Credo – long
Everything changes, not at least the own attitudes, premises and aims. Maybe – hopefully – not in every regard, but though to an extent that former attempts to their transcription seem to be foreign in parts. Of course that might apply to music too, but within the medium of language the differences become tangible much clearer.
Now, try of a localisation. The following considerations and conclusions result from the observation of different music scenes, my compositional practice and experience in the areas of curating, teaching and software development. I'm especially concerned by the relation of contemporary instrumental-acoustic to advanced electro-acoustic music. On the one hand there are interesting aesthetical overlaps concerning the matter of sound (e.g. the handling of noise), then again there is an often impregnable foreignness of auditories respectively a reciprocal lack of interest. The contemporary width of – in a broad sense – experimental music moreover contains much, which isn't explicitely included in the forthcoming remarks (improvisation, noise, ambient etc.), though the described disruptions can be observed there as well. In the border zone along fine arts a special situation exists: the formats of installations and interactive works have mainly developed as a result of the revolution of the preconditions of sound production, therefore there is no special need for these art forms to react on the changes.
With regard to the tradition of musical composition anyhow – and not to that alone – we live in a time of change. Nothing new, but one can't make oneself aware enough of this fact. In many scenes though there exist quite stable structures of action, off the quake's center, and changes caused by it can't be realised in its full range. The necessity to earn a living by the own action hides the total view also. The art business, the subscenes of contemporary music, they run as anciently and suggest continuity within their habitual presentation of the new.
In fact however with the possibilities of digitisation respectively the invention of the computer – and its realtime music applications especially – a fracture has occured in a way so radical, that it might happen only every some hundred years.
With regard to that, all areas of music production – composition, performance, education – must be thought through without throwing overboard the historically relevant, but also – and this is maybe the even greater challenge – without letting oneself restrict in the current potentials by the habits of the past. Naturally this will not happen overnight, so we live in a transitional age, in which much asynchronous (and anachronistic also) exists in parallel. This isn't particularily bad per se, as the aesthetical value of the new mainly grows by the tension to the past, barely by itself alone. For producing musicians – far more than for players – first of all the question occurs how far one engages in the possibilities of the computer. With other words: structure generation, sound production and interaction can be automated, done by human labour or in hybrid form, what will be emphasised? I'd like to answer the question in a twofold way, indirectly as a general prediction of the sociological impacts of the new possibilities and with an individual conclusion.
My (not particularly hazardous) prediction: alltogether the need for performance will not completely disappear, especially chamber music ensembles will continue to exist and still pieces will be written for them – as much as they will act as improvising groups –, the part of the computer in the process of composition and in perfomance will increase. Acousmatic music, in which performative human involvement is restricted to sound direction, as well as electronic live performance will persist, visual aspects will become more important in all areas. The orchestra though has lost its role as relevant forum for contemporary music for a long time, in my opinion this process is irreversible: technological developments unfold a social power of transformation that no one can elude. The trend of substituting human labour by machines, particularly in areas, that need collective manpower, is unambiguous and doesn't stop before the art scene. With these prerequisites the orchestra, as medium of the 19th century, has a hard time. That doesn't mean that its aesthetical possibilities were principally outbid, but its time as essential field of experimentation outside the pure museum-like functionality is over. Reductions and fusions are, though economic reasons are often also just given as convenient arguments, a striking evidence for the fundamental set of problems.
The large ensembles, which have carried the development of new music especially in the last decades and also have made them modestly popular in a commendable manner, are potentially facing similar difficulties. Their museum-like functionality – which will at least protect the continuation of some orchestras – is limited to a smaller and more specialised repertoire, with regard to the new production they compete with small ensembles that can more easily include the use of electronic means in the performance situation. On the level of sound the possibilities of extended pure instrumental techniques, also in combination, seem to be exploited, respectively the effort of their exploration seems high in comparison to their potential of renewal. Maybe not at least because of that reason we can observe trends towards music theatre, multi-media and non-musical contexts, consequently a turn away from pure sound.
What does a speculative preview on general trends mean for the own production? Not much at first, because what one must do because of an instrinsic motivation, one also often and conciously does against big trends of organisational structures; besides occasions and reasons are exposed to fluctuations. A sporadic pause and the comparison with general conditions lead to changes of course, time and again, new interesting fields of possibilities are prefered to the known ones.
