In the concert hall, the sounding music is always now, and telescopic listening unites “before” and after in a preposterous moment. Listening to Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia is one example of this experience, when different temporal windows overlap in Berio’s score. Sinfonia is thoroughly studied and commented, and has itself become a modern classic and a prototype for a large number of works from the last five decades, influencing different practices spanning from composed interpretations to critical deconstructivism. The number of composers engaged in these practices represent a wide field of aesthetics and ethics: Donatoni, Sciarrino, Zender, Gubaidulina, Finnissy, to name but a few.
A piece like Sinfonia does not conserve the past. It transforms its matter, like the Mahler scherzo it employs in the third movement. And it does not lay Mahler to rest: The piece is a sounding manifestation of Derrida’s words that “Each grafted text continues to radiate back toward the site of its removal, transforming that, too, as it affects the new territory.” After living with Berio for twenty years of my life, I cannot listen to the scherzo from Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony without also hearing Berio. In much the same way as Bach’s chorale Es ist genug is forever transformed in my ears by Berg’s Violin Concerto (1935), where it plays a crucial part in the second movement. And whenever I hear Schubert’s Winterreise performed, Hans Zender’s composed interpretation of the song cycle is there, faintly in the background.
It is probably not a coincidence that the compositional genre of meta-music emerged at the same time as the early music movement came to prominence in the world of classical music. The practitioners of historically informed performance (HIP) sought to relieve pre-romantic music from layers of mannerisms, bad habits, and ahistorical modes of interpretation; the goal was to restore the music to its former colours, much like the renovation of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel had done with Michelangelo’s painting. Historical playing techniques were studied, instruments were restored after seventeenth and eighteenth century models, and the intentions of composers like Bach, Mozart, and Haydn radically rethought. The result – amid endless debate on how the sources should be translated to sounding music – was a wave of new interpretations challenging mainstream classical music with a “shock of the old”, an event arguably as important as the shock of the new in post-war modernism.
Another interesting synchronicity is how the breakthrough of HIP coincides with the emergence of institutional critique within fine art, a practice I will return to in the final discussion in this exposition. HIP as a sounding critique of institutional tradition is an important background to the compositional practices of working with historical material. Indeed, early music has often engendered instances of telescopic listening by collapsing the categories of “old” and “new”.
This restorative-revolutionary movement is an important background for my Schubert Lounge project. Although I obviously do not aim for historical correctness, I probe notions of historicity, taking songs of Franz Schubert as a starting point. The work differs from Zender’s Winterreise in that it does not seek to re-install the effects Schubert’s musical material had on its first audience. Zender reformulates and orchestrates the music in order to “actualize” and renew our experience of the effective apparatus of the music. I am rather using a method of critical paranoia – a term borrowed from architect Rem Koolhaas – to create a telescopic listening space where different layers of time coexist. I have discussed this method extensively in “Delirious Brahms” (Journal of Artistic Research, issue 4), and will let it suffice here to say that I’m looking for ways of articulating a preposterous now, where notions of before and after are conflated. The work challenges ideas of authenticity in musical performance through applying methodologies from one layer in time to materials from a different historical moment. And a significant difference from other “popularized” renderings of classical music is that I am not aiming at the contemporary now as a given, but at the present moment as already embedded in its retromaniac longing for the past. A now that has serious conflicts about how it feels about itself. This is the temporal backdrop when different modes of interpretation and creation are brought into conflict in a staged work for singers, ensemble, pianist and turntable.
The Schubert Lounge project was launched in 2012, and has in the meantime developed from a one-man performance for singing composer to its present state. It started as an experimental whim within my artistic research project Again and Again and Again: Music as site, situation and repetition (Norwegian Academy of Music, 2009–2012). The question I asked myself was: If Schubert were a singer/songwriter in the seventies, what would that sound like? Of course, to make popularized versions of classical music is not a revolutionary idea. Nor is the image of the singing composer. Chris Newman has since the early eighties been singing his own songs in almost brutally “popular” renditions, songs written for and performed within the institutions of new music. Numbers like “Good day after good orgasm” have made a lasting impression on me after first hearing it sometime in the nineties. Within popular culture proper, singers like Josephine Foster have made their own renderings of Schubert songs. And I do think that the process lends itself to a wide array of idiosyncratic expression. It is not merely a concept or an idea, the actual musical performance and “personalization” of the songs are crucial elements, in whichever musical domain you work. Again, the sensuous experience of music, the skin of time, is the vehicle for formulating the idea.
The Schubert Lounge project started almost unconsciously, as I sat at the piano and played through some of the simpler accompaniments to songs from Winterreise. And I was astonished how close it felt to the pop music that I grew up with. Schubert actually was a singer/songwriter himself, singing his songs to a circle of friends, to his own accompaniment. So I sat down with Schubert songs, sang them with my untrained voice, sometimes roughly from the score, sometimes more or less from memory after listening a couple of times to a song I wasn’t familiar with, not quite learning it, but still trying to conjure up some rendering of the song. Being neither a pianist nor a singer, I was nevertheless looking for a way of articulating these songs that somehow resonates with musical practices of our time. And I don’t mean practices of “new” or “experimental” music here, but practices emerging from and embedded in popular culture. The singing of songs.
