Look at Belgian Experimental Composers and Sound Artists
of two valuable books on Belgian Composers*
liberation in 1944-45, Belgium has been a fascinating country, both in
the context of visual arts (it is enough to think of the COBRA group and
of the post-war continuity, with regard to surrealism) and in the field
of music. As for the cinema as an art form, who would forget Joris Ivens?
Or Chantal Ackerman?
as music is concerned, we always were aware of course of a lively jazz
scene in Brussels. Then, of course, chansons had a Belgian touch. Jacquel
Brel and others were on our minds. But experimental music? electronic music?
Outside Belgium, those not so acutely familiar with the lively cultural
reality of the country would think of France, even if Belgian composers
were talked about.
it to the initiative of the composer and sound artist Baudouin Osterlynck,
a French-speaking Flamand with a beautiful Argentinian wife, that two important
books were published in the 1980s that assembled valuable statements by
a number of experimental composers at home in Belgium.
of these books, entitled DOCUMENTA BELGICAE, TOME I: MUSIQUES, was published
in 1981 by PMA-Editions. It contains contributions by eight Belgian experimental
and avant-garde composers.** They are Arsene Souffriau, Piotr Lachert Frederic
Nyst, André Riotte, Baudouin Oosterlynck, Robert Fesler, Dominique
Lawalree and Annette Vande Gorne.
of Arsene Souffriau is entitled ‘Parcours’, that of Frederic Nyst ‘Le nombre
et les eaux’, André Riotte contributes his ‘Mise au point en forme
de glossaire’, Robert Fesler writes about ‘Plaisir d’electricien et monde
intérieur’, Dominique Lawalree supplies ‘Notes’ and Annette Vande
Gorne asks ‘Vous avez dit: « Bizarre » ?’
text contributed by him to DOCUMENTA BELGICAE, TOME I: MUSIQUES, Arsene
Souffriau remembers his first film musique that was written in 1945. It
prompted the cinéaste Charles Dekeukelaire to ask for his collaboration
on a new film that Dekeukelaire was about to make. The two artists also
collaborated later on with respect to other films. The adventure of working
with Dekeukelaire was meaningful.
aussi en cours de ces travaux qu’il m’est permis de prendre conscience
du rapport son/image.
selon les grosseurs de plan, le son devoir avoir une résonance correspondante
(perspective sonore) - cela s’obtient bien entendu au moment de la
prise de son, mais déjà avec les moyens rudimentaires de
l’époque on essayait des corrections sur les bruits par des filtrages
ou des réverbérations artificielles […]” (p.10)
the composer was involved in writing works for which “l’application
du système dodécaphonique” was
60, c’est assez bien de musique dodécaphonique bien sûr, beaucoup
de musique fonctionnelle, de la musique électronique et également
avec Cage notamment en 1958 à l’ « Expo », eurent une
grande influence sur moi, comme sur bien d’autres d’ailleurs.”
aleatory works, Souffriau mentions, for instance, ‘Dichroïsme 1’ opus
147 pour flûte, haut-bois, clarinette, bassin et orchestra à
l’œuvre est de durée fixe, l’orchestre a quatre séquences
d’un minute à jouer, à certains moments et dans l’ordre que
le chef d’orchestre précise avant l’exécution – les quatres
solistes ont également des séquences séparées,
écrites dans des tempi différents et leurs interventions
par un carnevas temporel, leurs séquences pouvant être jouées
dans un ordre de leur choix et sans se consulter au préalable.”(p.14)
talks about several of his works, beginning with the ballet ‘ON, pour piano
préparé’ (1970) and including, for instance,
MILA’ pour chœur a capella (1970), ‘SIX SKETCHES’ pour violon et piano
(1971), ‘LUDWIG VAN’ pour piano et trois postes de radio (1972), ‘PRELUDE
ET FUGUE EN SOL’ pour public et tape delay system (1974), ‘DENTIST MUSIC,
AC 1289 H2015 N34358’ pour un interprete et bande magnetique (1976), ‘A
LA POURSUITE DU SON’ pour gamelang, public et tape delay system (1976),
‘EPIPHANIA’ animation pour public (1976), ‘EROTIC MUSIC’, opéra
inacheve (1977-?), ‘PLAN POL K’ for tape, public and delay system (1981),
‘UNA MOGLIE, UN’AMANTE’ per tuba contrebasso, un dancatore o un attore
(1980), ‘NYOKA YA MAYI’ (1982) and ‘INTRODUCTION, 11 TABLEAUX ET CODA’
pour acteur et piano (1983).
article about “Le nombre et les eaux”, Frederic Nyst speaks, amongst other
things, about “transformations des segments en blocs sonores”, “determination
des formes de periodes”, “les enveloppes” and “sons tenus” (pp.45-47).
contribution to DOCUMENTA BELGICAE, TOME I: MUSIQUES entitled “Mise au
point en forme de glossaire”, André Riotte has entries on such terms
respectively concepts as
about CONTRADICTION, he writes:
n’est utile que dans la mesure où il est efficace, c’est-a-dire
s’il libère notre imagination en la canalisant.
abandonnons-le bien vite.
donc à l’écoute de toute voie intuitive qui, contredisant
un formalisme, le rendra caduc ou sujet à réajustement.”(p.70)
ESPACE-TEMPS, he begins by saying,
qu’évènement concret, le phénomène sonore plonge
au sein même de l’espace-temps, puisqu’il est une vibration ondulatoire
du milieu qui le propage.
