Diabelli Machines6 is a new instantiation of the Diabelli Machines, specifically conceived for the Orpheus Institute’s twentieth anniversary. More than a musical performance, it offers a staging of the artistic research conducted by the research cluster MusicExperiment21 (ME21), conveying its general approach, methodologies, and outputs.
Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations were composed in two moments: a first draft in 1819, containing twenty-two variations, and the final version in 1823, with thirty-three variations. The new variations were not simply added to the previous ones, they were inserted and interpolated between them. Including many parodies, the new variations and the renewed overall architecture of the piece gave it a quintessential characteristic: a complex game of mirrors and reflections of Beethoven’s inner musical past. Such past included some of his own works, but also, crucially, works from other composers such as Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, and Cramer. With the final version from 1823, the Diabelli Variations became a fabulating time–machine, a musical composition that moves through different times and styles, assimilating, connecting and disconnecting them. But Beethoven’s score also points towards the future, suggesting unprecedented and unforeseeable potential developments for Western art music, some of which will be traceable in works by Brahms, Webern, and Schoenberg.
The research project Diabelli Machines takes this idea of music as “time–machine” further, exposing some of the historical materials related to the original Diabelli Variations, and fostering the generation of new materials that create a transhistorical dialogue between past, present, and future. Diabelli Machines is a series of instantiations that can take the shape of performances, lectures, articles, or installations. A performance of the Diabelli Machines is different from a performance of the Diabelli Variations, though many of its parts might be performed. What each of the Diabelli Machines intends to do is to operate some form of problematisation of the original work, cracking it from inside, disclosing its ruptures, and reconfiguring it in a different regime of perception and signification. Beyond historiographical, philological, organological, or sociological investigations, this project aims at creatively, yet rigorously, engaging with the historically available materials related to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and its compossible futures.
ME21 is devoted to the performance of past musical works. It claims the performative moment as the place of problematisation par excellence, as the ideal situation to investigate into and to expose problems, to develop new practices and new techniques of thought, to instigate new modes of apprehending historical materials, and to operate new distributions of the sensible. Musical works are not totally stable entities (as tradition assumes), nor are they totally unstable (as deconstruction claimed); they are metastable and carry a transformational power. As such, they have potentialities, tensions, inconsistencies, movement, undecided parts, and changeable components. Beyond interpretation, performance is the place to embrace experimentation, to establish, on the basis of productive contradictions, the possibility of creative action for music performers. Interpretation becomes one parameter in performance, not its end; and performance itself becomes part of a wider situation, in which the musician becomes an operator, machining new assemblages of materials, against the grain of their historically inherited constitutive parts, and of the historically given codes and rules of “execution”, “interpretation”, and “performance”. The fundamental step is the passage from a passive reproduction of scores to an adventurous experimentation with all the available materials related to the work under investigation, taking really creative decisions, re-distributing relations, changing the way a given work can be perceived, distributed, communicated. Instead of reifying works again and again, ME21 asks questions: How are works constructed? How do they function? What interferes with them? What are their limits? Which futures do they carry?
Methodologically, ME21 developed a unique approach, conceived and designed for artistic research in music. The working process follows a tripartite method, based upon the notions of archaeology, genealogy, and problematisation. First, as many as possible historically inherited materials that relate to a given musical work are archaeologically identified and retrieved for further consideration. Secondly, the relations and connectors they entertain with each other are studied in terms of a genealogy, disclosing singularities, i.e., particular spots of high energy or concentration of forces. Finally, specific selections of materials are brought together as machinic assemblages that problematise them anew. The archaeological moment relates to conventional scholarly research, including archival and source studies; the genealogy calls for interpretation, semiotics and transtextuality; and the problematisation happens by constructing new and experimental machinic assemblages. With the latter, the artistic dimension becomes inescapable, and it requires a kind of artist and a kind of researcher that can cohabit the same person.
Paulo de Assis