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2004-10-31

I’m finally coming around to Stockhausen.

Two weeks ago I was giving a keynote for The National Forum of Higher Arts Education in Stavanger concerning working on cross-diciplinary art projects. I based my talk on accumulated experience from projects I’ve been involved in over the last 5 years or so. Afterwards I got a lot of intriguing and difficult questions. Johan Haarberg director at The Bergen National Academy of the Arts asked if I was taking major chances when doing projects. I’d emphasized the importance of collaborationg with others the development being an open process trying to tear down the barriers or borders between the involved artists and “stepping on each others toes” as a strategy for avoiding the art work to be a mere sum of seperate constituents. Of course I run risks working like this. The project might take a direction that is hard to identify with. I also have to accept placing myself in a vulnerable position where ideas that I believe in and have invested a lot into might be turned down or radically changed by the others. In addition I’m using the collaboration with other artists as a means for repositioning myself moving myself somewhere I hopefully do not know excist untill I get there. This is an attitude that involves accepting a certain sense of chaos.

I was fairly nervous before the opening of SoundTrack installation. While developing a project you’ve got to take a number of decisions along the way. In this project some of them were leading in directions I couldn’t fully predict. Once taken I felt that I had to take the full consequence of them and not try to back up or do “safe moves”. In the end I was not sure exactly what the installation would be like before it all was mounted and we were able to test the buttons on the floor. That did’nt happen until 30 sec. before the audience arrived.

The project to a large degree depends on the interactivity of the audience. As stated earlier I’ve got mixed feelings about interactivity and i fully understand Stephen Bells argument concerning the participant as performer:

If the work is considered as a composition of degree and manner of control the participant can be seen as a performer. Just as a musician performs an interpretation of a score so a participant performs an interpretation of a participatory work. The participant is often in a similar position to a musician performing without an audience.

An important implication of this is that a participant’s experience of a work will depend upon their skill as a participant. A participant may not be sufficiently skilled to “perform” a work.

Stephen Bell
Leonardo Electronic Almanac
Volume 2 No. 7 July 1994

I feared that the sound image of the installation would be nothing but a number of blipps and blopps as the audience pushed the various buttons without the different sounds managing to be moulded in a musically sensible way that could be played on.

I was right but to my surprise it worked. During the opening I suddenly understood what Stockhausen had been thinking of when proposing the Moment form:

During the last years there have been forms composed in music which ar far removed from the form of the dramatic finale they lead up to no climax nor do they have prepared and thus expected climaxes nor the usual introductory intensifying transitional and cadential stages which are related to the curve of development in a whole work they are rather immediately intense and – permanently present – endavour to maintain the level of continued “peaks” up to the end forms in which at any moment one may expect a maximum or a minimum and in which one is unable to predict with certainty the direction of the development from any given point forms in which an instant is not a piece of a passage of time a moment not a particle of a meassured duration but in which the concentration on “now” on every “now” makes vertical incisions which breaks through a horizontal concept of time leading to timelessness.

Stockhausen quoted from the cover
for the Wergo release of Kontakte

A vernissage is seldom the right time and place for the sublime. The distjunct massive sound image as lots of people where pushing lots of buttons all of the time still felt interesting to me. As the audience left for the next opening (this was the first night of the Ultima festival) the intensity gradually lowered. I stayed behind to look after the system for the rest of the night and experienced some interesting performance-like episodes after most of the audience had left. Four elderly upper-class women went wild in the room and the last person to enter the room an elderly man walked into the room turned around midway through it and accidently stepped on one of the buttons on the way out. Cautiously he stepped on it once more turned around and went back in to try out the rest of the buttons mainly using his walking stick.

Interestingly in an article in eContact! John Dack is discussing Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte and Narrativity questioning to what degree Kontakte in fact is without causalities. In spite of the apparent moment form there are evidences of narrative elements in the work:

The work (…) according to the composer seeks to explore connections between two sound worlds whose origins are completely different. A principal narrative feature is that of the “contact”: it is after all Stockhausen’s title. The instruments exist in the physical world of actual materials which behave in a certain predictable way when energy is applied through human gesture. By contrast the electronic equipment and synthesis techniques might produce such sounds but due to the lack of physical constraints the potential exists to extend spectral development durations or pitch stability. Instrumental play is elaborated beyond the limits of what was formerly possible. Thus “contacts” with two sound repertories will exist in a continuum where some are explicit and others are ambiguous. We can witness the unfolding of small dramas. There is scope for reprises false turns premonitions mistaken identities notions of similarity and difference of union journeys into unknown territories. With such metaphors of characterisation and place the application of narrative structures is not difficult. (…)

Though Kontakte is “antinarrative” it nonetheless has narrativity. This seems paradoxical but can be supported due to the application of moment form. The very definition of moment form would seem to guarantee that a large-scale narrative “curve” is inapplicable. Moment form seems to subvert narrative but in reality it simply imposes a different kind. If each moment is self-contained and can be appreciated for itself it need have no connection to succeeding or preceding moments. The listener perceives the moment whether it is of long or short duration and can remain rapt in attention.

Later I’ve come to realise that Jeremy is working on similar issues in the videos for the LMW collaboration. The rappid flow of seemingly disjunct video images do not appear to bear strong relations to each other in time. If one frame of the video bears no apparent relation to the next Jeremy is very concerned about the dialogue between the language of his videos and contemporary visual art in general and the paintings of Jon Arne in particular. Thus he is striving for a similar kind of contact as Stockhausen but between electronic and analog images instead of electronic and analog sound.

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