disperse à partir de sa source dans le volume d’espace-temps accessible
compte tenu des déperditions d’énergie.”(p.72)
something more on this subject, Riotte adds an interesting thought. He
nous aidera à distinguer espace-temps intérieur, espace-temps
virtuel et espace-temps réel: l’espace-temps intérieur habitait
Beethoven sourd, et en fixant sous forme des partitions les trajets imaginés
dans cet espace-temps, il en spécificiait les dimensions virtuelles,
alors que leur actualisation dans l’espace-temps réel lui
était inaccessible.” (p.172)
article entitles “SON-OR-ITE”, Baudouin Oosterlynck
us texts accompanied by drawings that concern the following compositions:
ou VÊTEMENT. (opus 34, Oct.-Nov. 1978)
IN SITU (opus 35 bis – opus 47, 1979/January 1983)
POUR PLANS ET ESPACE (opus 36, 1979-80)
ET RESONANCES (opus 37, April-May-June 1981)
ACOUSTIQUES (opus 38, July 1981)
INSTHAL (opus 39, Feb.-May 1982)
pour PNT Tienen (opus 40, Feb. 1982)
STABLE (opus 45 - installation, Dec. 1982)
SPEELHOVEN (opus 49, March-Sept.1983)
(opus project 51, May 4. 1983)
the ETUDES POIR PLANS ET ESPACE, a composition for a billard table, he
writes a text than begins:
EST A L’HORIZONTALE
EST A L’ESPACE
EST AU SON
EST A L’HORIZONTALE
DE LA MARIEE ET CELUI DU CELIBATAIRE
Oosterlynck, “SON-OR-ITE”, in: A. Souffriau et al., Documenta Belgicae,
T. I : Musique, n.p. (PMA-Editions) 1981, pp. 83-103
much at the beginning of the text that Robert Fesler contributed, we find
a confession. He writes,
dehors d’un curiosité pour les musiques contemporaines et orientales,
rien ne me destinait à faire de la musique”.(p.106)
begins the first of two main parts of this text written for DOCUMENTA BELGICAE,
TOME I: MUSIQUES, he adds a motto: “Le hazard
n’existe pas”. (p.108)
goes on to quote Nietzsche:
le dis: « Il faut encore porter en soi le chaos, pour être
capable d’enfanter une étoile dansante » […].”
his first performed works was ‘Les Oiseaux mécaniques’ (ballet,
dédie à M. Bejart).
followed by such works as
retournerai jamais à Tournai ou Guernica (II)’,
‘Une Apocalypse de Jean’, ‘La Lettre d’Hadrian à Marc Aurel’ (dédie
à Marguerite Yourcenar), and ‘Aurora Resurgens’ (dédie à
J. Bourgeois). (p.111)
In a second
part of his contribution to DOCUMENTA BELGICAE, t.I: MUSIQUES, Fesler remembers
among other things a dream he has had in late nineteen-eighty.
ne trouves pas la solution de la Création, tu ne pourras plus vivre
ni mourir.” (p.112)
the poem and the musical composition ‘Le Rêve de la Création’
which sprang from it. A work which he then goes on to discuss in great
nombres silences et les longues résonances qu l’on rencontre souvent
dans ma musique pour piano sont comme des fenêtres ouvertes sur le
Lawalree notes and then goes on to discuss such works as GUERNICA, completed
in 1973, and OMBRES… LUMIERE !, accomplished in 1978, but also MUSIQUE
POUR LA PAIX (ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?) which was written in 1982 - at a time,
that is when the arms race was stepped up and people in Europe were beginning
once more to show their concern. (pp.130f.)
Vande Gorne refers to “les chemins d’espace / couleur”, to “Transmutations
de la nature on Métamorphoses d’Orphée”, to “l’autre temps”
and to “son et silence”.
chapter on “L’autre temps”, she quotes Giséle Brelet, Le temps musical,
tome 2: La forme musicale (Paris 1949) as saying:
la plus belle est celle qui ne sait pas complètement d’avance où
il va, celle qui s’abandonne à elle-même […]”(p.148)
thinkers she relates to are Roger Garaudy to whose book Comment l’homme
devint humain (Paris 1978) she expressly refers, and Chang Chung-Yuan,
the author of Le Monde du Tao. Créativité et Taoïsme
Michel Chion whose various books on electroacustic music she quotes from,
and Pierre Schaeffer who has written extensively on musique concrète.
briefly her chapter on “Son et Silence”, I would like to single out a quotation
she owes to Toru Takemitsu, a musician I greatly admire. She quotes him
atteindre un son aussi intense que le silence… car faire vivre le vide
du silence, c’est faire vivre l’infinité des sons.” (p.149)
BELGICAE, VOLUME II: MUSIC
title of the second book assembling texts of contemporary experimental
and avant-garde composers from Belgium. It was published in English
in 1985 by PMA-Co-editions. It contains texts by seven Belgian composers.
Again, the publication was made possible at the time thanks to the initiative
of the composer and sound artist Baudouin Oosterlynck.***
who contributed texts are Paul Adriaenssens, Boudewijn Buckinx, George
de Decker, Joris de Laet, Yves Knockaert, Baudouin Oosterlynck and Fanny
Adriaenssens is a Belgian experimental composer born in Antwerp in 1952.
Since 1975 he was, for 7 years, a co-operator of the Studio for Experimental
Music and a member of the SEM-ensemble.
1977, he is interested in electronic sound generation.
performed works for acoustic and electronic instruments with visual analogies,
both in Belgium and abroad.”
than summing things up, I want to begin here with a few quotes from Adriaenssens’
text intriguingly entitled “A Short Walk with Paul J.”.
the one I want to start with, refers to the author, the artist (the composer,
in this case), as recipient: this author, although he is the creator of
a work and as such closely involved, can be a “detached” recipient; he
can listen to his music as if it was written by somebody else.
is also a detached listener to his own music.” (p.13) Yes, a necessary
reminder. But what does it involve? Perhaps a distance, between the author
and his work. A certain time that has elapsed? A soberness, different from
the enthusiasm or elation that is felt at the moment when the work has
just been completet?
