SOUND INSTALLATION: RE-ENACTING THE RE-ENACTORS
Ruben Sverre Gjertsen
The Wheels within Wheels sound installation is a result of three years of improvisation sessions and recordings, initiated by Ruben Sverre Gjertsen, with the Wheels within Wheels research group and Ensemble Currentes. Electroacoustic elements and installations were mentioned already in the research proposal: the project should span the range of the performance of historic music and new experimental music, with possibilities of interest to composers today.
This sound installation is a large, open-ended bank of materials developed and selected for use in concerts or gallery spaces. Combinations and orders of sounds will be different every time, controlled by algorithms or directly by the composer. At the bottom of this page you will have the opportunity to experience this sound installation.
An artificial world could be composed of a number of elements or categories, and we could spend time describing each of them in in relation to the research project. As this is a brief series of examples from a larger exposition, I will refer to the full exposition for a more detailed discussion of each sound type present in the installation.1
The triangle of interaction can be decomposed, all three edges do not need to be present at all times.2 We can gradually remove the medieval repertoire.
- We hear the performers within a medieval ensemble improvise, on reconstructed historic instruments, but the music is timbral abstractions and extended instrumental techniques, not medieval music.
- The "Processed Ciconia" is a recorded medieval composition which has been digitally manipulated in numerous versions.3 Pitch-shiftings and spectral processing will abstract the music: you cannot always recognise the original structure of the music.
- The "Mass text" contains text from the Latin mass, which was used in medieval works, but without the medieval music.
- When the mass text is replaced by James Joyce, the direct link to medieval works is gone. Yet, we already used some of the same timbral means to abstract medieval compositions.4
These are steps in continuous metamorphosis and interaction between medieval works and compositional aesthetics of the past century.
Some of the first improvisations had very few guidelines. Helmut Lachenmann’s "timbre types" was one of several approaches to narrow down the improvisations into building blocks for a sound installation. Rather than following specific rules of counterpoint, the musicians were searching for fragile and risky sounds, like "shimmer".
Helmut Lachenmann has offered descriptions of "timbre types in new music",5 which are closely related to temporal experience and structural function. These can describe building blocks of music not relating primarily to traditional harmony, melody, and counterpoint. A few categories are listed, which I will briefly sum up, simplified for the purpose of our improvisations.
Kadenzklang is used in a wider sense than the tonal "cadence". It is a marked event of attack and decay, composed of any kind of sound, tone or noise. I would simply understand it as "something is happening", as opposed to pure being in time.
Farbklang is a static field of colour with a vertical sense of time. The functions of this and the next two types are not related to their duration, as opposed to Kadenzklang. They can be long or short.
Fluktuationsklang is a field of sound, fluctuating with inner activities that have no character of development or transformation.
Texturklang is a densely woven polyphonic texture, where Ligeti’s micropolyphony is used as an example. We can add our dense versions of medieval polyphony.
Strukturklang is at the structural level above the four first elementary types. It is a composition which can contain constellations of any of the four types.
The list is very short, and Lachenmann makes no claims of having a complete list for any musical situation. Yet, I6 found this a useful starting point to narrow down our7 improvisations. The Kadenzklang is put in sharp contrast to "being" in a time of colour, fluctuation, or texture. It does not emphasise metamorphosis, long-term transformations, and particular types of dramaturgy.
It is not just a matter of reproducing particular types of sounds. We do not choose to work with sound or temporal experience separately. These dimensions are interwoven. The Klangtypen are defined by their temporal function, as being in time (Farbe and Fluktuation), or signals of abrupt interruption (Kadenz). For me, a sense of verticality has been highly interesting, and a characteristic experience of music since the twentieth century. To build a large collection of sounds to be combined in any constellation, we must reflect on their temporal function. A static being in sound will be very different from a dramatic excerpt of a Wagner opera. I chose to search for dwelling moments and interruptions for this sound installation.
Jonathan D. Kramer has described moment form in the following way:
I have defined moments (...) as self-contained entities, capable of standing on their own yet in some nonlinear sense belonging to the context of the composition. The self-containment of moments is provided either by stasis or by process. Stockhausen has written: "Each moment, whether a [static] state or a process, is individual and self-regulated, and able to sustain an independent existence."8
A shimmer sound could function as such a self-contained moment.
To find materials for a sound installation, we recorded a large number of improvised versions of each sound type. Each musician found a new pitch and a new type of sound for each cue. I found the results of these individual choices rich, with unpredictable distributions of high and low tones. There was no need to make overall plans and sketches of harmony. In collective disembodied sounds, it can be difficult to distinguish the effort of each individual.