Peter Ablinger in New York

I’ve taken my time to write about the Peter Ablinger events in New York in late September. I needed some time to let my reactions sink in and develop. In any case, this is not a body of work that will become any less interesting over time.

The central event was a Wet Ink portrait concert on September 23rd. Verkündigung (Annunciation), a trio for flute, tenor saxophone, and piano was constructed with what I thought of as undersounds, or unvoiced sounds. You can hear a selection from this performance on the Wet Ink site. At the time I’m writing, it’s the third excerpt on the sounds page. The mouth and fingers of the flute were often decoupled. The pedal on the piano was made audible in its attacks and releases. There was an under-the-radar intensity to it, which requires endurance and delicacy and carried well with the commitment and virtuosity of the players. It was a tremendous performance. The piece was one continuous, amorphous thing that seemed to travel a great distance within a very small space. In the Friday Q&A session, Ablinger referred to the attractive surface of the piece, saying that the listener has to “get over it” to get used to the piece. He said the piece itself is constant, but changes to the listener. (That was certainly my experience.) It is designed to be impossible to perceive it in just one way. When Ablinger spoke of the awareness of differences in perception from one’s neighbors in the audience, and the dance between composer and listener, I was reminded of Lucier’s quote in Reflections (p.44): “I love to watch a person the moment he or she figures out what is happening in Music on a Long Thin Wire.” These pieces are invented in such a way that they revolve around the listener experience. Neither Lucier or Ablinger has attempted to fix or predetermine when or how the listener will react. They wouldn’t. But they are interested in acclimation, increased alertness, and shifting perceptions.

A long term example of such a shifting perception is my own experience of 1-127 guitar, which was also on the Wet Ink concert. I had heard sections of it several times before. In fact, one of my first light bulb moments about Ablinger’s work came on reading Evan Johnson’s liner notes for Seth Josel’s CD release of this piece on Mode. Seth played it extremely well, but the first time I had little to no idea what was going on. I went specifically to hear it at the CD release in the Diapason gallery and was obviously interested, but the space was quite small (as it had been the first time, at the Renaissance Society at University of Chicago) and I think as a result I put up some barrier to tracking what was going on with the sound. This time, parts 6-18 were played in a fairly large church, and I realized that at least to my (somewhat delicate) ears, it works much much better when the noise has room to be what it is. After all it is Berlin street noise, which of course takes place outdoors. When it was in the larger space, I was better able to engage with the noise and with how the guitar maps onto it. And then I had a rich experience of the piece. I confirmed this for myself on hearing the same player, Matthew Hough, perform it in a smaller venue, Café Orwell, two days later. I found myself wanting to hear it in a church again. I even wonder now how it would work if it were performed outdoors–not in a noisy place with a lot of background noise of its own, but in the open air.

I’m at a loss to say anything about Weiss/Weisslich 22, other than the fact that it is like nothing else, and you can read about it and listen to excerpts at Ablinger’s site.

The performances of several pieces from the new and ongoing Voices and Piano set started with a recording of Ezra Pound speaking. The piano part, played with the recording, not only mapped the voice onto the keyboard, but colored and expanded it. In Carmen Baliero, he traced the melodies of her voice. The Feldman piece was the first time I have experienced a successful bridge crossing all the incongruities between his loud speaking voice and presence and his fragile music. I asked Ablinger about that later and he said yes, it’s like a loud Feldman piece. The chord constructions mapped to both Feldman’s voice and his harmonic language. Amazing. The Hanna Schygulla piece was more literal, tracing the pitch, melody, and breath in her recording. That night was the premier of the Cecil Taylor piece, which included complex and rapid chords and was unmistakably informed by Taylor’s style and technique. The pianist was set in relation not only to the work or character of the speaker and his or her speaking voice, but also to the type of background noise in each recording.

I wrote down some descriptive elements of Regenstück, which included the amplification of water dripping onto drums, sustained string tones, and other instruments in staccato textures. But my most powerful impression was that Ablinger takes an idea and sees it through, and that leads to some compelling places. In fact he has pointed to the one overarching idea of his work as rauschen, or noise. The angles he approaches that idea from are numerous, and the specifics of how he probes it are rich and vibrant. In the Q&A session on Friday, he described it as constant noise, white noise, a musical or acoustic everything, the waterfall, the totality of sounds, the closest sound to a real plain surface. It resonated especially with me when he said it is more silent than silence. In the performance of Weiss/Weisslich 17C for snare drum and noise, I had made a note to myself that my experience of the intervals of noise was quite similar to my experience of a silence in the music of many of the wandelweiser composers. Whether a composer completely fills or totally empties an interval, it becomes a single unit. The listener may take in a succession, but that is based on shifting thought or perception, rather than anything inherent to the work itself.

In Quadraturen IV, Self-Portrait mit Berlin, the self portrait is what the viewer sees, rather than what is seen of the viewer. The ensemble is processing reality in a way that is complex for itself, but a simplification of reality, which becomes clear through the juxtaposition of the live playing with the recording. One of my favorite scenes was in what sounded like a restaurant. The ensemble was working harder and harder to keep up, playing faster and more complex figures, but they were getting submerged in the sound. I love the inversion of it–demanding more of the players in order to show the limits of what can be reproduced. Performance and reality are presented side by side, and quite often, reality dominates. But the greater the effort–both by the composer and the players–to represent it, the more rich the recorded reality becomes in the perception of the listener.

I’ll include here the video of a piece that was done in Venice, after the New York events. It can speak for itself.

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