GoingPublik, a piece by the Swiss-based American
composer Art Clay, is a voyage of discovery for three trombone-playing
media performers. These carry out exploratory operations while
moving through a given space, and render the results of these
endeavours in acoustic and visual form for the benefit of the
audience. GoingPublik is based on an "instant score",
with the result that the piece takes on a new and different form
depending on the place in which it is performed. Each of the three
performers travels along a predetermined route of their own choosing,
using their instrument to mark out the individual journey in tonal
form. Unexpected events carried out by the trombonists en route
incorporate the city as a sonic domain into the performance. The
transformation of visual perception into acoustic signals makes
possible a kind of "score system in real time", consisting
of a portable-computer and specially developed software created
by a research team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
in Zurich (ETH Zurich) in close collaboration with the sound artist:
geographical coordinates, established via satellite, create an
electronic score for the performers and define both the content
of the composition and the instructions that the performers receive.
The interpreters view the score via a projection onto a pair of
head-up display glasses; so that they are able both to make out
the path before them and at the same time can see the score unfold
before their eyes. The direction taken by the composition corresponds
in the most literal sense to the actual path followed by each
trombonist, with the path coordinates being the axes North, South,
East and West. The further a player finds themselves from a certain
area defined in advance, the starker the transformations in their
playing with regard to register, tempo and performative actions.
Roland Dahinden (CH), Günter Heinz (D) and Thierry Madiot
(F) were the three performers who made GoingPublik public for
the first time and who continue to play the work internationally.
The world premiere took place as part of the festival organised
by the Association of Swiss Musicians in September 2004 in Monthey
in the Swiss Canton of Wallis. Clothed in quasi-military camouflage
attire, the three performers seemed to embody a strange, mixed
breed of instrumentalist and infantry soldier. In this way, the
ambivalent nature of culture and technology was highlighted -
after all, many of the world's greatest inventions have their
origins in the technology of warfare.
The first performance took place in the foyer
of the local theatre. Kitted out from head to foot with equipment
and cables, the musicians began their advance through scattered
trombone parts - the scene was reminiscent of some great catastrophe.
They moved through the room like soldiers on a reconnaissance
mission. Whenever they changed position in space or pick up a
piece of their instrument for reassembly - in other words gave
a reason for the computer to interact with them - there were changes
in the digitally generated score which it was the trombonists'
task to transform into music. At the same time, they gradually
gathered together the various parts of their instruments and were
then able to lend their full concentration to the surrounding
space, and their musical occupation of it began to be established.
In this manner, they explored the staircases, corners, and corridors
of the foyer and presented the audience with an acoustic showcase
of the external reality as filtered through the score and projected
onto their display glasses. The flexibility and will to experimentation
of the three interpreters, all internationally active as performers
and all composers as well, was put particularly to the test during
the second performance, which took place outside in the town centre
of Monthey. All three started off from the theatre and then followed
the routes they had each chosen through the town. Their common
destination, visible to all in the blazing sunshine of a Sunday
afternoon in late summer, was the castle, towards which they noisily
charged, again in their full battle dress of cables, equipment,
trombone and camouflage trousers.
For this performance, the audience was the entire
town. Individual groups of people followed the trombonists through
the streets, around street corners and across the squares up to
Monthey Castle, where the three presented a sequence of the composition
together before separating again and pursuing their individual
musical meanderings back through the town to the theatre. Occasionally,
a passer-by would stop and scratch their head. The three trombonists
- hooting, squeaking, resounding, then whispering, mumbling, hissing
and finally issuing piercing fanfares -caused much bemusement
among the usual throng of Sunday day-trippers on their way. At
one and the same time, the trombonists acted as a disturbing and
also as a mediating force in the hustle and bustle of the town:
they took control of the public space by drawing out their musical
interpretation from the lay of the land around them. In this way
they injected tension, movement and life into the sleepy town
of Monthey, which will never be quite the same again.