My essay “Smart critiques. Stupid creates” was written at the outset of the project. It describes how Schubert Lounge is also a labour of love, of the liebhaber, and it reflects some of my initial motivations:
“The singer/songwriter is a posture belonging to the sixties and seventies, but the posture is ubiquitous also in post-millennial popular music. And what I want to do is to remould Schubert’s songs into the posture of the singer/songwriter. I am obviously not aiming for neither werktreue in the sense discussed by Lydia Goehr, nor a correct rendition of Schubert’s voice. What did Schubert’s voice sound like? Was it strong, weak, balmy, harsh? We have no exact idea, of course. But the music critic Harold C. Schonberg asserts that he sang “with the voice of a composer”, which is all I need to know. The all-important aspect for me is the do-it-yourself quality of the first performances of the songs.”
So, I took huge liberties in altering the songs at points where I felt that Schubert’s music sounded too “classical” to yield to the stylistics of the singer/songwriter. Certain harmonic and melodic figures were just too inflexible with regards to the expression I was aiming for, like for instance the relationship between tonic and dominant chords, and so in some of the songs I have recomposed large sections. In the beginning I used the German texts, but that didn’t really sound like pop music to me, so I decided to go with English, the Esperanto of popular culture. And the piano was exchanged for a Fender Rhodes, arguably the Steinway of the seventies’ singer/songwriter. When the music was ready for dissemination, I chose the house concert, as a kind of re-enactment of the context of the first performances of the songs, and the vinyl record – the main vessel of the music industry in the sixties and seventies and also in the popularization of classical music. The first concert was held with an audience of friends in my own loft, and an EP was pressed with four songs.
I had also already published a novel where Schubert’s Winterreise played an important role in the life of one of the protagonists, so in the following years I performed my Schubert at low-key venues like book launches, literary festivals, readings, and more house concerts. A turning point in the project came in 2015, when I was invited to the Spor festival in Denmark to play Schubert Lounge with a jazz band, the Peter Tinning Trans-Atlantic Trio. They added their own layer of presence to the music, the aura and time of the jazz combo. And in 2018 I performed with the festival ensemble of Risør Chamber Music festival, with my own arrangements of the songs played alongside my singing and playing. This took the work back, as it were, to its context of chamber music and classical institutions. But a more important development came in the spring of 2015, when the Baritone Halvor Festervold Melien was present at one of my house concerts, and proposed a collaboration where I would write a new piece for him, based on Schubert songs, juxtaposed with my own performance and possibly some “original” Schubert.
I took up Halvor’s challenge, and in 2018 I set out to work on Schubert Lounge in the form of a full evening performance, with ensemble, singers, a pianist and myself. Oslo Sinfonietta wanted to take part; their conductor Christian Eggen is also a pianist, and I decided to shape the music to make it possible for him to lead from the piano. Christian has also done extensive work with Schubert together with singer Tora Augestad, and proposed to bring her onboard to get yet another perspective. In the latter case, I could inscribe an already ongoing collaboration between the two in this work. In this way, we ended up with three singers on stage: my pop voice, Halvor’s trained lied-voice singing my music written for him and ensemble, and Tora’s highly personal renderings of Schubert songs, accompanied by Christian Eggen at the piano. The premiere was set for the Eclat festival 2019, and I started composing with what were now multiple strands of music and musicianship in several historical layers.
Oslo Sinfonietta, a new music ensemble, brought in a whole new layer to the project, the institution of “contemporary music” – a chamber ensemble, with diversified timbral structure, working mainly with non-tonality, noise, and phenomenological investigation of the instruments. I have a long working relationship with them, and composed the movements with baritone and ensemble to the best of my abilities as a serious contemporary composer. But the ensemble is also subjugated to methods from another layer in time, namely the cabaret-orchestra. This is found in the simple, sing-along style that governs the ensemble when accompanying my voice in the corresponding sections. This fits well with Tora’s interpretation of the songs, which is informed by her background in theatre, working with Christopher Marthaler, and in her own band specializing on Kurt Weill’s repertoire. Her singing is obviously closer to the classically trained voice than mine, but still measures a certain distance from the patent lied-voice of Halvor. He, on the other hand is mainly occupied with the “contemporary” material, and is only allowed one Schubert song in its original shape, towards the end. (Except for a duet with Tora where they share “Gute Nacht” between them.)
