Monday, 29 March 2010


Haven't written in a while; thought I didn't really have much to say, as well as my computer dying recently. Fortunately a new mac is at hand. But, did get a chance to hear some CDs, of which I will write a bit about.

Peter Ablinger - Voices and Piano
Kairos 0013082KAI

From when I came across him last year or so, I've always liked Ablinger. There is something about his approach - a conceptual approach - which is unusual among Composers (with a C). Despite what Composers have done to musical form, the concert form itself remains particularly rigid; even after fifty years of post-Cagean Experimental music, even after Punk, Merzbow, East German Concert Installations of the eighties. I sort of hope that Sound Art, as well as the recent trends in relational art (Carsten Hoeller, Rirkrit Tiravanija) will help to break down those barriers. They may be exactly the barriers that alienate New (classically oriented) Music from those outside the inner circle. (Alex Ross has various gripes about concert ritual, some of which are related to these ideas.)

In his concert works (i.e. those other than his installations) Ablinger seems to do something elusive; to provide an objectified aesthetic sense that's like a conceptual art installation. It's a bit like the pieces are surrounded by the white space that permeates art galleries. Voices and Piano is no exception, though I think the nature of Kairos' CD may contribute (maybe negatively) to this effect. Nevertheless, I think it's unclear whether Ablinger's work is music or sound art, or whether there is a difference. I think what most people would be happy to say is that 'someone talking - just talking - isn't really music'. For all practical purposes, when you listen to the news on radio 4, it's not music. But it's all a question of contextualisation as far as I can see - presumably the news could be presented as music (in a concert environment with a programme note), or conceptualised as music in an individual way (listening for pitch/rhythmic/timbric quality as opposed to meaning). Similarly, through the addition of piano accompaniments, which are 'expansions' of the voices, Ablinger is 'recontextualising' voices by juxtaposition. Maybe its this that contributes to my perceived gallery-like 'white space'.

The CD is by no means aesthetically perfect to my ear - portions drag - but I think there are enough moments to satisfy (more than most new composition I hear, incidentally). These moments are, for example, where some important word is obscured by the piano, and the sense of a sentence lost (or even refuted); or when there is a nice juxtaposition of one texture leading into another; or the organisation of speakers themselves. There are some gorgeous compositions in there, Apollinaire for example, or Mother Theresa. Sartre is also particularly great.

Although, the other thing that is questioned is the presence of 'composition' in the pieces. As with his works Quadraturen ('Squarings'), there is the presence of quantisation in these pieces, as well as music as a form of analysis of sound. There is an algorithmic element which also suggests a 'hands off' compositional approach - as in truly Experimental music. Quadraturen were often composed with assistants, who programmed the Max/MSP patch(es) or realised the mechanical display, and in some cases produced the score. Ablinger says of Quadraturen V: 'Music': 'I have not written a single note (- and I am proud of that)' (this piece happens to be, in my opinion, terribly beautiful; and a cogent argument for algorithmic composition). Hence the presence of conceptual art/sound art - the Quadraturen pieces, even the ensemble/orchestral ones, are processes, not texts (or processes as texts if the traditional work-concept is retained). They turn the human beings into machines for reproduction of a process. They are part of the 'little factory'. One gets the sense that Hodges (piano on the Kairos recording) is in a similar position - and yet all of these pieces seem 'composed'. I suspect that Ablinger set up machines which would produce notes for him, but still decided which he thought 'worked', and which didn't. Or, at least, he was participant (or overseer) of a process.

Though I don't think it is Ablinger's most exciting work, I think this disc is great, and raises a ton of interesting questions, and provides some great moments.