A beautiful and delicate long-form composition by Wandelweiser founder Antoine Beuger, exquisitely interpreted by the Berlin ensemble Konzert Minimal, which includes among others Lucio Capece, Johnny Chang, Catherine Lamb, Michael Thieke and Koen Nutters.
Beuger, Antoine / Konzert Minimal
The Berlin Series No. 5: tschirtner tunings for twelve
Label: Another Timbre
Released in: UK
Interview with Johnny Chang and Koen Nutters
When did you set up Konzert Minimal, and why?
JC: The beginning of Konzert Minimal was near the end of 2010. At the time I'd been living in Berlin for less than two years and the opportunity to perform Wandelweiser music on a regular basis had not yet presented itself.
I discovered a Dutch bar near my flat called 'O Tannenbaum' (OTB) and eventually the idea of playing a concert of "Dutch experimental music" there came up. The first performance was Antoine Beuger's "peckinpah trios" with Lucio Capece and Koen Nutters. Gradually we were able to turn it into a series of semi-regular monthly concerts of Beuger compositions, co-ordinating the timing with Koen's visits to Berlin, as he wasn't yet living here full time. For each concert, we invited a new musician to join in: "cantor quartets", "kiarostami quintets", "jankelevitch sextets" and so on, with the final (abstract) goal being "ihwe tunings for twenty". This series became known as 'Konzert Minimal', and Pieter Kock of OTB gets the credit for coming up with the term.
KN: I was living in Amsterdam back in 2010, frustrated with the lack of musicians to play with, and going up and down to Berlin to play with my ensemble The Pitch. I'd met Johnny in the Wandelweiser Summer course in 2008 and we were hanging out in Berlin thinking of places where we could play some Wandelweiser music. I had played a concert with The Pitch in the O Tannenbaum bar already so, even though it's usually a busy, noisy bar, I knew these kind of concerts that demand a bit more attention were possible there. So we invited Lucio Capece to play with us and proposed the concert of Beuger's 'peckinpah trios' to the O Tannenbaum people, and they said: "Alright, let's try it." Somehow the busy bar atmosphere turned into a very concentrated listening situation on this Wednesday night at 21:00, so it just made sense to continue the concerts there, adding one more player each month. When we reached around 10 players, we decided to make it more of an irregular project at different locations. The 'tschirtner tunings for 12' is how far we have got until now and it's been an amazing musical experience.
From the growing pool of musicians there eventually formed a core quartet of Johnny and I, Lucio Capece and Hannes Lingens. This grouping has played many concerts at different locations and lots of pieces by different Wandelweiser composers (Pisaro, Werder, Thut and Malfatti, who wrote a new piece for Johnny, Lucio, Dutch pianist Dante Boon and myself).
Why such a close focus on Antoine Beuger's music?
KN: On a personal note, meeting Antoine and hearing his music for the first time in Amsterdam in 2007 really inspired me, and his music has been very important to me ever since. I think it's a beautiful musical universe that interests me on a theoretical level as well as a practical one. That is: talking and thinking about the structure of his pieces is very interesting but actually playing it is a whole other experience where making decisions and not making decisions, doing and not doing, keeping an overview and just playing on your own impulses keep each other in an amazing balance.
I think that in Antoine's music we have found a bridge between compositional strictness and improvisational responsibility to which both Johnny and I, as well as a lot of musicians from both the classical and the improvisation scene, can relate. In a way playing Antoine's music every month in 2010 and 2011 has made our ensemble into a very sensitive musical exchange between a lot of different scenes in Berlin. It was a great way to get to know each other....
JC: I remember when I first moved to Berlin (early 2009), I didn't know many musicians other than Lucio who showed an interest in performing Wandelweiser music. After the first concert, it occurred to us that there might be the possibility to carry on - the audience was great, so what if there were other Berlin musicians interested in listening to and playing this music? We thought perhaps we could actually continue this concept, adding one musician each concert.
It was important for me at the time, and still is now, to search for other sympathetic listeners, rather than instrumentalists who fit the profile to fill out missing frequency ranges (orchestras and improv ensembles already manage this very well without us). Antoine's open instrumentation compositions are ideal from this perspective. Konzert Minimal has never been about collecting together a huge complement of instrumentalists who have mismatched perceptions and assumptions of listening - it may be that we won't reach twenty in this listener-ensemble, who knows.
Can you explain how Beuger's 'tschirtner tunings for twelve' works? What does the score consist of? And who was Tschirtner?
JC: Oswald Tschirtner (1920 - 2007) was an Austrian artist who spent a large part of his life in psychiatric institutions. From 1981 he lived a very introverted life in the Artists House of the psychiatric hospital Gugging near Vienna . His works (mostly drawings or etchings) were always created in great silence and calm: he was an existential minimalist, one of the deepest.
The score is a collection of thirty pages from which any number may be selected and played. The twelve players are assigned just either one or two tones for each page. Each players may choose any octave and tuning for the given pitch(es), as well as decide when to play their tone(s). The dynamics are soft throughout; duration long to very long. The CD represents a selection from two realisations of the first twenty pages.
