Reaching out from music

revised and documented transcript of the keynote at the seminar Extended Composition: What can be music?

Oslo, 24 September 2021 

 

A few months ago, Henrik Hellstenius sent me an email inviting me to give a talk on the topic of ‘extended composition’. He added some questions about possible new strategies, new meanings and ways to evaluate extensions of composition practice. But then there was the title of this seminar that seemed to make it even more ambitious: What can be music?

This is the kind of question that does not primarily need a verbal answer, but artistic proposals. Like those in the artistic research project of which we saw the results last Wednesday. They will also be my angle for this lecture: I will not try to answer the seminar’s questions directly, but I will use the three works created within this project as a starting point to bring up some unfinished thoughts. All participating composers and performers have kindly shared material from rehearsal videos of their works with me, from which I will use some images and short excerpts. I would like to stress that these are not meant to illustrate what I am saying, nor will I analyse these pieces. I consider them an artistic source with which I will try to engage in dialogue. I will also use them as a limiting framework. Thus, if I am not going to talk about artificial intelligence, sonic activism or immersive technologies, it is also because these kinds of extensions were not really part of this research project.

The spheres of music 

Let us first try to put the title of this seminar into a more historical perspective. The phrase “what can be music” raises a question about the possible extent of the sphere of music. Music history and ethnomusicology teach us that notions of music are culturally determined and strongly dependent on their relationship to other spheres.

On the right, you see an illustration of a 13th-century manuscript with early polyphony. It shows a threefold classification of musical spheres (inspired by a model by Boethius, a thinker from the 6th century). On the left side, you see the figure of Musica, representing music. On the right are the three spheres in which Musica is active.

On top we find Musica Mundana: this represents the music of the cosmos and the elements and was considered to be the highest category of music. The white line departing from the hand of Musica (a ray of light?) connects to a globe that represents the elements earth, water, air and fire. It is important to realise that this music was considered imperceptible to human beings: it is a music of a higher and implicit order. 

Below we find Musica Humana, which refers to the harmonising force that unites body, mind and matter. Likewise, this concept does not refer directly to sounding music; this music can only be felt or understood. Notice how the white line barely crosses the divide that separates Musica from the human figures on the right.

Finally, at the bottom, we find Musica Instrumentalis: the only music that is audible to humanity. Notice how Musica raises an admonishing finger at the man playing the vielle. The white line has moved to the left hand and doesn’t make any connection with the human realm. It is as if Musica is reminding human beings engaged in concrete musical activity that the music they can hear with their senses is only a faint reflection of the music that really matters. 

This is just one example of how, throughout history, music has been thought of in relation to the divine, the cosmic, nature or the social order. Perhaps the whole idea of a possible expansion of the musical sphere could only arise in a context in which music somehow became disconnected and isolated from other spheres, that is, from the moment when people began to think and talk about music as if it were an autonomous practice, something that could exist on its own, dependent only on the human imagination.

Expanding from the inside

There is no need to go into music history here, but there is no doubt that around the end of the 18th century the music industry in Europe began to expand rapidly and emancipate itself from other cultural areas. There was the rise of a civil music culture with new concert halls devoted exclusively to music, and commercial music publishing and mass production of instruments reached an ever-increasing audience of music lovers and amateurs. Virtuosos and composers became prominent figures in cultural life. Ludwig von Beethoven became the embodiment of the musical genius who was able to lead musical developments into uncharted territory. Yet this creative autonomy must be put into cultural context. In his book Music as Thought1, Mark Evan Bonds argues that the early Romantic revolution in music did not so much originate in the creative minds of composers like Beethoven, nor was it an inevitable outcome of the social and technological developments at the time. It also needed the cultural discourse of Idealism and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that created the conditions for a new perspective on listening. In Bonds’ interpretation, the listener became a subject around the year 1800, and listening itself became an action. An awareness grew that listening is not a passive event but something we do. The mission of music shifted from its rhetorical or decorative function to providing access, through the active imagination of the composer and the listener, to realms of the infinite, the unknowable and the sublime. This brought new responsibilities for composers, listeners and performers alike and stimulated a culture of subjectivity and interpretation, of which composers like Beethoven were the immediate beneficiaries.

