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 previous 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 more clearly.
Now, try of localization. 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 (like the handling of noise). Then there is an often impregnable foreignness of auditories, respectively reciprocal lack of interest. The contemporary width of – in a broad sense – experimental music moreover contains much, which isn't included in the forthcoming remarks (improvisation, noise, ambient, etc.), though, we can observe these disruptions there as well. The situation is different in the border zone to fine arts: the formats of installations and interactive works have mainly developed as a result of the revolution of the preconditions of sound production, so there is no need for these art forms to react on the changes.
About 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 are hard to realize in its full range. The necessity to earn a living hides the total view also. The art business, the sub-scenes of contemporary music, they run as anciently and suggest continuity within their mechanical presentation of the new.
However, with the possibilities of digitization and the invention of the computer – and especially its real-time music applications – a radical fracture has occurred, that might happen only every some hundred years.
Concerning that, all areas of music production – composition, performance, education – must be thought through without throwing overboard the historically relevant, but also – maybe the even biggest 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. That isn't particularly 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 deeply one engages in the possibilities of the computer. In other words: structure generation, sound production, and interaction can be automated, done by human labor or in hybrid form, where will be the emphasis? I will try 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: altogether, the need for performance will not completely disappear. Especially chamber music ensembles will continue to exist, and 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 performance will increase. Acousmatic, as well as live-electronic, music will persist, visual aspects will become more relevant in all areas. However, the orchestra has lost its role as a forum for contemporary music for a long time, which seems to be an irreversible process: technological developments unfold a social power of transformation that no one can elude. The trend of substituting human labor by machines, particularly in areas that need many people, is unambiguous and doesn't stop before the art scene. With these prerequisites, the orchestra, as a medium of the 19th century, has a hard time. That doesn't mean that its aesthetical possibilities were principally exhausted, but its time as an 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 – striking evidence for the underlying 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 specialized repertoire. Concerning the new artistic creation, 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 an 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 the 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 intrinsic motivation, one also often and consciously does against overall trends of organizational structures; besides, occasions and reasons are exposed to fluctuations. Sporadic pauses and the comparison with general conditions lead to changes of course, time and again, new fields of possibilities might seem superior to the known ones.
Such a change 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 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. I combined solo, duo, and trio instrumentations with electronics, which I derived from recordings made with the musicians involved in the premiere performances. The possibility to continue extended playing techniques into the electronic domain was a particular motivation for me, and 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, though, in both cases, I decided on similar algorithms.
While working on the Orbits sequence, I started with the development of the software library miSCellaneous, an extension of SuperCollider. Being 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 skeptical about the use of live-electronics in my pieces, though, I regard realtime as a quantum jump as a part of the compositional distillation process. The iterated usage of algorithms accelerates the sequence of experiments and decisions in an unforeseeable manner. That was the main reason for me to drop the idea of a compositional schedule, which rests upon 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 should be preferred. Here lies the freedom to gear into basic processes and to develop interfaces that fit individual 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. I see the most potential in navigating through new sound worlds – jewels lie tight below the surface, often overlooked for the following reasons. Different schools of thinking and interests dominate the mediation of synthesis and processing: technical explanations and analysis here, commercial applications there. The aesthetical, artistically relevant aspect of different procedures tends to get lost in the shuffle. That's a result of the mentioned focussing as well as of the complexity of the matter. Explanations in textbooks often follow standard schemes, derived synthesis examples consequentially often sound the same. Then, affirmatively formulated guidances for building synthesis procedures are canceling out themselves. The inflationary use – and therefore, wearout – of standard methods of granular synthesis can serve as an example. 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 an intricate way. As a base for demanding individual sound research, I'd regard the following preconditions:
- a flexible, highly productive programming environment (preferably text-based)
- unorthodox synthesis methods/processings
- 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 realized 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 as 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 one could, theoretically, calculate. I'm continuing to experiment with variants of granular synthesis (e.g., in combination with feedback and multiple modulations 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 overwhelming me. Not everything is immediately exploitable – often, fragments remain unused 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 and eludes argumentation.
The rationale explains the frame but remains the penultimate.
Daniel Mayer, 2019