quote reminds me of Agnes Varda’s portrayal (in the film ‘Kungfu Master’…)
of a teenage boy in front of a machine that lets him react to the possibilities
offered by a video game. The filmmaker does not leave us in doubt about
one thing: It is not a stupid, merely reactive way of wasting one’s time;
it demands a new sensibility and intelligence of the boy, something in
which he surpasses many members of an older generation who derisively look
down on such activity, misjudging the extent to which it demands a quick,
awake mind and an enormous coordination of eye, mind, hands, the entire
draws a parallel between the options offered by a video game (which always
entail something, whether foreseen or not) and the options open to
composers which also entail something (whether foreseen or not?). This
is plausible. Contemporary composition very often relies on this or that
mathematical approach; mathematical models and series also underpin the
electronic machines that let us play video games, and they underpin the
games as such. There are limits of course, to the attempted comparison:
composing isn’t a machine’s ‘activity’ or a response to an unstoppable
machine’s program: It is a human activity that presupposes and thus includes
freedom. Adriaenssens puts it like this:
are video games these days that allow the player to interfere with the
course of events in such a way that he creates his own reality bearing
all the consequences of his subsequent choices. Each turn of the story
is player-induced. Normally he is expected to play a game to the end. Here
the comparison fails. A composer can reset – soft (slight changes afterward)
or hard (waste basket) – at any given moment and start anew. Lots of good
times guaranteed.” (p.13)
other interesting and even inspiring comments by this composer. Isn’t it
indiative of a certain tendency towards ‘minimalism’, a certain attention
paid to ‘minute changes’ how he refers to Huxley? We are reminded that
says shades of green in the foliage are much more esthetically impressive
to look at than the flashiness of multicolored flowers. But he did need
mescaline to find out.
that being born Japanese may be of help to achieve a similar effect.” (p.14)
I’m not convinced of the hypothesis that people, including Huxley, cannot
‘dig’ the varieties of green observable when we look into the treetop,
its foliage, a lot more than ‘flashy flowers’ unless they take mescaline
or other drugs. I am thankful, on the other hand, for Adriaenssen’s reference
to specific socio-cultural dispositions that affect our perception.
the following quote is pretty indicative of the composer’s stance; it lets
me marvel how humorous and as the same time serious the music composed
by Adriaenssens is. For he writes:
serious does not mean bein humourless. Even less is the opposite true.”
about the following quote, concerned with time and the length of composed
works? The relativity of time was a theme of Einstein, time as a psychological
reality interested Bergson. Time of course is structurally important to
all the performing arts: music, the theater, film, performances. And to
literature, because to read (silently or “out loud”) is a process unfolding
in time, and the reader or performer of music, the actor appearing in a
play as well as – in all these cases - the listener are always active
(as players, as listeners) in an uninterrupted sequence of moments, while
each of them is defined as the “presence”; it is always the moment called
“now” which sees them acting, performing a piece of music, reading or listening.
And yet, in each of these moments they are not only conscious of what is
going on “now”, what they are doing or experiencing “now”. They are also
detotalizing what they saw as “the whole piece” in a moment that is “now”
already a part of the past. And they are totalizing, in each moment, the
“whole” (as it presents itself, up to this point called “now”); a whole
that they are allowed to become conscious of in no other way than this:
as an uninterrupted sequence of detotalizations and totalizations that
ends only at the moment when the entire work has been performed. This of
course is true of every work that does not present itself “in one second”
(a visual object) but that is rather “realized in time, as a temporal structure.”
reflection on time heads in another drection, not the one indicated above.
He muses that “Time is tricky. The more you use up the more it will cost
you in conciseness. Sooner or later about all composers are tempted to
create the ultimate piece of music: the Twenty Seconds That Say It All.
In vain, of course. The result of the attempt, though, may be a lot more
interesting than the throw at the Fifty-five Minutes That Say It All, which,
besides being vain, too, may sound a lot more burdening and boring.”(p.14)
the question of time reduces itself, at least in the context of the sentences
quoted, to a simply question, however: is it better to be concise, to use
little time, to write short works, or not? And if short, how short is –
on the other hand – too short, perhaps? And is the long piece lacking stringency?
We have often witnessed this in the case of films: that the 60-minute or
80-minute films of filmmakers we cherish are saying so much, in a beautiful
way, while certain expensively produced ‘blockbusters’ that take two or
two-and-a-half hours are simply boring. In that sense, it is easy to understand
Adriaenssens. But still, here he seems a bit abstract, a bit too clever;
it sounds like a rather abstract consideration and I have no doubt that
great music which takes 55 minutes or more to perform does exist.
Perhaps the whole idea of writing “the ultimate piece…that says it all”
is a little odd; the idea of young people perhaps who have, as yet, little
to say in a concrete way but fantastic ideas about creating great works
and becoming famous.
I add a
few more quotes that I think are meaningful enough to warrant inclusion.
think that everything which does not meet with your appreciation is something
you miss some how.”(p.15)
obviously directed to the reader, to the public. A very clear formulation
of an important insight: it should, in a way, arouse our suspicion if works
offer no resistance, if it is too easy to appreciate them. And the
reverse conclusion seems to be as valid, in many cases: What you fail to
see, to recognize, what you don’t notice but miss, is perhaps at the root
of that other irritation which lets many of us conclude frequently that
we don’t particulary appreciate a work.
quote is also thought-provoking:
to think of myself as someone with original ideas, also in musical terms.
To all supposedly original thinkers, composers in particular: there is
a high probability that someone somewhere had the same thought – surely
within the limits of their specific hardware – […]” (p.15)
sentence of the paragraph quoted comes close to the position of Bertolt
Brecht. It is a materialistic proposition which critiques and thus reduces
the almost exclusive importance attributed by idealistic thinkers to a
certain type, the so-called genius. Creative people do not start from nil,
they inherit what is available to them and directly or indirectly, active
reception processes link every composer, dramatist, writer, visual artist
and so on to the cultural history and cultural knowledge of his society,
if not of other societies, as well. The hypothesis that “someone somewhere
(another ‘genius’?) had the same idea” is of course a bit naïve, it
is again reducing the conditions from which the creative act springs to
something highly individual if not individualistic, turning a blind eye
to everything the creative individual draws on.