 

 

Seen in this light, both the rapid expansion of the musical field at the time and the musical innovations in composition and performance were at least partly based on the emancipation of the listening subject. They could therefore be seen as a musical expansion driven from within, from a cultural context that increasingly recognized the importance of imagination and subjective experience in music. 

Musical expansions and role divisions

The elevation of music to the most prominent civic art form in early 19th-century Europe was paralleled by a deepening role division and specialisation. In the concert halls, the distinction between experts and music lovers widened, music journalism started to play an influential role, and music education also began to reflect the growing role divisions within that expanding music field. 

Take the example of the Leipzig Conservatoire, founded in 1843 by Felix Mendelssohn, which soon became a role model for other conservatories in Germany and Europe in general. Letters from Mendelssohn reveal that students entering the conservatoire were discouraged from engaging in creative activities such as composing2

This is indicative not only of an emerging gap between creation and performance but also between technique and interpretation. Technical command of the instrument became a necessary condition for musical interpretation, which became the ultimate goal in music education. This evolution was further reinforced by the growing importance of musical works as repertoire, and by the gradually developing conviction that these works had a more or less stable identity, enshrined in a score.

The work-based approach led to a landscape with more sharply delineated role divisions between composers and performing musicians, the latter being gradually more exclusively oriented toward a growing body of canonical works, next to the interpretation of new pieces. Improvisation slowly lost its importance on the stage, even though research into the performance styles of the late 19th century still shows a considerably greater expressive freedom and diversity than later, 20th-century performances of the same repertoire3.

I am aware that the evolution sketched above is a serious oversimplification of a much more complex process, but the reason why I pay some attention to it here is that the extensions we are discussing today may not have been inspired only by an expansion of musical possibilities but also by the need to heal and repair some of the gaps that arose in the expansion of the musical sphere in 19th century Europe. Listening to the reports of the composers and performers involved in the three creations presented in the context of this seminar, I recognize an attempt to bridge or at least reduce the gap between performance and composition, between the roles and responsibilities of performers and composers. 

Including the outside

If the early Romantic revolution could be partly understood as a turning inwards and a musical exploration of the self, musical expansions of another nature manifested themselves in the music of the beginning of the 20th century. I will not go into the well-known music histories of atonality or dodecaphony which could be understood as developments firmly rooted in prior musical evolutions. But let us recall the Futurists in Italy, who wanted to break out of the bourgeois music culture with its codes of silent listening and cultivated interiority. They proposed a listening perspective that was turned radically outwards, that as such constituted a reversal of the idealist listening perspective: a listening to the world, to the concrete sounds of the city. The citation below is from Luigi Russolo’s famous manifesto The Art of Noise, in which he invites the reader to join him on a walk through the city, paying more attention to the ear than to the eye. It is probably the first statement in which we find such a powerful musical appropriation (also in the sense of ‘animation’) of sounds from everyday life.

‘Let’s walk together through a great modern capital, with the ear more attentive than the eye, and we will vary the pleasures of our sensibilities by distinguishing among the gurglings of water, air and gas inside metallic pipes, the rumblings and rattlings of engines breathing with obvious animal spirits, the rising and falling of pistons, the stridency of mechanical saws, the loud jumping of trolleys on their rails, the snapping of whips, the whipping of flags.’

