in One Year Later, Reflections, Uncategorized

stealing, borrowing and reshaping



Nico Muhly and Peter Ablinger were joined by the music critic Renaud Machart for a conversation at the Austrian Cultural Forum, moderated by Steve Smith, music editor at Time Out New York.

I just found my notes in a notebook:

Austrian Cultural Forum would like to let it be known that “Europe is still alive”… ???

Questions around stealing. Muhly: Stravinsky totally lied, like “no, i’m not”

(Machart strokes Muhly’s balls.)

Muhly: Influence was seen as a perversion. “Just do it!”

(Machart moves over so Smith can stroke Muhly’s balls. Ablinger looks bored.) Smith: “I remember your first piece… where I heard something COMPLETELY NEW … Keep in Touch  where you use Antony as an instrument, as a tool in your palette. [LISTEN STUDIO][LISTEN LIVE] Why Antony?

Muhly: The viola is weird. It doesn’t fit in its body… just like Antony.

Smith: Did you approach Antony? …

Muhly: … Authorship is very complicated… questionable….

Smith: Is that piece frozen like a tape piece? Or is [your sample] flexible?

(Muhly tosses the ball to Ablinger)

Ablinger: This is true but I wonder what you mean exactly [by] that…. Styles? No…. I have eyes to look, ears to hear, teeth to bite… And I would compare it with that…. Classical composition work or installation, these are different approaches to the same thing… I stamp in other people’s gardens, but I don’t care…. It is the opposite of multiplication of identity.

[???. Repeat: ???]

Smith: But, do you steal?

Ablinger: Yes… Orchestra and noise… I took works from Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler–

Smith: The Pantheon!

Muhly: The big cats!

Ablinger: I took 3 minutes…

(or four minutes)

Weiss/Weisslich 22 was conceived and produced in an electronic studio. About six to eight hours of symphonic music by each of the chosen composers were recorded onto harddisc: a selection of symphonies out of Haydn’s and Mozart’s works, as well as all symphonies by Beethoven, Bruckner, Schubert and Mahler. Ablinger had been looking for a method of how to transform time from a linear experience into a momentary or maybe aimless/formless one. He and the technicians finally found a way of condensing the stored information in a way that made the horizontal time line tipping over into a vertical column of condensed information. They clapped the music from the horizontal time line into a vertical sound column, defining the column might be exactly forty seconds wide. So instead of a few hours of Beethoven as a horizontal time line you have it turned round for 90 degrees resulting in a 40 seconds sound column. It seems like you also could call it compressed but that neither describes the idea behind it nor does it as they assured me describe correctly what the software program does. Peter Ablinger decided to use the term condensation. One of the ideas is: Not to loose any bit of information technically as well as philosophically. (On the contrary. Make available all the information of 150 years of European symphonic tradition in an at once audible hit singles time span of four minutes.)

Of course the information about 45 hours of symphonic music in this density turns into noise. Noise is information now and even a rather precise one. For those who know the symphonic tradition, that means music by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner and Mahler, it will be surprisingly unsurprising, whose composer’s noise sounds which way. The traditional foreground/background conception, the signal to noise ratio conception cannot even been applied to a work like this. Noise is not the enemy of information, it is by its coloredness, by its texture, by the change from one texture to the next one, the enabler of information.

but you can’t hear it…

Smith: I knew your noise gate stuff but I didn’t know about the plunderphonics…Whimsy?… You did this thing and hid it?

Ablinger: I’m interested in situations where you can’t hear perfectly, like in a hotel room, and you hear the other rooms. I try to recreate this experience.

Muhly: … Firebird at Tanglewood… Outside… Thunderstorm…

Machart: Copyright problems… John Adams… Eros piano… Takemitsu… Takemitsu wanted to eat the piece…

(Ablinger plays some imaginary music.)

Smith: What was that piece about? … If a piece is about anything… I grew hyper-aware. Is that what you were trying to get at?

Ablinger: It is an appropriation, but a different way to speak of composers “taking”: I’m taking from visual art… transform visual art into music

Smith: You started as a visual artist.

Ablinger: Not really. Two years I studied. I come from visual ideas… from the general idea… not a specific artist or artwork… for example, how to make a work from just one gesture, just one vertical line…

(Machart looks bored.)

Smith: Is there a thread running through White/Whiteness?

Ablinger: There are pieces that exist as a score, pieces that only exist as text, pieces that only exist as a title.

Smith: Listening to White Whiteness enlightened me… Did you do that?

Ablinger: Well, I interrogate the basics of music… so, before or beyond music…

Smith: Nico, you stole–

Muhly: I stole?

I was thinking about drone music… I’m obsessed with drones, with room tones.

(Machart strokes Muhly’s balls more.)

Muhly: And, isn’t t the whole universe in E flat?

Smith: B flat.

Muhly: … Tallis… Sing along.. It’s a canon… In church you get a drone. (Muhly demonstrates.) I took that and wrote grafitti on the Tallis. A cosmetic structural repair… like that little old italian lady who turned the lord of hosts into a chipmunk.

This piece is kind of like that.

(Muhly plays the piano.)

Muhly: I’m born in 1981! When I first became involved with classical music, record stores were all closing. Everything is digital. And did [the “Classical” section in the record store feel like] some old man talking out loud about Maria Callas.. I haven’t touched a CD in months or bought one in six years… so now everything is lateral. … Going to Tower Records… Where is Laurie Anderson? [Digital dissolves categories… and the studio] becomes an instrument.

Smith: I remember how startled I was when I heard ______… You took liberties!

Muhly: 2006. i just met these kids in a high school in Cincinnati. These kids are composing light years ahead of me… (Muhly asks Ablinger) Are you a site-specific composer?

Ablinger: Hmm?

Muhly: You speak technology fluently [for your age].

Ablinger: I have an idea. I write it in my notebook. I forget it for years. Then I get an opportunity. I remember — what was this idea?

Muhly: This piece presents all its own technology. You don’t have all this stuff in your house, do you?

Ablinger: No. I don’t. I know high-tech people: programmers, mathematicians. I tell them what I want.

Machart: People in Europe want to pigeonhole you. Is that a problem here (in the US)?

Muhly: The taxonomy of criticism doesn’t interest me.

(Smith nods in agreement. I want to jump and ask: Really!? So, Mr. Smith, when will the New York Times get beyond its out of date trinity: “Opera and Classical”, “Rock and Pop”, and “Jazz”?!?)

(Muhly goes on. Smith feeds him until it’s too much.)

Smith: But enough about the failure of journalism.

(Awkward smiles.)

Ablinger: [What would photorealism be in music?] Brush and paint on canvas, in a way to reconstruct photography… can we work with instruments to reconstruct something like a recording?

Smith: [The robotic version of Shoenberg’s Letter… very popular on youtube.)

Ablinger: This is another example of trying to produce photorealism in music.

(I can’t keep up… Close my notebook…)


one year later note: Muhly’s opera Two Boys premieres at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday.


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