up this part on Adriaessens by including one more quote, a reflection of
medieval music. This contemporary composer writes, “I have just done wrong
to the Middle Ages. In order to make music of such simplicity, straightforwardness
and yet soothing subtlety, these people cannot have been the semi-ogres
we are constantly made to believe them to have been. Less so after the
First Islamic Cultural Injection.”(p.15)
like this observation so much if it was just something about a so-called
prejudice in us, concerning the “Dark Ages” and “semi-ogres.” It’s not
a prejudice anymore that a lot of people would take serious. It is of course
nice that Adriaensssens reminds us of Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and others that
medieval Christian culture owed so much to. But the main thing is of course
that he recognizes both the specificity of medieval music: its beautiful
simplicity, its ‘soothing subtlety’, and its ‘straightforwardness’. The
latter of course had a lot to do with the fact that it was also functional,
whether in praise of God [in the case of Gregorian chorals etc.] or in
praise of noble women
the Minnesänger]). I am taken in by what Adriaenssens writes because,
between the lines, I sense his longing to capture or rather, create, in
a contemporary way, with contemporary musical means, a ‘simplicity’ of
similar intensity if not beauty, while perhaps also accomplishing a ‘subtlety’
that does not exclude ‘purpose’,’engagement’ or other types of ‘functionality.’
“A Short Walk with Paul J.” includes a passage in which Adriaenssens refers
to a composition entitled “A Short Walk with Karl F.” It deserves to be
quoted in full:
WALK WITH KARL F.
for six electronic sources (1979)
for five volume controllable tone generators or synthesizers and one noise
generator with filter or a sixth synthesizer.
is marked by the extreme austerity of the sound material which is consequently
arranged by a sole principle: for every single parameter (time - frequency
- volume - timbre - density) a central norm is postulated from which there
can be a deviation with a precise tolerance. As the piece proceeds
the tolerance narrows per unit of sixty seconds. Thus all parameters zero
in around the central norm during the last minute.
filtered noise – one five minute high pass envelope – contrasts with the
discontinuous evolution of the tone material. The entire arranging principle
is derived from the statistical particularities of the widely applicable
bell shaped Gauss function (named after its discoverer, the 19th century
German mathematician Karl F. Gauss).
should become the central fragment of a seven part composition called ‘Requiem
for an Achondroplastic Dwarf’, seven five minute pieces on similar rigorous
composition referred to by the composer in text “A Short Walk with Paul
J.” is entitled “Steps” It also deserves to be quoted in full:
part study in audiovisual analogies for flute, sequencer, controlled synthesizer
and slides. Sixteen minutes of slowly evolving very limited musical material
with matching electronics and puctures of geometric bodies.
level (acoustic - electronic - visual) a number of parameters
constant throughout all four parts
constant only within each part, creating a discontinuous evolution with
within each part
throughout all four parts.
are nowhere any deliberately synchronic events or interactions, only parallel,
Paul Adriaennssens, “A
Short Walk with Paul J.”, in: Documenta Belgicae, vol. II: Music. [Archennes,]
PMA-Co-editions, 1985, pp.4-31
to Boudewijn Buckinx’ contribution to Vol. II: Music, we learn that his
‘Symphonic Poem’ consists of seven “nearly identical pictures, wonderfully
realized by Jan Hoet, with sound-making objects.” (p.45)
Jan Hoet is of course known above all as the person responsible for a ‘Documenta’
exhibition in Kassel (Germany) that took place a couple of years ago.
Buckinx’ interest in cooperating with people involved in visual arts, either
as curators or visual or else, performance artists, is not untypical of
contemporary composers. Bernd Franke, for instance, has sought inspiration
through confrontation with modern visual art works.
his Buckinx, his conceptional closeness to or inspitration by modern visual
art also shows in the title of a work like ‘Sinfonia a quattro velocipedi’.
Buckins notes that it was “written for four bicycles. They were bisected
and used as music instruments”. (p.45)
and often tongue-in-cheek way dadaists and pop artists appropriated every-day
objects comes to mind. To use parts of a bike as musical instruments or
rather, sources of sound(s), is of course both one of the characteristics
of arte povera and in line with contemporary avant-gardism in the field
of music. Atypical sources of sound have the effect that such musical compositions
are close to ‘sound art’ (Klangkunst). Satie, Cage and others paved the
way or opened the ‘gates’ to such experimentation, and a readiness of certain
composers to discover sound material previously shunned or despised as
‘non-musical’ soon ensued.
dodecaphonic music and the integration of dissonance were important stepping
stones on the way to the prepared piano, plucking the strings of the piano,
and later on, using metal pipes of a bicycle frame and similar objects
for ‘sound discovery’.
to 1979, Buckinx “set to music the complete travel sketches of Basho” (p.46).
It is perhaps indicative of a symptomatic interest in East Asian culture
(Zen philosophy, Taoism, Classical Chinese and Japanese poetry etc.) that
is widespread among artists. John Cage is a relatively early example.
to seek inspiration in ancient, mythical texts like the Tibetan Book of
the Death or the Egyptian Book of the Death is very much in line with a
certain modernist longing for the dark and distant, in fact mirroring a
penchant for the irrational, perhaps as an anti-dote to modern ‘instrumental
reason’ (Max Weber) and thus as a reaction to that mentality which at present
is still structurally anchored in the socio-psychological and socio-economic
relations typical of a profit-oriented, market-driven economy.