 

Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise (1913)

Although the influence of Russolo’s manifesto on the 20th-century musical avant-garde may have been exaggerated or even cultivated and mystified by some authors - while often also trivialising the ideological overlap of futurism with the glorification of speed, technology and violence in the nascent fascist programs of the time - there is a clear correspondence between this and the desire to integrate new instruments and techniques in music, as we can hear in the manifestos and visions of Ferruccio BusoniEdgar VarèseJohn Cage and many others. The latter’s often-quoted “everything we do is music” might be perceived as an extreme endpoint of a process of musical integration, and one might ask what expansion is still possible after such a radical statement. But then we have to realise that many of the 20th-century innovations in music may be seen first of all as expansions of the concept of musical sound. 

New technologies were a driving force in the 20th-century desire to expand musical sound: phonography, microphones, tape recorders, analogue synthesizers and later all the digital hardware and software brought about a new awareness of the complexity and materiality of sound. These new instruments made it possible to zoom in on the micro-temporal details and inner fabric of sounds. Pierre Schaeffer and his colleagues at the ‘Groupe de Recherche Musicales‘ (GRM) spoke of “the sounding object”. Sound became “a thing” that could be dissected like an object on a table. This analytical approach brought new possibilities to manipulate sound in a deep way, and to create previously unheard-of musical structures. In parallel, the fascination for this uncovered richness and diversity of environmental and daily life sounds led to new listening modes, strategies and formats, from field recordings to sound walks or sound art works in the open space. Thus, from a 20th-century perspective, the title of this seminar could perhaps have been formulated as What can sound as music?

Does something of this fascination for the musical ‘material’, in combination with the promise of creatively ‘controlling’ this material, still resonate in the questions of this seminar? If we dream of extending the compositional toolkit by integrating movements, words or visuals, do we hope to subject these elements to the same operations and abstractions developed to control and manipulate musical sound? 

From what to how

I would like to highlight this question since I wonder if we are currently witnessing a shift in perspective. Listening to the motivations of the youngest generation of music makers, it seems as if their interest is no longer in the innovation of the musical material as such, nor in post-modern re-composition, but rather in changing the conditions of music creation. It is as if the focus is shifting from what music can be or evoke to how it can be made and experienced4. This ‘how’ may resonate with ethical considerations as well. Take as an example the Helicopter Quartett by Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, which could be regarded as a typical late 20th-century extreme kind of extension of the compositional material, first of all in a very literal and spatial sense. Each of the four musicians is seated in a different helicopter, and their sound and image are transmitted wirelessly to the concert hall. This piece was performed again in Amsterdam two years ago, as part of a production with a selection of pieces from Stockhausen’s Licht cycle, and, although it received some rave reviews, it also sparked quite some discussion. As with the premiere of this piece in 1994, which had to be cancelled due to protests from the Austrian Green Party, the question was raised again of whether it is defensible to produce music in this way in a time of ecological crisis. A possible difference with the protests of the Green Party in 1994 is that some of the more critical comments came from composers and musicians as well. I believe that the current moral sensitivity in the artistic community not only reflects larger tendencies in society but also points to a desire to (re)connect the musical sphere with other spheres. Perhaps not immediately with the cosmic or the divine (these would actually fit Stockhausen’s work very well), but first of all with the ecological and the social. From such a perspective, an alternative title for this seminar could perhaps be phrased as “How can music become?”.

 

All of these speculations are meant as an introduction and an invitation to look not only at the form of the extensions appearing in today’s compositional practice but also to try to understand them as expressions of broader underlying motives for change in musical creation. Before we look in more detail at ways of extending composition, let me first make a distinction between two words I have been using interchangeably so far: extending’ and expanding something.

Expanding or extending?

An expansion suggests an increase in size and volume. An extension does not necessarily refer to an increase, but could rather be defined as an addition to something that already exists. Like a musical instrument designed to become an extension of a human body. The use of this instrument expands the expressive possibilities of the human body - I can use a piano to produce a sound that I could not produce without it. But in their use, instruments do something specific: they make possible a specific action and produce specific sounds. Human extensions often aim to become precision instruments, which means that in their focusing they inevitably also eliminate elements that might interfere. I cannot speak while blowing a pipe (I could try to develop such skill, but this would then become an ‘extended technique’ in itself!).