After the performance of GoingPublik, the three
trombonists were asked to comment on the rehearsals and how the
performances had gone, and also to share their opinions with regard
to the conceptual framework of the piece and the nature of the
relationship between art and technology. In their responses, Günter
Heinz, Thierry Madiot and Roland Dahinden also make reference
to their own works. Their remarks, which clearly reflect their
individual characters, spawned a lively exchange on the relationship
between music, the individual and society - in both a narrow and
a broad sense.
Roland, Günter and Thierry, you are all active not only as
interpreters who have worked with various composers, but also
as improvising musicians and as composers yourselves. When we
think of improvisation, we normally imagine that the person improvising
goes "into themselves", to see what can be brought forth
from there to the outside. When it comes to the interpretation
of a work, on the other hand, we suppose that the point is to
uncover and realise the composer's intention and thus make it
available to the audience. Which way of working do you feel closest
to? Does the one perhaps supplement the other?
When I improvise, I don't need to notate the music. The music
is created in the moment of performance, from whatever resources
I found within myself. But when I compose, I'm writing for third
parties, and the question of communication naturally arises. That's
just the way it is, I'm not a special case. I don't have any particular
preference as regards being a composer or a trombonist or, as
a trombonist, as regards being an interpreter or an improviser
- and then there are all the grey areas in between, which can
also be interesting and enriching. And that's what is most important
to me - whether it is interesting and enriching or not. And that
is why I agreed to this project. Working with Art and the team
from ETH in advance of the performance was interesting in itself,
and the performance was a confirmation of everything that had
been thought out, tried out and rehearsed. I got on well with
the two other trombonists, Günter and Thierry, from the word
go. We have very different styles of playing and come from very
different backgrounds. That was exciting. So for me it's not really
a question of whether it's a composition or an improvisation,
a separation of the two or a mixture - the content of the music
is what matters.
It is always presumed that there is an opposition between the
written work and improvisation. On the one hand the "I",
whose chief aim is self-expression, on the other the work of an
artist, often on paper, an absolute, a thing to be respected and
revealed. In my opinion, there is a continuum between the two.
There is no longer an opposition between the written and the unwritten.
There are simply two different levels, which co-exist and work
together. Society always seeks to catalogue, to separate, to dissect
and to put everyone in their proper place - the audience (the
people), the interpreter (the servant) and the composer (the Godhead).
The sound exercises the dichotomies, nothing more. I personally
need to alternate between working on my own and in close collaboration
with other artists (musicians, dancers, performers, artists and
composers) and each person and each situation can be absorbing,
incisive and enjoyable. I connect with this in order to contribute
my own pinch of salt to this mixture.
For me, these ways of working are of equal importance and they
complement each other in the most fruitful manner. The mode of
working with which I am particularly closely involved (particularly
with the trombone) has come to be known as "free improvisation".
The roots of this music lie in free jazz on the one hand and in
contemporary composition on the other. It was particularly influenced
by composers working with the legacy of the Second Viennese School,
and by the musical thinking of John Cage. Cage's influence can
be seen particularly in the emancipation of noise and of silence,
while the influence of free jazz can be felt in the "freedom
from the beat" (Tony Oxley). Today, improvised music in Europe
has established its own tradition, expanding the formal principles
typical of jazz and using structures related to those found in
contemporary composition. This is typified by what Misha Mengelberg
called "instant composing". As an interpreter, I personally
prefer compositions that allow me a great deal of space for my
own creativity. This can also take the form of researching new
playing techniques. Many of the "special features" of
my mode of expression were in fact developed from the interplay
of improvisation and specific demands made by composers
Apropos John Cage and free jazz - it's not much of an exaggeration
to say that until now, librarians and the like have been able
to unite the opposing poles of both schools by sorting them onto
one and the same bookshelf bearing the inscription "New Music".
How do enthusiastic practicians of improvised music go about creating
this connection? Do you start from the presumption that the stylistic
features of serial music in the Darmstadt tradition or the chance
music of the New York School can be developed further by "instant
composing"? Or has Boulez, who has suggested more than once
that improvised music always sounds the same, already united these
under his concept of 'alea'?