Boudewijn Buckinx considers his composition entitled ‘RA’, based on the
Egyptian Book of the Dead, “as one of [his] more important works.” (p.46)
B. Buckinx, in: Documenta
Belgicae, vol. II: Music. [Archennes,] PMA-Co-editions, 1985, pp.32-50
In a Foreword
to his text, George de Decker takes a Cartesian stance. Almost like Descartes,
music, therefore I am.
of music, the impulse to do it, comes from somewhere.
of it every day, as a sort og daily hygiene of the consciousness: why do
I write music? for whom?”
de Decker’s first compositions, maybe the first, done in 1974, was for
alto and piano. It was entitled ‘Aufklaerung’ and the text was by Karel
on, we discover two ‘philosophical’ trends in his œuvre. At least judgin
by the titles he chooses, something of the sort seems to be virulent in
titles that remain – though not exactly faithful to the heritage alluded
to by a work like ‘Aufklaerung’ – at least rather modern and, in an ostentative
way, ‘Western’, if not ‘American’: I’ll come to them later.
are the darker, strange and foreign-sounding titles, perhaps indicative
of the turn to Buddhism etc. already witnessed with Cage, then with
poets like Gary Snyder, Alan Ginsberg, Anne Waldman etc. (and underpinned
by Suzuki, A. Watts etc. in a ‘theoretical’ way). It is a turn quite frequently
observed with composers and visual artists in the second half of the 20th
and in the early 21st century. But in many respects, it is the same modern
subjectivism and idealism if not, in a certain sense and in some respects,
irrationalism, that was already alive in German expressionism, in Artaud,
perhaps generally in Surrealism which also looked longingly to exotic places
and cultures far away, geographically and mentally, thus eager to challenge
reason (because it was ‘Western reason’ and the reason at the root of the
absurdly irrational First World War).
de Decker did ‘Khanda’ for piano/4 hands, in 1979 ‘Feng’ for flute
(‘feng’ is also the Chinese character for ‘wind’), in 1981 ‘La vision du
vide’ for guitar, and in 1983 ‘Hakanai’ for tape. (pp.80f.)
titles of these last four compositions point to an interest in Far Eastern
philosophy and perhaps music, other works by George de Decker reveal an
affinity to dada and pop-art. Take for instance the title of the following
work: ‘Live like pigs’ (theatre music). Or another composition: ‘C’est
ainsi que l’on meurt now-a-days à Hollywood’ for piano and text
(1980). The text in this case was by Paul Pourveur.
piece’ [sic] for soprano, piano, reciter, tape, guitar, bassclarinet and
double bass, text again by Paul Pourveur, was done in the following year
(1981). The tongue-in-cheek way the composer plays with words, replacing
peace by piece, may seem merely amusing. But there is a serious note present
in the title. RIP (rest in piece) is written in grave sites. The piece
is the musical piece, the composition, and to be able to ‘rest’ in it presupposes
serenity, confidence, a certain stability. But to ‘fall to pieces’ also
means to fall apart, to break, and to rest in a piece can mean ‘to rest
in a fragment’, a part rather than the whole. It would be interesting to
see whether the ambiguity and polysemie inscribed in the title reflects
a musical reality that is in a similar way dense and multifaceted.
inside down if you wish to cry for my mamma!’ for vocalist, dancer, alto
saxophone, double windquintet, tape and video was done in 1983. The
title is ‘late dadaist’ if not imbued with the spirit of a mocking and
sarcastic, more high-brow variety of American pop-culture. And “inside
down” of course mutilates a common phrase in purpose. Text and scenario
were by Guido de Bruyn who also cooperated when de Decker wrote the music
for ‘White Suited Men in a Park’, a piece for piano 4 hands seen by the
composer as a tribute to Méliès.
(‘White Suited Men in a Park’) was done in 1984; a year before de
Deckers text appeared in DOCUMENTA BELGICAE, vol. II: MUSIC.
the need of documenting the exchange of ideas with De Bruyn, de Decker
includes a letter written to him by De Bruyn at the time.
I suggest that we use that tape as the basis for the composition, which
we will then name after Lumière’s film ‘White suited Men in a Park’,
O.K.? I also fell in love with it straight away because it is literally,
a unique sound, produced by a unique machine: a punch printer designed
by a certain Mr. Brown of the British Film Institute. We’ll mention his
name in big letters, if it’s alright with you.”
it is true that this choice sets us in a certain direction, and imposes
a number of restrictions.
is the sound of a machine, mechanical, with a distinct rattle and squeak.
Therefore we will have to choose from the mechanical sound jargon (unless
you think we could improvise on it with a soprano!)
this sound as a basis not only determines the choice, but also the rhythm
of other sounds. There are two possibilities: either we use the basis sound
in a continuous rhythm (in which case it will become just another repetitive
composition, even though it uses real sounds), or we cut the basic tape
in a mathematical structure with pauses in between (pauses which can sometimes
be filled with other sounds, or sometimes be left in silence). I
choose the latter option, because repetitive music is beginning to exhaust
its own repetitiveness. What do you think?
I suggest that we first look for a schedule, a rhythmic pattern and then
in function of that pattern, look for sounds of different timbre; record,
assemble, filter and mix them, and then use these sounds as harmonics
on top of the basic tone. What do you think of this first group?
the basic sound dominates, at least in this first group. Afterwards it
can serve as pulsing background on which legato sounds can grow in contrast
to the staccato basic tape. Am I rushing things?’
now for something completely different. […]” (p.64f.)
de Decker then wrote the following text regarding
Men in A Park:
Suited Men in a Park
wind caresses me,
of the dead
In a park.
was suggested jokingly by him as his pseudonym.
de Decker added:
the punch printer made of metal and wood? This can provide a few basic
things for the basis of the composition.
sound of metal (objects and mechanical)
sound of wood
the quoted texts give a pretty good first impression of the kind of considerations
that influenced the composer and the writer of the scenario (who obviously
was in on certain strategies of the composer) in the initial stage of their
collaboration regarding ‘White Suited Men in a Park’.
George de Decker, “To
write is to rewrite”, in: Documenta Belgicae, vol. II: Music. [Archennes,]
PMA-Co-editions, 1985, pp.52-81
[My notes regarding Joris
de Laet are missing; have been lost, it seems. I apologize to Joris de
Laet for this involuntary omission. - AW]
early compositions, Yves Knockaert mentions
of silence’ for flutes, 2 guitar and piano (1983),
met toevalselementen’ for a free number of musicians (1983), the series
‘Reductions’ I-IV, for different groups of instruments (1984) and ‘Saxteen’
for saxophone and tape (1984).
he wrote a text entitled ‘1983: Everybody Can Compose’. In this text he
stated that “Everybody can compose starting from verbally formulated rules
of the game.” He discussed here his ‘Group Composition with Chance Elements’
written for one of the workshops of the 3rd Week of New Music in Bruges
in Oct. 1983.
performance of this composition, Knockaert gave the following instructions:
of persons, musicians or non-musicians, comes together to produce and to
perform a piece of music. Nothing has been determined in advance. Nobody
is going to press his personal taste or his esthetic preference upon the
composition. By way of a series of manipulations, led by chance, the composition
accepts chance, offering a certain possibility, and chooses this out of
the indeterminateness of the multitude of possibilities. Thus arise successions
of sounds, which were not premeditated by a composer or a cooperating group.
