eventgrafik-2016

 

In this BLOG, the Writing Workshop of the Darmstadt Summer Course, directed by Anne Hilde

Neset, Peter Meanwell and Stefan Fricke, is publishing texts and audio reviews during the festival.
The articles represent the opinion of the respective author.

 


13.08.2016

The Curvature of Silence

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When American composer Michael Pisaro's sparse Concentric Rings in Magnetic Levitation for piano, percussion, and live electronics, settled over the audience at Darmstadt's Centralstation Halle on August 8, the Distractfold ensemble channeled the radical silences and long-duration stillness of the Wandelweiser Group's post-Cagean aesthetic.

 

 

 

 

...granular synthesis: a babbling brook...


Distractfold's performance of Michael Pisaro's Concentric Rings in Magnetic Levitation, inspired by Saturn's rings and their electromagnetic properties, was at equal turns conservative and radical in the way it situated both its audience and the skeleton crew of three on stage. Pisaro's audience for the evening filed dutifully in to the rows of chairs and the standing room at their periphery just like any other evening concert. It brought to the stage no particularly unusual ensemble: piano, percussion, and live electronics.


...bowhairs whisper on crotales...


Yet, unlike just any performance in the same venue, Concentric Rings paints with silence, not sound. Or rather, it asks about what counts as silence when there is really no such thing. It is a piece that enjoins us to listen not for the 88-pitch "melody" the pianist threads patiently across its duration, nor for the sounds of percussion as they shudder somewhere between drone and protracted decay envelope.


...pure sine wave oscillator, 8000 Hz...


We listen instead for the texture of what intervenes as piano wire returns to stillness, as drumheads cease to quake. We rehear when an oscillator tone enters just above the threshold of perceptibility only to be reinterpreted as the expression of stillness that lies beneath as piano and bowed percussion resume. We unhear what we thought was the silence that bathes us: barely audible, granular whispers from the live electronics cut off, revealed as sound only in retrospect—only when silenced.


...a bass drum shudders...


Recall the fable of Cage and the anechoic chamber. When there is no sound, you still hear—the high and the low, the circulatory system and the nerves, blood and electricity. Silence is a vanishing horizon, an asymptote.


...middle C: mp, sostenuto...


Indeed, Michael Pisaro and the Wandelweiser group, of which he is a central member, explore and extend their take on a post-Cagean aesthetic. Yet, this is no post-4'33" aesthetic. At these volumes, you squint your ears to catch whatever whispered utterances come from the stage. You strenuously bracket out the sounds that live around you: exhalations and the building's ventilation. When you strain so hard to hear the ensemble's intentionally produced sounds, no others can cohabitate as equals.


...a cymbal, dusky...


Concentric Rings in Magnetic Levitation instead evokes Cage differently, in an exploration of the spectral continuum linking silence and noise where silence is unmasked as an impossibility, and where noise—when faint enough—can masquerade as silence. Silence and noise chase one another and become one another, like a snake swallowing its tail.


...footsteps on a gravel beach...


Concentric Rings also asks how tones interact with this dialectic between silence and noise. What happens to tones, entries, and attacks when a piece is comprised of so few of them? These become the irruptions, the interruptions, the holes in a moth-eaten fabric. The prevailing stillness and quietude become heavy with anticipation, such that tones and audible entries—whether of the piano, percussion, or electronics—discharge the weight of our expectancy.


...copper wound piano wire rumbles once and again, a minor seventh...


If the performance had any irksome moments, it was when the activity picked up too much. In those rare moments when the piano played more than two or three pitches in ten seconds, for instance, I found myself growing impatient with the disturbance. A petulance I detected in the performance seemed to burrow beneath my skin and take root there.


...crackling static, like radio waves glancing off the upper atmosphere...


But aside from these minor irritations, Distractfold certainly wove a spell over its audience, many of whom who sat not so much politely, but prayerfully, hunched over in contemplation. To my right sat a man whose eyes remained shut for the duration of the piece. But not all were entranced: to my left a man fidgeted and sighed, bent over the astral brightness of his phone screen. Whether bored, or transfixed in a posture of meditation, none of the audience applauded afterwards without more than the usual restraint, as though the clamor of so many palms striking each other might shatter a fragile and hard-won quiet.

 

 

Michael Pisaro on his involvement with the Wandelweiser group: http://erstwords.blogspot.de/2009/09/wandelweiser.html

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By Andrew Chung