I believe it is worth making the distinction between the notion of an expansion of possibilities and the use of extensions that always bring a specific focus, which at the same time means a narrowing of perspective, not unlike the telephoto lens that brings you closer to an object but also makes you lose sight of your surroundings.

In this sense, what an extension does is add a new possibility, but in its use, we may also lose something because it shifts our focus away from something else. The instrumental extension transports our attention to something or somewhere, which can also be an imaginary place or space. I once developed the argument that in classical music, the space of the music is not the here and now of the sound production on stage5. The space evoked by the use of instruments is a somewhere-space, a space that is (co-)created in the imagination of the listener.

Self-reflective extensions

It is interesting here to consider whether extensions in music are used as producers of immersive illusions, in the sense that the extensions become transparent like in a classical music performance or invisible like in virtual reality or in a 3D movie theatre, or whether you can somehow remain aware of their presence. In BLY, we as an audience retained the possibility of shifting our attention at any moment from the fantasy world evoked on the screen to how this projection was made. I would consider this a more self-reflective use of extensions that also reminds me of ‘concrete instrumental music’, a concept formulated by the German composer Helmut Lachenmann around 1970. In the shortest definition possible, it means an instrumental kind of music that makes its own genesis audible. More concretely it involved the use of a wide arrange of extended techniques and all kinds of distorted, unexpected sounds, such as the scratching of a bow on a string, in order to enhance awareness of the physical presence and resistance of the instrument, as well as the musician’s effort. As a result, in this music, the ear often seems to trigger the eye to identify and understand what is happening in the musical performance. The ‘making audible’ brings about a ‘becoming visible’.

But it can also work the other way around, as in the following excerpt where the eye seems to invite the ear to listen to how sounds are coming into being.

Stretching identities

If my first definition of an extension indicated the addition of something, an alternative interpretation points not so much to additions but to the stretching of existing things, bodies or techniques. In a metaphorical sense, all professional musicians already have stretched bodies. Through years of training, they have stretched their physical and mental abilities to control sound in performance. Where standardised instruments are used, this requires an adaptation of their bodies to the shape and playing possibilities of their instruments. In a live musical performance, the two types of extension - the instrumental addition and the stretching of the musician to make that instrument sound optimal - act together to generate a sense of presence and liveliness, a sense of performativity, which also involves the evocation of a body identity that is specific to music performance6

Many of you will probably agree that, amongst classically trained musicians, we tend to ascribe different body identities to performers of different types of instruments, such as percussionists and violinists. This suggests that the body identity of the musician is intimately linked to the characteristics of the (standardised) instrument. These bodily identities may even be difficult to hide in the absence of the instrument. It has happened to me more than once that I have been talking to a stranger with an extremely resonant and well-placed voice, who has turned out to be a trained singer. Making use of these ingrained bodily identities has been a creative strategy in many musical and theatrical works over the last few decades.

An example may be found in the collaboration between dancer and choreographer Jonathan Burrows and composer Mattheo Fargion. In Both sitting duet, they perform sequences composed of movements from everyday life and simple vocal sounds, movements and sounds that anybody could perform. The sequences are written down in the score lying before them. They both perform this score in the best possible way, but while performing, they cannot hide their own physical education and identity, even in the execution of very simple movements. From my own experience of seeing this piece live more than once, what caught my attention was not who was better at performing specific movements or sounds, but rather the diverse qualities the dancer and the musician brought to the performance.

Composing for some body

A similar strategy was evident in this work. Not only were there four different identities in terms of training and background; a cellist, a violinist, a dancer and a dramaturge; but also the choice to confront these identities by placing them in a similar situation, with the same instruments, and, in this snapshot from a rehearsal video, also somewhat similar-looking clothing and hairstyles, invites the search for the differences that can only become visible and audible in the action, in the performance of what we could call by a fashionable term, ‘embodied knowledge’.