On the contrary, the resulting sound presents a series of ideas to the
musicians, which they could never have found on their own.
born of chance, create creativity.” (p.128)
on ‘987-Reduction I’ for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano, Yves Knockaert
writes that in this work, “reduction starts from a harmonic basis: the
Fibunacci-numbers. Not only the fact that two following Fibunacci-numbers
approximate the proportion of the golden section, but also the fact that
the piano in its total range of 88 keys or half steps is nearly a Fibunacci-number,
i.e. 89, induces us to use this series of numbers as a reduction standard.
‘987’ is autobiographic. While composing I extended the Fibunacci series
further than one usually does. Thus I came to 89 - 144 - 233 - 377 - 610
- 987. 987 was my registration […] number […] in the primary school. The
number that made me […] identifiable, 987, was a Fibunacci-number. Moreover
this number as a succession of numbers is very harmonic 9 - 8 - 7, or 8,
a Fibunacci-number + 1 and - 1. In this form 9 - 8 - 7 the number becomes
a determination of propositions in section M of the work […].
the Fibunacci-reductions we have the restrictions by the choice of instruments:
a restriction to woodwinds and piano; a range limitation to the range of
these instruments.” (p.116)
this a deliberate ‘natural’ use of the instruments: multiphonics, trills
and Flatterzunge [trembling tongue] on the winds are seldom used; only
the keys are being used while playing the piano.
to pitch the following reduction series are applied: the Fibunacci-series
and the five series derived from it.
deviations are tolerated because the range of the piano, i.e. 88 half steps,
already differ[s] from the Fibunacci-number 89, as mentioned before, and
since during the elaboration of the composition the idea of total
unity, which could be called here a synonym for harmonic unity, had to
be abandoned. The five added series become reduction principles with derivation-deviations
from the Fibunacci-series.” (p.117)
then gives in detail the series,
them the 2nd one, derived from I, used by Stockhausen in ‘Klavierstück
IX’: 1 - 3 - 6 - 11 - 19 - 32 - 33 - 53 - 87. (p.117)
of ‘987’ can roughly be outlined as follows:
sections A-H more solo performance than ensemble playing by the diverse
instruments. At no moment is a reduction conspicuous. […]
sections I-N: the sound opposes a first reduction attempt by counteracting
every reduction and by stressing the independence of each instrument in
its complete, unreduced range. At the same time a relative unity
comes into being when the instruments oppose collectively the reduction
power (section M). An impulsive moment of unity follows (section N). This,
however, cannot be sustained and is immediately broken off, resulting in
an absence of every reduction (section O).
sections O-T: starting from O the non-unity of section T is developed
by a gradually increasing reduction. The impossibility of complete control
or of total unity is an enriching realization which is fully accepted.”
Yves Knockaert, “1984-1983”,
in: Documenta Belgicae, vol. II: Music. [Archennes,] PMA-Co-editions, 1985,
reflections entitled “From Solitude to Accompanied Monody”, Baudouin Oosterlynck
tells us how he “came to the idea of the sound ‘object’” (p.136).
the route to this discovery, he starts with his early “awareness of timing”
as a child. He then dwells upon the discovery of sounds, in fact, of the
“mystery of everyday sound” that lead him to “penetrate the substance
of sound” and to “feel the relationship between time and space.”(p.135)
exposed to the fact that he had been observing “the disposition of sounds
and started to listen to paradoxical settings, acoustical phenomena and
the position of sounds in relation to the body”.(p.136)
that Baudouin Oosterlynck “wanted not only to produce a sound from a point
source and make it travel a given course” but he also “wanted it to travel
whilst leaving a permanent sound trace.” And this “in the same way” as
if one is “feeling the sensation of the sound traced by writing […].” (p.136)
in 1978 that he began to put the aims and concerns that were implicit in
his search, a search focused on the idea of a sound object, “into
practice”. And this in the form of musical performances.
he notes that “thinking about the pieces” realized between 1978 and 1985,
“I have established that yet again it’s the relationship with time which
remains fundamental to all this.
1978, this was emphasized sufficiently to be obvious. My pieces were always
very slow, very poor [in the sense of arte povera], quite minimal. Very
intricate. They underlines the duration of the piece. […]”
Baudouin Oosterlynck was finally turning to a “new relationship with time”
that surfaced in the “production of the musical object”. It implied a new
way of composing and performing where the “rendering of the sound depends
on a place and a body which is visiting it.”
brought about the “integration” of time “with a space and a site”.
Oosterlynck, it was a “passage from solitude to accompanied solitude” –
or from “solitude to accompanied monody.”
to Accompanied Monody”, the text contributed by Baudouin Osterlynck to
DOCUMENTA BELGICAE, VOL.II: MUSIC, also contains descriptive notes on “sound
objects” created by this sound artist. For instance this one:
Opus 34 bis (Dec. 1978)
pyramids 15 cm high and hinged on one side guard a beautiful sound within,
just as the pyramids guard the pharaohs.
To listen, the visitor opens the hinged side, and shuts it. When all the
pyramids are opened up, there should be a warm sound. Each sound welcomes
the listener as if to share its place. (The colour blue attracts the spectator.
The sounds are chosen for the same reason.) You can put them close to each
other or spaced apart. You cannot in any instance see what produces the
sounds. Just like you, transparent and waiting for a visitor.
interesting example I want to quote in full is this text on opus 55, ‘Listen
Opus 55, Sept. 1983
Variation 2: Feb. 1984
– ‘Stars and Accident’ – is a homage to Roges La Croix d’Avennes.