G.H.: Robert Dick
responded to this anecdote as follows: "You hear better than
anyone, but you don't always listen". I mean, when I consume
tinned foods, it doesn't really make much difference to me how
they were produced. I think the music of Boulez and Xenakis, and
particularly of Varése, is wonderful, especially when played
by excellent musicians. The music of Cecil Taylor, for example,
sounds to me very similar to certain piano pieces by Stockhausen
or Boulez. What I notice, however, is that the playing of improvisers
seems much more relaxed. I think that the mutual influencing and
intertwining of both types of music has become very advanced,
even that they have come closer together. As Art's GoingPublik
has shown, for example.
The idea of improvisation is not alien to the musical traditions
of the West - one thinks for example of the New York School of
the 1950s. Some works of John Cage (Variations I-VI, Ryonji),
Christian Wolff (Duos for Pianists, Burdock) and also some works
by European composers, for example Karlheinz Stockhausen (Kurzwellen,
Aus den Sieben Tagen) incorporate both degrees of freedom, notated
in very different ways, and - to different extents - compositional
decisions (including things which are clearly impossible) which
must be interpreted. In the work GoingPublik by Art Clay, whose
first performance you gave at this year's festival in Monthey
(Switzerland), you are also confronted with freedoms of this kind.
A question on this work specifically: how can the structural thinking
of the composer be combined meaningfully with the improvisational
options given to the interpreters?
R.D.: We don't
have to travel so far west to observe this: here in Europe, we
have a rich tradition of improvisation, in Switzerland as well.
I think Europe has an incredible amount to offer in the field
of improvisation, and has contributed a lot to the development
of this music, again including contributions from many Swiss musicians,
at least a generation before myself. There are improvisational
aspects in the music of Christian Wolff, I'm not so sure in the
case of John Cage. "Ryoanji" for example is a very precise graphic
score which is to be realised as clearly as possible, there's
no room there for interpretation. If the interpreter is given
the freedom to make certain decisions in a work, things that they
can interpret one way or another, that's not improvisation. Improvisation
goes a lot deeper and a lot further. It requires other "skills"
of the instrumentalist. With GoingPublik, Art chose an interesting
form of communication: he composed an interactive, time-and-place-and-person-and-situation-specific
graphic score. I had never worked with such a finely structured
electronic score before. It was a constant source of excitement
for me. In addition, we discussed it a lot, also with Jürg
Gutknecht. Art's score and the intellectual impetus for the composition
were precise and clear, and thus inspiring for me as an improviser
- it was a real collaboration.
T.M.: A score
does not have any absolute authority, and regardless of how carefully
produced, it cannot describe everything.. If it could, no interpretation
would be required. In the case of GoingPublik, that means the
following: Firstly, the will to understand the essence of the
artistic conception. Secondly, attempts to understand what exactly
is required of me, for example through asking myself some questions
such as - why was I chosen as interpreter? why a trombone trio?
what connection is there to the physical space, what connection
is there to modern technology? what philosophy lies behind the
piece? how far does the graphic score actually go? And - attempts
to discover what lies at the heart of the conception, and where.
Where does most of the energy have to be concentrated? It's an
attempt to follow as closely as possible the composer's train
of thought, to understand his way of seeing, of acting, of working.
My freedom no longer has to do with being able to play a particular
sound in such or such a way at a particular moment: rather, I
have the freedom to illuminate a certain aspect of the com(pro)position
with my trombone. Like a torch revealing different animals engraved
at the same spot on the wall of a prehistoric cave, depending
on the position of the torch and the angle at which the beam of
light strikes, we three musicians were able to use our "trombone
torches" to reveal particular possibilities of the score
How can the structural thinking of the composer be united meaningfully
with the improvisational options of the interpreter?
G.H.: The structures
in GoingPublik by Art Clay are extremely complex. It seems to
me that the composer made a very good choice in exploiting to
the full the capabilities of the interpreters, who themselves
all have a vast amount of experience in the field of composition,
and to involve them in the decision-making process. This creates
the optimum conditions for the finding of forms, including unconscious
GoingPublik makes use of the latest in communications technology
and works with the possibilities of portable computing. But during
the performance, what the public hears is purely acoustic music.
