add their own perspective, their artfulness and personality to the piece's context, living their being human in being a performer. Further considerations as to the nature of the score as a communicative device, modes of variability and the limitation of complexity as such, needing to be made, yet the importance of proceeding in such a way is clearly visible. Especially in the context of New Music, with no consensus or available contextual system to adhere to, and even more precariously so when put into societal relations, the so-called "human factor" needs to be reinstated in full, and this idea presents a step towards this goal.
On the listeners' side, the situation is of course a different one.
There is a difficult balance between the fact that listening is of course a receptive faculty, and that musical events, no matter whichever concept lead to their being put forth, are first and foremost perceived on the one hand and the desire to enhance the listeners possibilities for being active and involved in the process on the other. However, considering that sound can be used in many different ways and thus express many different things, one can assume that there is a chance for music to work in a way that listening to it truly becomes an active experience. An active experience of listening, however, is different from understanding music, following its relationships, applying learned things to a new musical situation. In our sense, an active experience means following and exploring the piece, but in many ways, not just its musical logic or system of relations. At the same time, such listening, roaming freely without any faculty given priority, enables making observations and gaining insights, gives rise to self-reflection and thus, the expansion of one's space.
Everything put into a given musical work, can, presumably, be perceived - even, arguably, the deeper intentions while writing or making it. I as a composer can in many technical and non-technical ways try to include the listener into the process, much the same way I can deliberately ignore the fact that people other than me will listen to the piece. In deciding which sound, at which point in time, with which dynamic value and shape alone, for instance, it is already possible to greatly vary if any and how much space is left open for the listener to explore. Adding different semantic layers and transferring communicative strata to various medial layers, applying a strategy of transformation or oscillation etc. between these different layers all present opportunities, in my view, to add depth, and thus space, for the listener to explore. A strategy that permits and demands inclusion of the listener will, thus, also yield ways to include the listener. While this seems like circular reasoning, the logical consistency is only of secondary interest: much more important is the decisive shift from making music as a system of relationships, with the score being the end and the actual work of art to making music as a communicative act, with the performance being the end and actual location of the artwork, and the relationships and the musical content of the work as means to yet another end, namely, the inclusion of all participants into the musical process.
In avoiding hierarchical communication and opening up the musical process as much as possible, the criticism thus voiced, the alternative stances thus shown, speak about the human being as such and the stark contrast between its current, repressive conditions and the possibilities present in every moment.
Adressing the listeners and the performers on the highest possible level, in their entirety as human beings, so to speak, and conceiving listening to and making music as ways in which we explore who we are, how things are, where we hail from and how things were and finally, who and where we could be, how things could be opens up a performance of a musical work to a collective experience, a reasoning, an enlarged moment of reflection. There certainly is a palpable difference between works with such a perspective and others without it: the latter remain closed to the outside and sort of self-conscious, with its drama and dramatic shape unfolding not much different from how it did already hundreds of years ago, while the other form, in which music renders space for reflection, self-observation, presence, works differently, points to something importantly different. To create such works has to be the ambition for any New Music with a critical outlook.