One open question I had while watching this performance is to what extent it matters that the audience knows the identity of these bodies in advance. Although the differences may become clear during the performance, they were also explained in the programme notes. As such, it almost became inevitable that I immediately started looking for the dancer, the musician and the dramaturge during the performance. To what extent is such an identification process intended to be part of the story of the piece? 

A variation on the strategy of confronting or combining body differences as an extended compositional tool, is composing for a specific performer by taking her or his characteristic body identity as a starting point for a more idiosyncratic compositional approach. There are many historical examples of composers who composed with a specific performer in mind, capitalising on the performer’s unique qualities and abilities. We could also consider this an extended form of composing, in the sense that the music is conceived from a pre-given body identity. It means composing for some body, rather than for any body.

Gradual transformations and the play with memory

Another way of using body identity in composition is to evoke processes of gradual transformation of identity during the course of the performance. Watching the video on the right, I was reminded of examples of what was called ‘process music’ from the 60s and 70s. This is music based on a simple formula that acts as a motor for a process that unfolds in a gradual way, often leading to an experience of transformation or metamorphosis.

One of the best examples of gradual process music is Alvin Lucier’s iconic feedback piece I am sitting in a room. The piece starts with Lucier reciting a text of about 1’30. In this, he explains what he is going to do: he will record his voice and afterwards, he will playback the recording in the room, which will be simultaneously recorded again by a microphone in the room. This new recording will be played back again, recorded again and so on. This cycle is repeated 15, 20 or even 30 times, depending on the acoustics of the room. 

With each recording, so-called ‘natural frequencies’, resonances typical of the room (and possibly also of the recording equipment) are added to the recording and accumulate, which also leads to a progressively decreasing intelligibility of the words. The resonances of the room gradually take over and seem to swallow up the voice, which creates a dramatic shift in perspective. In the end, all we hear is a singing, ringing soundscape with only some rhythmic shaping that reminds us of the original voice recording. What I find fascinating about this piece is not only the simplicity of the concept and the sometimes beautiful soundscape that results but also the play with the listener’s memory. Listening from the beginning, it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly where you lose the voice and the words, because the moment it becomes difficult to understand the text, your memory is still able to fill in the gaps. 

In my experience, this activation of memory and the ambiguities that follow from it was an important element in all three pieces in this project, in different ways, but certainly also through processes of gradual transformation of identity. I would be curious to know how this felt for the performers: was there a turning point in the performance or during the rehearsals where you felt a transformation yourself, or where you had to make that stretch to become the dancer or the musician? 

 

voice and listening

The example of I am sitting in a room also reminds us of the power of words to expand our listening experience. In Lucier’s case, this is very specific: the words in I am sitting in a room, invite us to listen to an unfolding acoustic process. But more in general, voices in music can dramatically change our listening perspective. Whether they are virtual or real, it is almost impossible not to experience a sense of human presence when a human voice enters the music. It is as if the sound of a voice has an intrinsic authority that cannot be ignored. Hearing a voice speak, even if I don’t understand a word it says, creates a presence that demands my attention.

It is worth reflecting on the influence of words and discourse in musical creation. We all know the cliché that music should speak for itself, which reminds us of the ideal of autonomy in music. But even in music without words, there probably will be words before and after that can make the musical experience matter in different ways. Musical practice is almost always surrounded by words; words of interpretation, experience, confusion, engagement, and so on. I strongly believe that a careful use of these words can also make us listen in new and extended ways.

Presence and absence

Another compositional strategy that was present in two of the three pieces in this project is the use of movements that have their origin in music performance but are presented without the instruments. This approach was conceptualised by Falk Hubner in his doctoral research as what he called ‘the reductive approach’ to music performance: by this, he meant the ‘abstracting away’ of specific qualities or abilities of the musician’s profession in order to use them in theatrical or choreographic ways7. The advantage of such an approach is that the musician is not required to become a dancer or actor to become a performer in a non-sounding way.