Although the music is very soft, there is nonetheless a textural roughness to some of the playing, which I really like, and which perhaps reflects the background of some of the musicians' involvement with improvised music. Do you know whether Antoine is happy for the score to be interpreted in this way, or do you think he would expect a more 'classical' sound?
JC: An important part of the Konzert Minimal approach is to recognise and focus on a sound which is relevant to the musicians whilst heard firmly in the context of the composer's work. The fact is that in "tschirtner tunings" Antoine Beuger composed instrumental music, rather than music consisting of "pure" sine tones; the "roughness" you speak of reflects the intense physicality present in this music, both for the performers and the listener. The overall texture is the sum total of the instruments involved and the specific approaches which the players bring with them.
In fact, I can add that some of the roughness of sound indicates specific thinking on the part of the musicians towards the role of his/her sound in "tschirtner tunings". For example, a viola tone that is played with the intention of subtly colouring or shading the others from underneath, that is to say, barely audible.
This aspect of backgrounds and depth-of-field is difficult to replicate through the recording process, therefore the intention of the liner notes is to draw the listener's attention to such possibilities in the interactions between the twelve instrumentalists, the composition and the composer.
KN: I think all the musicians in our ensemble bring their own specific instrumental sound to the table which reflects the different creative backgrounds of the different members. And I think Antoine has a very open mind about the specific 'sound' of the players as long as the intention of the playing is right. Johnny and I have, from the beginning, played Antoine's pieces with a focus on the actual pitch material rather than the silences in between. Which is perhaps different from other renditions. But I think this is a very interesting and perhaps a little unexplored part of Antoine's work: The pitch relationships and the potential for multi-layered instrumental textures.
Apart from Antoine Beuger, which other composers have Konzert Minimal focused on? And how many of the core group are also composers in your own right, as well as instrumentalists?
JC: As I mentioned earlier, Konzert Minimal began by playing the music of Beuger, but gradually the initial performances and discussions extended out to investigations of Wandelweiser aesthetics relating to listening, consideration of "space", and the technical means which composers have used to achieve this through the work of other composers. Our framework for discussions was shaped by works such as Michael Pisaro's "Harmony Series", which utilises text instructions and literary references, the graphic score/spatial compositions of Stefan Thut, the wonderfully evocative "quotation" scores of Manfred Werder, and the austere richness of Radu Malfatti.
To address the second part of your question, the Konzert Minimal version of "tschirtner tunings" represents merely one moment of development and coming-together. I will say that the twelve musicians heard on the CD are all very engaging composers and/or improvisers and are well worth spending some time investigating.
KN: Besides Antoine's music we have worked quite a bit on Michael Pisaro's music, which presented some quite opposite musical questions and situations to us. Some of the most radical silences in O Tannenbaum occurred in Michael's Harmony Series. Also working with Manfred Werder exposed new ways of thinking about playing (or not) to us. All in all some very different experiences and all very engaging.
I think the fact that all of the core members are composers and experienced improvisers is definitely important and perhaps even essential for playing these kind of pieces that give the players a lot of responsibility for the actual outcome. Somehow these pieces are not written for the typical orchestra player but rather for a new breed of creative musician.
All the composers you mention are members of the Wandelweiser group - as you yourself are, Johnny. But I know that Konzert Minimal have also been working with, for example, Peter Ablinger, who is from a different background and whose music often sounds very different from the stereotype of 'Wandelweiser music'. Do you think that the ensemble is likely to widen its focus somewhat - or is it simply that the Wandelweiser group itself is now pretty diverse, and that there isn't in fact a typical Wandelweiser style any more?
KN: I think the Wandelweiser group never really had one specific sound. But it depends on which level you are listening. I guess on a surface level all of these pieces could sound the same to someone. But I think all the composers we have worked with have a very specific way of structuring pieces and quite a unique sound - even though sometimes the material can be the same (long, quiet tones).
Besides playing pieces by Peter Ablinger and Christian Wolff, we are also starting to focus more on creating our own pieces. In our last concert, for instance, Lucio, Hannes, Johnny and I played four solo pieces (one composed by each player) at the same time. We co-ordinated the material beforehand but left a lot of space for chance interconnections. This worked really well and was very well received.
And in the next concert in Ausland (a venue in Prenzlauerberg) on the 24th of June we are playing pieces by both me and Johnny as well as works by Pisaro and Ablinger.
I think widening our focus is what we have been doing from the start and we are not likely to stop now.
JC: I would like to add that, for me, Wandelweiser music isn't about sound or silence. Rather, it is about a heightening awareness of the functioning ear as it comes into contact with sound. To this end, and within the fuzzy parameters of personal taste, I am absolutely interested in working with composers who are committed to arriving at this aspect of music-making whilst only placing the minimum of necessary barriers between the performers/listeners and the music.
At The Squid's Ear!
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European Improv, Free Jazz & Related
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Label: Another Timbre
Catalog ID: at77
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Packaging: Cardstock gatefold foldover
Recorded at ausland, in Berlin, Germany, in September 2013 by Simon Reynell.
Pierre Borel-alto saxophone
Lucio Capece-bass clarinet
Mike Majkowski-double bass
Koen Nutters-double bass
Morten J. Olsen-vibraphone
Derek Shirley-double bass
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