Delirious Brahms (2013)

Eivind Buene

About this exposition

The institutions of classical music could be regarded as sites of performance and production, and the apparatus and situation of performance as material for the composer. My work 'Johannes Brahms Klarinettentrio' revolves around the idea of composing with the situation of the chamber music performance. The composition is an intervention by way of the paranoid-critical method adapted from Dali by architect Rem Koolhaas: A chamber music ensemble is sitting on stage, performing what seems to be Johannes Brahms's Clarinet Trio (1891). But gradually both the music and the interplay between musicians change, thereby altering the expectations of the audience during the course of listening. As the piece unfolds, the acoustic instruments are overtaken by electronic equipment and sounds. The work is an attempt to challenge the tranquilising flow of chamber music, to open the situation to the possibility of the unexpected.
typeresearch exposition
published inJournal for Artistic Research

comments: 2 (last entry by Germán Toro Pérez - 22/12/2013 at 23:08)
Darla Crispin 18/12/2013 at 17:25

The exposition ‘Delirious Brahms’ opens not with hallucinatory delirium, but with the all-too-real sense of bored dissatisfaction that can overtake the hardened concert-goer, even when the performance itself is of good quality.  Buene’s complaint is not about standards, but about frustration with the still apparently inviolable norms of conduct in the traditional classical concert set-up, its dictums, the separation of composer, performer and audience and the passivity that results.


Buene dreams of breaching the proscenium of the stage in order to make 'composerly' interventions in an otherwise ‘standard’ Brahms Trio performance.   Through the exposition, we see how he strives to realize this through a new composition, which has rather complex philosophical roots in a ‘paranoid-critical’ approach, originating from Dali and taken up by the architect, Rem Koolhaas.  This is then articulated in a musical process that echoes Lachenmann in its compositional processes and Kagel in its staged provocations.  Buene creates a work in which an apparently ‘traditional’ performance of the Trio is gradually undermined by a series of onstage interventions until the genre of piano trio is destroyed by the electronic music that takes over the scene, and even by the numerical disruption that changes three onstage performers into five.


The exposition tells the story of this process of transformation, and includes information that demonstrates that the compositional process is far from random, being a targeted deconstruction of the originating score.  The final irony, of course, is that the overcoming of one kind of resistant tradition simply demonstrates the persistence of others: in this composition, as in those of the canon, the composer exacts obedience and the performers comply, being made increasingly passive as electronic composition takes over the stage and leaves them nothing to do.  The final tableau, in which the electronics and their manipulators are at centre-stage harks back not only to the controlling modernist character of a figure such as Stockhausen, but, at still greater remove, to the centrality of the composer within the creative hierarchy of nineteenth century music.  Once again, the composer is top dog.  Does this not form another subject for frustration and ennui?

Germán Toro Pérez 22/12/2013 at 23:08

On a general level, the exposition is very eloquent and deserves recognition. It is open-minded and goes beyond the limits of compositional practice. It reveals a strong artistic and theoretic impetus and is based on credible artistic integrity and commitment. The work exposed and the methods are original. The capacity for reflection and the awareness of broad aesthetic contexts are clearly documented.
The subject and the methods are relevant to instrumental and electroacoustic composition, instrumental theatre and performance in general. Since the pieces used as a basis are close to classical music (Brahms) and well-established contemporary music (Lachenmann) its impact is to be expected between the scope of contemporary music practice.

On the a whole, the exposition clearly defines an artistic intention as research question and describes an artistic practice aiming to realize it based on clearly defined methods. It offers a broad conceptual framework supported by relevant quotations as a basis for an original elaboration of concepts. The introductory text, for instance, gives a clear and accurate description of the initial "delirious impulse" for the work exposed: The imagination of a musical situation changed by an unexpected and disturbing behavior. The following description of methods (Dali/Koolhas) is clear and the use of quotations (Lacan, D. Thomas, etc.) help the reader to understand his own adaptation of these methods. The reference to artistic thought outside of music (e.g. architecture) enriches the musical discourse and leads to original comparative interpretations of musical practices (e.g. Lachenmann / Kagel).