In a place
where you have come back to look at things, listen to a pane of glass mysteriously
fed by a hidden apparatus (prototype by R. Fesler), which is tranmitting
sound vibrations to a flat surface.
properly, you have to press the plane of glass against your ear. The sounds
resemble those produced by crystal glasses, window panes, knitting needles
and piano chords.
me here is that you listen through something which you look through and
that you have to bend over and listen carefully.
It is perhaps
appropriate to conclude this brief glance at the work of the experimental
composer and sound artist Baudouin Oosterlynck by quoting from “MUSIC?”.
comes down to it
talking about evidence of a personal awareness,
of divine variations.
only ripe once, the moment it falls.
“From Solitude to Accompanied Monody”, in: Documenta Belgicae, vol. II:
Music. [Archennes,] PMA-Co-editions, 1985, pp.134-154 [The text was translated
into English by Roland Tarr]
Uccle, a Brussels suburb, in 1949, Fanny Tran encountered the composer
Henri Pousseur when she was still rather young, As she admits, he “had
a major influence” on her, especially “though his social analysis of music
as it is tied to the environment where it is produced.” (p. 159)
studied at the Brussels Conservatoire and graduated from ULB with a master’s
degree in musicology.
Henri Pousseur’s composition classes and subsequently lectured on contemporary
music at the Liège Conservatoire.
Claude Albert Coppens, with whom, “for a while,” she “shared the love for
the isolated French composer Eric Satie.” Both of them “performed together
his four-hands piano piece ‘La Belle Excentrique’.”
remembers that she has been “playing Satie’s music since 1970, in
Belgium […] as well as, more recently, in Europe and the United States.”
playing Satie’s music is not a passive, receptive experience, it is active
reception, creative appropriation rather than mere reproduction: “I have
always equated playing the piano, both its technique and its literature,
with musical creativity,” she notes. Improvisation plays a large role.
“I started improvising the first day I touched a piano keyboard […] (p.159)
back at her initiation – or introduction – to the piano, Fanny Tran
writes that she remembers how, as a five-year-old girl, she was “given
a toy piano” by her grand-parents, and then “a real piano” for her 8th
one year of sight reading (I was 9 years old), I began to compose musical
pieces which I proudly submitted to Pierre Bartholomée’s appreciation.
age of 14, I became fascinated by the twelve-tone system, atonal, and electronic
music. I composed a few pieces in these styles, trying hard to find out
on my own the specific theory of these composing techniques.
I founded a group of young musicians […]
Viva’-Group functioned for 3 years, giving several concerts mixing its
own compositions with classical pieces. In the middle of the ‘May 1968’
mood, we gave a concert-happening mixing slides and slogans with music
from the XIIIth century to contemporary popular songs, including among
others, Schönberg, Joan Baez and Berio. For the first floor, I conducted
the choir introducing the concert with J.S. Bach’s Choral, ‘Es ist Genug’
[It’s Enough] while sounds and visual displays of bombs and wars evolved
to the expression of liberty and peace. Flowers were distributed to the
public, which started singing and communicating with us.” (p.160)
a remarkable experiment, not only in purely musical terms but also because
it broke the barrier between active musicians and a receptive public, provoking
the audience to ‘answer’, to ‘communicate’, to ‘co-participate’ in the
Tran notes that “[i]n that period, the group consisted of about 25 young
musicians”; the youngest just 13 and the oldest in their mid-twenties.
following year (1969), she studied piano at the Liège Conservatoire
where her teacher was Marcelle Mercenier. For her it was a fruitful experience,
Fanny Tran says, pointing out that it was “really enriching […] to study
other people’s musical language and notation” with Marcelle Mercenier.
“At that time, she [Mercenier] was playing many new pieces recently written
by Boulez, Cage, Pousseur, Boesmans, Berio, Bartholomée a[nd] o[thers],
on her concert tours. Being her student, I could read the scores, listen
to her playing and rehearsing, and discussing aspects of performance and
notion in new piano music.” (pp.160f.)
from the Brussels Conservatoire in 1975, Fanny Tran received a scholarship
that enabled her to continue her studies at the Frederic Chopin Academy
of Music in Warsaw.
during the first three months of her stay there that she met David Pituch,
“an American saxophone player and teacher at the Warsaw Academy of Music.”
a remarkable affinity: “Because his goals were similar to mine […]
I decided to compose my first piece for him. This piece alludes to the
history of Warsaw and to the social troubles that occurred [there] while
I composed the piece […]” (p.161)
December 1980, the troubles in Poland increased. Food became scarce and
demonstrations by the illegal workers union ‘Solidarity’ against the lack
of democracy extended throughout the whole country.” (p.161)
saw as the ‘heroism’ of resistance against the supposedly socialist etatism
of the regime fascinated Fanny Tran as much as the “romanticism and its
expression” which, she feels, have resulted so often from the Polish “struggle
affected her strongly.
that “[a]mong the different messages I want to express through my music,
one is that everyone always remains liable to become a prisoner or a slave,
though spiritual servitude should be avoided. This is exactly what the
Polish people have given full evidence of during the years 1980-81; they
succeeded in keeping their spirit free” and rebellious. (p.162)
years, Fanny Tran did not only study composition in Warsaw with Marian
Borkowski (p.161), she attended workshops in Aix-en-Provence which enabled
her “to work with K. Stockhausen, Y. Xenakis, M. Kagel and L. Berio”.(p.162)
also was granted a British Council scholarship that enabled her to study
electronic music at the Goldsmith’s College in London with Hugh Davies.
she was invited as a free visitor for 4 months at the Eastman School of
Music in Rochester, NY, where she was “in charge of piano accompaniment”
and, a year later, realized her composition ‘Space Music and Little Space
Music for violin’ in 1983.
she “toured throughout Belgium with a program dedicated to Satie’s music”
and also performed at the Brussels Philharmonic Hall “with people from
the groups ‘Logos’ (Ghent) and ‘Inaudible’ (Brussels) […]”(p.162)
She comments, “I was suddenly facing a totally free, spontaneous
and immediate expression not resorting to any notation or paper media.