In this part of the project, there was a turn when a sound file that had been a sort of prelude to my Schubert work resurfaced. I had made it in 2008 and shown it as part of an installation in a local art gallery. I haven’t really pursued the installation format since, and the sound file was put to rest in my archive. But in this expanded version of the work I wanted to address music history as also a history of recordings – not only a history of works. More than one hundred years of recordings has given us a rich archive of sound showing shifting practices in interpretation, but also in documentation and distribution. Musical history is documented and preserved, telling histories that sometimes diverge from the “official” histories of musical progress. One example is Stokowski’s transcriptions of Bach in the 1920s, recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra. This might be far from the ideals of historically informed practices that eventually decided the “rules” in interpretations of baroque music, but is a document in its own right, a part of history, showing how Bach’s music was set to work in a certain period in time. And when the same orchestra performs the transcriptions today, a telescopic sense of time is created where Bach and Stokowski coexist in the present moment. In this light no interpretation is “wrong”; they may as well be “right” in the sense that they document a historical moment where different practices intersect. (Ironically, Stokowski’s is a variant of the practice that Mahler, the icon of the “modern” orchestra, applied when he retouched the scores of Beethoven to better suit the late romantic orchestra,changes that he explicitly hoped future conductors would apply to his own scores. Of course, changing a Mahler score today would be deemed a sacrilege.)
I wanted Schubert Lounge to reflect this history of recorded sound, and the sound file, titled An die Musik, was perfect for that dimension. It is a fragment of the piano interlude in Schubert’s “An die Musik”, gradually deteriorating and taking on a shape more reminiscent of a choir of voices than the piano. The sound file was split in four, pressed on two vinyl records and played from a turntable during the performance. It could of course have been played from a laptop at the mixing desk, but I wanted the corporeality of operating the turntable on-stage, thereby linking the recorded sound material to the bodies on stage and keeping everything part of the same situation – in the same place at the same time. This has to do with boundaries; how “a boundary is not that at which something stops, but, as the Greeks recognized, the boundary is that from which something begins its presencing.” It also added to a temporal ambiguity that I like: Both the Rhodes and the turntable can be seen as things from the not-so distant past, but also of the contemporary moment, with our penchant for obsolete technologies and the outmoded. “Obsolescence,” according to Hal Foster, aligns with Walter Benjamin’s concept of “outmoded” in its liberating potential to offer “a point of view outside what some see as the totalizing ambitions of each new technological order.” Of course, there is a tendency of certain forms of outmodedness to transform into the stylishly retro, as is the case in wide areas of popular music. But in the Schubert Lounge project the outmoded becomes important, when I aim for what Foster describes as a synchronization of nonsynchronous forms, giving the possibility to make “a new medium out of the remnants of old forms, and to hold together the different temporal markers in a single visual space”. Substituting “visual” with “aural”, the musical ambition should be clear.
 Luciano Berio, Sinfonia (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1969).
 See for instance David Osmond-Smith, Playing on Words: A guide to Luciano Berio's Sinfonia (London: Royal Music Association, 1985).
 Jaques Derrida, “Dissemination” in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 355.
 Hans Zender, Schubert’s “Winterreise”: Eine Komponierte Interpretation (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1993).
 For an account of the early music movement, see for instance Harry Haskell, The Early Music Revival: A History (London: Thames and Hudson, 1988).
 See Hans Zender’s liner notes to the recording: https://www.kairos-music.com/sites/default/files/downloads/0012002KAI.pdf (p.18–20). Zender’s intention is not to remould the music; he doesn’t want to tell a completely new story. It is more a case of telling the underlying story to today’s audience by changing some of the musical architecture in comparison with the original material.
 The paranoid critical method is a concept from Salvador Dali, developed further by Rem Koolhaas. See Koolhaas, Delirious New York and Buene “Delirious Brahms”.
 See Lydia Goehr, Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).
 Harold C. Schonberg: “Singing Schubert’s Praises”, New York Times, 19 March 1978. See also Eivind Buene: “Smart critiques. Stupid creates” (https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/101720/101721) Further reflections, especially regarding the voice and the aspect of amateurism, can be found in this essay. I will not go into these two categories here.
 Hear for instance Music for a While, Weill Variations, (Oslo: Grappa, 2007).
Bach/Stokowski, Toccata and Fugue in d-minor, released on Bach-Stokowski Transcriptions (Historical Recordings 1927–1939) (Hong Kong: Naxos Historical, 2008).
The manuscripts are accessible at the Penn Library: http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/rbm/stokowski/bach.html
 See Norman Lebrecht, Why Mahler? (New York: Anchor Books, 2011).
 Martin Heidegger quoted in Frampton, “Towards a Critical Regionalism”. See Eivind Buene: “Tre objekt i den nya musiken, eller: ljudets utopi” in Nutida Musik 273 for more on boundaries and technology in performance situations (Swedish only).
 Hal Foster, in “Introduction”, October 100: 3
 Hal Foster, “This Funeral is for the Wrong Corpse”, in Design and Crime (And Other Diatribes) (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2002), 137.