On a particular level, the work intends to challenge and enrich the range of expectations that the performance situation of a canonic piece (Brahms’ Klarinetten-Trio) generates by making an intervention on the physical score using collage as the main technique. The author stresses the difference between making an intervention on the performance material that renders only one set of materials - an original - and making an intervention on the text itself.

From a conceptual point of view, this difference is plausible. Nevertheless the question arises if the listener can perceive a qualitative difference. My impression is that independent of the method chosen (collage on paper), the work appears to the listener as an intervention on the musical text (that of Brahms) involving a second text (that of Lachenmann) as well as electroacoustic transformation processes in the sense of a compositional practice based on an existing work. This is confirmed by the impression that the choice of the works is decisive: Lachenmann's Trio was selected in view of Brahms’ piece. It wouldn't work in the same way with a different piece as a basis. Another piece, different from this particular Brahms Trio, would have had to be treated in a different way.

The author suggests an implicit connection between the creation of a score that only exists in one copy and the idea of writing for specific performers rather than writing for instruments (Section 4 §1). I would argue that these are not necessarily interdependent. This unique set of performance materials could be used by another ensemble and still yield a valid performance. I can also imagine producing unique materials without writing for specific musicians. Although I wouldn't overestimate the impact of the uniqueness of the performance material in the experience of the audience (in this specific setup, the audience doesn't perceive the materiality, haptic or graphic quality of the performance material), this idea may have a potential if the author finds ways to make this quality perceivable.

The collage technique works at a micro-time level of notes, motives and figures, increasingly altering the continuity. It would be worthwhile to ask how the clear, logical and linear disposition of the 4 movements (collage, physical intervention, electroacoustic transformation, complete dissolution of the original(s) and overwriting through the electronics) at the macro-form level relates to the main intention of challenging the expectations of the audience. To my ears, this is best achieved in the first 6 minutes of the first part where the Brahms Trio begins to dissolve. After that, the piece is perceived as "contemporary music" and the listener activates the corresponding expectations. How to escape that? Would it be possible to find other dispositions at a macro-level to continue challenging expectations? Would it have been appropriate to apply collage techniques and temporal disruptions at the macro-form level, too?

The function of the electronics in this formal approach is mostly dramaturgic. It is not mainly motivated by the search for a certain sound quality, but by the idea of increasingly taking over and overwriting Brahms. Some straightforward uses of signal processing such as ring modulation at the beginning of the third movement may therefore appear rather conceptually productive (in parallel to piano preparations) than musically compelling. I remain a bit critical about a mere anecdotic use of electroacoustic means instead of a full exploration of its musical potential at the same level as instrumental technique.

There will always be a gap between the exposition of a work by the author and the ways in which it is perceived by different subjects and audiences. In this case, the exposition oscillates between the following core ideas: the genesis (delirious impulse), the intention (the challenge of expectation), the compositional method (physical collage) and the physical result (unique score). All of them are relevant, inspiring and have artistic potential. But how do they really interrelate? This is not completely clear. In which way can the collage technique specifically lead to a challenge of expectations? Are there other compositional methods best suited for this purpose? What is the relation between the disruptive character of the 'delirious impulse' and the linear logic of the overall form? A critical reflection on the possible implications between those different layers would be very productive and would give impulses for new related works.


The strengths of the submission are an original and clear artistic intention, an interesting methodology and an open-minded, well-founded and informed theoretical framework.

The question remains if the selected methods lead to the realization of the original idea or to different (not less interesting) results. The exposition should be more critical with regard to the possible gap between the intentions and the results, and the question if a (productive) discrepancy is generated by the methods or their implementation.

This would open new insights into the subjects and lead to new ideas and improved methods for other related works.

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