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Physical presence in installation music

2004-02-29


Making electronic music for installations is radically different from writing music to be performed by musicians. When sheet music is interpreted by good musicians you get a human presence that is at times missing in electronic music. Kraftwerk and the Detroit techno reacts to this by exploring the machine-like world where human presence is removed altogether. “I want to be a machine” as Ultravox put it.

To me one of the great achievements of Eno on Another Green World is that he creates a machine-like music that is longing for a soul. Some of the tracks implies a very complex and ambiguous emotional landscape.

Personally I would like to keep the complexity and warmth of performed music. I’ve been banging my head into a lot of walls while working on sounds for the installation in Kristiansand. I’m able to get very interesting sounds generated by the video material of Jeremy but end up with a lot of whys. It either ends up sounding inhuman or I start adding expressive qualities that are very hard to justify. The question I’ve kept asking myself is: Why should sounds still have a human presence and expressiveness when there’s no one performing it anymore? I know what I’m aesthetically attracted to and want to do but I need to be able to answer some very fundamental questions in order to do it in an artistically convincing way.

Who do you meet when you’re listening to music? If you experience a human presence is that the presence of the composer the musician or yourself? If you see an exhibition of paintings at a gallery space the experience is independent of the artist being at the gallery. E.g. paintings of van Gogh and Pollock bear a strong testimony of their physical movements. Is it possible for me to capture in an analogue way my own gestures and use that as part of the algorithms creating the soundscape?

Is interaction nothing but a cheap workaround for this problem leaving responsibility of presence to the audience? I’ve often been frustrated and unhappy about interactivity. I feel that I create an instrument but the one playing still have to do so in a musical way. That requires awareness and training not necessarily practice at using this instrument but a mental awareness and sensitivity. Most of the audience doesn’t have that and are unable to experience the true potential of the instrument/art work they are facing.

In written music the composer indicates gestures but it’s the responsibility of the musicians to actually create them. During a presentation at BEK last year Francisco Lopez stated that music is currently going through a shift of paradigm getting rid of the performer as mediator between the composer and the audience. I believe this is a valid and relevant way of reading current changes in music practice. Still for me as a composer “reclaiming” the right to the physical expressiveness feels like a major step. Awareness of past music practice makes it impossible to do this without being acutely aware of what’s left out and behind.

A few weeks ago Jeremy sent me photos of paintings by Jon Arne Mogstad. Spray paint is an important part of his techniques and to me there’s a lot of musicality in his images. I’ll try to track his physical gestures and map them to musical parameters. E.g. the image shown here has rhythms but also an organic irregularity.

In the future I hope that I’ll be able to continue working on these problems and find more general approaches. A while ago I applied to Komponistenes vederlagsfond for a grant to get a Continuum Fingerboard. That would be a very useful tool for future research. Likewise collaborating with the recorder player Frode Thorsen is very challenging.

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