Do you see a contradiction in the fact that the work is generated
for the most part from live electronics, but the sounding music
is perceived to be acoustic? Or is that perhaps the whole point?
Does this fact influence the acoustic result, since you have to
work very intimately with the electronics?
G.H.: For me there
is no contradiction, on the contrary I find this phenomenon completely
absorbing. The electronic component of this composition is structured
in such a way that the supposed "rigidity" of the technology
disappears. I think that when you are very accustomed to the electronics,
and that was made possible through the whole collaboration process
(which is how I perceived the rehearsals), then you can approach
the electronics just as you would a "normal" score.
The acoustic result is, quite naturally, defined to a large extent
by this score.
R.D.: I also see
no contradiction. I myself am active as a composer in this field,
although my approach is very different to Art's. Electronics is
a "tool", we work with it and Art thematicises this
work to a very great extent - developments in this field, what
fuels these developments, how best to approach them, what "best"
means in this context, and so on. The acoustic result of GoingPublik
is of course directly dependent on the three trombonists and how
well they can cope with GoingPublik, its background, and so on.
I think it is a very difficult piece for the interpreters/inprovisers,
it requires a fair amount of experience with new music, improvisation
and electronic music. We are three individuals, at this particular
time and place, confronted with this particular situation, with
the electronic score, which in turn reacts to us... That's not
a bad situation to be in.
T.M.: The fact
that the electronics used, no matter how refined, are made audible
by acoustic instruments, by trombones, appeals to me. From a political
point of view and also as a sort of aesthetic coup, this reversal
of the normal situation seems to me to be fundamental. I have
a horror of people who refer to their instruments as meta-instruments
if the origins of that instrument are in IT: by doing this, they
linguistically transform their instrument into a super-instrument,
an instrument of power as it were. It was for this very reason
that I ceased working with electroacoustic composition eighteen
years ago, by deciding to realise all my music by purely mechanical
means and not by using electronics. The aim was to deny technology
and its ideologies any form of absolute dominance. With GoingPublik,
a tool (Q-bic), however revolutionary it may be, is positioned
at a point where it can be mastered by humankind, and not the
other way round. Taking it to extremes, this computer that I carry
in this belt could simply serve to stop my trousers falling down
if they were too big for me.
problems that arise when the score is no longer visible, for whatever
reason, are familiar from a whole range of different situations.
For example, when a gust of wind has blown it from the music stand,
or the interpreter has accidentally got the pages in the wrong
order. Although the composer Art Clay had thought out a number
of contingency plans for the event that the electronic score was
no longer visible on the glasses, there were almost certainly
moments in which you were faced with this type of blackout ...
T.M.: That's exactly
what happened to me in the afternoon performance: the computer
stopped working after five seconds. It took twenty minutes to
diagnose the source of the problem, a faulty contact, irrepairable
for the time being; the computer had to be left behind in the
workshop, and then there I was, off to the castle, the high-resolution
display glasses perched on my nose, thinking the whole time about
the score but unable to actually see it, now and again imagining
possible instructions, but forced to play without them. It is
sufficient to convince oneself that all technology can be revoked
at any moment and that our thinking is all that we really require
to go on our way.
F.M.: There are few chances to experience
music festivals in the open air. There's a photo of Günter
showing him at a rehearsal in Zürich for the Q-bic computer.
You are standing with your feet covered in water and you just
carry on playing. For the performance in Monthey, you had a performance
inside in the morning, in the foyer of the theatre, and one outside,
in the town. One for a specific audience, one for an "accidental"
audience. What was the difference - for you as players, for the
public as listeners?
G.H.: I love connections
between nature and music in any case, and look for them in my
own work. Unfortunately, nature is often merely used or even abused.