I began to understand that composing is a static process of dominating
time; starting, acceleraring, retaining and stopping.” (pp.162f.)
It is interesting
to see how Fanny Tran’s development as a composer has been “subject to
changes” when she changed her “environment and way of living” – a fact
that did not escape her.
that “[i]t became clear to me that travel generates creativity and requires
the ability to invent new, unknown, thus improvised situations; in a similar
manner, musical improvisation brings a specific pleasure in creating [and]
discovering […] new and unknown sounds, playing with them […] [and] sharing
them with other people.”
she notes, “create a specific attitude towards life: continuous freshness
of invention, of reacting attitudes, spontaneity, immediate response to
a given situation or sound, or pattern.” It has become, for her, in a certain
sense, “a natural attitude of the improviser.”(p.163)
that moment, the fundamental difference between improvisation and composition
became important to me”, she tells us. At the time, she later noted, she
“felt as if [her] personality became split between these two ways of expression.”
‘TUBA mi-RAK-ul.um’ (for tuba and magnetic tape) became “a relevant illustration
of the difficult struggle” that she was “facing during that period”. She
emphasizes that ‘TUBA mi-RAK-ul.um’ “ provides [the possibility of] a permanent
choice”, and thus grants “an alternative to the performer” who can play
“written melodies and sounds[,] or improvised fragments suggested by drawings
of trains, bicycles, boats, and planes.” (p.163)
that “writing this piece allowed me to express my fight against an inward
withering, expelling either the joy of freedom or the security of stability.
The piece is, for me, supporting a sort of imagery: take a lake: it doesn’t
live a long time, unless a source or small river feeds it with fresh water;
love, sun and energy-echange generate life […]” (p.163f.)
continuous by then asking, “Where are the borders of freedom? […]”
“[S]ometimes I feel like a prism, reflecting and
sounds. Men, women, plants and animals communicate to me the music they
emanate; it makes the prism vibrate, as sensitively as crystal does, and
produces its own music.
to this, TUBA… opens the question of the borders between composing and
improvising. The question corresponds to opposite attitudes towards life
and music. Because of the way I mix them, their characteristics become
prominent and enrich each other, adding a new dialectic to music,” (p.164)
Tran, the discovery of these dialectics helped her to see how, in the mid-1980’s,
“new contacts, more open, more creative”, were beginning to link
“the contemporary arts closer together.” (p.164) It was a “cheerful phenomenon”
for her, witnessed “in many countries.” People related “more freely, finding
their way to communicate.” Fanny Tran is aware of the fact that for her,
“life and music” are closely interrelated, there is a “permanent feed-back,
producing my life’s adventure.” (p.164)
in January 1984, she completed the composition of ‘Ties between the Present
– Future Constellations’ for piano solo. She remembers the impulse
at its root, “This is a tryptich inspired by the Toronto […] Planetarium
I visited in March 1983. It is dedicated to my mother’s father, Auguste
Bouxain, born in Toronto; he educated me and was the magician of my childhood.
consists of three pieces:
‘The travel of the leading star’ uses strings muted by the fingers and
develops a selfcreating pattern of given pitches. The pianist improvises
an enveloping resonance around them.
‘The tie of the open present time’ is completely written. I wrote it immediately
after a three minute period of improvisations: I has the idea to fix the
sounds like a photographer can fix the images. The notation is very precise
and it often uses the play on the strings inside the piano.
‘The blue comet travelling through the sand-like time’ is a long
and melodic line around which gravitate improvised dissonant patterns.
moment I composed this piece, I clearly knew that the whole cosmos was
turning itself to a new face, that the time was switching very fast for
a new configuration, where the rules of life change, when the ‘speed of
life’ becomes different, where freedom and responsibility of the individuals
take a new dimensional value in life.” (pp. 176f.)
‘Ties between the Present – Future Constellations’ for piano solo, other
works of Fanny Tran composed in the 1980s are mentioned in the selected
list of recordings.
SELECTED LIST OF RECORDINGS
BY FANNY TRAN
The selected list of
recordings added to Fanny Tran’s article published in DOCUMENTA BELGICAE
II: MUSIC in 1985 includes the following works:
‘Warszwawa Echoes’ for
alto saxophone (David Pituch, USA, sax. solo), 1981, 11'
Cimoszko, PL, flute solo; Christian Debecq and Pascal Doneux, B, flute;
Pierre-Yves Artaud, F, various flutes solo + tape), 1982, 5 - 20'
‘Grande Fantaisie sur
des airs de Chopaderzwewski’, tape and speeches (Actor: Boris Lehman, B;
tape – part I: Goldsmith’s College, London), 1094, 15'
‘Space Music and Little
Space Music for violin’ (Davod Brickmann, Rochester, NY; Maria Baranowska,
PL), 1983, 2' - ad infinitum
‘Omaggio a Jo’ (tape;
Ohain Studio ‘Métamorphoses d’Orphée’). 1984, 14'
‘The Five Rounds of the
David’s Star’ for saxophone and five percussions (James Perone, sax., and
the percussion ensemble of Jane Williams, Buffalo, NY), 1985, 19'
* It is debatable
whether this is a review in the strict sense of the word. I was able to
briefly glance at the two books and make excerpts during an afternoon spent
in Tielt-Winge where I had come in order to read a few poems at H8X12 Space
for Contemporary Art. - Andreas Weiland.
** A. Souffriau / P.
Lachert / F. Nyst / A. Riotte / B. Oosterlynck / R. Fesler /
D. Lawalree et A. Vande Gorne, Documenta Belgicae. I: Musiques. n.p.
[Wavre?] (PMA-editions) 1981; 160 pp.
*** Paul Adriaenssens
/ Boudwijn Buckinx / George de Decker / Joris de Laet / Yves Knockaert
/ Baudouin Oosterlynck / Fanny Tran. Documenta Belgicae. II: Music. [Archennes]
(PMA-Co-editions) 1985 [In English]