Such a change of course has arisen for me during the time after finishing my composition studies: structure-generating procedures in the instrumental area for small and medium ensembles were the first larger computer integrations into my flow of work. In parallel I have been working on electronic pieces, but it was not before 2007 when I started with the sequence Lokale Orbits, where things could be linked. Solo, duo and trio instrumentations were combined with multichannel tape, the electronic layers were derived from recordings made with the musicians involved in the premier performances. A special motivation for me was the possibility to continue extended playing techniques into the electronic domain, the processing with granular synthesis was the method of choice. I perceived the transition from generating structures to sound processing as a deliberation. Now the formal planning grew out from the timbral possibilities rather than determining them. In both cases I decided for similar algorithms though.
While working on the Orbits sequence I started with the development of the software library miSCellaneous, an extension of SuperCollider. As a fully-fledged programming language SuperCollider allows the generation of arbitrary abstract structures and its powerful audio engine opens almost boundless possibilities of synthesis and processing in realtime. For reasons of sustainability I was always sceptical about the use of live-electronics in my own pieces, but as a part of the compositional destillation process I regard realtime as a quantum jump. By its iterated use the sequence of experiment and decision is accelerated in an unforseeable manner, that was the main reason for me to drop the idea of a compostional schedule, which is based on abstract principles or imaginations of sound, the timbral experiment became the point of origin. That's no refusal of formal planning, on the contrary, but the form now grows out of the sounding matters, bottom up.
Further, experiences with different computer music environments have led me to the conviction that the direct use of programming languages has the largest potential. Here lies the freedom to gear into basic processes and to develop interfaces that fit the own needs. Moreover the discourse of a lively open source community stimulates the work on new musical options.
During the last years my artistic emphasis – maybe not at least because of the deepening of software development and timbral experimentation – has again moved. In this area I see the largest potential to detect and use new sound worlds. Jewels lie tight below the surface, they are rarely perceived, why? The mediation of synthesis and processing is dominated by different schools of thinking and interests: technical explanations and analysis here, commercial applications there. The aesthetical, artistically relevant aspect of different procedures is rarely illuminated. This is a result of the different focussings mentioned as well as of the complexity of the matter. Explanations in textbooks often follow standard schemes, derived synthesis examples then often sound the same. Moreover affirmatively formulated guidances for building interesting synthesis procedures are cancelling out themselves – as it can be observed with the inflationary use – and therefore the wearout – of standard methods of granular synthesis. Prefabricated effect processings of commercial software again restrict the possibilities by "comfortable" interfaces, then structure-generating algorithmic transformations can barely be applied – or only in a laborious way. As a base for demanding individual sound research I'd regard the following preconditions:
- a flexible powerful programming environment (preferably text-based)
- unorthodox synthesis methods/processings and/or
- unusual combinations of known synthesis methods/processings
- persistent experimentation in addition to attentive listening, comparison and selection
With the sequence Matters, by intensifying experimental sound research, I moved away from the concept of musique mixte, as realised with Lokale Orbits, and restricted myself to the acousmatic listening situation with multichannel projection. Still I'm more engaged in the processing of recorded sounds than in pure synthesis. The irregularity of real world sounds, continued in its processings, is most welcome – an irrational moment, which can hardly be simulated by calculation. Moreover recordings are a kind of preselection, which contrasts the dizzying space of all sounds that can be calculated. I'm continuing to experiment with variants of granular synthesis (e.g. in combination with feedback and multiple modulation of their parameters), furthermore with buffer modulation, wave folding and procedures that are often rubricated as non-standard, lastly with dynamical systems.
Unexpected sounds discovered in the course of an experimental programming practice are consistently amazing me. Not everything is immediately exploitable, often unused fragments are stored for a while, because there is no time for elaboration or too many sounds with potential for development appear at once.
Under modified circumstances however the old questions occur:
What is it what I want, and what I don't ? What works (still), what doesn't (anymore)? ...
In each case the answer lies in the sound, it eludes argumentation.
The rationale explains the frame, it remains the penultimate.
Daniel Mayer, 2019