Even classical music is used in this way - loudspeakers are erected,
the birds are chased away, the listeners have to pay in order
to get through the barriers and listen to the music. But it's
so much nicer when a flute or a drum sounds with nature, and in
nature. When I was on Malta I experienced how a five thousand-year-old
temple was badly damaged by the erection of loudspeakers. The
performance in Monthey showed me that it doesn't have to be like
that, that highly advanced technology can make possible a more
natural approach, with electronics for example. The two performances
of GoingPublik represented very different versions of one piece,
of one composition. One took place in a more or less closed space,
which at the same time could be explored from many angles, with
an audience which listened and watched. The other took place in
a space which in fact had no limits, with its natural and strange
sounds and noises. People, trees, cars ... these all became participants
in the piece, and they understood that and enjoyed it - that was
a wonderful experience.
you have experience with military music, which, for nostalgic
reasons, is very popular in Switzerland. Were there moments while
you were working on GoingPublik that reminded you of it?
R.D.: Yes, I did
my military training in the area of military music. Afterwards,
I went abroad to study. That was a long time ago and military
music is very distant to me, it always was. In those days, it
was the only way of doing my military service. Of course I thought
of the military while working on GoingPublik, but not military
music - that's something quite different.
Gutknecht, Professor of Information Technology at the ETH Zürich
and closely involved in the creation of GoingPublik as a researcher,
gave an interview on the subject on the role of technology in
our lives. To paraphrase, he said that technology is an integral
component of modern society and that it has many unavoidable consequences,
positive and negative in equal measure. Technology, he said, is
simply a manifestation of the polarity of our life on earth, which
we should accept as a challenge: GoingPublik, he continued, would
after all not have been possible without research in the field
of military technology. Nevertheless, the project posed the public
the ambivalent question of whether the artistic event is a kind
of thinly disguised war, or if war is merely art in another disguise.
Given that the three of you as performers actually wore camouflage
trousers, what are your views on Jürg Gutknecht's comments?
R.D.: Well, I
think he is right and it would be sheer fantasy to believe otherwise.
That is the reality, and dealing with this reality responsibly
is the great challenge for everyone coexisting on this planet.
But it's nothing new - the military has always been the driving
force behind the most different kinds of development imaginable,
developments that we use in civilian life (hopefully creatively,
and respectively). That is an important aspect of GoingPublik.
G.H.: I think
there are two aspects to this statement. First of all, an acceptance
of the reality of the effect that human beings have on their environment,
with its good and bad sides; and then there is the question of
the responsibility of the scientist and of the artist. Provocatively
formulated questions are very useful here. For myself personally,
it was something of a challenge to have to wear the camouflage
trousers, never in my life had I worn something like that. That
obviously had an effect on the music. It certainly made for a
T.M.: I suspect
that, by equating the two terms "War" and "Art",
Jürg Gutknecht is trying to provoke reflection on them both.
I understand his comments to be a play on words: War + Art = wart,
in other words a growth. I suspect that most technological developments
are only rarely conceived with military usage actually in mind.
But researchers allow themselves to be lured by the promise of
power and money. Technology itself is not directly responsible
for this situation. The ideal situation would be for the political
sensibility of scientists to be such that the possibility of misuse
is reduced, or at least kept in check as far as possible. Art
in general does not necessarily need technology. But art that
deals with technology and uses it should reflect this fact. Art
and war often have a virtuoso intelligence in common, they can
resemble each other in the way they apply tools, and both often
necessitate heroic technical and physical feats which are fascinating
to a great many people, regardless of whether these capabilities
are applied in the service of war or of art. GoingPublik therefore
presents a very good opportunity to reflect on these facts and
to bring what is a central aspect of our work as artists to the
general public once more.
Thierry, Günter and Roland, many thanks
for your responses.
Translation from the German: M. J. Grant
Franziska Martinsen holds a M.A. in Philosophy,
Political Theory and Music Sciences (2002) from the
Humbold-University in Berlin, Germany and is a Doctoral
Candidate at the Institute of Philosophy at the University
of Basel. During and after her studies, she worked as
a dramatic adviser and text writer for various music
theatre productions based in Berlin and Basel. In 2000,
she organised an international touring exhibition about
female philosophers. In 2003-2004 she worked as a Research
Assistant at the Institute for Philosophy, University
of Basel and lectured there on various topics. Her research
interests lie in political theory and ethics with emphasis
on global justice.