Another example of this can be found in Mouvements pour Helmut Lachenmann, a series of choreographies by Xavier Leroy to the music of the aforementioned German composer Helmut Lachenmann. In Leroy’s version of Salut für Caudwell, Lachenmann’s original work is performed by two guitarists sitting behind a screen, while two other guitarists perform the piece without the instrument in front of the screens, synchronised with the live music. This creates a kind of air guitar playing that we also know from air guitar competitions and references to rock or metal music, but the fact that Lachenmann’s piece is so full of unusual, so-called ‘extended’ techniques makes it a very detailed and diverse kind of air guitar playing that makes us aware of the richness of the movement repertoire needed to play this piece. Simultaneously, it also brings to the foreground the impact of the physical action in music performance. 

Similar strategies, often involving video images or feedback loops, have been used by many other composers such as Michael Beil, Stefan Prins and Simon Steen-Andersen. We could even say that the play with presence and absence has become a theme in recent musical creations.

Strategies of transposition

A consequence of separating movements from their sound-producing function is that they become more abstract or conceptual; they become a movement ‘pattern’, and the concept of ‘pattern’ is very familiar to a composer. Patterns can consist of anything from the sequences of pitches, sounds, or rhythms to the more abstract numerical sets or series with which a composer creates structure. One of the most common compositional operations on a tone pattern is its transposition to other pitches or instruments. We can sing or play the same melody on different instruments or sing or play it on a different pitch. To do this, we have to change our actions, hit different keys, or move the bow in different positions, but we will still be able to hear the same pattern, and that is exactly where we hear the abstraction at work. 

But what if we reverse the order, what if we transpose a movement pattern from one instrument to another, regardless of the sounding result? Will we still recognize the same pattern, even if it produces a completely different sound? This was the basic idea that Simon Steen Andersen had: to create a whole series of pieces in which the movement pattern on a string instrument was transposed to other instruments, leading to absurd situations like this.


Next To Beside Besides – a “re-cycle”

An abstractly conceived piece of music will still be the same piece even though played on instruments with essentially different types of movements. But what if the abstract composition was directed towards the movements? What if the composition was thought of as a choreography for musician and instrument – with sound as a consequence? Then the same piece would sound completely different on instruments with different relations between movement and sound. And would it then be the same piece at all?

Simon Steen-Andersen, 2006

Strategies of transposition were also present in Ensemble Piece I. Here are two fragments from a rehearsal video. In the first we see three transpositions simultaneously, then follows a fragment from the end of the performance where the movements have taken on a life of their own. This reminds again of the play with memory; it also raises the question whether, when we are offered a new combination of elements from different sources, something from this encounter will leave a footprint on each of these elements when we hear or see them separately afterwards. Leaving aside the possibility of some form of innate synaesthesia, how long can we continue to see a sound or hear a visible movement? And is one of these relationships easier to maintain?

The idea that a composer can apply identical operations (such as transposition, superposition, inversion, counterpoint, acceleration or deceleration) to different materials suggests the possibility of a playground where all materials can be treated on an apparently ‘equal basis.’ One question might be whether such a playground should then be called musical, theatrical, choreographic, or something else. Another is how such a playground can become not only attractive from the perspective of composition, but also successful in an aesthetic sense. I would propose that a minimal requirement for success in this context is that our attention is able to shift from the origin of the elements brought together to the interaction between them and the new meanings that emerge from that interaction.

Resisting abstraction

However, I also believe that we should be careful about trying to abstract origins away. I have already speculated that the human voice resists abstraction; it cannot simply be treated as if it were the tone of a flute. The same is probably true of body identities in performance or words. They evoke such strong associations that they cannot be quantified as easily as the pitch or the rhythm of a standardised instrument in a musical score. 

Conversely, it is worth reflecting here on the unique power and identity of archetypical characteristics of music. In last Wednesday’s performances, it struck me how musical archetypes had to play their own part at key moments, whether it was through the entrance of a synchronising beat, the emotional effect of a Lamento pattern, or the sense of openness created in a polyphonic texture. These evoke almost universal qualities experienced within music that cannot easily be transposed to other media. What they can do, however, is create a space or environment that welcomes a variety of expressions. Music has always been a welcoming host for other media. It can load the image of a landscape with meaning; it can make dictionaries dance.

In fact, there is no need to abstract extensions in order to integrate them into a compositional playing field. There could also be play between music and another sphere. Associations beyond music can influence and inspire our musical experience. In classical music, there are the well-known historical examples of programmatic music referring to stories, machines, landscapes or nature. In today’s new music, we even see much more concrete uses of symbols and references that inject compositions with a meaning that is not dependent on musical relationships in the first place.

Such extensions can also express the personal or political commitment of the composer. Personally, I don’t feel very attracted to musical works that make it too clear what message we should take home as listeners. In such cases, the music becomes an instrument for something else, a kind of propaganda. In itself, this is not problematic at all; music can be used for all sorts of purposes. But I believe that another and more interesting approach is possible to bring something from the outside world into the compositional playing field. An approach that takes the world-constituting power of music and the capacities of listeners more seriously. Earlier, I used the metaphor of an extension as a stretch, like a body that stretches to reach out to something or someone. I believe today we can think of extensions in new music as stretches to find possible new connection points. Connections to the world that can create new gatherings and encounters, and new situations that might also become musical playgrounds.

Creating situations

Calling situations musical playgrounds means that whatever symbols, references and meanings are brought together, they don’t have to stay where they are. If there is one quality we may associate with newly composed or improvised music, then it is that we may experience unforeseen interactions and relations within that music. Instead of evaluating the output of such work, I believe it is more important today to reflect on its starting points. How to create a musical situation that has the potential of generating play, interaction, and unpredictable change?

One strategy might be to invite possible extensions to manifest or unfold themselves. Such extensions could be found in the way musicians come on stage, the way instruments are positioned, the participation of the audience, the lighting, the programme notes, or associations evoked by objects and instruments.

A few weeks ago, I discovered In Paradisum, a recent performance piece by a dear colleague, Cathy van Eck, in which she creates a very familiar situation: she starts her performance by eating an apple, with its typical sound amplified. Now, you should know that I suffer from a light form of misophonia, which means that I am easily irritated by noises like this. Of course, I immediately expected that Cathy would do something with this sound. The invitation to transform the bite into a musical element is clear from the start. This is also exactly what happens, albeit in playful and unpredictable ways. After having watched the video, I had to send Cathy a message, saying that she partly solved my problem. From now on, when I hear a person eating an apple behind me on the train, I will always think of her piece and the possibility to turn this sound - one that is highly irritating to my ears - into enjoyable music in my imagination.

This may be a light-hearted and anecdotal example, but it shows something of the real power of art, namely the fact that it can change our relationship with the world within the course of a performance, even if it is in subtle or implicit ways.

Creating conditions for music creation

Creating situations may be seen in itself as an extension of compositional work, and it also brings me back to the ethical dimension that seems to be gaining in importance in the arts in general. I am not only referring to certain ideological and moralistic tendencies today, which in my opinion can be quite problematic as well. The ethical can also relate to the choice of materials, extensions and the conditions under which a creative process can take place. Choosing between a spectacle of helicopters or simple tools like an old projector, and using these tools with all the care and the serious playfulness we witnessed in BLY, is, somehow, taking a position as an artist. Being attentive to the role of the identity, the sensitivities and diverse capacities of the ones you are collaborating with and turning that into a creative power, which was a clear strategy in the creation of The Hands, The Double and Ensemble Studies I, all points to something that precedes even the creation of situations, namely the careful consideration of the conditions in which we would like music to come into being.